Grow Your Firm

The Future of Advisory Services Will Focus on People

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 
People Advisory Gusto

Accountants have long possessed the skills to advise businesses through all kinds of circumstances—everything from rapid growth to surviving recessions—given their financial acumen and critical thinking abilities. But those skills have traditionally remained under-utilized as the profession instead focused on building credibility and reliability through the more compliance-oriented services of tax, assurance, and bookkeeping. The strategy historically worked well: Businesses appreciated the peace of mind that accountants provided, and compensated them accordingly. 

But, about a decade ago, this started changing. The advent of new technology—including cloud-based software, APIs, automation and machine learning—started chipping away at legacy compliance services. As technology simplified the routine and mundane, it made clear that accountants would need to embark on a new path to stay relevant. The accounting industry’s leaders recognized this imperative and started encouraging practitioners to become “trusted advisors” to emerge more successful from the oncoming disruption.

But despite the foreboding keynotes and countless think pieces, many firms lacked the urgency to make significant changes to their business models and services. Part of the problem lay in the lack of details: Some advisory cheerleaders encouraged outsourced CFO or controller services but specifics about what it meant or how to do it were generally thin. 

Besides, technology advancement burns slow,  and there was still plenty of work keeping accountants busy. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” yada yada. 

As a result, accountants stayed focused on triage versus a strategic future, while technology continued to advance, and concerns grew about accountants’ relevancy.  

The People Advisory Opportunity

We believe that People Advisory—a pioneering consultative service that, for the first time, focuses on serving businesses and their teams—can put any doubts about the profession’s relevance to rest. The focus and reliance on compliance services has hindered many accountants from building advisory practices, but practitioners still aspire to transform their clients’ businesses with their expertise and insights. 

People Advisory as a service establishes a foundation where clients can outsource their compliance tasks, like payroll, tax filings, and payments. And in return, it gives accountants the platform they need to provide strategic advice, insights, and added value as the trusted professional—the advisor—they are meant to be. 

The concept of People Advisory is based on the idea that people are at the heart of every business. Businesses are more likely to succeed when they empower their employees, because those employees are, in turn, more likely to stay for the long haul. This is important today because studies continue to show that employee satisfaction drives business results. 

When accountants become people advisors, they can build a new service line that brings peace of mind, great workplaces, and prosperity to their clients and their own firms. This more resilient and sustainable future for small businesses will depend on the guidance and support of advisors who believe in the underlying philosophy of People Advisory.

The COVID-19 Pandemic, and Why People Advisory Is More Important Than Ever Before

Even before the current pandemic, the needs of small businesses were evolving at a breakneck pace. But when COVID-19 struck, accounting firms that had resisted or dismissed the flexibility of working virtually for years were forced to go virtual overnight. Suddenly, they recognized the critical role this technology would play in keeping clients’ businesses resilient in an uncertain environment. Meanwhile, with a flurry of new legislation came a blizzard of new advisory opportunities. This high-value, time-sensitive work—along with remote working capabilities—became critical to the survival of many businesses.

Make no mistake: This is where the accounting profession was eventually headed anyway. The pandemic has merely accelerated the transformation. Economic uncertainty and a worldwide health emergency means that businesses will need advisors who can help them build strong organizations and plan for the unexpected. 

Firms that fully embrace this new way of working and serving their clients for the long haul will not only survive but thrive, creating a new paradigm in professional services. People Advisory gives accountants a path in advisory services like never before. Its focus on people gives it a purpose, a true human reason for doing work that can have an impact that goes beyond numbers. Its impact can be seen, heard, and felt. 

People Advisory also redefines how a technology platform partners with accountants, laying a more holistic foundation for an advisory service. Rather than treating accountants as a conduit to small businesses, Gusto’s People Platform serves as an essential tool to advisors who can provide context, insight, and creativity through their services. Technology is no substitute for accountants’ expertise, which is why we’re committed to enhancing your skills through our People Advisory Playbook, new integrations, expert customer support, and our all-encompassing education curriculum: People Advisory Certification.  

We believe that by providing the right blend of technology, service, and human moments, accounting professionals can deliver the unique moments small businesses need. And in the process, accountants will help clients build more resilient businesses and a brighter future for their people. This is the promise of People Advisory.

Updated: November 4, 2020

Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.


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