Being the most trusted is great, but in and of itself, it doesn’t feed the bulldog. After all, relative to other CPAs, you’re competing with a bunch of other people who are as “most trusted” as you are. And as a rule, CPAs who focus on tax preparation and compliance capture only a very small percentage of their client’s total spending on financial services.
Yes, people spend the great bulk of their wallet for financial services with people who are far less knowledgeable about financial affairs than a CPA is, and often those people are in conflict with their clients. It isn’t fair. I wrote a whole book about it called Winning the Wallet Share War. To make matters worse, companies like TurboTax are actively commodifying tax expertise with relentless advertising and low-ball offers.
Under these circumstances, it’s tough to figure out how to build a bigger, more productive, more profitable, and more valuable business. One popular option for many workers in our new gig economy is a side hustle. A side hustle is a relatively new term; Merrriam-Webster defines it as “work performed for income supplementary to one’s primary job.
Side Hustle Nation has published an article called “The 18 Best Side Hustles for Accountants: Make an Extra $1,000+ Per Month.” The top hustles include a bookkeeping service, tutoring, high ticket drop shipping, real estate investing, and online arbitrage. I would venture to guess this list makes you feel tired and a little sad. I’m also guessing that the other 12 would not exactly lift your spirits, either.
My company works with hundreds of CPAs, and I can’t name one who has, or wants, a side hustle. Yet, putting aside those close to retirement or looking to sell their practice soon, they all seem to be actively trying to build a bigger and better business. If this sounds like your situation, I suggest the best way to accomplish that goal is not to get more tax clients but to do more for the clients you have.
Thousands of CPAs Enjoy Virtually 100% Wallet Share
It’s axiomatic that the wealthier your client is, the more concerned they are about tax. If you’re lucky enough to have a billionaire client, taxes are typically their top priority. Of course, they are; the top federal estate tax rate is 40% in 2023. Ultra-wealthy people are also concerned about prosaic things like income and capital gains taxes, too.
The wealth managers of the billionaire class follow a simple process: first, design an optimal tax strategy, then find the ideal financial solutions to populate that strategy. It’s very similar to the way a physician operates: diagnose, prescribe, and treat. Those wealth managers often work in family offices and are directly employed by the families, not by banks, brokerages, or insurance companies.
Because tax policy is so crucial, family offices typically have one or more tax professionals on staff, and those tax pros play a vital role in decision making. Rather than fight it out to take tax preparation clients from other CPAs, or cede the lion’s share of the clients’ wallet, why not simply democratize the family office, and provide holistic financial advice that goes far beyond the 1040?
Consider that CPA who works for an extremely wealthy client. They are under no pressure to build their business. They enjoy the complete trust of their client and play a key role in achieving their client’s wishes. They enjoy a collegial relationship with other professionals from legal, risk, and asset management, and they are often tasked with solving complex problems with sophisticated solutions. In addition to all of that, they enjoy a high salary with near-total job security.
There is only one downside: they don’t own their own business. They are an employee, and they won’t be able to monetize their career when they retire. The CPA who owns their own business could be leaving millions of dollars on the table.
CPA: Give Your Clients What They Want
There are many good things about a career as a CPA. First of all, according to Salary.com, the average CPA will earn $1 million more than non-CPA accountants. It’s a professional role with a lot of job security. A CPA is a respected member of their community, and surveys find them consistently rated as most trusted among all financial professionals.
The Pareto principle suggests that 20% of your clientele produces 80% of your firm’s profits. It also suggests that that same 20% owns 80% of the total combined net worth of your entire book of business. Let’s conduct a thought experiment: suppose you could boost your typical 5% of those clients’ wallet share to 50%. What would that mean to your profits? To your valuation? Since you’re a tax pro, you can do the math in your head.
The numbers are huge. That’s not a side hustle; it’s an earthquake. And consider that those clients, though comfortably well off, are not nearly wealthy enough for a family office. They’re stuck in the middle. Now think about this: do you think they would choose the family office if they could? Why would they? Let’s see:
They would spend less—measured by the percentage of their assets under management—than they are spending now. They would have a team of true fiduciaries working together, eliminating professional bias and fee layering. They would have decision making in the right order: tax policy upstream from asset allocation. There would be zero conflict between the family and their team. And, not least, they would enjoy total transparency.
Is there any wonder why the family office is the overwhelming choice of the wealthiest American families? Given that that a seasoned tax pro is crucial to a family office, that many thousands of your colleagues are happily employed by family offices, and that millions of American families would love to get the family office experience, the multi-million dollar question is this: why haven’t you transformed your tax compliance business into a multi-family office?
Until recently, that has been a rhetorical question. Heretofore, it cost a small fortune to establish a new family office. The kind of money a billionaire has, but neither you, nor your clients, do. In addition to the human resources, you’d need infrastructure, technology, and compliance solutions. And where would you get the time, even if you knew everything you needed to know? It’s easy to understand why family offices have remained available only to the super-rich.
Today you have new and better options. A multi-family office charter company can provide you with everything you need while you retain ownership not only of your firm but of your client relationships. Charters are available on a subscription basis, meaning no significant capital outlay. And, while there will be a period where you need to obtain the appropriate licenses and get some training, you should expect to see an increase in your productivity.
These are early days in the democratization of the multi-family office, but that may be the best news of all. The early adopting CPAs who transform their practices into multi-family offices will have virtually no competition from similar value propositions. And they will have massive advantages over their existing competition.