Small businesses in U.S., Canada aren’t using accountants’ complete skills, survey shows

BY KEN TYSIAC
April 30, 2012

Efforts to get accountants more fully engaged with clients have found limited success with small businesses in the United States and Canada, a new survey shows.

Forty per cent of small businesses surveyed in the U.S. and Canada do not even use an outside accountant, according to a report by business management software provider Sage North America.

A majority of small businesses that use outside accountants are engaging them only for specific services and support, according to the web-based survey of 472 small businesses. The business owners who use outside accountants rely on them most for accounting services (76%), bookkeeping services (49%) and tax support (46% personal; 43% business tax compliance; and 43% corporate tax).

A minority of small businesses that reported using outside accountants rely on them for financial planning (33%), business consulting (25%) and wealth management (15%).

The survey shows that accountants can continue to develop their relationships with small business clients to achieve full utilization of their skills. Expanding the role of CPAs as trusted business advisers is a prominent focus of the profession and was one of 10 core objectives highlighted in the AICPA’s Horizons 2025 report, a road map for the profession that was issued last year.

One big challenge for CPAs, said AICPA Private Companies Practice Section Project Manager Lindsey Ferguson, is understanding that they can provide value beyond the compliance-based, core-accounting services they traditionally have provided.

Accountants can expand the services their firms provide and become a “hub” for other services to their clients by developing their professional network, said Ferguson, a CPA who specializes in small firm interests and leads the Trusted Business Advisor program.

“Ultimately, then, clients can come to them with any question they may have about any business or personal matter,” Ferguson said, “and they can really be the trusted adviser and help them in any situation.”

The Sage study showed that personal relationships are the most common way for accountants to secure work with small businesses. Fifty-eight per cent of small businesses reported locating their accountants through referral from someone they know, and 27% said their accountant is a friend or family member.

Ken Tysiac ( ktysiac@aicpa.org ) is a JofA senior editor.

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