Excerpts From the Personal Financial Planning Round Table

Editor's note: These are Web-exclusive excerpts from the JofA's round table discussion with members of the AICPA's Personal Financial Planning Section. Also read " Lessons Learned From the Financial Crisis ," Oct. 09.




Lyle Benson: We’re all living examples of CPAs who made the decision to enter into this area a long time ago in our careers. It’s a little more involved than 1, 2, 3. … In fact, there are a lot of steps to the process, there is a lot to know and a lot to think through as you get more involved in the financial planning area with clients.


Jerry Love: Many CPAs interested in financial planning don’t have the resources or the library of information, such as client literature, available for their own benefit or their staff’s benefit in the financial planning arena. Through the PFP Section, CPAs can gain access through the Web site to the Forefield Advisor, information that lets them immediately tap into some great resources, and everyone that thinks they are doing any kind of financial planning should be a member of the PFP Section. 


Beth Gamel: CPAs can discern for themselves what their skill set is, what they’re good or not good at, and what they can do themselves or outsource to others. Once they make that assessment, CPAs can create the practice model that best suits them and their target market. Most importantly, you’ve got to get the experience. Once you’ve acquired the education and background and know what you’re doing, there’s a pretty wide open range of ways you can practice in this area.


Susan Tillery: You may not have to start from scratch. CPA firm affiliations with Registered Investment Advisors (RIA) offer a tremendous opportunity for small to midsize firms to work with experienced CPAs already practicing financial planning. These affiliations provide knowledge, experience and marketing opportunities in the PFP arena. The recent AICPA white paper on the “CPA’s Guide to Investment Adviser Registration” suggests CPAs who offer advice on securities should seek legal counsel to determine if they need to register as an RIA. If a firm holds itself out as offering comprehensive financial planning, it may be giving this type of advice and will need to decide whether it wants to affiliate with an RIA, start its own RIA, or stop offering this type of service.


Scott Sprinkle: There is not a one-size-fits-all model. Most of us got to where we are in different ways. Since everyone practices differently and there are so many alternatives out there, you have to roll up your sleeves and do your own internal investigation to determine how you want to practice. The AICPA’s PFP Section and related Web tools provide a great starting point to assist you in examining alternative practice techniques, and they provide ongoing resources that are beneficial to all advisers.




The number of CPA firms offering some type of financial planning services has increased steadily for several decades with a significant rise in the 1990s and continuing into the 2000s. A 2007 AICPA/Moss Adams survey of 431 CPA financial planning/investment advisory practices identified several key steps for developing a successful personal financial planning practice. The following is a list of suggestions based on the survey findings:


  Develop a plan, set goals—and monitor progress regularly. Getting team buy-in is essential for your firm’s success. Set specific sales and growth goals—develop a timeline for the steps and assign employee accountabilities. These should be stretch goals—for both the organization and the individual—to motivate them to reallocate their time and energy toward reaching them. By adhering to a formal approach to the management of the business, it is more likely that you will achieve the desired outcome.


  Use client acceptance criteria. Target a niche, instead of trying to be all things to all clients. From a business model standpoint, if you’re focusing on one type of client, you can be more efficient in your practice. Establish client acceptance criteria, such as a required minimum asset level, to help your firm focus on offering the best services to clients. A well-defined client profile and description of your firm’s services can assist in attracting future clients that are well-suited to your firm.


  Consider providing asset management services. Many firms view these services as critical to the potential profitability of a practice. Options range from managing assets in-house to outsourcing the services completely. A CPA/financial planner can take several approaches when offering these services. In determining what types of services your firm is best suited to offer, consider whether you have the requisite skills and meet the regulatory compliance requirements of every approach.


  Use a dedicated staff and formal compensation system. If you’re going to offer both traditional and PFP services, dedicated staff for each area may be the most productive long-run approach. Adding staff for PFP can free experienced staff/owners to focus on the higher-value services and client attention so critical to success. A formalized compensation system is important to the success and growth of your firm, and will help you retain and motivate staff. Employee turnover can be very expensive, and it’s critical to be competitive with the broader financial planning industry.


  Devote time to marketing. It is challenging to get the message out to clients and prospective clients about service offerings, therefore, a proactive marketing approach is critical to your firm’s success. Produce marketing collateral and a Web site, or actively seek referrals from clients and other professionals.


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