The Client of the Future

The five mega-trends that will make or break your “firm of the future.”

By Hitendra Patil

Your client of the future will be vastly different from your client of now. You won’t have a firm of the future without understanding the new breed of client.

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Like most accountants, you probably have faith that numbers tell a story. So, let’s look at some numbers and seven mega-trends that can help you get clarity about your client of the future.

The Pew Research Center cites seven big demographic trends shaping the U.S. and the world. Some will have a direct correlation to accounting firms’ business. For example: in the United States, millennials, defined as those born between 1981 to 1996, will be the largest living adult generation in 2019. In 2018 they are already adults aged 22 to 37, and they already make up 35% of U.S. labor force. You can expect many of them to be your clients – may be for quite a few accounting firms, a majority of clients could be from this generation.

Some of these insights, combined with the accounting profession’s current and emerging regulatory and technological landscape will help accountants correlate the client of the future with the firm of the future.

Here are the key insights that will shape your firm’s experience with the client of the future.

1.   Reduced Trust

Given the sheer magnitude of information availability and the ease of accessing such information, the client of the future will self-rely to find a lot of accounting, finance and tax information. Future clients, who will rely on themselves – and on tech to find the information they need/want, will have reduced trust in the information accountants give them.

In other words, accountants will find it challenging to sell just information. The client of the future will, instead, appreciate and pay for how accountants apply relevant information, insights, expertise, and experience to their specific objectives and situations. Ironically, this will truly define why accountants will be the Most Trusted Advisors – because the client of the future will trust them more for the advice/insights/decision-support/guidance accountants give them, rather than just the information they give.

2.   Expecting Tech

It is like stating the obvious, but for the client of the future, there is more to tech than what is obvious. Generation Y grew with technology, and Generation Z is born with technology. The very way their minds will work, and how they expect tech to perform work for them is where their tech-expectation will be very different from earlier generations. Accounting will need to move up several notches to not only deliver service in a more technological way but to also look for ways to help the client of the future to perform advised actions – preferably automatically, or at the very least – using tech tools in their hands. For these newer generations, access to information is a perceived feeling of constitutional right, and any bottlenecks would suffocate them. Accountants will do well to make available to the client of the future as much information as possible – anytime, anywhere. Fortunately, cloud technology is already helping accountants to cater to this necessity.

3.   Expecting Collaboration

Newer generations started on social networks. Collaboration and connection are almost a second nature to their personas. They would be mighty uncomfortable if they cannot collaborate with their accountants. Social networks encourage people to be participatory, even if it means just expressing thoughts and opinions. It has become a habit for people. Expect your client of the future to expect collaboration with you and expect them to participate in moving their work forward. Business owners who become your clients will expect you to co-drive to their objectives. You will work with them almost like how you work with a colleague, not like a client.

4.   Seeking Only What He/She Can’t Do

When the client of the future has easy access to a lot of information – and the power of technology, automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning, it is natural for them to feel they can do a lot of things accountants do. But they will also have access to information about what outcomes accountants produce. They will also, therefore, know what is it that they can’t do easily – and for such work, they will rely on accountants. It is imperative that as an accounting firm, you put out there as many outcomes you produce for your clients and also how – so that the client of the future recognizes the onerous effort needed to produce such outcomes.

5.   Seeking Only What He/She Won’t Want to Do:

Traditionally, clients did some accounting themselves even if they could not do it professionally or they did not really want to do it. Their considerations/constraints could have been different – for cost savings purposes, for lack of collaborative real-time technologies, etc. But, the client of the future will not face those traditional considerations. The playing field has totally shifted. With more focus on life-experiences and explosion of information availability, the client of the future will want to prioritize their use of scarcer time to things that they really want to do. Accounting’s age-old definitions hence it’s perceptions will transform. More likely than not, accounting will be perceived as a specialist job – and the client of the future would want specialists to do it. No wonder, the fastest growing, emerging revenue growth opportunity for accountants is in client accounting services.

How Will Your Firm Prepare to Attract and Retain The Client of The Future?

The path to that strategy will begin by recognizing that the client of the future will be very different from the client of now.

It will NOT be about generational differences. It will be more about changing behavioral patterns, belief systems, values, different resource availability, transforming regulations and hence, different how-tos and different expectations.

Once you recognize and embrace these shifts, the most important question for you to answer will be:

“How do I and my firm raise my value and relevance to my client of the future?”