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How to Develop a Stable of the Best CPAs in Town

Four steps to success.

I stumbled onto a terrific article perfect for tax season: How to Find the Best CPA or Tax Accountant Near You by Janet Berry-Johnson, published in Wirecutter. Ms. Berry-Johnson’s audience was the general public, but I think it has some great implications for financial advisors as well.

The objective is twofold: 1) Identify the best CPAs in your area to refer affluent clients; and 2) Develop a referral alliance with as many of them as possible.

Berry-Johnson’s article begins with a bold warning: Why you need to be careful when choosing a CPA. She then writes about how the IRS assembles a “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams every year. Not only is this interesting, but it can also be useful to the forward-thinking financial advisor.

Step 1: Get a copy of the IRS annual “Dirty Dozen.” At the very minimum, it can serve as a conversation piece with your top 25 clients. The basic message is that we want to make you aware of these latest tax scams—if you see one be careful.

You can also use this list as a discussion point with each CPA of your top 25 clients. This provides the social opportunity to interact face to face, as well as a way to further position yourself as a client advocate. (Tip: try to avoid this conversation in the heat of tax season).

The third form of communication is to create content around the IRS’ “Dirty Dozen” for a variety of mediums: newsletter, video, podcast, blog. All of which should be positioned as a value-added “tax season announcement.” This communication should have a broad target of clients, prospects and other professionals. Make sure to spend the time necessary to compose your commentary—a good lead-in and summary are essential.

Step 2: Compile a list of potential CPAs. It comes as no surprise that the first suggestion by Ms. Berry-Johnson involves word-of-mouth-influence. She suggests that the reader ask family, friends and co-workers for referrals. For your purposes, you’re asking for referrals to quality CPAs in an effort to steer your clients properly.

The other steps are probably not as important to you but should be accounted for in this process. They include searching the IRS directory for current credentials, checking with state or national associations, and researching IRS free tax preparation services.

Step 3: Interview CPA candidates selected. From a marketing perspective, you are looking to compile a stable of the best CPAs in the area while keeping an eye out for those who can also become strong referral partners. It was interesting to read the questions suggested that the reader ask a prospective CPA:

  • How long have you been preparing taxes?
  • Do you have any specialties?
  • How do you bill for your services?
  • Are you available for questions outside of tax season?
  • Who will prepare my tax return?

Your first objective in this initial meeting is to develop rapport. From there you can learn more about their business, share some aspects of your business and (finally) invite this CPA to your office at some future date to meet your team (see your operation). You're angling to showcase your practice.

Step 4: Showcase your practice (team) to CPAs selected. Few things are as effective in initiating a professional referral alliance relationship as having that professional meet your team and get a firsthand understanding of what you do, how you do it and the full extent of your professionalism. We refer to this as experiential learning. It’s powerful!

Not every CPA whom you have selected will accept your invitation to meet your team. That’s OK, as long as you understand the No. 1 rule of professional reciprocity—never refer to a professional who doesn't reciprocate in kind.

Most financial advisors have a good idea of the CPA talent in their area. At the same time, most financial advisors have, nonetheless, not developed as many strong referral alliances as they could. Hopefully, something within these steps can help you develop a stable of the best CPAs in town.

Matt Oechsli is author of How to Build a 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing, and Retaining Affluent

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