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Five Savvy Questions to Help Advisors Qualify CPA Partners

Forget about sticking to a script.

We’ve seen many financial advisors try and script their first meeting with a CPA with little to no success. For starters, we’re dealing with people and it’s hard to predict what others will do or say. Not to mention, there are many directions the first meeting can take. You might be getting introduced over lunch, a cup of coffee or grabbing their attention for a few minutes after a Rotary meeting. 

Instead of attempting to script this meeting, we recommend having a handful of questions you can ask to get the conversation rolling, demonstrate your expertise and, most important, gain telling insights into their practice. There are a handful of questions that can help you determine if this CPA may be a good potential partner.

The following are five questions we recommend to help qualify potential CPA partners during an initial meeting. However, don’t start your conversation with these questions—this may come across as too intrusive. Instead, your goal is to seamlessly weave them into the conversation.

Question 1: How would you describe an ideal client for your practice?

Your goal is to work with professionals who have clients who match your ideal client profile. If there is a mismatch here, pursuing a relationship is probably not the best use of your time.

If the CPA responds with personality traits such as “takes my advice,” “easy-going,” compared with qualifiers like assets, occupation, life stage and more, you’ll need to dig deeper. You can accomplish this by asking follow-up questions around services clients request and any niches they serve.

Question 2: Who are some of the advisors in town that you feel do a good job?

It may be tempting to directly ask a CPA if they refer to advisors. But resist the urge, especially in the first meeting. Why? You don’t want to appear as if this is your only motive for a partnership. They’re already thinking this in the back of their mind and you being too brazen just confirms their suspicions.

However, the question above can help you arrive at the same conclusion. If the CPA does not have advisors that come to mind, they probably don’t refer. If that’s the case … run! While it may be tempting to see this as an opportunity for you to swoop in and “save the day,” the chances of you transforming this CPA from someone who doesn’t refer to someone who does is slim to none.

Question 3: Where do you get most of your new business?

CPAs who are in an active growth mode typically refer to advisors more often. Why? They understand the importance of reciprocity and they simply have more opportunities to refer. 

If the CPA mentions they aren’t taking on any new clients, they may not be the best partner. But if they discuss getting referrals, hosting events, digital marketing and more, that can be a great sign. 

Question 4: What are some of the common mistakes you see advisors make regarding taxes?

This question allows the CPA to be the expert and gives you critical insight into their feelings toward financial advisors. If they go off on a tangent, they may have negative feelings toward advisors. Consequently, they may not be a great referral source. However, if they offer some constructive insights, they may be the type of partner you’re looking for.

Question 5: Seems like more and more accounting firms are offering investment advice. Have you ever considered getting into that?

This simple question helps you identify if this CPA is currently offering a competitive service or plans to in the future. Also, you may be able to uncover this information through their website or LinkedIn profile.

Remember, you’re vetting this partnership just as they are and your most valuable resource is time. Use the questions above to help identify quality partners so you can spend time cultivating relationships with the right professionals.


Stephen Boswell and Kevin Nichols are partners with The Oechsli Institute, a firm that specializes in research, training and digital marketing services for the financial services industry. @StephenBoswell @KevinANichols

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