If you’ve worked with Grimbleby Coleman before, you know our concept is a little different than most CPA firms. We attribute that to our advisory mindset. But what, exactly, is an advisory mindset, and what does it mean for the companies we work with?
Clive Grimbleby, Principal at the firm and former CEO, once again shared his take on GC’s philosophy. In part two of this extended conversation with Clive, ad agency Ali Cox and Co. delves into GC’s advisory approach to client services. If you missed part one, you can find the first installment from January by clicking here.
Q. Grimbleby Coleman values its advisory approach to client services. What does “advisory” mean in the context of a CPA business?
A. Advisory begins with relationships. We have to listen and understand what is happening with the clients and be willing to be active participants with them. Advisory encompasses all the things we do beyond the compliance side that need to be done. It can take many forms and requires skills that go beyond technical knowledge. For example, as we’re talking with clients, how do we listen carefully to really understand the context of the question, rather than just responding to the question? Listening and asking questions is key to advisory thinking.
Q. What’s an example of using an advisory mindset to help the client?
A. A simple example: A GC team member hears that a business client is considering moving out of state. Consequently, they might put their business or property up for sale. We want the team member hearing that information to think, “Ding ding ding! I need to let my manager know of the conversation so we can discuss various tax and non-tax issues with the owner. It might not be in the client’s mind to ask, so we want to be proactive. It’s a more holistic thought process in which we encourage our entire team to participate.
Q. How did Grimbleby Coleman first develop an advisory mindset?
A. Becky Austin, our agile-minded Business Development Manager, has been instrumental in helping us to get our people thinking in an advisory mindset. But to some extent, we’ve always been in this mode. If you go back 30 years, we were doing things that would make others in the industry say, “Wow, I didn’t think to ask that question!”
Some of our attitude stems from culture and personality. We’re willing to talk about those things that will push our own internal boundaries. We realize that we often don’t know the answer to a question. A number of years ago, we joined the BDO Alliance to expand our expertise and vision beyond our local market. We routinely bring in outside consultants to ensure we’re not becoming myopic or narrow-minded.
Having a 360-degree approach and asking thoughtful questions of ourselves allows us to apply those questions to client conversations. As accountants and advisors, we shouldn’t limit our services to preparing tax returns or financial statements.
Q. It sounds like you’ve always had the instinct to separate Grimbleby Coleman from the pack of traditional CPA firms. Where did that come from?
A. I wish I could tell you there was some grand plan. Truthfully, we’ve always been unique in our vision and willingness to practice high-touch accountancy.
About five years ago, there was an upsurge within the industry of people talking about the importance of being a client advisor. To some extent, it has been a reaction to the increased use of artificial intelligence and the impact AI has had on traditional accounting services. In any case, the client-advisor movement is a road that we were already traveling. About that same time, Tami Davis, the lead partner in our Client Advisory and Accounting Services department (CAAS), attended a Digital CPA conference. The emphasis of that conference was on listening to the needs of our clients beyond traditional services.
Q. How are you fostering an advisory spirit in the organization?
A. A few years ago, we developed training sessions to help our team navigate client interactions and adapt to advisory and relationship-focused goals. We’re working hard to continue with that internally. Once a month, at one of our regular meetings, our focus is the client experience. Senior Accountant Brian Rubio, CPA, doubles as a training coordinator to further ensure staff understands that the advisory mindset is an integral part of their technical training.
Or course, we continue to allocate resources for both technical and non-technical training. Team members spend at least 80 hours every two years on required continuing education. When you add in the internal activities, our team far exceeds that number of hours. Part of our hope with our training is to better manage and deliver in both technical and soft skills areas.
Q. How do you see this approach playing out over the next few years?
A. The integration of advisory into routine work will continue to be a focus. Our recent merger with Ristau and Co. CPAs (a Modesto-based CPA firm with over 40 years of experience) provides continuing opportunities to serve our clients. This additional capacity allows us to think carefully, ask questions, and suggest and implement improvements. The possible benefits to our clients are endless!