CPA expertise continues to support businesses of all typesJan 13, 2024 11:49AM ● By Randee Brown
Certified Public Accountants have a specific set of skills and experience that many business owners do not possess, according to Wesley Jones, Managing Member at Envision Planning, LLC. Some small businesses have simple structures and may not need accounting or tax planning advice or assistance, but for those uncomfortable with their own accounting needs, a CPA can provide significant value.
The majority of CPA firms work with mostly small- to medium-sized businesses, according to Jones. Some startups or small businesses may not have the funds to hire their own full-time accounting staff, though they need someone to help make sense of their bookkeeping and tax preparations. When businesses reach a certain size, they are often able to hire their own financial controller or CFO, but some companies still make use of a fractional CFO who regularly works with the business’s team to review and solve problems and produce reports for the business owner.
Most CPA firms are small businesses themselves, according to Jones, and understand the nuances involved in operating a small business. This can be helpful in providing services like creating a new company, obtaining an employer identification number, and starting payroll.
Businesses in every industry work with CPA firms, as do many individuals. Clients span a variety of sectors and include doctors, builders, veterinarians, service providers, and retirees.
“I have seen an uptick of real estate agents seeking services,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of work in that area, and there’s a lot of word-of-mouth advertising. If we get an agent in one office doing business with us, they often suggest other agents on their team use that service as well.”
Though much of the work performed by CPAs is not significantly different than at the beginning of Jones’s 20-plus year career, IRS regulations are always changing, and CPAs must keep up with those changes. In recent years, the IRS has increased its focus on cybersecurity, and CPA firms must have plans in place to protect client data and to manage a possible cybersecurity breach.
CPAs are also required to participate in 40 hours of continuing education per year, two of which must focus on ethics. The remaining 38 hours of education can focus on any aspect of increasing their professional competency, and there are many providers of education specific to this service, including the CPA Academy — an online hub of continuing professional education webinars, self-guided courses, and other resources.
Continuing education is also helpful for CPA firms offering additional services outside of tax planning. Some clients also request services like investment planning.
“I think a lot of CPAs are increasingly wanting to be business consultants or financial consultants,”Jones said. “You can do that without a financial planning degree. Some people want financial planning and some people don’t, but it’s good to at least be able to check in with clients about different areas of their financial life.”
Many CPA firms have moved toward operating via digital portals, according to Jones. While firms still offer in-office meetings and document submission via “snail mail,” many firms place emphasis on their portals. This allows clients to review drafts, sign tax returns, and pay fees in one online location, and use of this model has grown exponentially since COVID.
While most businesses are required to file their tax returns by March 15, Jones said December is the best time to do some pre-planning. A CPA may recommend making purchases for write-off purposes prior to the end of the year, and in January, many firms make recommendations to business owners regarding retirement contributions that provide personal benefits as well as tax deductions. Firms may be able to estimate tax payments for the following year, providing an idea of necessary cash flow for the business.
“A lot of clients ask how they can pay less taxes, and working with a CPA will 99% ensure you’ll pay only what you owe,” Jones said. “Many firms have years of experience, and although there is a fee for this service, you’re paying for the experience that will ensure you pay the least amount of taxes.”