Hard Facts on Soft Skills for Accountants: How Effective Relationship Management Can Differentiate Your CAAS Practice

Author: George Zoglio | Date: April 11, 2023

Client accounting and advisory services (CAAS) is one of the fastest growing practice areas for accounting firms. Whether your firm calls it Client Accounting Service (CAS), Outsourcing or other Advisory services, the one thing that is clear is that the service is in demand. Participants in the AICPA’s Benchmark Survey reported a median growth of 16% in this area of their practice and an optimistic outlook for continued growth. 

One of the key challenges in a firm’s ability to successfully deliver CAAS is understanding the differences in the client relationship from that of a typical audit or tax compliance engagement—primarily in the frequency and nature of client interaction. While the audit or tax professional may occasionally reach out to a client during the year to notify them of standards changes or new tax legislation, their primary function is the annual preparation of a tax return or financial statement attestation. From the client’s perspective, it’s more of an event that happens once a year—sort of like a visit from Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, but for professional services. 

Premier CAAS require professionals to have much more frequent, ongoing contact with their clients, serving as financial translators on a day-to-day basis. CAAS professionals are much more likely to meet with client executives and managers who know their day-to-day operating activities inside-and-out but are relying on the CAAS team to interpret the present (and future) financial impact of operations without some of the jargon that accountants use in their discussions. Whereas auditors and tax preparers speak in terms of what was, CAAS professionals are much more likely to answer the all-important client question of “What do my numbers mean for my business today and tomorrow?”

More Interactions Highlight the Need for Soft Skills for Accountants

With this increased level of client interaction, firms cannot afford to ignore soft skills learning. CAAS professionals should look to accelerate development of their soft skills early in their careers to build effective communication, improved listening techniques, conflict management, and teamwork. Soft skills for accountants are important throughout their careers, but the CAAS professional in particular, needs to become proficient in things like empathy, presentation skills, executive presence, persuasiveness, and flexibility sooner than those who come up through the ranks in audit or tax. It helps if your firm has an effective HR program that can identify those who might be more suitable for this role early on, but it’s also possible to train CAAS professionals in the basics and to hone their skills as they grow in the practice.

Long-term research as far back as the 1980s by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichenger stressed the need and “ROI” of soft skills competencies from entry-level staff to the board room. Recent studies have quantified the importance of soft skills in maintaining business relationships:

  • Soft skills training in areas like communication and problem solving increased worker productivity and engagement by 12%, delivering a 250% ROI. (2018 National Bureau of Economic Research study “The Skills to Pay the Bills: Returns to on-the-job Soft Skills Training”)
  • In 2013, Google launched Project Oxygen, analyzing their hiring, firing and promotion data for its then 15-year existence. They concluded that among the most important qualities of their top performers, STEM expertise (science, technology, engineering, math) ranked eighth, with soft skills such as communication, listening and empathy ranking in the top five.
  • And on the negative side, the LinkedIn 2019 Global Talent Trends Report found that 89% of talent professionals and hiring managers agreed that “bad hires” typically had poor soft skills competencies. Keep in mind that this data was gathered before the pandemic where a person’s lack of soft skills may not have been evident upon hire. Who knows if that number will increase as we return to in-person work?

With so many accounting firms looking to CAAS practices for growth, what’s the best formula for developing these critical soft skills for accountants on the CAAS team?

Soft Skills for Accountants from CPA Teachers

While there are all kinds of consultants that offer training in improved communication, presentation skills, conflict management, and persuasiveness, only one firm offers the specific type of detailed CAAS training by CPA teachers for CPA clients. 20-20 Services understands how to train accountants in these skills within the specific context of their client responsibilities and relationships. Our CAAS offerings include technical instruction on accounting and tax issues as well as the soft skills necessary to develop and maintain the unique client relationship necessary to deliver successful CAAS programs with high levels of client satisfaction. 

Please contact us to learn more about how 20-20 Services can help your CAAS professionals better serve their clients.

Picture of George Zoglio

George Zoglio

After nearly a decade as a contracted 20-20 Services instructor, George joined the management team in the newly created role of Director of Client Accounting & Advisory Services (CAAS) training in August of 2022. In addition to his instructor responsibilities, George is heavily involved in program and business development of CAAS training division.

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