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CPA Financial Planning: Rewarding in Every Way

by Lori Pajunen Luck (via AICPA) | Jul 29, 2016
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A client comment last week propelled me back to my business decision 15 years ago to jump in with both feet to the world of CPA financial planning.

Pausing on her way out the door after a particularly fruitful discussion, she remarked, “We’ve been together a long time.”

Indeed. I’ve been a CPA and tax adviser for her small business for 25 years. I added the full scope of financial planning and investment monitoring for her when I found that clients needed more focus on these services and I was in the best position as a CPA to give them the advice they were seeking.

We’ve monitored her assets and her retirement planning. We’ve made decisions about Social Security. We’ve helped her iron out various issues with estate planning, as many people have after second marriages. Her children were young when we started; now they’re out of college and on their own. Now she’s retiring and has sold her business. And we’ve been with her every step of the way.

It’s been wonderful, for both of us, really. And it’s that way with many of our clients. Shifting our practice to focus more intentionally on financial planning is one of the best decisions I ever made.

From Family Crisis to Financial Planner

My journey to become a CPA financial planner didn’t happen overnight. I was partner with a tax practice in a local CPA firm, and when clients would ask for help with certain aspects of their financial planning, I’d refer to them to someone in our network. Then my father developed dementia and my parents were having trouble finding resources. They weren’t prepared, and they were in crisis. We had to figure out what to do.

Somewhere in the process of helping my parents negotiate their complex maze of financial decision-making, preparing for my own family’s financial future and having clients ask for help, it became clear: my clients needed someone knowledgeable and trustworthy to help them make sound financial decisions in all of these areas. As CPAs, we’re uniquely qualified to do that.

So, my colleagues and I did our research, made our plan, learned what we needed and moved forward wholeheartedly into the CPA financial planning area.

The combination of CPA and financial planning offers my clients the whole package. We advise them as they wrestle with life’s most important financial decisions with the knowledge and expertise of tax and other important accounting considerations underpinning every decision they make.

Pick Financial Planning Services Right for Your Firm

Financial planning can include tax planning, retirement planning, estate planning, succession planning, wealth management and investment planning. I find you need to know a little bit about each of those areas so you can coordinate the pieces for clients, but you can pick and choose which services you want to offer.

For example, we don’t sell insurance but we have insurance brokers who we will recommend to clients, and we may sit in on meetings with them. We’re not lawyers, so we don’t draft estate documents, but we may attend meetings with clients and their attorneys and help them work through the decisions they must make. It’s different for every client, but we work with each of them to develop a financial plan that meets their goals and then help them manage the myriad decisions and adjustments they must make along the way.

The investment piece was one area that gave me pause. I didn’t understand how to advise on investments because that was not my area of expertise. But clients kept coming to us asking for help, so I went to school to learn about investments, found an approach we were comfortable with that stayed true to our roots as CPAs and began working in that space. Investments is not for everyone, and that’s fine. There is plenty of financial planning work to be done in other areas.

We’re witnessing a tremendous and growing need for competent, capable financial planning from people of all ages. Retirement planning is the predominant concern for many of our clients — will they have enough money to live on? That business will only grow with all of the retiring baby boomers.

But they’re not the only ones. We’re seeing more and more young people in the 25–30-year-old range — people just starting out. They’ve seen their parents struggling and regretting not making better decisions, and they’re trying to head that off.

Building Trust, and Relationships, as a CPA Financial Planner

I find the CPA credential gives my clients comfort that I have their best interests at heart, which I do. They know I’m not going to do wild and crazy things with their plan. If someone calls and asks if they should pay off debt, we’ll look at the numbers but also look at their particular situation and help them make a sound decision.

All told, it’s a much deeper relationship with our financial planning clients. You get to know so much more about them and you can help them so much more, so it’s extremely rewarding.

About 90,000 AICPA members already provide financial planning services, but many don’t call it that.

To those people, and anyone considering expanding into CPA financial planning, I say, embrace the name CPA financial planner and the significant opportunity it offers to expand your practice by providing the full range of financial services your clients need at every life stage. You’re likely offering most of those services already, just not using the term the public uses to describe them.

Need more information and support? Hear from other CPA financial planners, learn important facts about this growing area and find resources to support your practice of advising clients at aicpa.org/CPAfinancialplanner.

CPA financial planner Lori Pajunen Luck provides tax, financial planning and investment monitoring services for CLS Financial Advisors Inc. in Portland, OR. In addition to her credential as a certified public accountant, she holds the Personal Financial Specialist (PFSTM) credential, available only to CPAs.

Published with permission of the AICPA

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