The hours and costs to increase revenue within a service-based accounting firm can pile up fast. Many tools, formulas, and schemes just missed the mark. My next guests are financial thought leaders, and they came together to write a book to help position accounting firms for long-term success.
Welcome back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty. I’m here with Homer Smith and Paul Saganey, to share stories and hear all about their new book, Optimizing the Financial Lives of Clients. Let’s get into it.
I’m excited to have you all here. I was intrigued by the book that you guys have developed together. All about harnessing the power of an accounting firm’s elite wealth management practice. I know you guys really brought the elite forth. I want to talk a little bit about your personal background. I got Paul and Homer here. They’re basically the people who we want to know when we’re doing anything accounting related. They have brought forth, like a huge, I would say bag of wisdom with them today. I’m excited to get into their stories, their personal backgrounds, and everything else they’re going to share with us today in regard to their book. Thank you guys for joining me today.
Paul A. Saganey: I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having us.
Homer S. Smith IV: Thank you.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Awesome. Let’s go ahead and start giving our listeners a little bit about your personal backgrounds, how you all met and brought forth this book together.
Homer S. Smith IV: Do you want me to start with that one, Paul?
Paul A. Saganey: Go for it, Homer. Go for it.
Homer S. Smith IV: All right. My background, I’ve been in the wealth management space for about 20 years, a little bit over 20 years, actually. My first week as an advisor was the week of 9/11, 2001. Over the course of time from that starting in a unique time, I’ve been through a lot and seen a lot. Naturally, in our industry, you work with a lot of other complementary professionals, whether it be accountants, attorneys, or insurance folks. At the end of the day, our role really is to help bring all of that together in a way for a client can ensure that they’re everything’s being looked at from the client’s point of view.
In terms of the book itself, and the background, about three years ago or so, as I was looking to make a change in my career, I met Paul through a mutual friend. Paul was also looking to do much of the same thing, where they had already built a platform that was really focused on the same type of clients I was working with, which is mostly private business owners, looking to ultimately exit their business, and working very closely with accountants and CPAs. They’ve had a number of those within the firm. So naturally, it was just a great fit to come together on this in between my background of the success I had and what Paul was already doing. We combined our best practices to really hone in on what are the things that really make bringing a wealth management practice to an accounting firm elite. That’s really the background for the book.
Paul A. Saganey: Yeah. As for me, I’ve been doing now financial planning for over 30 years. I guess I’m the senior member of the group. Started my career doing fee-based financial planning specifically focused on estate tax planning, once again, similar to Homer, working with business owners and people that have more complex financial lives. But behind the book was really back in 1996. We put together a firm called Integrated Partners. The purpose of the firm was to help accounting firms partner with financial advisors and bring that elite wealth management to their higher net-worth clients and business owners. Here we are, 25 years later, putting the program together, working with over 170 accounting firms.
Certainly, when Homer [and] I sat down and spoke to Russ Allen, who wrote the book together with us. We just thought that this was the chance for us to bring our experience of working with accounting firms. Knowing just working with accounting firms, but really – everyone always asks us how do you do your program with accountants and financial planners and why does it work so well for you? That’s what this book was about. We wanted to share why it worked so well for us. How we bring the talents of advisors like Homer to high net worth and clients with complex lives. Once again, see these elite wealth management teams that we put together work so well in the various accounting firms that we work with around the country. It was really a wonderful experience working with both Homer and Russ Alan, putting this together, and brainstorming the ideas. Here we are. Our very first book, so it’s exciting.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s very exciting, congratulations. I mean, the key elements in all of this is, are just so profound. For me, I’m not going to lie, they’re a little over my head, because like you said, this book is very specific to who it’s serving, which I love because you’re really targeting your potential clientele. That goes to show how intentional you are about creating those relationships with your clients. I really love that I try to put the two and two together throughout reading about you and your book and the history of things. I realized how amazing that is. You’re very intentional about who you want to work with in creating that deep relationship. Can you tell us —either of you, Homer or Paul— Can you tell us about points in trust in creating that deep client relationship? How you’ve been able to navigate those waters as you’ve grown your own business?
Paul A. Saganey: Yeah. I guess I’ll take that one, Homer. At the beginning of the book, Hussein, we really talked about the fact that we talked about our why. Why do we do what we do? We really build that around four key principles. The first principle, obviously, is it’s the client first. It’s bringing the best in the highest quality financial advice to the clients of the accounting firms. It really does almost begin and end right there, but certainly doing what’s best for the client and helping them optimize their financial life is so important to us. Then, in addition to that, we want to bring exceptional value. We really want to differentiate ourselves by bringing value to that client in their family that they can’t get anywhere else.
Then another core principle is making sure that the CPA is always involved in everything that we do. It’s not where, this is a program where you just send the client out to a financial advisor down the street and hope for the best. This is truly the best minds getting together and bringing, once again, that highest quality financial plan to the client. Then the last core principle we have in really around the whole concept of why we do this, is because we’ve been able to prove that we can make elite wealth management part of the culture of an accounting firm.
Once again, not something that we do once in a while, or it’s this little add-on that we provide our clients. This is where Homer has done such a magical job—and maybe Homer, you can touch upon this—but really making that wealth management, that elite wealth management part of the culture of the firm and making it something that they think about literally every single day as they work with their clients.
Homer S. Smith IV: Yeah. I think, to add-on to that and why it works so well…I think a really important part of our processes, we know it’s not for everybody in the accounting space. While oftentimes accountants and wealth managers work together, our process, I think, has some differences that not every accountant is comfortable with. A lot of that comes down to, again, how the focus is on the client. We also want to know a lot about the accountant, the CPA, and what they’re looking to accomplish, as well.
We spent a lot of time at the beginning of our relationships, really trying to understand what’s the goal of that CPA? What clients do they currently work with? Who do they want to work with? What’s their career trajectory, because what we found in the process of doing this is that not every accountant wants to grow significantly, maybe they’re near the end of their career, and the idea of working harder or more, even though that’s not the outcome, we help present in their mind that they’re not interested in adding something new to the mix.
I think we develop a lot of trust in our process because we’re not trying to bring this idea and force everybody into our process. We’re not trying to fit square pegs into round holes here. I think we take a very good approach to it to make sure that it’s a good fit.
Relationships Come First
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that. It’s almost like the idea of like a tailored suit. It just feels different, it’s appropriate, it’s adjusted. I appreciate that level of thinking about your client as someone that you want to build that deep relationship with, because like you said, depending on where they are in their — I guess, career and their path, you can really cultivate a beautiful garden on a relationship basis. In this type of work, for me personally, having owned a small business and starting another one, it’s so important to have a relationship. I mean, I’m nowhere near big scale. I used to have about, let’s say, 15 employees at one point at a print shop. It was remarkable.
However, I knew the most important relationship I had was the one with the employees that I had. Then the other ones were like, my tax people. That’s what I call them. The people who are going to take care of me at the end of the year and make sure that I can continue doing this next year, and having that relationship where you can reach out to that person, and they can come over. You go over there, and just having that bond was always so meaningful and important to me. I can only imagine what it’s like for accounting firms, having layers and layers of complexity like you shared earlier. It’s very important to cultivate the basics of human needs, right, first and foremost, some trust and love in there, right.
Homer S. Smith IV: I think, if you look at the accounting world, and what they go through, in particular, last few years through changing deadlines and as it goes throughout the year. The deadlines in April, deadlines in June, deadlines in September, October, it’s a constant pressure cooker for them. It’s very difficult to be able to take a step back and really look at things from a planning perspective. It’s not that they don’t want to do what’s best for their client. Oftentimes, it really can just be a challenge for them to be able to have the mind space to be able to do it. So part of the role of the Elite Wealth Management Practice within the firm, is to be able to help them do that and identify how can they bring more value to their client.
At the end of the day, just like you just mentioned, what we know, and talking to the business owners that they work with, they really want their tax people to be the source of the ideas that are coming to them, how to save money on taxes, how to bring more value to their business, but they just don’t have the time. This process, what we bring to the table for them is really what allows them to do that. Bring more value to their top clients in a way that doesn’t require a lot of additional time for them to be able to implement that.
Paul A. Saganey: I love what you said, Hussein, about your employees are first and your accountant was number two. Certainly that accountant does wear that most trusted adviser badge in the lives of their clients. To Homer’s point when you think about it, we as a firm, and as advisors, we refer to that tax return as their clients financial autobiography. So within that tax return are certainly areas or spots where we can bring value to the table. As you said, Hussein, that your accountant was your most trusted adviser, someone you turn to all the time. What Homer and I do is we put together teams to make sure that that accountant is supported, and can bring the proper advice to the table when you need it as a business owner. I’m sure you must have seen that firsthand when you would deal with different issues and challenges, that having a team around you is really what’s most valuable.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes. 100%. The times that she came to me and helped me like, “Oh, you know, should really think about investing in this way or thinking about this thing that you want to buy in this way.” Just like little, like what do you suggest I do, right? What’s the best, like you said earlier, what’s the best value that you can — what’s the best piece of information I can have right now, that will help me make this decision as a business owner. Basically, pay off in the long run or I don’t have to pay as high tax on it or whatever it is. Those things were so important.
Being able to have those conversations with the business owner is so crucial, so for you to come in and help that accountant and say, “Hey, look. There’s these components and here’s how you can help.” For me, that’ll just grow that value even more. That makes me want to stick with them even longer, right, and build a deeper relationship. It sounds like, you guys are doing something so, almost fundamental to helping the helpers, if you will. I think that’s just profound. It all comes down to our own peace of mind at the end of the day.
You’re right. Having a constant pressure cooker, whether I mean, whether you’re in the business, or the person that’s helping that business owner, it always ripples out. For people to look at that and say “You know what, we can offer a value service here or we can add offer valuable information and knowledge here.” I think it’s so powerful. Can you give us an example of someone that you have both worked with that went through a transformation by implementing some of the principles you guys teach, impart with?
Homer S. Smith IV: Yeah. I’ll take that one. Employees feel free to add in, but there’s a firm that we work with on the West Coast, that fantastic firm, and a number of offices, 13 partners, as an accounting firm is doing very well and taking care of their clients, tax need, and audit needs, but they did recognize like, “Hey, we do believe we can bring more value.” They have some very wealthy clients, complex business owners, complex real estate, and families, and they wanted to bring more value. What we’ve been able to do, it started a couple of years ago. We started with helping educate the CPAs on different ways that they could bring more value, but what we found was by just educational loan, unless something was right in front of them, unless what we just discussed happened to show up right in front of them with their meeting with a business owner. They weren’t likely to turn that education into something that was going to bring more value to their clients.
As we really honed in on this process and implemented it, the way that we outlined in the book where we really dive in from a discovery standpoint with the accountant really help them identify the key needs of their top clients beyond just the tax and accounting space, where they could actually see immense value and introducing us into their process with the client, where we were able to then do deeper discovery with our client and uncover even more opportunities not only for the client themselves to be better off, whether it’s from a tax standpoint, estate planning, asset protection, whatever the area of need was.
Also showing the accounting firm, how we could bring more value back to them by solving these complex problems for their clients or actually going to provide more needs of the CPA firm itself. There’s going to be more trust, more structures, more consulting time, where they could actually make more money as a CPA firm, while bringing more value to their clients. This light bulb has gone off where a lot of that work is being done behind the scenes for them. So they’re seeing their profits start to go up without having to spend nearly as much time while bringing more value to their clients. They’re elated with the process that we’ve been going through over the last year. It’s starting to make big results in the, like you were just describing, as if that was happening directly from your CPA firm that you were working with. How much deeper the connections would be. That’s exactly what we’re seeing with the firm that I’m working with.
Paul A. Saganey: I think for me, Hussein, of how the front row seat now for 25 years, as we have a firm built out our accounting firm program. Once again, inside of over 170 accounting firms, we have access to over 150,000 clients. So think about that. That’s the reach that we have as a firm, but I think Homer is exactly right. Homer sees firsthand being one of our top financial advisors, the impact that our program has in the individual clients. I think from my standpoint. I get to see what it does for the accounting firm itself. So watching so many accounting firms at a wealth management division, offer these services to their clients. Once again, through the wonderful work of the financial advisors on the team do see how it brings the confidence of those clients. They should really begin to elevate because they’re getting the advice that they need at the right time.
Homer hit right on the head, bringing the right team to the table. Dealing directly with and understanding through a discovery process what those clients need. That’s what the whole thing is all about, but the beauty of the program is, we can watch these accounting firms really begin to grow in morph. Once again, culturally change, because now they truly do become the central hub of the financial services and the financial questions that their clients have. So where Homer, who’s an amazing financial advisor gets to see what it does at the client level. For me, Hussein, I get to see what it does for the accounting firm itself and see how that accounting firm goes through such a tremendous change over the course of building out this wealth management service program.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. I love that so much. I mean, you guys really honed in on this idea of, instead of creating a process or a specific thing that people have to follow or a rule. It’s more of like an energy that you inject into the office and start getting them to understand that the more value that they can offer the existing client, which they have, right? For me, it was like when I used to hunt for doing apparel printing, right? I would basically go back to the same customers and say “When you place the next order with us, what else can we offer you?” That was my feeling. What else can we bring? Can we bring in hats? Whatever, whatever.
The idea of like, taking who you have, and adding more value to what they can expect from you and what you want to share with them, that exponentially adds value like you said, which earns you more income, more trust, more, whatever it is. More outings, more golf, whatever it is that you intend to get out of that specific partnership. I appreciate how you all have just honed in on such a human element, which is just that deep connection. You talk about everyone wins, right? There’s this part of the elite wealth management process, if you will or I would call it, an injection of energy. What is the everyone wins process?
Homer S. Smith IV: Everyone wins process really is about making sure that you as the person bringing value to the scenario. You’ve got to understand things from a lot of different perspectives. First, you got to understand what’s in this for me? Like, if I’m going to do this, is there something in it for me? But very quickly, you also got to understand what’s in it for the client. What’s in it for the accountant to participate in this? If all of those outcomes aren’t aligned, if me getting what I want out of this doesn’t align with the client and the CPA working together, then it’s not going to work out. At some point, someone’s going to disengage from the process, because they’re not feeling everybody is working together to try to get the optimal outcome.
It’s got to be worthwhile for everyone to participate. Even for me, as the advisor participating in this role. There’s got to be something in it for me, but very quickly, once I recognize what I want, I got to make sure that everybody else gets what they want out of this as well. It’s really making sure that that is at the core of what we’re doing. It’s from a very fiduciary standpoint, as it comes down to the client specifically, as they have to win first and foremost. Once we recognize, “Hey, we’re all in this together, we’re all going to do well from this. Then let’s focus on making sure our clients get the most value they possibly can out of this. It’s going to come back to all of us in a very good way if we do that.”
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. Paul, what are your thoughts on that?
Paul A. Saganey: Exactly what Homer said. I think under the concept of everyone wins, think of the different individuals involved. There’s the client, there’s the accountant. Then there are the different members of the team bringing financial advice to the table. So, unfortunately, historically, when you look at how financial advisory firms partner with accounting firms, the unfortunate and the sad reality is that not everyone does win in most of the relationships that are being built out there or that are being run today. One thing that Homer and I and Russ Alan have a lot of pride in the fact that in the relationships that we are building, it truly is about everybody winning.
It’s that client walks out the door, feeling so much more comfortable and confident. That accountant is there with pride, seeing the results of a happy client and someone that puts their trust in them and watching what happens when they walk out that door. Then certainly it’s us as the financial advisors and the teams that we bring in the door to help bring the proper expertise to the table. That’s very rare, Hussein. Very rare in our industry that we can certainly look to both Homer and I, and say that everybody walks out the door, feeling so much better about this relationship. Everyone truly does walk out the door as winners, which is so important to us.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. I love that so much. You’re 100%, right. It’s hard to do that, but it’s great to build a habit towards that, right? It’s one of those things that when you teach it once or twice, three times, and you practice it within your culture in your work, that inevitably, becomes how you think and feel, so you wanting to walk out of this opportunity, partnership, relationship, whatever it is that you feel just as good as they do, walking away from it. That is so important. I appreciate both of your inputs today. I just want to say writing a book is a huge feat. So congratulations to all three of you on this book. Well, we got the two of you talking today. I appreciate that. If you wanted people to take away one or two things from this book, what would that be?
Paul A. Saganey: I guess, I’ll go first to that, Homer. I mean, I love to hear Homer’s thoughts, too. For me, it’s the fact that there is a model out there that’s been tried and tested for 25 years. It truly does bring the highest level of financial advice to the lives of these accounting firms, clients. Then number two, it’s that everyone wins. It’s a model that does respect everybody’s input and everybody’s role in the relationship with the client. So as we talked about in the book, accountants work so hard, and Homer illustrated a few minutes ago about the deadlines, and the work that they are always having to do, and step up to those deadlines is so complicated for them. So they do work so hard. I think for us, we’re allowing accountants to leverage that status as the most trusted advisor in helping us bring different value to the clients by helping us all work smarter on behalf of the clients. For me, those would be my two biggest takeaways.
Homer S. Smith IV: Yeah. What I would add to that — and I think those are great points. What I would add to that is, and we illustrated it a couple of times earlier on the call and in the book itself, but there’s a lot of different ways that accounting firms, wealth management firms, partner up to work together. The way we do it, though, is what I would say, it’s different. It’s not right for everybody, but if, as an accounting firm, you do truly want to find ways to optimize the financial world of the clients that you work with. You want to bring immense value to them. You’re willing to do things a little bit differently than it’s been done in the past, and find a solution like what Paul has built integrated, and what we are doing and implementing, it boots on the ground.
This can be a transformational difference in the lives of your clients and also the lives of your business, and make a very huge change to how you’re operating and running a business that again, I think a lot of accountants are having a hard time finding young people to come into this career, because they see these 100 hour work weeks and in April are getting ready for deadlines. Then 100-hour work weeks in October, September for other deadlines, and it’s not the most attractive career necessarily to come into. So it’s hard to find talent.
If you can turn that around and show an accounting firm how to dramatically increase the revenue while doing amazing things for their clients and bringing more value, it really can transform the number of clients that need to work with, the types of hours that they need to work and really transform the relationship they have with their clients. That would be the biggest thing I would want them to take away from is that if that is something that they’re looking for, this is the type of process that can do that for them.
Paul A. Saganey: If I could just make one quick comment, too, Homer. I thought that — Homer works within this accounting firm on the West Coast, and the senior partner, who wrote the foreword to our book, Hussein. Boy, Homer, I thought that his foreword and what he wrote was just so touching and directly touching upon the points that you do for their firm, what you do for their clients. I just thought that when I read that foreword, I was like, “Wow. That’s what this is really all about.” That was a powerful foreword that he put together for us.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow. I think you have one of these books, and a knowledge base that serves such an important community, to our, just core understanding of how our systems work in the world, based on small business, and private or public even nonprofit. I think your work really — I mean, I know let’s be honest, again, as a small business owner like the stresses of the financial aspects of my business could be very, very stressful, or very, very calm. Almost like, no, that’s all good and taken care of by someone I trust. You help that trust really become more I would say like, an added glue to it, where you are enhancing that relationship. I think your book is going to be amazing.
Homer and Paul, I learned so much today. Thank you so much for sharing your stories and your experiences with us today. The book is called, Optimizing the Financial Lives of Clients: Harness the Power of an Accounting Firm’s Elite Wealth Management Practice. Besides, checking out the book, where can people find you?
Paul A. Saganey: They can go to our website, which is integrated-partners.com. We’ve got information on the book and some, once again, contact information there as well. Also in the book, you have each of our names and our contact information is right there as well, Hussein, so we’re certainly going to be out there and certainly involved in talking in the accounting community. So there’ll be plenty of chances for people to grab us.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love it. Thank you, guys for joining me today. I appreciate it.
Homer S. Smith IV: Thank you for having us.
Paul A. Saganey: Thank you.