The principal value of a CPA practice is represented by the goodwill and client list. The buyer desires the future fee revenues and referrals to be generated from those clients. Client retention after the sale of a CPA firm is extremely important to the buyer of the practice and to the seller of the practice as well. The buyer needs to retain a high percentage of clients in order to recoup his investment, repay his acquisition debt, and achieve his financial goals. Retention is important to the seller because there is often a small seller-carried note for a portion of the purchase price, and the success of the practice is key to the buyer’s ability to repay this note. The following are ways to maximize client retention after the sale of a CPA firm.
The ancient Greek Heraclitus said, “There is nothing permanent except change”. But that doesn’t mean clients like change. In fact, many clients prefer that most aspects of the CPA firm remain the same as they were under the former owner.
When an accounting practice is sold, it is a given that the ownership will change. However, to retain clients, make every effort to minimize as much additional change as possible. For at least for the first two to three years, the buyer of a CPA practice should make every effort to maintain most of seller’s previous policies that relate to clients and employees. During this time, while the buyer is building his own relationships with the clients, strive for as much continuity as possible. This includes location, staff and procedures. You risk losing a client if she now has to drive 30 miles to your new offices. If she’s grown comfortable working with a certain employee, she may be unhappy if that person is no longer working with her. And if you switch over to new systems or procedures, she might not understand why. After all, people hire CPAs to make their lives easier. Change too many things too fast and you risk losing clients.
During the sale of a CPA firm, the buyer and seller will negotiate the length of the transition period. The appropriate timeframe depends on the type of services the firm offers, and the skill-set of the buyer. The higher the level of complexity or specialization, the longer transition time you will potentially need.
If your practice is mostly 1040 business, less of a transition will likely be needed. But more complex or specialized types of work will likely mean your client has a stronger relationship with the seller, and a longer transition will be needed to satisfy the client and to get the new owner up to speed on the engagement. Carefully evaluate these factors when determining the duration and extent of the seller’s transition period.
The Personal Touch
New buyers should put in extra efforts to meet the majority of the clients face-to-face during the transition. Once the clients begin liking and trusting you, they’re more likely to stay with your CPA practice. Sometimes new buyers have radically different personalities than the former owners. This can be a significant problem for client retention, and should be carefully evaluated during the meeting and due diligence process.
For best results, the buyer and seller should have similar personalities and styles. A fast talking New Yorker will most often not fit into a genteel Southerner’s practice, and vice versa. Your personality type can easily turn off clients if you interact with them much differently than the former owner did.
Help from the Pros
It’s difficult to find a buyer with both the necessary professional background and a similar personality to the seller. That’s why so many CPA practices rely on Accounting Broker Acquisition Group. We search our extensive database of active buyers to identify outstanding buyer candidates. These prospective buyers meet our criteria for professional skills, financial wherewithal, people skills, capacity and predisposition to an optimal deal structure. Then we drill down on their professional qualifications and personality traits, and the psychology of the match. Our database carefully notes specializations of buyers, such as forensic accounting or oil and gas taxation. We also note their personalities.
Fit matters first and foremost — both having the correct professional skills and matching with the clients. We leave no stone unturned to match the ideal buyer and seller while achieving a maximum value sale for our sellers.
What gives us the edge over our competition? The high experience level of our brokers . . . Accounting Broker Acquisition Group is the only national business brokerage of its type comprised 100-percent of brokers who are CPAs with significant “Big Four” merger and acquisition experience.
We can help you negotiate the absolute best deal whether you’re buying or selling a CPA practice. And we’ll show you how to retain the clients through closing and into the future.