Transforming Challenges into Opportunities: Attracting New Clients

Attracting New Clients
Attracting new clients is the top global challenge facing SMPs, and is one of the top two challenges for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia regions.
A number of strategies can be implemented to acquire new clients but real success comes when multiple strategies are used simultaneously. This harnesses the momentum of marketing efforts and is more likely to bring attention to your practice. In addition, since most businesses already have an accountant, growing your practice usually means enticing clients away from other firms. To achieve this, a compelling reason to change must be part of your pitch.
External growth strategies include:
  • advertising;
  • seminars;
  • networking;
  • referrals;
  • building a brand;
  • social media marketing; and
  • joining a network, association, or alliance.
Each approach needs to be considered in relation to jurisdictional laws and/ or professional regulations.
Advertising is one of the most powerful ways of getting your firm’s name and message out in the market. Helpful tips to get the best value from advertising spending include:
  • identifying a target audience or market segment for your advertising;
  • making it clear how the service will benefit clients;
  • creating messages that are credible, sincere, and avoid exaggerated or unsubstantiated claims;
  • using a headline that captures the readers’ attention; and
  • including a “call to action” where the reader is told to call or visit the website.
In addition, search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing (SEM) can bring your firm website to the top of search results when specific words or phrases are searched (this usually includes a charge when a user clicks on an ad and goes to your website; many different vendors can help identify key words to target).
Seminars can be an effective form of marketing. A number of formats can be used.
  • Organize a seminar with senior firm representatives deliver presentations. This provides a reason to advertise, promote your practice, and establish brand and name recognition for your firm as a recognized expert. Existing clients can be invited and encouraged to bring non-client business associates.
  • Speak at seminars hosted by others, such as financial institutions or business associations, which may hold breakfast meetings and can often be free of charge. This could include a specific session that requires technical knowledge.
Seminars also offer an opportunity to follow up with an article for your website or local media on key points.
“Word of mouth” is often one of the best forms of marketing and is effectively achieved through networking. Networking is not about trying to make a “sale” to each person at an event; instead, your objective is met people who can refer others to your practice.
Creating a networking plan and measure success in relation to time invested is useful. Encouraging firm representatives to attend events and not feel that they have to impress people through charm or technical knowledge is important. As in most things, you and your representatives should be yourselves to build connections with people. This takes the pressure off and you can just relax and chat normally. It also gives people a greater chance to get to know staff and feel comfortable. If they are, they are more likely to refer others to your practice.
The best time to ask a client for a referral is when your firm has just successfully completed an engagement or project as it’s easier to say, “If you know of anyone else who may appreciate our work, we’re always happy to take on referrals.” This lets your client know that your firms is open for referrals, and looking for new clients.
Another option is to work through a structured program of meetings with potential referrers. Often referred to as “people of influence,” these contacts include bank managers, lawyers, and others in complementary businesses, such as financial planning or finance broking. Firms that successfully follow a structured, formal approach set aside a regular time to meet with potential referrers. For example, they arrange lunch meetings with a different bank manager every Wednesday in a month. The next month they may meet with a different lawyer each Wednesday. The following month it might be financial planners or finance brokers. Then the cycle starts all over again with the bank managers. This allows for a systematic approach to working through a contact list and also allows relationships to be built from which referrals will come.
Existing and past staff can also be a source of new clients. Encourage staff to connect with their own networks and consider offering incentives for recruiting new clients. An “alumni” network of past employees could be created to keep them in contact with your practice. Past employees may progress into management positions and can be a valuable source of contacts. Consider staying in touch though newsletters or emails, seminar invitations, or an annual gathering—all of which ensure regular contact.
Building a Brand
Branding is an important area of marketing. To make marketing as effective as possible, your brand needs to send out clear messages that encompass your firm’s brand. Marketing messages should not only build on your brand but leverage it as well. Done well, branding can:
  • lower the cost of acquiring new clients;
  • create business opportunities based on market perceptions;
  • reinforce confidence and comfort levels of existing clients; and
  • build the value of your practice’s goodwill.
Your brand is the message your firm wants to convey to the market. It pervades all areas of your firm, and goes beyond the logo and letterhead. It covers the services offered, the way it deals with clients, and the image of your firm it wants to present. It becomes the banner that your firm markets and sits over all the services offered. Specifically, it means the way the website looks, graphic design, and logos used in the communications and presentations. It also includes the way your firm interacts with clients and staff, even down to the words used.
By building and promoting a brand, your practice establishes expectations at a high level in the market. When the actual service is delivered—for instance, the financial statements or tax returns—the accuracy, presentation, and look and feel of the material needs to be consistent with the expectations that have been set.
Social Media Marketing
Successful practices are embracing social media and using it to engage with clients, attract new clients, promote their services, and attract staff. Social media is about building a community. Successful social media strategies reinforce that people like to deal with people, rather than businesses, to create relationships. While successful strategies are often built around the individuals, it is the business that reaps the benefits. Engaging partners and staff in social media is a great starting point.
Firms can use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to invite their clients to receive updates, participate in discussions, share case studies and experiences, post testimonials, establish discussion group, and allow clients to connect with each other. Blogging is another way of sharing timely updates with clients; it can also drive new clients to your website. All social media should include links back to your firm’s website to drive traffic to your business.
Social media should complement, but not totally replace, traditional marketing techniques. Remember, before new clients contact your firm, they typically check out social media sites or search for your practice online.
Networks, Associations, and Alliances
The 2015 Global SMP Survey found that attracting new clients was the top benefit of joining a network, association, or alliance, followed by broadening your client experience and branding and marketing. Only 28% of respondents reported their SMP belonged to a network (11%), association (10%), or alliance (7%), but 24% indicated that their practice was considering joining one. Joining provides your firm the opportunity for referrals from non-competitor firms, as well as broadens the range of services offered without the fear of losing them to national or international firms.
Additional information is available in the Guide to Practice Management for Small- and Medium-Sized Practices, which includes the section “Building and Growing Your Firm” on identifying target clients and new service opportunities, building a brand, marketing and developing a social media strategy.
The Global Knowledge Gateway includes a number of articles, videos, and resources on the topics addressed in this article.
Networks, Associations, and Alliances

When Corruption Becomes a Way of Life, and What to Do about It

Levels of corruption in Africa are symptomatic of the levels of moral decay that have engulfed African society. African society is drowning in a “have all, possess all” mentality that has become an endless orgy of spend and gain. Position and power have become keys to accessing resources meant for the general good and converting them for private good. We will be forgiven in concluding that the scrambles we see for power on our continent is no longer driven by a desire to serve but by waiting turns to loot. We have seen changes in ruling parties in various countries that have not resulted in a fall in levels of corruption.
This situation is compounded by the messaging by those who seek to fight corruption. The anti-corruption message is made very complicated by a multiplicity of terms and definitions—fraud, misappropriation, money laundering, illicit financial flows, and so on and so forth! These have left average citizens wondering what this is all about. Should we not just use as simple term like theft?
Another challenge is that the various development partners have continued to focus on strengthening oversight institutions in the accountability supply chain, instead of adopting a more all-encompassing approach. The supreme audit institutions’ anti-corruption agencies generally receive a lot of capacity building support, while the accountants and other professionals who actually “see things as they happen” are generally given the leftovers. Should we not be strengthening the whole supply chain?
The failure of political governance has made corruption endemic in Africa, and is a shared fundamental root cause. Most African governments come to power through corrupt and weak institutions, such as electoral commissions and the judiciary. It is too much to expect a government that comes to power through a corrupt electoral system to then turn round and fight corruption. Unfortunately, the international elections observer will, at the end of the day, tell the world “the elections were generally free and fair.” How can professionals no matter their determination be expected to be work with integrity under such a government?
Added to this is a media that has generally taken sides instead of being independent arbiters. The media generally has adopted the philosophy of “my friend’s corruption is alright, but that of my enemy is really bad.”
I believe the first point of call to ensuring integrity of public procurement is to have a mental transformation in the whole accountability supply chain. The private sector must accept that bribery is wrong, and that demanding bribes is wrong. Authorities must accept that using their position other than for the purpose for which it was intended is wrong. Surely, procurement professionals, accountants, bankers, lawyers, and people from all walks of life must know that taking part corrupt activities is wrong and abetting corruption is wrong. Society must be sensitized to abhor the corrupt and not celebrate them. The international community must openly reject all governments that fail to run elections in a free and fair manner and not allow diplomatic etiquette and trade interests to blind them.
As French economist and author Frederic Bastiat said, “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
We need to simplify the message about corruption so that every citizen regardless of their level of education can understand it and its negative impact on their own lives.
IFAC actively supports the fight against corruption with many interventions, including the recent The Accountancy Profession—Playing a Positive Role in Tackling Corruption on the important role the profession plays in decreasing corruption. In addition, its International Framework: Good Governance in the Public Sector, developed with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, promotes the development of robust public sector governance by establishing a benchmark for good governance. Accountability. Now. promotes high-quality financial accounting and reporting by governments to improve transparency and help strengthen public sector financial management and accountability. Together, IFAC and its partners challenge and support governments to improve the quality and transparency of their financial management.
In order to promote integrity and defeat corruption, all of society needs to work together. Citizens in African countries must hold those charged with the responsibility of managing resources, whether in the public or private sector, to account for the use of these resources. Internationally, no country should allow itself to be a haven for corrupt proceeds from Africa.
Corruption must be elevated to the level of criminality that it is—a crime against humanity. Let’s stop arguing against corruption, as there has been enough of that; let us take up a fight against corruption.

Exploring the Demand for Agreed-Upon Procedures Engagements and Other Services, and the Implications for the IAASB’s International Standards

Agreed-upon procedures (AUP) engagements are widely undertaken in many jurisdictions and frequently used by regulators, funding bodies, not-for-profit organizations, creditors, and other users.
In 2015, the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB) formed a Working Group to help the board understand AUP engagements use, national developments in relation to standards addressing AUP engagements, and broader market needs. This information will support any possible revisions of International Standard on Related Services (ISRS) 4400, Engagements to Perform Agreed-Upon Procedures Regarding Financial Information, which was developed over 20 years ago (for additional background, see our previous article on some of the issues the Working Group planned to explore).
  • highlights the key features of AUP engagements performed in accordance with ISRS 4400;
  • highlights the results of research and outreach by the Working Group; and
  • seeks stakeholder views on the issues to help inform the development of a standard-setting project proposal to revise ISRS 4400 and any other activities that may be necessary.
Specifically, the paper explores:
  • current demands for AUP engagements, implications for IAASB standard setting, and, in particular, the extent to which users and practitioners find existing requirements and guidance helpful in undertaking an AUP engagement and producing an AUP report that is valued by users; and
  • the demand for engagements that combine reasonable assurance engagements, limited assurance engagements, and non-assurance engagements, such as AUP engagements, to meet emerging needs.
The IAASB and the Working Group would like input from investors, preparers, those in governance roles, standard setters, practitioners, internal auditors, regulators, academics, and other stakeholders. This input will help determine what is needed to meet stakeholder’s needs, including standard setting and other possible actions.

The future of the audit industry: From masses of data, to meaning

 THE HISTORY of the audit profession there have been shifts in how audit is executed, because of the transformations in the environment in which companies operate. The audit industry is now facing significant changes in this financial crisis and as the purpose of audits change, we implement the learnings.
An auditor was once trusted to provide an accurate and detailed account of company data without the need or requirement to offer meaning or purpose to that data, but now auditors are increasingly in need of different skills to adapt to new user needs.
The key driver of this change has undoubtedly come from the users of audit data who are demanding an increasingly diverse array of data sources, those that do not traditionally fall within financial accounting. As a result, we are seeing more requests for data related to governance and corporate social responsibilities.
For example, data might be collected on the carbon footprint of company movements or information related to employees. This data is then open to users that would not traditionally have use for audit data, such as company employees and partners.


Technological change is also occurring at a rapid pace, ushering in the capability to capture and share data, on an unprecedented scale and almost instantaneously. This has resulted in an increasing focus on data, whether structured or unstructured, and whether generated internally or externally to the entity.
This new demand for data has led to the most critical aspect of this change to the audit industry. Auditors increasingly need to adapt to the changing needs of users and therefore provide meaningful interpretations of data. While many traditional investors would have pored through the financials to make long-term decisions, a newer breed of investors is more likely to invest in companies that offer a holistic view.
This view would be on how they treat their employees, manage their carbon footprint and anything that indicates the company is moral and upstanding. Auditing is no longer a transactional reporting exercise and the auditors have a key role in contributing to the credibility of the financial statements as well as obtaining assurance.
We auditors are now being called upon to provide a final step in the audit process – data illumination, requiring a two-fold development. Firstly, the auditors of the future will need to embrace technology and the ever expanding array of tools and techniques that advanced data analysis affords them. Secondly, they will need to be experts in data interpretation and synthesise meaning from the empirical evidence.
When I think of our newest RSM trainees, their experience will differ radically to my experience. Our newest RSM recruits are as comfortable discussing machine learning as they are forensic accounting, and we must cultivate these new skills if we are to continue to remain relevant.

Going further

Companies are increasingly driven and defined by their purpose, and we are seeing this at all levels of business activity both regionally and globally. Auditors must go further to make sure they are at the heart of these changes by continually engaging with all stakeholders and moving towards a new reality where they can lend credibility and confidence over a continuous stream of meaningful information.
Consumers of client information are no longer focused solely on the one time audit of the year. Now we must embrace the audit of the future

By Bob Dohrer who is global leader of quality and risk at RSM

Export Import Bank debate in the US

Export Import Bank debate in the US
Ex-Im Bank of the USA is a federal government backed institution which specialises in trade finance. It is similar in functions to India's Exim bank except that Indian Exim bank doesn't get into trade insurance, which is handled by another body called Export Credit Guarantee corporation of India. In fact, India's Exim bank copies most of the functions of US Ex-Im bank given that US institution predates Indian one by more than five decades. 

US Ex-Im bank is under threat of being de-authorized, unless the US congress re-authorizes it shortly. 

The bank's critics, mainly the republicans, bank on the argument that such subsidising banks lead to market distortion and help private sector players, and therefore, they are a form of corporate welfare scheme. They choose the winners in the private sector by choosing whom to help by providing easy access to credit for international trade. It is nothing but crony capitalism in another form, subsidising the rich. 
The bank's supporters argue that closing down Ex-Im bank would put American manufacturers at a disadvantage in the global market as there are competing banks being run by other countries, notably China, which support the domestic manufacturers to capture global market. This would lead to job losses, and loss of access to global market. 

Most of Indian Exim bank's trade finance is directed in such a way that the buyer in the global market uses it to procure Indian goods. Such finance is directed through lines of credit mechanism, project finance, long term overseas investment finance etc. The Exim banks across the world usually step in to fill a void that is not filled by the conventional banking and regular trade finance. And most of the Exim banks are sponsored by the governments. China is currently the biggest user of Exim bank mechanism for international trade finance.  

It is interesting to note that the US is even debating on the existence of such an important institution. Such important institutions should not be given expiring charter, like what the US has done. It should be enacted by an act of parliament, like what India has done. Exam banks do not just give packing credit or trade insurance, they are the source of stability for long term international trade finance, and are extension of trade and commercial diplomacy. Losing Ex-Im bank for the US might have long term implications which might not be easily quantifiable today in terms of loss of jobs or dollars earned. 

Will It Get More Worse In USA

The USA is a great nation for entrepreneurship and innovation, it has the best science in the world, the most creativity in the arts, it is the number one economy in the world, it has an energy unrivaled by other nations and we have chosen to move to this great nation with our family.  So everything that follows must be seen as friendly criticism from a person who loves this country.

Now most of my friends in the USA agree on what is great about this nation. But when I speak to some American friends they seem to be unaware of the shortcomings of the USA compared to others, and this is what I would like to focus on. Here are some quick examples.

The USA ranks 38th in life expectancy which is shocking considering that it has the best medical science in the world.  And this generation is the first one that will live less than the previous generation. The average American is expected to live two years less than, say, the average Spaniard. This is partly because the USA has a medical system that leaves 50 million people uninsured and many others under-insured or worried about losing their insurance (my wife Nina, for example, can’t get medical insurance to have our next baby because pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition and we moved to USA when she was already pregnant).  It is also partly because the USA is the nation with the highest percentage of its population obese, over 30%.  The WHO studied overall level of health and concluded that Americans rank 72 in the world. Family structure is also weak as the USA has the highest divorce rates in the world. Moreover inequality is on the rise: as this Wikipedia article argues, the top earning 1 percent of households gained about 275% over a period between 1979 and 2007, compared to a gain of just under 40% for the 60 percent in the middle of America's income distribution.

The USA has a legal system that is extremely expensive and unreliable and tends to favor those with resources to pay for it. The USA spends almost half of what the whole world spends in the military and since WWII (in which the USA did an amazing job), other military interventions have been of dubious value for such a huge investment, especially Iraq and Afghanistan. The USA leads all developed countries in executions by death penalty, it has a love for guns that makes its murder rate unusually high for a developed nation, it has the highest incarceration rates of the developed world mostly focused on one ethnic group, African Americans. The USA has more people in jail or parole than Madrid has people.   And while the USA has most of the best ranked universities in the world, according to PISA scores the USA ranks very poorly compared to other developed nations. The USA is also the largest polluter in the world together with China but a leader on a per capita basis. The American lifestyle is great but not scalable to the world as a whole.  Replicating this lifestyle on a global basis will lead to extreme competition over resources and high environmental damage.

Yes, the USA is great nation. I am happy to be here teaching at Columbia-- this country probably has the most educated elite in the entire world. It has incredible business creativity and it is home to the Apples and Googles of this world and in this sense, they are an example for the whole world to follow. It also has individuals who are among the most driven in the world and who want to succeed and do as much as they can.  But it has a number of very important issues to address, many of which were not part of the recent presidential debates (climate change for example) and which seem to rarely be part of the conversation with many of my American friends.




Your 401(k) could sink again. A plummeting euro may make it harder for American companies to sell goods overseas. Credit could be tightened.Skip to next paragraph
These are all potential complications of a European debt crisis that risks spiraling out of control. And in today's interconnected global economy, Greece's troubles could over time become a headache for all of Europe and by extension the rest of the world.
That includes President Barack Obama as he faces an already difficult re-election bid, and voters as well, from machine tool makers in Michigan to chemical plant workers on the Gulf coast. Pensioners and home buyers also could be affected.
All this because Greece is at a crossroads, unable to form a government and decide whether it will continue on a path of harsh austerity measures or walk away from its debts and give up on the euro. That would leave many European countries holding their debts and shake the foundations of a currency used by 331 million people.
Here's what a Greek debt default and exit from the 17-nation eurozone might mean for people in the United States:
The short-term financial consequences of Greece defaulting may be limited across the Atlantic. American banks already have sharply reduced their exposure to Greece by more than 40 percent to $5.8 billion, according to the government, and Cornell University economist Eswar Prasad said he foresees little immediate blowback for the U.S. financial sector.
But the concern is that market speculation would then fall on the far larger economies of Spain and Italy. Both are deep in the red and heavily dependent on credit markets to stay afloat. And their debts are held by Europe's big banks.
Economists call this threat contagion. Scared investors sell off their assets in Europe's most troubled economies and the governments struggle to access credit while falling into deeper recession. A crisis as bad as Greece's in a bigger nation would have severe global implications.
"Greece is peanuts as far as the United States is concerned," said Uri Dadush, former economic policy chief at the World Bank. "But if Greece leads to the contagion of Spain and Italy, the euro could implode. This is big business for the U.S. We're talking trillions of dollars in direct and indirect exposure to the European banking sector."
Economists cite the example of Lehman Brothers' collapse in 2008 and the financial turmoil that followed. A repeat scenario could see credit lines dry up as banks short of funds limit their risks, making it harder to secure loans for business expansion and home mortgages.
Lending and credit growth remain especially weak in Europe, where over $1 trillion in cheap, three-year loans to financial institutions by the European Central Bank helped stave off a complete credit cutoff. A massive bailout fund has been set aside in case Spain or Italy fails, too, but a default by either country could spell disaster for German, French and other heavily exposed banks. They, in turn, deal extensively with American banks.
"It's a question I don't want to find out the answer to, honestly," Dadush said. "There is a real danger of global depression."
Many pension funds, insurance companies and other big investors have dumped or written off investments in Greece such as government bonds. But there's no telling how the markets will respond to a default.
For investors who have already faced a half-decade of turbulence, this weekend's failure in Greece to form a new government led Monday to steep market drops across Europe. Britain's FTSE slipped 2 percent, while Germany's DAX was off 1.9 percent and France's CAC 40 fell 2.3 percent. In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial index was down 0.8 percent at 12,714.
Each round of bad news from Europe raises uncertainty. No one knows how a Greek exit from the euro would work and the financial swings have added to the stress on Europe's economy. And every time stocks plunge and the borrowing costs for troubled countries rise, businesses and consumers grow more cautious. This makes them more reluctant to expand companies or buy more property.
Europe's turmoil "does not bode well for the fledgling U.S. recovery," Prasad said. He predicted that uncertainty in Europe will rattle U.S. financial markets, as happened last year, shaking fragile consumer and business confidence.
Individual American investors should be concerned as well, even if most have little direct exposure to southern Europe. Market declines across Europe could drag down Asia and the United States, hitting portfolios and retirement funds. And when people feel poorer, economies shrink.
Exports have been a bright spot for the U.S. economy, and Europe has played a big role. More than half of U.S. foreign investment and a fifth of all American exports go to the European Union. A significant slowdown there could mean less revenue for U.S. companies, less expansion at home and lost jobs for American workers.
"Right now, the best case scenario in Europe is a recession," said Chad Moutray, economist at the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers. "Any of the worst case scenarios threaten our growth strategy."
U.S. manufacturers have added 167,000 jobs over the last five months, but a European economic collapse would hamper growth in two ways. It would weaken Europe's general demand for goods. And if investors flee Europe for safer bets elsewhere, the value of the euro would sink and make American products more expensive.
Many major U.S. companies not only export but have large operations in Europe. General Motors and Ford both make cars there and have faced slack sales in a competitive market that offers manufacturers little pricing power.
Unemployment rates of over 50 percent for people under 25 in Spain and Greece have undermined the market for first-time car buyers in those countries. Unemployment across the eurozone is already at 10.9 percent, a record since the common currency was introduced in 1999. If that figure worsens still, it would further dampen American sales.
Any new economic crisis presents a problem for Obama, even if Europe's problems are largely beyond his control.
Higher unemployment, a surge in gas prices or collapsing stock portfolios in the United States would undermine the president's argument that he has slowly but surely guided the U.S. out of its worst downturn since the Great Depression. His November showdown against Republican candidate Mitt Romney is still too close to call and will hinge on the economy.
"He's put us on a road to become more like Greece," Romney said last month, hammering away at a campaign message that has focused on debt, unemployment and the lackluster state of the American economy.
Even if a Greek default may also undermine the harsh austerity tactics championed by some Republicans, Obama would face a severe backlash if Europe's ills were to cause the U.S. to slip into a double-dip recession. That seems unlikely for now, but Obama is already challenged by unemployment hovering around 8 percent and an economy only expected to grow by about 2.5 percent this year, still slow for an economic recovery.
Yet Obama can do little about Europe's ills. His administration insists that Europeans should fix their own problems without U.S. assistance — a stance it must take because there is no appetite for U.S. taxpayers to help bail out Greeks or anyone else in Europe. Washington has pressed Europe to stimulate their economies more.
But Obama can't even control the U.S. economy, after pushing through a $787 billion stimulus package in 2009 that critics charged with not doing enough to create jobs and spur economic recovery.
"As has happened several times before, when our economy gets going, events elsewhere can intervene and throw a monkey wrench in the works," Obama senior campaign adviser David Axelrod recently said. "We're not hoisting a 'Mission Accomplished' banner. We know there is a lot of work left to be done and the headwinds are part of that equation."