Improving the Accounting Client Onboarding Process

March 25, 2022

A smooth onboarding process provides the best possible start to the relationship between an accounting firm and a client. If you make a great first impression during accounting client onboarding, the client will trust your firm more, which in turn helps the relationship survive in the long term. 

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the onboarding process, as well as share some client onboarding best practices to help you improve your accounting client onboarding. Read on to find out more.

The Basics of Accounting Client Onboarding

Establish the Partnership

Even before you begin the onboarding process, it’s vital to ensure everything is in order regarding your new client partnership. Make sure any necessary contracts are signed and check those contracts for any errors or missing articles. It’s also good practice to make sure any documents related to the new client/accountant relationship are accessible for both parties. 

Welcome the Client

Once the checks are complete, your first step should be welcoming the client and providing a thorough explanation about the services your firm offers. This introduction is a great time for both parties to set expectations regarding the working relationship. If the firm is being hired for a specific task or project, particularly busy CPAs may also want to establish a timeline and completion dates during the welcome period. 

Check the Client’s Accounting Experience

Modern accounting practices include automation and software, so it’s important to work out how much experience your new client has with these tools before you get too deep into the work. Find out if the client has used an accounting platform before (i.e. Quickbooks, Sage, Xero) and if you’re able to get the records from how the platform was used. If necessary, provide a tutorial on your firm’s accounting software.

Analyse the Client’s Financial Records

The analysis of records can be the most time-consuming part of the onboarding process. With most clients, your CPAs will need to gauge the financial health of the client before they can provide assistance. To do so, they’ll need access to financial records such as:

  • Banking and credit accounts
  • Previous invoices
  • Taxation records
  • Inventory records
  • Financial statements

With these resources, a CPA should be able to better understand how they can help the client or how to move forward with the specific project they’ve been hired for. 

Figure Out Next Steps

Once onboarding is complete and both parties have all the information they need, it’s time to work out what you’ll be doing next. Set up any required follow-up meetings, and try to put together a regular schedule so the client is aware of when they’ll need to meet or submit relevant information to you.

Client Onboarding Best Practices for Accounting Firms

Set Expectations

A vital but often overlooked task is setting expectations with a new client. The key question to ask the new client is “how do you define success?”. If a client can provide a list of specific goals they want to achieve, you’ll have a much easier time creating an action plan on how to support that client. 

Another important point when setting expectations is to establish what your firm can and can’t do. Over-promising can be immensely damaging to a client/accountant relationship, so use the onboarding process to make sure the client doesn’t have unreasonable deadlines or demands.

Customise the Experience

Accounting client onboarding should be flexible and adaptable. Although the key points of the process will largely stay the same, it’s a good idea to tailor onboarding to fit the needs of individual clients. For instance, a small business that needs help filing taxes will have a wildly different onboarding process than a large company that needs a CPA to support their existing accounting team. 

Use the first stages of onboarding to identify where this specific client might need assistance, and then tailor the rest of the process from there. 

Prioritise Communication

Good communication is essential throughout a client/accountant relationship, but it’s particularly important during the onboarding phase. A new client should know exactly who within your firm they need to direct their questions to and how they can get in touch.

It’s also important to encourage your client to ask questions often. If they don’t understand some aspect of your services (such as when to send documents during tax season), offer an email address or phone number they can reach you on to resolve their doubts. Alternatively, point them in the direction of the FAQ page on your website.

Gather Data

The onboarding process is a great learning experience for your firm as well as for the client. Gather as much information as you can about your client and how they navigate onboarding so you can improve the process for future clients. 

As well as gathering data yourself, you can always involve your new client in the process. Ask them to share feedback during and after onboarding to get qualitative and quantitative data. Furthermore, during the analysis of their financial records, record any data that could help establish benchmarks for success going forward. 

Having access to as much information as possible helps you provide the best possible service, which in turn helps your firm grow and develop.

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