Advisory Services
Advisory Services

Mason Quist and his advisory practice

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Mason QuistWhat does it take to create and manage a thriving tax advisory services practice? Ask Mason Quist, CPA, MAcc, owner of Hysell & Quist Accountancy Corporation in Grass Valley, Calif. The full-service firm he bought and renamed in 2017 offers a full range of tax and accounting services, including tax preparation and planning, accounting and bookkeeping, business consulting, and nonprofit returns and consulting, but he is most focused on advisory.

I visited with Mason to find out more about his practice, how he developed the firm’s advisory services, where he sees the profession in the future, and much more.

Jim Buffington: How do you see the tax profession changing in the next five years?

Mason Quist: There is going to be a lot of accelerated change, which I already see in my practice in a smaller market. When I worked for KPMG, I saw a similar acceleration happen when it came to creating more value-add for the client through advisory services. The clients expect it, need it, and want to pay for it. In order to be successful, all of us have to start providing a strategy beyond once-a-year tax compliance.

JB: What do tax advisory services look like in your practice?

MQ: It starts with the bottom line. When we assess whether we are going to take on a new client, we clearly show them what the savings will be. Business owners really like to hear our recommendations because we become a trusted advisor at that point for their business. My clients don’t refer to me as their “tax guy;” they refer to me as their “advisor.”

JB: Did you start your practice leading with preparation and compliance?

MQ: After I left KPMG, I was a financial executive for a hyper-growth company, so I was able to combine my public audit and industry financial experience when I purchased a traditional tax firm. I couldn’t help but give advice to existing clients. As a result, the advisory part of the business has grown tremendously.

JB: Did you change the way the firm billed?

MQ: Yes; I went to a subscription model for my advisory clients, where clients pay monthly or quarterly. My clients see the value in paying for it this way.

JB: What advice would you give to firms looking to move into tax advisory?

MQ: It’s hard. I noticed there was a strong culture of processes in the firm I purchased—which is great. However, when I started doing my advisory work, which was my goal, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to manage the change for the eight professionals who were already there.

At one point, a younger CPA came to me for advice on buying a firm. If I had to do it again, I said I would almost just start my own firm rather than buy one because it’s so hard to change existing processes and culture. You really have to run something parallel to existing services—and it has to be the main thing you promote to your clients. Switching your billing model is also very important. I went on the high end of what I thought I should charge, and have never had anyone complain.

JB: Is there a certain mindset required to deliver tax advisory services?

MQ: This was the hardest part of the change. It’s easy to stay in the compliance world because there is a predictable busy season you can prepare for, and it is easy to fill up your day with compliance work. What was hard was allocating the time to critically think about advisory clients and their needs. There’s no doubt many practitioners have a wealth of advisory knowledge they are able to share with their clients who want to pay for it.

JB: We often hear from established firms that it is very hard to change from their compliance service lineup to add advisory services, or they don’t know how to position those services for clients. Do tax planning and advisory services make the compliance easier?

MQ: Absolutely, because you have constant communication with your clients. We have an accounting team who, on a monthly or quarterly basis, makes sure the clients’ books are updated. When January comes, we know the books are ready for the tax return. COVID-19 and tax law changes have made things difficult, but the constant communication with clients removes the big annual event of filing the tax return because we already know the numbers ahead of busy season.

JB: Is advisory for 100% of a firm’s clients, or is there a certain type of client that is a better fit for advisory services?

MQ: Yes, there are some that are a better fit than others. While there is no revenue threshold, business clients who are more profitable benefit the most from advisory services. However, I’ve noticed that there are more and more younger entrepreneurs coming to me for advisory services who are in the startup phase. I love that because I really enjoy helping smaller startup companies who want to grow quickly.

JB: What is your vision for your practice in five years as it relates to advisory services?

MQ: We will continue to track on the advisory side with more business clients. However, I want to always have a strong tie to the local community, so we will always provide compliance services to local individuals and businesses. In five years, we will have a good mix of tax compliance and advisory, with my focus as the owner of the firm on advisory.

JB: What is the biggest challenge in offering advisory services?

MQ: Creating the time to do it. It’s not that I didn’t have the knowledge to share with the client or worried about billing for it, but once you see the amount of work you can do for your client in this space, you must really create the time to do the work. You need to be meeting with them regularly and communicating all the time.

JB: What Intuit® software do you use?

MQ: Intuit Lacerte® Tax, Intuit Link, eSignature, QuickBooks® Online, and QuickBooks Desktop.

JB: How do you develop expertise in tax advisory for you and your team?

MQ: I mainly draw from my prior and current professional experiences, but I also do a lot of research and education. I’m also learning to say “no” to clients who do not fit the mold for my advisory services. For example, I spend most of my time keeping up to date in the healthcare and professional services space because those are many of my advisory clients. I also like working with younger entrepreneurs; it’s fun for me to help them succeed.

At the end of the day, I absolutely feel that I have made a substantial positive impact for my advisory clients. In tax compliance, there is sometimes a struggle to convey value, but clients better understand the value with the advisory work. Since it’s a subscription model, they are walking away thinking about the insights, not the fee I am charging.

JB: Thanks Mason!

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