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[Podcast] Client Accounting Services Best Practices with Hayley Mayer of Prager Metis CPAs

Posted by The AI in Accounting Podcast on Sep 30, 2020 7:30:00 AM
The AI in Accounting Podcast

Hayley Mayer is a Principal of Prager Metis CPAs and has over 15 years of experience in the accounting profession. As a Kelley School of Business alumna, Hayley Mayer graduated with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and used her business knowledge to receive her Master’s in Taxation. After college, Hayley started her career in accounting by working at her family practice, Mayer CPAs, and eventually becoming the Director of Lifestyle Management. The family practice went on to merge into Prager Metis CPAs almost five years ago. 

Before merging, Hayley’s practice always called their client accounting services group “cash management”, which eventually led to “cash management/lifestyle management”. When they merged almost five years ago, what they had been offering clients all along became known as “outsource accounting”. 

[Podcast] Client Accounting Services Best Practices with Hayley Mayer of Prager Metis CPAs

At Prager Metis CPAs, Hayley leads the Firm’s client account services (CAS) group. The CAS group provides businesses with a wide selection of accounting services that allow them to eliminate in-house accounting costs while still providing the financial insights and real-time analytics that are needed for success. 

Hayley Mayer demonstrates skills in tax preparation, cash flow, accounting, and outsource accounting. In this episode, Hayley discusses her experience in client account services before it was even called CAS and offers some great advice on the outsourcing of financial services! 

In this podcast episode, you'll learn how to:

  • Decide which client you want to take on when starting in CAS; 
  • Help clients determine where to start in remote bookkeeping; 
  • Gain clients by setting up cloud-based software; 
  • Start with your background and find your focus group;
  • Be self-aware and learn to not say yes to every opportunity; and
  • Take advantage of keeping the books clean and open for viewing by clients.  

Watch the Podcast Interview

 

Watch on YouTube: Client Accounting Services Best Practices with Hayley Mayer of Prager Metis CPAs

Listen to the Podcast Interview

 

Listen to Apple Podcasts: Client Accounting Services Best Practices with Hayley Mayer of Prager Metis CPAs

 

Highlights include:

  • “Before COVID hit, we actually got very lucky because we were always in the cloud, and we never went down. We converted every single client over here to an online cloud-based software. We rebranded at that point … and We’re paperless, and we want everything using AI and as much technology as we possibly could, instead of entering everything by hand.”
  • “Some people are like, ‘Wow, you let your clients in every single second,’ but there’s nothing to hide. We’re supposed to be doing what we’re doing, and we’re making sure it gets done.”
  • Hayley’s tip to someone brand-new to CAS: “I think that you have to decide which client you want to take on, and what your focus group is …”
  • Hayley’s advanced tip for building a practice: “I think you really have to know what your knowledge is. You don’t want to take on clients that you can’t serve.”
  • “You’re allowed into your books every single minute. If you notice something wrong, you’re going to be the first person emailing me, telling me that something’s wrong because you’re looking at it.” 
  • “I think the biggest change is going to be that you're not going to have so much of those bookkeepers and CFOs and controllers. I think more and more people are going to realize that they could get everything in a one-stop shop, and it's going to cost them a lot less money.”

 

A lightly-edited transcript follows below:

Joshua Feinberg: Hi, I'm Joshua Feinberg from the AI in Accounting Podcast, and I have a very special guest with me here today, Hayley Mayer, who is a Principal with the Client Accounting Services Group, the CAS Group, at Prager Metis, New York. Hayley, thanks so much for joining me today.

Hayley Mayer: Thank you so much for having me, Joshua. I appreciate it.

Joshua Feinberg: Well, I appreciate you taking the time, as well. Usually, when I start these interviews, I'd like to get a feel for how you got to where you are in your career, how your team is set up, how your firm is set up. Before we dive into some best practices around CAS, can you give us a little bit of background?

 

Client Accounting Services Roots in Cash Management at Family-Owned Practice

Hayley Mayer: Yeah, sure. No problem. So, I'm a Kelley School alumni from IU-Bloomington. When I graduated, I went to school actually for computer science, and then I decided to use my business knowledge and go for my master’s in taxation, and I went into accounting. From there, I ended up working with my family. We had a family practice that merged into Prager Metis about five years ago. So, we always called our CAS group “cash management”, and then it grew into “cash management-slash-lifestyle management” because we also did celebrities, and then when we merged in five years ago, people were starting to call what we're doing “outsource accounting”, and finally, I guess in the last year, we converted to “client accounting services”, since the AICPA said that that's really what we're doing, and we should call it. So, we're rebranding our client accounting service department now, and we're really on a focus of growing it. So, we have an office in Chennai, and we're using our offices in the US, staff-wise, and basically, we start at bookkeepers—which we call “account execs”; we don't call them bookkeepers—and then we have account managers, and then we have controllers, and finally CFOs that are overlooking the books, depending on the level of service that somebody asks for in our CAS group. Our CAS group, we don’t offer CAS if we don't do the tax returns. So, we're a full-package type of team. The tax department does handle the tax returns, but we go hand-in-hand.

Joshua Feinberg: So, that's really interesting. So, it sounds like it's gone through a couple of iterations back when it was your own family's practice before merging into Prager Metis, and then the rebranding keeps going. Have you noticed any big changes that have happened in the last six months or so, with kind of the “normal” that everyone's trying to navigate?

Hayley Mayer: I would say not in the last six months. I would say about a year ago, we converted to a full-on CAS cloud-based-software-only use. So, before COVID hit, we actually got very lucky because we were always in the cloud, and we never went down, but we converted every single client over here to an online cloud-based software, and we kind of rebranded at that point that, “This is how we're going to go forward, and we're paperless, and we want everything kind of using AI, and as much technology as we possibly could, instead of entering everything by hand, the old-school way.”

Joshua Feinberg: You're fortunate that you are proactive, and six months ahead of the curve, as opposed to a lot of firms that are scrambling now to try to figure all this stuff out with clients.

Hayley Mayer: Yeah, and I think the part is now, people have no choice to move, but when we said that, like, "We're moving, or you can't be part of our CAS unit anymore," people were like, "Now, we have to pay monthly fees." You know, because like, before we had QuickBooks Enterprise, you could have as many files as you want, but when you move everybody in the CAS, we kind of told everybody, "You're going to be paying your monthly QuickBooks fee. It's your file. You're keeping your file." So, the conversion was a little rough on the start, but then, now everybody loves it because they actually have. So, we let our clients into our books, so they could go look at it daily and see that we're actually doing the work. Some people are like, "Wow, you let your clients in every single second?" But there's nothing to hide. We're supposed to be doing what we're doing, and we're making sure it gets done, and that's really what's going on. What happened was our security department had an overhaul here, and we had some clients that were going into our server to look at their books when they wanted to, and then we decided that we're doing a full lockout, and we didn't want anyone going into the books. So, that's how we converted CAS into the cloud.

Joshua Feinberg: So, you didn't have to worry about, like, people being in two things at the same time that they weren't supposed to be.

Hayley Mayer: Correct.

Advice for Starting Out in Client Accounting Services (CAS)

Joshua Feinberg: Yeah. That makes sense. So, kind of big picture for someone that's brand-new to CAS: What's your favorite tip? What do you think is the most important best practice for an accounting firm that's just getting started with this in 2020?

Hayley Mayer: I think that you have to decide which client you want to take on, and what your focus group is because there are a lot of firms that are like, "I only want the $10K client," and there are some firms that will take on the $1K-a-month client. You have to decide what the fit for your firm is, and what your actual... one thing is, a lot of growth is within, so what your tax growth within would produce on a monthly retainer if they got rid of their accounting department.

Joshua Feinberg: So, you're kind of looking at the CAS retainer as “just the beginning”, and there's additional project work beyond that? Or it's more a matter of figuring out, like, what their growth is going to be, how aggressively they're growing their company?

Hayley Mayer: So, we do upsell, obviously, services, you know, especially at Prager. We'll do sales tax, and accesses, and stuff like that, and we even have—depending on the level of CFO—we would upsell the CAS group to be even a different type of CFO service. So, we are looking at that, but the mainstream—to start, at least—and to get a CAS client, either we start from... we do a lot of startups, and then we obviously take on the tax work, but to grow within the firm, and if you were starting from scratch, to start a CAS group, you really need to see what those clients are paying their bookkeepers today, and what they're paying their controller, and if they decided to change and lay off these people, what kind of monthly retainer would make sense to bring into their account?

Joshua Feinberg: So, you're first surveying what they're spending on payroll internally for these equivalent functions and then using that as a basis for trying to come in competitive with that?

Hayley Mayer: Correct.

Joshua Feinberg: Is that usually where the conversation starts when clients approach you? Is this usually the first time they're working with Prager Metis, and the business-development process?

Hayley Mayer: So, we get a lot of startups, a lot of abroad clients; we do a lot of international clients that want to come into the market, you know, the US market. They don't know where to start, and for them to hire, you know, an accountant, or a controller, or something like that, it's building a whole department, where they don't need a whole department. So, they come in, and we have the department, and we take it on. But what I've noticed since COVID is the kind of clients who are changing are the people who used to have their day-to-day bookkeeper come in. They can't come in. They're not having the FaceTime anyway, with the bookkeeper, and they're like, "Why don't I call my accountant and see what he could do?" And that's growing our CAS group really rapidly because they weren't even set up to have, you know, the cloud-based software and everything. So, we could offer a lot of services by bringing them in-house. But yeah, we have to kind of see if it's worth it. If you were paying your $25 bookkeeper, and now you're having an accountant do your books, it's a different group of service.

Joshua Feinberg: So, it sounds like it's a combination that, now with remote, that some companies are better suited to absorb someone working in general remote bookkeeping or being comfortable with that. But it also sounds just as much like they had one person doing the job with a finite set of skills, and they may not realize everything that they're missing by not having access to a team.

Hayley Mayer: Correct. The good part is a lot of these bookkeepers disappeared. They might've went home. If they were living in Manhattan or whatever, they might've went home to their house. They didn't have access; they've been down. There's no downtime when you're using a whole team.

 

Best Practices for Client Accounting Services Experts

Joshua Feinberg: Yeah. No, that makes a lot of sense. So, at the other end of the experience, someone who's been running a task team, or outsourced accounting—or the “cash management”, as you were calling it before—someone that's been doing this 5-10 years or so, what's the big thing you've discovered, like an advanced tip or power-user tip that you would advise on how to best approach building a practice like this?

Hayley Mayer: I think you really have to know what your knowledge is. You don't want to take on clients that you can't serve. So, if you don't know the apparel market, and you don't know factoring and stuff, you don't want to start with those clients. You want to start with what your background is. If it's real estate or if it's, you know, doctors and lawyers, it can all be done, but you need a focus group because the more you keep taking on these different areas, you have to staff these different areas because, you know, in construction, there's job costing and stuff. So, you really need to know. You can't just intertwine the staff for certain accounts. You don't want to just say yes to take on every account. You need to grow, and then you could take on more staff, where they could learn, you know, job costing or factoring, and you could then grow the CAS department because you have more and more staff.

Joshua Feinberg: So, when someone's setting up a practice like this, is it kind of a natural thing for them to work backwards on their LinkedIn profile and figure out the commonalities, where their strongest experience, and that's usually where the business development is starting because you ultimately have to train and supervise the staff to execute?

Hayley Mayer: Exactly. I mean, if you're going to fail, you're going to fail. So, you don't want to fail on that client. If that's not something you do day-to-day, it's very hard because it will catch up to you very quickly.

Joshua Feinberg: So, it's like, the whole idea of being self-aware and not being willing to say yes to everything—even if someone in another part of the firm brings you an accountant.

Hayley Mayer: Correct.

Joshua Feinberg: That's got to be challenging early on if there's a lot of pressure to grow.

Hayley Mayer: Yeah. I mean, I think you got to really hold your head up. You got to say that, like, growth is the right direction. Because what if that one client leaves and says, "Wow, they didn't really know what they were doing," and then it turns on the other clients, or other referrals. I mean, the best referral is a client that's happy, so you don't want a client that's not going to be happy.

Joshua Feinberg: Yeah. That's the thing in the world we live today. People love to talk about what they like about businesses, and review sites, and everything, and if they're not happy, they will also be equally as vocal with the negative word-of-mouth. So, yeah, you're right. There's definitely a “seller-beware” and making sure that there's a good fit across the board. Reputation matters.

Hayley Mayer: Right.

 

Avoiding Common Mistakes Made by Clients Resisting Outsourced Accounting Services

Joshua Feinberg: Aside from overselling the expertise, what do you see as some of the bigger mistakes that other firms make that land on your doorstep that you end up having to clean up?

Hayley Mayer: I see a lot of really, really terrible bookkeepers, a lot of stuff that they're like, "I didn't get my reports I needed, and then they made no sense." I've seen where, like, the bank is negative, but they really have money in the bank, so how'd the bank get negative? I mean, there's been some crazy stuff I've seen. But I think that's, like, the selling point, is your books are always going to be clean if you come into our CAS group. So, that's why I like that there's full disclosure. You're allowed into your books every single minute. If you notice something wrong, you're going to be the first person emailing me, telling me that something's wrong because you're looking at it.

Joshua Feinberg: Is that relatively unique for large accounting firms to have the real-time access that's in there? Or are there still quite a few where clients really don't have an idea, within the month, what's going on?

Hayley Mayer: I don't know if everybody's doing it, honestly. I mean, a lot of people say to me, "Wow, you're giving me this much access?" And I don't know, it's the way we've always been set up. It was something that we said, "You know, you're paying us; the books should be right," and that's how we wanted to sell it. I am sure there are firms doing it that are not giving access and only doing monthly reporting.

Joshua Feinberg: Do you find yourself spending significant time on, like, managing expectations with clients and spending a lot of time on education for teaching them what “normal” should look like? Or what percentage of your week, month gets occupied with stuff like that?

Hayley Mayer: So, we, like, always have a monthly meeting. We try to, like, have a monthly discussion of where the books are, and what they're looking at, and what's going on. I think, since COVID, we've had a lot more people reach out that they need more than the monthly meeting, but that means they need you, you know, and they are getting what they want, so they're happy, and then some clients, when they were doing good, they never checked the books, you know? It was like, "Okay, everything's good." And I'd be like, "Are you sure you don't want a call?" And they'd be like, "Oh, I'm super busy. I don't need a call." So, I'm just saying that there's, you know, different points of view. But I would say since COVID, we've had a lot more people that want to have those monthly calls, and I'm always here for the clients. So, you know, no matter what's going on, there's times to speak. So, I think the greatest thing is for them to realize how important you are, and that you could help them grow, and, you know, like, the first thing, when the PPPs came out, our CAS group did all the PPPs on all our clients for them, and we said to them, "You know, this is what's going on. It's filled out. Review it; sign it; we'll have a call," and 100% of our CAS clients got funded for PPP.

Joshua Feinberg: Wow. I was going to ask you that. So, there was that high of a percentage that needed that across the board?

Hayley Mayer: Yeah. Unfortunately, but yeah.

Joshua Feinberg: Yeah, I mean, these are the things that, like, if you didn't have a preexisting relationship with someone watching out for your finance accounting before this, to try to scramble, and it's, like, the same way when people found out that they didn't have a cooperative bank around this time. It was like, “Wow, you know, I guess you can fix it while the plane's already in the air, but it's so much better off if…”

Hayley Mayer: We had some banking challenges, so I could tell you that much. Some of the banks, they didn't take the PPP because they didn't think it was the right fit. But then, you know, we went through another bank, and we figured it out, and we got it done. You know, the client needs the money, and the last thing you want to do is let go of the staff, right? Like, if you can operate and hold onto them as long as you could, that's the goal.

 

Where Client Accounting Services and Outsourced Accounting Are Headed Next

Joshua Feinberg: That's what breeds loyalty: helping them in their biggest time. Thinking ahead with a two-or-three-year time horizon, what do you think is the big change that we're in the middle of that's going to really have an enormous impact on how outsourced accounting, client accounting is delivered?

Hayley Mayer: I think the biggest change is going to be that you're not going to have so much of those bookkeepers, and CFOs, and controllers. I think more and more people are going to realize that they could get everything in a one-stop shop, and it's going to cost them a lot less money, and I think that those people who are doing those CFO services and controller services might actually move to an accounting firm, to do it for an accounting firm and do it for multiple companies at the same time. So, the growth is going to be interesting all over because I think there's a large growth potential for accounting firms, and I think that even though people are like, "Oh, I'm letting go of this person, and I'm letting go of that person," that person might find a job at an accounting firm doing exactly what they've been doing for one firm, for multiple firms.

Joshua Feinberg: I actually found a lot of that. I was doing some interviews a month or two ago on people that specialize in Sage Intacct, and it was a very common trend where they were using Intacct in, like, an end-user job, and an internal finance job, and when they left, it was like—I talked to a couple of people, too, NetSuite, same thing—where they were using it in a single job, and it was a natural fit for them to move to an environment where they're just helping lots of businesses with similar problems.

Hayley Mayer: Yeah. I mean, I just think that's the way it's going to happen. You know, I don't think these people will be out of work forever, just because people are downsizing. I think that they'll recreate themselves, and they'll be able to find a job at an accounting firm instead of at one single firm.

Joshua Feinberg: So, you think when the dust settles, and there's a return to normal, that there'll be a much higher percentage of smaller companies—especially startups—that are outsourcing all of this, as opposed to trying to build an internal team?

Hayley Mayer: Yeah. I mean, I think that people don't realize that accounting firms do this service. You know? I mean, when I told people I did this 18 years ago, they're like, "Oh, this is new. People didn't do this." Well, we've been doing it for 18 years, but now, you know, it's evolving much differently and much faster than it evolved in 18 years. You know, the client base has grown so much in 18 years doing it. But I think that even after COVID, if people are happy, they're not leaving to go back to their old way and hire people, you know? If they realize that they could cut three staff people and have a team that's around all the time to speak to them, they're happy. So, I think it's just going to keep growing.

Joshua Feinberg: [00:19:00] Do you see any inflection points across the board with your clients where they hit a certain stage where it makes more sense to bring parts of it or all of it back internally?

Hayley Mayer: I see, like, distribution people that are selling goods, like, in mass quantities, where they really need somebody who's going to do... because we do, like, in-house invoicing and stuff. But when you need to really invoice, like, 100 orders a day, and you're picking, packing, and you grow to that point, CAS is not the right fit. You know, at that point, you need to hire an AR person, and then, like, you'd probably move—if you don't want to hire a CFO because that's an expensive hire—to just use our advisory department, and the CFO would still be outsourced on a monthly basis.

Joshua Feinberg: So, they're hiring an inexpensive, like, internal bookkeeper, like, junior accountant, or something like that to take care of the basics, but still leaning on a much more senior resource on the oversight.

Hayley Mayer: Correct.

Joshua Feinberg: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Hayley, what's the best way for somebody to reach out to you if they have any questions on anything you talked about? Are you active on LinkedIn, or anything like that?

Hayley Mayer: Yes, I'm active on LinkedIn, or they can email me at my Prager Metis email.

Joshua Feinberg: Excellent, and what's the best way for someone to learn more about Prager Metis? Just go to the website? Or is there any preferred social media?

Hayley Mayer: I would go to the Prager Metis website, and then even if you click on our teams, you'll see I'm on there, and you could always email me. You could look at our documents on CAS and client accounting services, and we've got a lot of marketing stuff that we could hand out, and you guys could read.

Joshua Feinberg: Excellent. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today, and our podcast interview for the AI in Accounting podcast. This has been super helpful, really insightful, too, to learn more about your background, and how you've been doing this for a really long time before it was even called CAS, and it's kind of gone through this evolutionary rebranding—and especially to get your thoughts on where all of this is headed. It's certainly a time of change. People need information and good, sound advice more than ever.

Hayley Mayer: For sure. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Joshua Feinberg: You're very welcome, and thanks for sharing your great advice.





What's your favorite client accounting services tip? And what did you find most valuable from Hayley Mayer's podcast interview? Let us know in the Comments section below.

 

And if you're serious about taking your client accounting services knowledge to the next level, download the free report: The State of Client Accounting Services and Outsourced Accounting.

Download your free copy of The State of Client Accounting Services and Outsourced Accounting.

Topics: Podcast, Client Accounting Services Best Practices

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