With Will Lopez
Randy Crabtree gets together with Will Lopez of Gusto on Episode 134 of The Unique CPA to talk about innovation in the accounting profession. Will shares his entrepreneurial journey from running his own practice to developing People Advisory as a service offering for accountants at Gusto. He explains the structured approach firms can take to modernizing by constantly experimenting and keeping services fresh, provides insights into the talent crisis in accounting, and how that crisis can be met by attracting new professionals with interesting, cutting edge offerings like People Advisory. His insights are rich for firms looking to enhance their value and stay competitive.
Today, our guest is Will Lopez. Will is Gusto’s head ambassador to accountant partners and customers, [and] previously empowered accountants as head of community and education. I’m not sure what either of those means, so I’ll ask Will to expand on that. But a couple things I want to tell you about Will: he and I talked for the first time, a week ago, less than a week ago. I feel like I’ve known him forever. He’s just got that kind of personality. He’s always smiling, which you maybe can’t see him now, but he’s smiling now. He’s always having a good time. He enjoys this profession. He wants to figure out ways to make this profession better, to have people enjoy it. And I think he and I are on the same wavelength with that, and I think that’s why I feel like I’ve known them forever. And we’re on a group text together—that’s probably part of it as well—And he is extremely funny on that group text. But enough about that. Will, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Hey, thanks, Randy. Thanks for having me on the podcast. That’s quite an opener right there. I appreciate all the kind words.
Hey, you do have fun though. At least that from me seeing the outside. Personally, we’ve been in the same locations before but I honestly don’t think we’ve shook hands, met in person, have we?
No, I don’t—I don’t think so. I don’t think our paths have crossed. I mean, we definitely hang around the same folks, but I don’t think we’ve bumped into each other and hurt each other while we’re bumping into each other. No, yeah, it’s great to finally meet you and kind of catch up.
Yeah, you too. I’m really looking forward to this and we’re gonna have to rectify that meeting in person thing. We’ll figure it out. Oh, I know we’ll be in some of the same locations this year for sure. So we’re gonna go have a drink together.
That sounds great to me.
So expand on, just this role at Gusto. What are you doing? And I know honestly, from the outside looking in, it looks like you have a good time with it. But what is this you’re doing with Gusto?
Yeah, great question. So you know, about four years ago, I joined Gusto as head of accountant community and education—fancy words for you know, head of partner program. Came in to kind of deepen and widen pretty much the offering that Gusto offers accountants when they partner with Gusto, serving clients with payroll benefits and HR. I shot out a really crazy idea when I was talking with Gusto, and I really wasn’t looking for a job to be honest with you. This, I mean, like, I was very happy running my own practice.
So I don’t know if you know, but, you know, I graduated with degrees in accounting and a CPA license in Florida, I ran my own accounting practice for about nine years. And I was doing some consulting to a lot of FinTech companies. Gusto was included. Gusto was one of them. And during one of my consultations, I just struck up a conversation with their former COO, Lexi Reese. And long story short, she just put her hooks into me, didn’t let go. Ended up, you know, taking a really massive role at Gusto. I’d never worked in FinTech ever in my career. I’m a total accountant by trade. But I shot out a really wild idea. They said, you know, how can we differentiate our partner program? You know, what can we do to leave a legacy? You know, how do we help, you know, our customers in a way that’s not normal? And that’s where people advisory came afoot, which was my recommendation to their leadership.
They believed in it, they kind of rolled the dice. And yeah, I pulled it off. So it’s been great kind of working with the team and building a team at Gusto doing something really different with payroll and applying CAS to payroll really, and really trying to help accountants move the needle, I think on the payroll front.
Well, we’re gonna have to dig into that for sure. Then so because we, when we talked before, I still you’re gonna have to educate. And this is part of the show is, is educating me. I figure if you’re educating me, other people are going to have the same questions. But you just mentioned this people advisory that this is a service, this is an offering, and this is a CAS type thing in the payroll. You’re going to have to spend about a half hour explaining what this is, I think.
Well, here’s the good news is it’s going to sound very familiar and nostalgic, but it is unique. And I don’t know if you’ve ever read The Creative Curve. It’s a great book, but basically, it talks about how certain innovations and certain inventions kind of teeter on this line of nostalgic and unique. If it’s too nostalgic, people will look at it and say we’ve done this before and it won’t ever take root. If it’s too unique, it then just becomes like way out in left field, and people are like yeah, that’s a really cool idea, but it’s almost too much for me.
And so you know the concept of people advisory, we even created a noun, obviously being a people advisor is a noun. And we even have a definition, you know, people advisor combines their financial expertise with people focus guidance to create great places to work for their clients. And so the idea behind it is, you know, payroll has been around forever, right? Maybe, I think it’s like 90 years payroll has been around? You know, one of the oldest payroll companies, ADP has been around almost as long as payroll has been around. And we’ve really not done anything in the profession to really push it forward as a concept. Now, we’ve done a lot to make the job of running payroll easier. We’ve gone from, you know, rock, hammer, chisel, to paper, and pen, from paper and pen to desktop software, from desktop to cloud based software.
So the only thing that’s really evolved with payroll is basically how we process it, how we do the work, but the concepts around it like, how can we make the most of this thing? How can we use it as an inroad to higher value? Can payroll be more meaningful, and not toss you into the echelons of benefit advisory or HR advisory? Like, can you do something more with this offering? That’s basically the heart of people advisory is actually, let this offering stand on its own—unbundle it from bookkeeping, because there’s a tremendous amount of scope creep with payroll—and earn more revenue as a result of it, create new jobs as a result of it, inspire a younger generation to actually care about accounting in a different way.
And as accountants, I think we need a lot of help in soft skills. You know, and I think by nature of the trade, we’re really good with Financials just not good with faces on the financials, right? We kind of don’t see the people element behind what we do, we kind of tend to look at people like we look at the Matrix, a bunch of zeros and ones. And our consultations have downstream impact, whether we believe it or not, you know, we affect livelihoods based on advice that we give, and not just the owners’ livelihood, but their teams, and their families and the communities around them. So you know, for me people, advisory has been just a pure joy of helping the profession be better and more cognizant of the people that they impact in their consultative roles.
So you said people advisor is a noun—there is an advisory person.
And then are we generating revenue through that? So how does that work? I’m still—I understand the concept of the things we need to do. But how does this become a service?
Yeah, so that’s such a great question. You know, just like so I’ve been selling CAS since I started my own practice. And obviously, advisory is afoot—both globally, internationally, here domestically, as well, of course, we’re like, really laggards here in the States compared to like Australia, the UK, you know, New Zealand, Canada. I mean, Canada is just hitting their stride. You know, and I think when you sell any kind of accounting service, there always comes with the theoretical side of this thing, like, what does it look like? How do you do it? What does it mean in practice life? What does it mean for clients? And then there’s a more practical tactical side. How do you pull the service off? How do you staff it? How do you price it, so on and so forth.
So for me, creating a new category of advisory, such as people advisory, was going to be a long term journey. We had to first define what it was. We also had to help accounts understand, you know, what is the history of payroll benefits and HR? Why are these things here in this work? Like, why do they exist? Where are they at today? Like, why have they become what they’ve become today? How’s it important in the workforce life, or even in an employer, your client’s life, and then help theoretically account separate their roles from the offering. And I think in the beginning, I used to say this, I think accountants are suffering from a massive identity crisis flared by modern technology. And so because technology has kind of taken and made a lot of ease out of a lot of the work that we’ve done, us as accountants, we’ve kind of wrapped up our own aura, in essence, into that work. And we haven’t done a great job of pulling ourselves away from that work and saying, look, we’re different than the technology that we use.
And I think it’s no different with payroll. You know, as accountants, we have wrapped up our IDs within the payroll process. We think that as accountants, our entire value is wrapped up in really outsourcing that work to us. And that’s how we’re seen as valuable and I just I fundamentally disagree to the high heavens, and I always have. And I you know, I found a moment within payroll to say we can be different as accountants, we can free ourselves once again, just like bookkeeping was to financial advisory a decade ago, payroll is the people advisory now. So you know, we need to do a better job of looking at other practice lines and separating our roles from the things that we deliver to our clients. And so that was step number one, is really kind of like plant that flag into the ground, you’re different than this thing. Gusto is different than you. We have a purpose, you have a purpose, and our purposes do overlap at some moments, but for the majority of times, it does not. And so how can we at Gusto help you see that more clearly?
You’re like some kind of genius or something. You developed this, you just developed this brand new definition, noun. I think you’re like—
It was a team effort, for sure.
—I’m saying it’s all you. You’re like the Ron Baker of payroll, I mean, coming up with these new ideas that everybody is going to be following, and they’re just getting the ground stone set with that with you. This is awesome. I’m excited about that. And this might be going backwards a little bit, but I want to talk about the industry in general. But before we do that, let’s talk about your history in the industry. Because you’ve mentioned it, and I’m jumping around the wheel here, but you mentioned it that you were running a practice before your genius idea at Gusto came about. What is your history in the industry, in the profession—do you call it industry or profession?
Depends on the context, but I normally call it “profession” because I’m just in love with the profession. The industry can be a grind, the profession is beautiful.
Yes, there you go. I like it. I’m gonna try to remember that. Alright. So what is your history in the profession?
Yeah exactly. So I’ve always told the story that I grew up in a very entrepreneurial family. Both my parents grew up very poor. They were born in poverty, I was born in poverty. One of the earliest memories I have was living in the back of one of my parents’ businesses, and taking a shower over a drain. What my mom would do would be boil like two or three gallons of hot water, mix it in with warm water, and I would take a cup, and basically give myself a shower using a five gallon bucket, a cup and a drain that was below me.
But my parents loved entrepreneurship, they loved business. And I was absolutely just enamored by all the stories—my parents kind of had me late in their life, so they had plenty of stories to share. And I was definitely the kid in like The Neverending Story that was just like, absolutely engulfed by the stories. And I just looked at business and entrepreneurship as like the ultimate adventure, because that is what it was for my parents. It was freeing. They saw success, their own success in it. They saw that they could take control of their own fate, which they did—put food on the table, put clothes on our back, despite the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, which they had plenty of, it was the thing that saved us as a family.
So in that context, I always knew that I was going to be very entrepreneurial at heart. I knew I was going to be in business at some point in my life. I just had no idea that accounting would be the catalyst. And that’s exactly what happened. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school, I paid my way through college, like I said, my family was poor—I worked multiple jobs. And in one of the early jobs, I kind of got introduced to accounting through a coworker, name’s Michael Maturano, and he started kind of like just really feeding accounting into my mind and I fell in love with it. I changed my degree from economics over to accounting, and just poured myself into it. I started in industry—one of my first big jobs at early age, was setting up a company, like a parking company like valet, I was in Palm Beach at the time. And I was like the youngest manager on the team. I was like I think 21, I ran a team of a hundred people.
And then from there I got into industry. I became a controller for a not for profit for about four or five years, finished up my master’s degree, got a job in public accounting, became a financial statement auditor, fell in love with that. And then obviously, true to form got totally grinded out by traditional accounting.
And started my own practice. And it was really when I started my own practice where I started to have a lot of fun with entrepreneurial accounting, and you know, coming up with ideas and coming up with concepts but more around accounting, which is kind of led me to people advisory ultimately. But I just saw accounting and entrepreneurism as just two very fascinating things in my life and I’ve always tried hard to combine the two.
So how long ago then, did you start your practice, your firm, in the profession?
Yeah, I started it back in 2012, this was right after the great recession. And I remember the great recession in accounting, right? “Flat is up” was the term, right? If you had a practice, and you were able to maintain your revenue, even though you lost, like 50% of your staff, you know, that was success. That was a massive success in that time, which in my opinion, gave birth, I think, to cloud accounting. But I started my practice back in ’12, I left a high paying job as an auditor, and basically left with zero clients and just hustled pretty early on. And then we got really successful pretty early on, through partnerships with some cloud technology. And then by the tail end of my practice life, I think we had clients in over 43 states, we had a big team down in South Florida, had clients in three countries. I mean, that was the beauty of entrepreneurial accounting, that brought a lot of that success to my life.
So then, what happened to that? You sold that when Gusto came calling, or what was the next step?
Yeah, I actually true to my nature, you know, obviously, I could have sold it to some pretty big practices, friends that I know, who wanted to purchase it. But I actually broke it into three parts, Randy. I met three up and coming cloud practice owners that were under a year into their practice life, and I wanted to invest into their future. So I cracked my practice in three, and I sold each part to one of them. And, you know, they accepted basically everything that we had spent all the time putting in place, all the contracts and monthly recurring revenue. At the time, I bundled everything, even tax prep was bundled into my monthly packages—I was very modern, very progressive in my approach, and I’m very excited to see them still being very successful today. I see them at conferences, I’ll never say who it is. But you know, like, I am so proud of them. And I could have easily have gone out and tried to squeeze I don’t know, 1.5 1.6 1.7x, right? But I was very happy just passing the baton. That’s really what I wanted to do.
So a genius and a really nice guy.
Oh, come on!
So let’s dig into this a little more then. I want to get to a point where we start talking about the profession in general, because I know you and I both have really strong opinions on where we are and where we need to go, and you’re probably even better than me at this. But before we get to there, you said one thing: I left my high paying job as an auditor—which I don’t think you can have fun as an auditor. Sorry, auditors. I’m a tax guy.
I’m probably the only auditor you’ll meet that actually had fun.
Alright! But then you did say—I believe you have fun all the time—but then you did say that’s when all the fun started. And so a lot of people will think that: “I’m gonna go work for myself because I’m in control, and I can set the hours I want and I can make as much as I want. And I…” And then they start it and they’re a slave to the clients and the business. And but you sound like you did that different. You left and you had fun? How did you do it where it wasn’t controlling you? And you were working the business rather than the business working you?
Yeah, I mean, look, I wasn’t entirely successful. There’s always a lot of give and take when you run your own practice. I joke around and say, you know, practice life is not for the faint of heart. It really isn’t. But I think one thing that just was impressed on me throughout my entire life, especially by my parents, is, you know, applying an entrepreneurial mindset to whatever you’re doing is actually what derives a lot of excitement out of what you do. I approached owning a practice as an experiment in my life. I delivered the traditional services that have been delivered through accounting for as long as we can remember, but I wanted to experiment along the way. And I think for anybody who’s known me for the past decade, which there are a lot of our mutual friends that know me for that long, all they’ve seen me do is experiment, experiment, experiment, iterate, iterate, iterate, and I really applied the heavy hand of creativity to my practice, and that kept things fresh, it kept things exciting. It actually kept us out of the danger zones of being enslaved to a practice.
In my opinion, being a slave to an accounting practice is a direct result of applying a certain mindset in a process to it one time and never revisiting it. So you become a slave to the process. You become a slave to that experience, and you’re not really trying to push the limits. And so at my practice, I tried really hard to constantly push the limits but not so much so where it was disruptive for my team, or disruptive for my clients, but in ways that were very meaningful. I built my entire practice off the back of teamwork. My clients had an app, we deprioritized emails at my firm way back when.
They can only message us through the app. We brought our clients into our workflow management experience. You know, I ran a YouTube channel at the time to drive up business, I was trying very different services, I was approaching things very differently. And for me, I think that it just, it kept accounting so exciting for me. And that’s why I love my profession, I think if we look at the legacy ways of running a practice, and if you think that’s the only way, it isn’t. And it’s sad, because we get wrapped up into that mentality, like, look, let’s not fix what isn’t broken. But you know, the accounting practice may not be broken. But it does require a lot of fixing, a lot of enhancing.
It does. And you just said it to the I see a big difference between, and I call it the same thing you do, is the legacy firms, these firms have been around a while, you know, they, they’re, you know, multiple partners, and then these, like your firm, these more entrepreneurial startup, whatever, 30-something, 40-something or year olds running it, and the technology involved and just come being more innovative, like you said, innovation is huge. I see that happening. This is what my impression is, at these new millennial run firm, for lack of a better term, or younger firm that I just get so excited about, because I want to get the legacy firms, and I’ll just call them millennial firms, but that may not be the right terminology to kind of interact and learn from both. Because I think there’s a lot that can be learned from the legacy firms too. But from an efficiencies and technology standpoint, I think the millennial firms have it. And that’s, we gotta have a different term. The millennial firm, what would you call it, a startup firm?
Probably more of a modern practice
Modern practice, yeah.
Yeah, modern approach. And Randy to that point, like, that’s why you’re seeing a lot of what I call reverse acquisition going on in the accounting profession. And what I mean by reverse acquisition is you’re getting a lot of legacy firms purchasing and buying these more modern advanced practices, because the legacy firms can’t seem to pull it off. So they buy these more modern approached practices and reverse integrate their goodness, into the legacy framework. You don’t see it the other way around. You don’t see young, you know, modern firms buying, you know, old books or old processes. You see legacy firms doing reverse mergers of this cloud approach, and trying to really integrate that experience into the whole.
Yeah, no, for sure. And it’s been pretty cool, these innovative—what did you call, you just gave me a great name to call them and I already forgot, what was it?
I don’t even know, like, modern approach firms?
The modern! The modern approach firm. That’s what we’re gonna go with.
So there’s two goals of the show: that we educate, which we are, and we laugh, and we’re laughing for sure. So we’re hitting both goals right now. So let’s go now, we set the stage, and I just love hearing that story of entrepreneur experimentation and innovation, constantly keeping yourself excited within the practice. The practice and the profession in general, I feel and I think you and I talked about this is a little bit of a crisis, potential, crisis mode already. I mean, a couple of things. One, we’re not keeping people in the profession, two, people aren’t coming into the profession, and we’re very important, whether people realize it or not. Without accountants, the economy can be affected, because we need this. So what are some of the crisis issues you see, and do you have solutions for anything?
Yeah! You know, I’ve been around for a while, as far as the accounting is concerned, and definitely have been on the front lines, I think, of the revolution and accounting, both globally and domestically. In my current role right now—and this has always been the case since I came to Gusto—I read roughly about three to five white papers a week on what’s going on in the profession, internationally, domestically. I try to keep myself really informed. And it just feeds into I think, a lot of my own innovation and creativity and thinking.
And you’re right, like every year, or every two years at the AICPA releases the supply and demand of accounting graduates and every time I’ve read it, you see continued decline in accounting graduates, you see the continued increase in the behavior, increase in the profession of backfilling this lack of accounting talent with talent from other industries, talent from even unrelated industries, like not finance, not economics, but just other industries in general, in order to fill in the gap. Which is why quite honestly, we’ve leaned in, I’ve leaned in so hard and the team, and I’ve leaned in so hard at Gusto, around people advisory, because the truth is that when you think about this massive talent issue that’s going on, and you think about what responsibilities we have as accountants, as practice owners, and even as software companies like Gusto, if we don’t figure out what to do about this problem, we’re going to have this beautiful guilt in major jeopardy in at least a decade or two’s time.
We’re going to have a young generation that’s going to look at the profession as not exciting, which is currently the case. It’s something that isn’t creative, which is currently the case. And a profession that isn’t innovative, which is currently the case. And so when I think of things like even people advisory, quite honestly, I think the opportunity for the accounting field is to encourage and to entice more people, younger people, to see accounting as something more than it’s presented. It’s much bigger than numbers than people think it is. And even like an offering like people advisory and I mentioned this to you last time, it really helps people who are trained as financial accountants or non financial accounts to meet the transformation of this industry in a way that’s approachable, doable, and comfortable in it’s on point, Randy. It’s on point for generational shift.
And accounting does have that talent problem of the younger pipeline. And I think once again, one of the opportunities even for something like people advisory is to weave a mission together that young professionals, other professionals care about, into the firm’s culture. And so how are we going to get people to in accounting to save the world, right, if we can’t tell a great story, where accountants don’t just sit and do Excel spreadsheets, but their involvement, whether accountants or not, is important to the health and success and durability of the economy of the businesses that employ people, that give those people opportunities to save for retirement, giving them decent work, and decent wage, and decent options. And I think you know, that work is multifaceted and needs to be owned by all of us—whether you’re a practitioner, firm owner, or just working at a software company. I really do heartily believe that is the solution. You know, until that day comes, you know, we’re going to continue to see the problems that we’re seeing.
Yep. Yeah, I agree. Probably part of the problem, too, I believe is just the, well, I was gonna say perception, but it’s reality a lot, too—I mean, you go to a, let’s just call them out, Big Four, and they’re going to work you at least my perception—I haven’t been at Big Four ever—but what I hear is, you know, you got to bill 2,800 hours, or whatever the number is, and so they get somebody for a year or two, and then they’re gone. And they don’t even go to a smaller firm, they go into industry, rather than staying in public accounting, or bookkeeping, or whatever. And that perception of, and reality of, this high stress, high burnout profession, unfortunately exists.
Now, it doesn’t exist across the board. I mean, talk about your firm, what you did. Talk about all these people we know, together, you know, these common friends we have, they just do things just so much more innovative, experimental, and much more employee-friendly, I believe as well, which is, I think, what needs to happen. And so that’s, again, can we somehow bridge the gap? What would be the right term between these legacy firms and these innovative, modernized firms?
And I mean, like, it’s kind of sad that there’s an old guard and new guard and both guards are fighting, you know, because the truth is, when you look at the whole here, what we do for a living as accountants, and all the calculations we perform—the calculation is now the equivalent of Microsoft Word of the accounting industry, as far as I’m concerned. You just show up, you know how to do it, and it’s not a differentiator. Instead, you know, we need to work closer together as an industry to turn those calculations into data, into insights for actions, to include them in moments that matter most. And we need to understand that the mission starts way earlier than we believe it does. I mean, there’s a lot of career paths to take in accounting. And accounting, like you said, is not just the Big Four, it’s very strategic, in many ways, with many thought partners, on many dimensions.
And then for sure, that is, there’s a huge part. And that’s really, the more the key word we’re hearing these days is advisory, you know, we can be more than a reporter of what happened with the business—and we need to be more than a reporter and a lot of us are. But I think the perception is we’re a reporter. Let’s report what happened, you know, tax-wise, let’s report what happened accounting and why and what you just said, we can take all these things and we can give them insights or clients and help them, advisory being key.
I don’t know if you’ve read this, then, but with all your white papers, maybe you have in the last week or so, the Big Four are getting rid of people and advisory. They’re cutting their advisory staff significantly. I think I just saw today, I don’t remember which of the four is cutting 700 jobs in the advisory. Another one was about 2% of their staff, just last week they announced. I heard another in the top 10 doing the same. This is the profession, did they overstaff for advisory? Do you have any insights on what’s going on and why they’re doing this? Or they’re trying to say, hey, we’re gonna be in a recession. So we’re getting rid of people ahead of time, which I think is a stupid idea. But that’s my opinion.
Well, I agree with that stupid idea in the sense of like, I agree with your opinion about that idea of being stupid.
Yeah. It’s so short sighted.
Yeah, very, very short sighted and then actually does more damage than good as far as I’m concerned. I mean, here’s my read. Look, the Big Four does not represent at all the accounting profession at large. Neither does it represent the industry. I feel when we look at the Big Four, we put way too much weight into that, into who they are. They really don’t operate as the entire industry operates.
When you look at all the statistics around advisory, we even did research here at customer around people advisory and the demand for people advisory. Advisory is strong—it’s healthy, it’s growing at exponential, it’s a multibillion dollar industry that continues to add value. It’s exactly what clients are needing. I mean, we ran a survey—we create a report every year now called The Guidance Gap. And The Guidance Gap at Gusto shows that there’s a massive gap between the advice that clients need around their team, and the advice that accountants are not providing around that element. And so the gap continues to widen and we continue to fixate on financial numbers, even though our clients are crying out to us for more help, and different kinds of help.
They would even go as far as paying accountants 20 to 30% more just to include people-centered advice in the midst of financial advice. So, you know, I don’t know what’s up with the Big Four, they may have overstaffed. But honestly, at the same time, we are in a recession. I mean, if you buy advisory through the Big Four, it’s going to be infinitely more costly than if you were to buy it from Randy’s firm or from Will’s firm. So in my opinion, I think they’re just probably cost cutting. And obviously, the Big Four are overly priced. And they’re going to still seek the same advice just at a lower cost. And that means that’s all sorts of good for smaller firms, because we just don’t price it what they price at the Big Four.
So, you know, I think there’s there’s a lot to say about the inflation that’s in hand, there’s a lot to say around cost cutting. And advisory, too does have a cap, I think in a lot of people’s minds. If you do charge too much for it, people won’t buy it. And I think probably what you’re seeing right now at the Big Four is exactly that.
Probably. And based on what you just said, I have some statistics out there that I’ve done quite a few webinars and presentations on the importance of advisory. And one of the statistics out there—you alluded to it—is I think the numbers are, 79% of taxpayers or clients would pay—they said this—will pay for these advisory services to figure out, let’s just say tax advisory services, how am I going to reduce my tax, what are the strategies out there. And 35% of firms offer tax advisory. So the clients want to pay, and we’re not providing it. There’s a need there. Let’s go bridge that—we’re bridging gaps today. Let’s go bridge that gap now. And this is usually a higher value offering, higher billable, because you can show the benefit. “I just saved you $32,000, I charged you four grand, you know that’s a pretty good return on investment,” or whatever it is. And so yes, I agree completely that is the way we should be going and that there is a need.
Yeah. And we’re not seeing anything different. I’m not seeing anything different here at Costco. Like I said, we did that survey called The Guidance Gap. It surveyed a thousand businesses that use Gusto. And the top four key findings were one, business owners still see accountants as trusted, valuable partners. Two, I think the survey, two and three business owners are basically saying that their accountant has made their business more competitive, too, especially when it comes to people in a tight labor market like we’re seeing right now, owners do need guidance on how to retain their employees retention is everything right now.
And accountants don’t offer services to help their clients retain their team which is why at Gusto and through our team, people advisors absolutely soar in success. We have over 3,000 firms now that are people advisory certified, we have hundreds of firms actually offering the service to their own clients. And then what you’re seeing right now is like in an economic downturn, owners also need help finding additional funds and sources of revenue. They’re not comfortable navigating the uncertainty, and especially in an economic downturn, they need to find money, they need to find different ways to find money, in order to keep their team and stay afloat. And right now accountants are just leaving absolute money on the table by not offering these kinds of people centric, people focused services, and risk losing a massive competitive edge.
Yep. And not only leaving money on the table, but probably leaving time on the table—what I mean is, they can save time by doing these higher value advisory services, whether it’s people advisory, tax advisory, client accounting services, or whatever. You know, everybody in our profession is just work work—not everybody, we have innovative people like you that have done things differently—but that perception is work, work, work, work, work. And there’s only so many hours in a day, and if I’m billing by the hour, at the same rate, I cap out what I can make. And when we start adding these value added services like people advisory and that, now all of a sudden, there’s probably a higher billing rate, if you want to call it that, or higher value rate to charge the clients. I think that that’s important to find these ways that we can be more important to our clients, more helpful to our clients, more insights to our clients, but also help us as professionals as well.
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, what’s interesting, too, is, I think the reason why I think a lot of firms struggle in adapting to the current economic situation, whether it’s right now, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, is because they just don’t approach practice life as something that should reflect society as a whole. And if you were to approach practice life, as a reflection, of direct reflection of the clients, you serve the communities they help and society as a whole, then you would actually be modernizing, and staying up to date with all your services and your approaches to clients.
And so one of the fundamentals, in my opinion of just accounting, is the best investment you can make for your firm is in your people. And important career development can be available for accountants and bookkeepers and professionals constantly—constantly. And that’s actually what’s going to keep you on the competitive edge. You know, don’t look at it as a one and done kind of motion when you’re running a practice. Say to yourself, does my practice reflect the society I currently live in? And if it doesn’t, then you need to really revisit all the components in your business strategy,
Yep. and be innovative and experimental. Like you when you started your firm, which is the way that I think we’re gonna keep the profession moving forward.
And be okay to fail. I failed a lot.
Yeah, I’ve done that, too. i Oh, believe me when I started my practice, I was way behind the curve on things you should be doing innovation. It wasn’t until I started Tri-Merit, that it really started turning the corner and realized that you could do things different. So I learned later in life. Well, I guess I started Tri-Merit. At what 40? How old was I? 45?
Yeah, you guys do great work.
We have fun too, which is important. That’s the key. If we don’t have fun, it’s not worth it.
Alright. So this has been great. Let’s see. Is there any thoughts then about like maybe things you’re doing with Gusto to help firms be more modern? Is there things out there they can look to you for?
Yeah, absolutely. So as I mentioned, you know, people advisory in my opinion is what’s next for payroll, what’s next for the profession. We’ve kind of outdone and kicked a pretty good dead horse around financial advisory. I think it’s time for firms to kind of think a little differently. So at Gusto we just announced—and this has been a multi year initiative—our Gusto Academy.
It’s basically learning tracks for every stage of your career as an accountant when you’re interacting with payroll benefits and HR. It’s basically training for the entire firm. We have payroll essentials, which is designed for bookkeepers and accountants, and it helps, you know, provide those critical skills to help manage payroll confidently. Then we have our people advisory certification, which is actually aimed at aspiring accountants to become people advisors. It really helps them combine their accounting skills with people ops, so they can better serve and better advise their clients. And then we launched our people advisory accelerator program, which is my personal favorite, because all the years of building a CAS practice and building modern practice is wrapped up into that course, and it’s free.
So we basically taught firms how to monetize people advisory, how to package it in a three tiered service, how to price it, how to staff it, how to market it, how to talk it, and it’s really designed for firm leaders and explores all those elements and accelerates and collapses that time to market of taking this concept of people advisory and then monetizing it driving recurring revenue for your firm.
So we have the training, we have the technology now through people analytics, which is now our new like product that provides KPIs around people advisory here now at Gusto, through Gusto Pro Dashboard. So all in all, you know, like, I’m personally very excited for accountants. If they’re looking for a new adventure, or the next adventure, in my opinion around advisory, people advisory is it. And I think it’s going to grow beautifully within the profession. And it’s really exciting to see so many firms pick it up.
Okay, then let’s give people a way to get more information on that right now. I usually ask this at the end. But I think there’s a perfect spot. If they want to find out more about people advisory, this whole course for free, where you educate them, where would they look for that?
Yeah, great question. So they could visit Gusto.com, or more directly, you can go to Academy.Gusto.com. And Gusto Academy is the training where you’ll see those three tiered, main certifications, which is training for the entire firm, train the team that’s doing the work, train the advisors that’s giving the consultation around people advice, and then train leadership to think differently about payroll.
Nice, nice. All right, so then a final two questions. First one—everybody gets this question. So we were just talking tons of business, and what we do, and how we’re going to help the—how you and I are gonna save the profession. But when you’re not out there being Superman, what are your outside of work passions? What do you like doing when you’re not thinking about payroll advisory and other aspects?
Yeah, so two things in my world: I love to edit videos. So I think if anybody’s followed me, I love editing videos. Editing has become a personal love of mine. People journal, Randy, I don’t journal—I vlog. So that’s my version of journaling. What you see, as far as like video content for me, it’s basically how my brain works, which is pretty spastic. So my video content is like a little all over the place, but it’s so my personality, I enjoy it so much.
And then secondly, I love CrossFit. You know, I’ve never been into fitness or sports when I was younger, I kind of regret that. But it really has opened my mind up to just the excitement around athletics, and just being a part of that process. So I am trying to make it to, you know, CrossFit regionals this year, and I’ve been hustling really hard.
But you know, yeah, it’s a lot of fun. And I, you know, obviously, there’s a lot of stress in my life. So fitness is always key to reducing your stress, as well as you know, hanging out with the Randy’s of the world.
Yeah, having a beer.
Yeah! That’s right. But yeah, CrossFit has been a joy.
So does this mean no beer at all—I don’t know if you’re a beer guy anyways, but during this CrossFit season?
I would say it’s probably more hard liquor nowadays. So you know, keep the calories low. But you know, in the end, you know, I’m not a professional athlete, right? I joke around—I’m a professional amateur. And so you know, if anything, what it does is it just allows me to have a ton of fun, move around. And yeah, I still drink beer. I still drink with friends. I go to conferences, and, you know, I enjoy my time.
I did something. So I’ve worked out. I mean, my workout used to be basketball, and I played basketball non stop, but then when I really couldn’t play competitively anymore, I started just exercising and weightlifting. And that was about 20 years ago, that I started doing that. And I got in this fitness contest, and I am so freaking competitive, I just, it was like took over my life for three months, to the standpoint where I had zero drops of alcohol for three months. For the last six weeks of the contest, I ate tilapia and asparagus for every meal—that was it—breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks because it’s very lean, and then you’re still getting some vegetables. And man it just, I can’t even look at them anymore. But just, it honestly was fun, because you’re competitive you’re working out you’re seeing progress. And 28 gyms, I won our gym and came in second place overall, which I should have won. Everybody says I should have won, so I’m now, I’m pissed that I didn’t win.
Well, you and I are alike. I’m extremely competitive as well, both both out of work and in work. And I would say to my competitors right now, where have you been? I haven’t seen you do anything special out there. And I’ll guess I’ll see you at the finish line whenever you get there.
There you go! Trash talking competitive. Nice. I like the combo. Alright. So we already said where you can go to get more on Gusto. If anybody wants to see more about you or Gusto, what’s a good place they can look you up?
Alright. Will, this has been great. I had a lot of laughs, a lot of fun, got educated. I appreciate the time.
Hey, I appreciate you. Thank you for everything that you do.
About the Guest
Will Lopez is the Head of Mission (Chief Ambassador) for accountant partner empowerment at Gusto. As a technology advocate, he utilizes the transformative power of automation and digital tools, unlocking technology’s potential to revolutionize industries and make people’s lives easier and more efficient.
His work through Gusto centers around ensuring that technology enhances, rather than replaces, human skills and knowledge. While software can automate routine tasks and increase accuracy, it cannot replace a human advisor’s financial acumen, critical thinking, and trusted counsel. Will advocates for the responsible use of technology, which is used to empower employees and support businesses, rather than eroding trust or making jobs harder.
Will previously founded Advisorfi in 2013 after starting his accounting career as a corporate controller and as an auditor for a local firm in Florida.
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.