insight magazine

Practice Perspectives | Summer 2023

What Does It Take to Become Clients’ Most Trusted and Strategic Advisor?

Earning the coveted status of “the most trusted and strategic advisor” is a goal all CPAs should have, but achieving it isn’t necessarily a given. Here are some actions that can help.
Art Kuesel President, Kuesel Consulting

“Strategic” and “trust” are two power words in the world of accounting—and I don’t use them lightly. When I think about these two words coming together, I don’t arrive with a pseudonym like “trustegic.” Instead, I arrive with a more obvious choice to anyone reading this—a CPA. More specifically speaking, the top relationship achieved between a CPA and their client.

David Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford, authors of “The Trusted Advisor,” have similar views on this correlation. They argue that the key to professional success is the ability to earn the trust and confidence of clients.

Of course, earning trust from clients is the goal of any CPA, but it’s not always a sure thing. Speaking from experience, it takes time. To help make the process of becoming your clients’ most trusted and strategic advisor a little easier, here are four key actions to take.


You must demonstrate credibility with the client, oftentimes (but not always) around a specific topic of knowledge. But proving that you’re smart is never enough. You must reliably deliver meaningful knowledge over and over again. Your knowledge must be brought forward with context that provides value. Admittedly, that’s still not enough. Your client must feel as if every interaction with you is motivated by them, not you. That means you always do what’s in the best interests of your client even if it’s not necessarily in your best interests.

It’s fair to say that most of us have probably completed this cycle once or twice. But nobody can claim to have completed the cycle in perpetuity for all clients all the time. However, when you can repeat this cycle with a client, you should be heading toward that top-level “most trusted and strategic” relationship.


You must recognize that not all clients trust you just because you have knowledge and have a professional relationship with them. Many clients seek some level of a personal relationship with those they truly trust. A few reasons for this come to mind: First, we must remember that a good percentage of the population needs to like someone before they can trust them. Second, the client-CPA relationship can’t just be a transactional relationship, as it usually involves frequent meetings at length where the conversation drifts from professional to personal and back again. Third, let’s not forget that the personal lives of our clients tend to influence their professional decisions.


How many times has one of your clients made a decision that made little business sense and conflicted with the facts you presented? All the time, right? That’s because emotions are present in business—whether that’s a good thing or not. This example isn’t about the client who’s successful in spite of themselves and their reckless decision-making. Instead, this is about the typical business owner or controller who has subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) emotional or environmental influences from beyond the balance sheet. If you’re going to elevate your status to being a client’s most trusted and strategic advisor, you’ll not only recognize these influences, but embrace them, as they aren’t going away. The key is to learn why your client is thinking the way they are and, when or if appropriate, consider how to integrate that into future discussions.


It’s important to understand that earning the title of one’s most trusted and strategic advisor is rare. Not only for the points I previously mentioned, but for the fact that there are more components to developing this type of relationship than we can review in this column. It’s also very challenging to serve a high volume of clients in this manner. Of course, there’s also an obvious obstacle—you don’t truly like every one of your clients and every one of your clients doesn’t truly like you. In fact, according to “The Trusted Advisor,” only up to 30% of your clients are even eligible for this elevated relationship for any number of reasons. In my experience, even the most talented, personable, and experienced CPA firm partners have only a handful of these most trusted and strategic-type relationships—and that’s exactly how it should be.

While becoming the most trusted and strategic advisor to your clients should be an aspirational goal for you as a CPA, it’s important to recognize that it’s not possible with every client. I suggest you hand-select only your best clients for the level of effort required to forge this type of relationship. Even if you don’t manage to elevate every relationship you target to this level, you’ll still be a better CPA for your efforts.

Remember, becoming a client’s most trusted and strategic advisor takes time. After working on this for many years with a small handful of clients, I can say with certainty that the professional and personal benefits of moving in this direction are immeasurable.

Related Content:

  • When Trust Is Not Enough: Becoming the most valued—most strategic—business advisor is the new path forward for CPAs.
  • Does Trusted Mean Valued? Now, more than ever, CPAs must redefine who and what they are to their clients and companies or risk their relevance in a tech-heavy business world.

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