It seems like common sense, if not natural symmetry, that financial advisors and certified public accountants would have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to serving the same clients—advisors do the planning stuff, CPAs do the tax stuff, and somewhere in the process the twain shall meet as they join forces to serve a client’s best interests.

But it’s not that simple, considering how some accountants feel about advisors. Listen to this story shared by Jonathan Kuttin, managing partner at Kuttin-Metis Wealth Management in Melville, N.Y., a wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services Inc. that has piggybacked its relationships with CPAs to significantly grow the firm in recent years.

In 2001, the lightbulb went on over Kuttin’s head that there was a great opportunity for synergy between these two professions to provide one-stop shopping for clients. So he proactively met the CPAs of his clients and eventually hit it off––and formed his first professional relationship––with a CPA named Kenneth Cerini, whose practice was nearby on Long Island.

“The first time Ken Cerini spoke to a group of financial advisors, there were about 50 or 60 advisors in the room, and I introduced Ken as my guest and someone who could help advisors understand the mind-set of CPAs. And the first words out of his mouth were ‘CPAs view financial advisors as a small step above used car salesmen,’” Kuttin recalls.

“That’s what CPAs believe, and it comes from when they call advisors for tax basis information and some advisors don’t get right back with them,” Kuttin adds. “They’ve seen advisors taking distributions without withholding income taxes. They’ve seen accounts that might’ve been traded too much and advisors who might’ve charged too much. These are their valued clients, and CPAs are reluctant to refer their clients to someone who could hurt them. That’s the disconnect.”

Kuttin makes it his business to turn that disconnect into connections between advisors and CPAs. For starters, Kuttin-Metis Wealth Management has about 50 relationships with CPAs where it acts as the financial planner for hundreds of those firms’ clients. Many of these are dual relationships where the CPA firm serves as the tax advisor for Kuttin-Metis’ existing clients.

In addition, for the past six years, Kuttin has provided financial advisors with specialized coaching on how to approach CPAs, interact with them and use that relationship to leverage growth.

“The hardest part is building relationships with CPAs,” Kuttin says. “Once it’s built, it works seamlessly as long as you have the right process in place. It’s really hard to get CPAs to trust and want to work with advisors.”

Venus And Mars
“Advisors don’t know how to communicate with CPAs,” Kuttin asserts. “It’s like CPAs are from Mars and advisors are from Venus.” Kuttin is referencing the bestseller relationship guide, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, the title of which has become a catchphrase when comparing dissimilarities between two entities.

Cerini describes it another way. “Accountants tend to be more conservative, while advisors tend to be more sales-y,” he says.

Cerini, managing partner at Cerini & Associates LLP, a CPA firm in Bohemia, N.Y., notes there’s a distinction between brokers and advisors, and he says after he met some of the former he “felt the need to wash my hands because it wasn’t about what we could do for the client and how we could join forces to create a better outcome for the client, it was ‘I could sell stuff to your clients and could give you money.’”