It’s been quite a time for the accountancy profession. It’s been one in which (I hope) AdvanceTrack has played its part – and I hope some certainty has been provided to outsourcing as a critical part in the profession’s future.
The second week of May saw the first ‘unrestricted’ major events for accountants take place in the UK since Covid-19 struck.
We hosted our AdvanceTrack conference at London’s National Gallery, which then led into Accountex. We’re ready and raring to go for Xerocon of course.
The conferences have been enormous fun - and also insightful. Meeting people face-to-face always is, even more so after such a long hiatus. The AdvanceTrack conference’s theme was about you, your team and your practice growing. Discussion about ‘value-added’ services was never far away.
Accountex, certainly from some of the conversations we heard taking place, were very much around ‘how can I manage Making Tax Digital for Income Tax Self-Assessment?’
I believe that growing your practice, while ‘dealing with MTD’ can be dealt with in similar ways. And that’s because the issues are similar. For advisory services, broadening your offering requires efficiencies and process - these in turn free up resource to get to know existing (or new) clients better – to have the conversations that open the door to new things.
What drives change in a practice?
It would be great to say that all practices grasp the nettle, continually striving to provide a broader and/or better range of services to clients. It would also be great to say that accountancy firms have a real grasp of the client base, their productivity, even their own profitability.
In reality, most firms are swimming against a tide of increasingly complex compliance work, and in this scenario it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees – namely, lets spend some time working out where we are, and what we can do be more efficient, provide a better service and make more money (for them and their clientele).
For the accountancy profession, change is iterative and focused on the client i.e. keeping up to date with the latest accounting and tax legislation and their impact.
So, what is it that drives change in firms? We do see technological ‘leaps’, certainly when it comes to its use in professional services. There are a number of reasons for that, but primarily it comes down to firms having to work with clients to manage change driven from legislation – whether this is altering the filing requirements of statutory information, changes to tax rules, or digitisation.
Every so often, the changes put in place are seismic enough to drive firms to change how they do things. The push for online tax filing over the past 20 years has seen paper-based returns (almost) a thing of the past. GDPR in Europe (Data Protection legislation) made firms reassess how they curate customer information and how they communicate with them.
More recently, disruption came in the form of the pandemic, which required us all to embrace digital communication beyond just emails.
And now in the UK, there is Making Tax Digital for Income Tax Self-Assessment. All countries in the developed world are looking at this as a possible blueprint to follow if they haven’t already started that process.
MTD certainly isn’t as much ‘fun’ – or, it seems on the face of it, that there are few positives to be gleaned from many of your clients increasing the amount of reporting they have to undertake (see box for more). Your people are not in a position to quadruple the amount of prepping and checking they can do. However, increasing the number of touchpoints with a client could well pay dividends longer-term if you can leverage that communication towards your service proposition.
The communication game
There are major concerns about increasing these touchpoints - can you track them, can you make use of them, or is it all just unbillable time? By automating and scaling to meet these touchpoints, do you instead do the opposite of what you want it to be? Does it then become a computer trying (and failing) to communicate properly with your clients, and failing to manage the workflow created by their needs?
Our own offering, outsourcing, is seen by some as impersonal: that tasks and processes are ‘handed over’ to simply drive efficiencies, saving money. However, myself and the team see it as the exact opposite.
Tech and processes have to be optimal, in terms of how they work but also from a security perspective. But, AdvanceTrack’s people have to be great at communicating with the practitioner clients they work alongside.
And, crucially, the efficiencies gained through outsourcing tax and accounting tasks isn’t merely about lowering costs. It frees up valuable resource within a practice, enabling leaders to change and adapt their offering to suit complex and deeper end-client relationships.
Whether you work with us to help you scale your offering, or to manage the extra workload that Making Tax Digital for Income Tax Self-Assessment may bring, I’d urge you to consider how efficiencies and improved workflows open up time for you to have proper conversations with your clients. The opposite of turning them into steps on a process ladder.
Indeed, what is an accounting practice but a series of relationships between accountant and client? And your relationship with them is integral to AdvanceTrack’s relationship with the accountants we work with.
Putting people first
Firms need to recruit both number-crunchers and those who can provide further analysis and ultimately higher-value services. For us at AdvanceTrack, we see our offering as critical in supporting practices – whether it’s gaining efficiencies or scaling up your service (both are interlinked).
Our tech and people enable firms to solve their recruitment woes, keep on top of new tech and processes, and ultimately providing the best client service. Don’t let the people war, or MTD, drag your practice down. Join the many others that are growing their offering by growing their links with us.
I’d be delighted to talk about what they’re doing and how you can do it too.