Accountants around the world have supported all their clients through the pandemic. But a new challenge always follows such disruption: pushing forward in a world that is trying to rebuild and move forward.
As the world in which individuals and business operate becomes more complex, so do the compliance requirements. And we can be sure that as the world wakes up from the pandemic, tax authorities look at ways to collect more tax, more quickly.
New thinking, and energy are required to improve the economy. This means that accountants, who have worked more closely than ever with more clients than ever, must try and keep up this momentum of support and advice.
Despite everything that has occurred in the past two years, the most basic of questions is one that you, as an adviser, must ask each and every client: what does the client want to achieve?
This is absolutely critical, because the role of an accountant isn’t to merely produce a set of accounts or compile a tax return.
The job of the accountant is to ‘change lives’. Compliance work doesn’t achieve that.
I have said it before, and will repeat it again: the privileged position I am in today as MD of AdvanceTrack, started with the help of a great commercial accountant who believed this mantra.
Preparing the magic formula
An entrepreneur usually understands their profitability even without a formal set of accounts, so keeping them out of jail by filing their taxes each year delivers little perceived value to the business owner. So, what should we be delivering to clients?
We see businesses requiring, among others, the following:
• Management accounts
• Advisory services
• Virtual FC/FD services
• R&D support
These are just a few of the services that clients are increasingly demanding outside of compliance-driven support. It is worth noting that bookkeeping services are ‘sold’ as part of a wider service - the danger otherwise is that the pricing price paid for it is not commensurate with the value of the other services.
Cast the spell and change lives
Accountants are stating that the biggest change they’ve seen in their recent working lives has been the willingness of clients to talk to them as their adviser. Given that this is happening, you might ask, what is the problem?
The problem is two-fold. Firstly, there is the need to upskill the onshore workforce. Again, you might ask: why is this important? Well, for too long, accounting professionals have worked at the coalface and will understandably be missing the experience to manage the closer customer relationship that clients are increasingly expecting.
The other problem is that the delivery of compliance services is still resource-intensive, and even this core offering is not often provided consistently. As we’ve said before, clients don’t assign great value to this. However, it is necessary to deliver this well and cost-effectively. We believe that, with the right mix of technology and offshore delivery, this can consistently be delivered at approximately 60% of the onshore cost and to a very high level of quality.
You may hear claims that outsourcing can drive the cost lower than 50% of the onshore cost. At AdvanceTrack we don’t like to make claims we believe can’t be backed up. With the hidden onshore costs not factored into the delivery we see 60% as a fair marker.
Delivering the magic – improving your value to clients
The best way to demonstrate that value that can be created is through examples. And here are our top three:
1) The virtual finance function
A virtual finance function is about more than accounts and tax production; it means managing their bookkeeping (among other things).
We hear about so many businesses using an untrained bookkeeper. In many instances, it’s a friend or family member providing support. What this means is that there is a sacrifice of personal time to deliver this. This also means that a conversation about the quality of the information is that much more emotional!
These ‘supporters’ won’t have the formal training and breadth of business experience that a professional firm can bring from working with multiple entrepreneurs across industries and specialisms.
Our outsourcing teams have been working with firms to deliver these services, on a dedicated offshoring basis or fully managed outsourced service. This enables the work to be delivered at speed and at scale.
2) R&D Claims
Businesses usually equate an adviser delivering value as making them money. R&D claims deliver real cash and are hence valuable – and popular - the world over.
Whether a firm has in-house expertise, or brings in expertise to deliver to the client, it is important that the firm delivers the service in a timely and professional manner. Firms able to deliver this have proven invaluable to their clients, so seek out specialists to support you on this if you don’t have in-house expertise.
Our fastest growing firms include this as part of their service. Combining it with the virtual finance function has really made the firm invaluable to the client business.
3) Client communication
The overwhelming conclusion from the many firms we work with has been this: as the pandemic took hold and beyond, the ability to talk to experienced accounting professionals has been the most valuable commodity.
They had worries and challenges at the start of the pandemic. The calming influence that professionals brought to the situation reassures them that they would be helped. As everyone emerges from the pandemic, the trust that has built up enables them to talk to their adviser in a more open way, with the promise of a deeper and more valuable relationship for both parties.
Fees are, therefore, much easier to discuss, in the full knowledge that they can trust the advice they are being given.