In this guest blog post, Mark Lee proposes ‘six key areas to consider for the future’.
A Thomson Reuters survey of 350 UK accountants in June 2018 revealed six key areas to consider “as you step into the next decade”. I have added my own commentary and views to the headline topics below:
1. Accept business model change
The accountants believe that compliance will continue to sit at the heart of their service offering, but that much of the work to complete these tasks will become automated. More accurate and timely data will provide accountants with opportunities to offer more forward focused services, and could lead you to adjust your business model.
Comment: This is one of the few such predictions I have seen that correctly recognises that compliance work will not die. Unsurprising perhaps as the survey was of accountants themselves, rather than a third party commentator or supplier with services or products to promote.
Compliance work will get easier for accountants and, in my view, many unincorporated businesses will look to go the DIY route as this becomes more feasible.
It’s not so much that you will lose lots of your smaller simpler clients, more that it will be harder to win new such clients; they will not be as willing to pay your fees as are your existing clients who appreciate the value of your service. Will you be able to generate a sufficient return if you take on start-ups in the future?
The other side of this trend is that new tech means it will be easier for you to offer more timely and valuable advisory services to clients. It’s crucial to note that there are different types of advisory services
2. Develop new key skills
A change in services and how they are delivered will create a need for staff with different skill sets, such as technology advisory, data analysis, and the ability to present effectively to clients.
Comment: Again, I agree and have long been a proponent of recognising the need to develop your Key Business Skills – and to recruit staff with such necessary skills. CPD has long focused on building and maintaining technical knowledge. What is changing is the need for everyone to have the right attitude and aptitude for client service. That’s more difficult to ‘teach’ and to ‘change’. So recruiting and promoting the right sort of people to help your practice in the longer term becomes ever more important.
3. Identify an internal tech guru
Appoint a go-to person internally to help assess technology options and provide them with the confidence to sell cloud services to clients.
Comment: Many larger firms have recognised that the best person to help them assess tech options is NOT necessarily a partner. Often it will be someone much younger and more junior. I don’t think this needs to be the same person to ‘sell cloud services to clients’. Indeed that suggests to me that the accountants who said this have yet to fully embrace the cloud as regards their own practice accounts. I see this as a crucial precursor to helping clients move into the cloud.
4. Attract future employees
Make a conscious decision about how to appeal to a younger talent pool. Training and development opportunities, as well as playing to their digital strengths, could be an important factor in recruitment and could reduce staff turnover.
Comment: Spot on! I have shared recruitment tips here before – and stressed how important it is to ensure that the ‘careers’ page on your website appeals to the people you would like to recruit.
5. Consider outsourcing as an option
Although opinion was split on whether firms would outsource more compliance work in future, it could become an essential route to help you deal with an increase in depth and frequency of reporting by HMRC. Don’t take it off the table as a viable option.
Comment: I sense a degree of fear when this topic comes up. Often this is borne of one bad experience. There are a number of decent, experienced and professional outsourcing companies around. Often the best way to test the outsourcing option is to try it out by reference to one or two sets of final accounts. As with new staff or contractors you can then decide whether to extend the relationship and the work.
I am providing some consultancy support to Global Infosys, who are based in North West London. I have only heard good reports from accountants who use them, and all of whom love their fixed fee approach to outsourcing provided to accountants.
6. Demand more from your software providers
MTD and real-time data will create more opportunities to automate between processes. Select technology partners committed to staying ahead of the curve and developing fluid integrations with other providers.
Comment: Many accountants would like to be dealing with just one software provider who keep up with the field and provides a fully integrated system. I am aware of the frustration that comes from having to engage with multiple software providers. Even more so when integrations are not as smooth as you would like. This is becoming easier but it remains an issue. There is often a balance required – between maintaining the integrity of tried and tested software solutions, and getting a tailor-made solution or adaptation. Invariably this will not have been tested as robustly as the mass-market version. Often this means you need to adapt your systems and processes.
It may be frustrating and difficult to change the way you have done things for years. But, looked at objectively, the changes you introduce will often have the side-effect of increasing efficiencies.
Which of these 6 trends will you find the most challenging as you become an accountant of tomorrow?
Mark Lee FCA is an accountancy focused futurist, influencer, speaker, mentor, author and debunker. In September 2017 Sage identified Mark as one of their top 100 global business influencers.