While many accountants fear their changing role, there’s now more opportunity than ever to grow your practice, writes Jennifer Warawa, Sage EVP of Partners, Accountants and Alliances.
Gartner reports that by 2020, Artificial Intelligence will become a positive net job motivator, creating 2.3 million jobs worldwide, while only eliminating 1.8 million. By the same year, there will be 20 billion internet-connected things¹, and by 2025 millennials will make up three quarters of the global workforce.²
With technological and demographic changes sweeping Australia and the world, how will accountants be affected?
Accountancy as a profession is now more competitive than ever. It used to be that your accountant was down the street or across town. Now, thanks to technology, businesses will go all the way across the country—and in some cases to another country—to find an accountant who really services their needs.
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Technology has levelled the playing field. Competition is everywhere, with client demands ever increasing and evolving. A global Sage survey suggests accountants agree. 67 percent feel the profession is more competitive than ever, and 83 percent say their clients expect more now than five years ago.³
So how can your practice stay competitive? Put simply, you need to ensure you stand out from the rest and that comes down to focusing intensely on three key areas:
1. Embrace emerging technology
Clients today are very tech savvy—and anticipate the same from their accountant. This is especially true for millennials, who will soon make up most of the workforce. They’re inherently tech savvy, with 41 percent believing technology will make the concept of “your desk” redundant. Instead, they think everybody will work via a mobile device.⁴
Some accountants have a fear of no longer being of use to their clients because of technology. However those who have embraced the cloud are discovering they can reduce expenses, make accounting (and business performance information) more accessible to their teams, and automate admin tasks—providing more time to add value to their clients’ business through offering business advice and foster client relationships.
Sage research reveals 67 percent of accountants say cloud technology is improving client interactions and service offerings, while 66 say they would invest in AI to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks.³
2. Develop your soft skills
Communication is key to cultivating a good relationship with your clients, staying up to date with their changing needs, and generating new service opportunities.
An NAB survey of Australian small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) reveals that while many practices do keep in regular contact with their clients, one in three do so only once per quarter.⁵
Staying up to date with your clients’ changing business needs is critical to retaining them. Thirty one percent of SMEs say the main reason they have switched accountants is because their business needs changed, making it the number one reason for doing so.
Seeking feedback from clients is also something many Australian practices neglect, but is critical to retaining clients and improving services. One in four Australian SMEs say their accounting practice has never sought any feedback, while only one in five say their practice does so regularly.
Whether positive or negative, client feedback is key to improving your services. It shows you value your client’s opinion, helps you highlight problem areas you may be unaware of, and lets you know what your clients value.
3. Be a trusted advisor
A future-proof firm is all about helping clients beyond core accounting. More importantly, it’s about forming ‘customers for life’ throughout the entire year, not just around tax time.
Most practices realise the practitioner of tomorrow will need to be more of a business advisor—something clients are increasingly demanding. NAB research reveals Australian SMEs consider accountants their most trusted business advisor, ahead of business networks, lawyers, and family.⁵
However, one of the main reasons SMEs switch practices is because they don’t receive any proactive advice, just reactive service. Believing they know what their client’s situation is, many practices simply don’t ask their clients about their business. But the reality is that businesses are changing all the time and practices often make assumptions about a client’s situation that aren’t necessarily correct.
Being inquisitive by proactively asking your clients open-ended questions, listening to their business concerns, and asking the right follow-up questions is key to unlocking the issues relevant to them. And doing so regularly will help you tap into their changing needs.
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1. “Key Insights into the Australian Accounting Industry”, NAB Professional Services, 2018
1. Gartner, 2017
2. “Global Generations: A Global Study on Work-Life Challenges Across Generations”, EY, 2015
3. “The Practice of Now”, Viga and Sage, 2018
4. “Walking the Walk”, Sage, 2016
5. “Key Insights into the Australian Accounting Industry”, NAB Professional Services, 2018