As an accountant, staying on top of the game has never been more vital in an industry that’s becoming increasingly competitive, meaning it can be harder to grow your practice.
Competitors are not just around the corner. They might be on a different continent but thanks to the internet, your clients have no qualms about seeking out the right kind of expertise.
If you want to remain the first choice in the minds of your clients, here are three things that you need to do.
1. You need to be technologically fearless to grow your practice
The fact we no longer write in hardcover ledgers is testament to the fact accountancy and technology have been evolving hand in hand for decades.
In recent years, cloud computing has been driving massive changes that, as just one example, have meant accountants can have a live view of client data, so no longer need to periodically chase them on the phone or via email.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is building on this to deliver even more benefits. While at the moment AI is largely found coping with the small stuff, such as bank account reconciliation, some practices are already experimenting with smart assistants as a first line of customer interaction.
Blockchain and cryptocurrencies
But all of this is chicken feed to the technological revolution that might be on the way in the form of blockchain. Put simply, a blockchain is a kind of ledger or database that is decentralised (that is, it’s spread across the internet so concurrent copies exist in multiple places) and it’s impossible to defraud.
Its uses within accountancy should be obvious. These uses will also be abundant, especially if governments embrace the technology, as appears to be happening.
The question of whether accountancy firms will have the know how to fully embrace blockchain is another matter, however, although you can bet clients will be asking about it very soon in their initial consultations.
And the biggest real-world manifestation of blockchain in today’s world – cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – is almost certainly set to become yet another aspect of everyday accounting.
Some businesses already accept Bitcoin and while all convert it to regular currency before accounting for it (or record it as an asset), there may well become increasing need for accountants to deal with cryptocurrencies directly. It’s not hard to imagine the challenges inherent in what is such a volatile monetary system (or at least right now).
In the future, accountancy practices may choose to enhance their technological expertise so it is on a par with their basic ability to provide advice on tax and legislation. Some firms might even choose to put their technological focus at the centre of their business to distinguish them from the “regular” accountancy firms. Where will you stand in all of this?
How to stay ahead
- Start to read up on blockchain so you at least have a broad understanding, if not a technical understanding – trade organisations such as the International Federation of Accountants have already written extensively about its likely impact upon the profession
- Contact your representative at your software vendor to see where they stand on blockchain and if they intend to implement it at any point in the future
- Keep on top of government legislation and thinking when it comes to blockchain – for example, the UK government has already set up a fund to explore the uses of blockchain-powered distributed ledgers
- Learn all you can about cryptocurrencies, although arguably this technology is so volatile right now that waiting for the situation to settle before investing time and effort might be advisable.
2. You need to focus on the client
In the recent The Practice of Now 2018 report, Sage spoke to 3,000 accountants around the world to gauge how they see the landscape for accountants today. In the UK, 82% of accountants said they think clients expect more from them than they did five years ago.
It’s not that clients are becoming more demanding. Clients are also more savvy. They realise that digitisation is making the job easier for accountants so they’re keen to get their value in other ways.
And ultimately, we live in an increasingly customer-focused world where people simply demand more for the money they hand over, whether that’s to an accountant or to a supermarket.
Tech can make an impact
The great news is that the aforementioned technological revolutions – harnessed optimally, of course – mean that you are able to free up time to become an adviser for your clients.
For example, the fact that there’s now a live feed of data means you can spot problems before they even arise – and therefore a superb opportunity arises to make contact with your clients.
Add in some clever AI in the near future and the accounting software at the heart of your practice might be able to spot problems before both you and your clients become aware, via machine learning and pattern-spotting abilities.
You might have entered the business because you wanted to have relationships with your clients that extended beyond the mere yearly or quarterly number crunching. Well, that’s becoming a reality. But you have to be ready to embrace it.
It’s easy to say you are – yet, are you really? Are you ready for what might be a fundamental cultural shift within your practice and a redefining of your own work practices as well as that of any of your colleagues? What measures can you put in place right now to make all of this a reality?
3. Embrace the upcoming generation
Millennials are the generation born roughly between 1981 and 1996, and figures show they’re the third most populous group by age in the UK. And they should be on your radar whether you like it or not.
Research carried out by Sage for the Walking the Walk whitepaper revealed that millennials in business are unusual – relatively speaking, of course. Unlike the previous Gen-Xers, they’re characterised as being industrious and high-achieving – although it would be a crucial mistake to believe they’re similar to baby boomers.
For example, 62% of millennial entrepreneurs say they have sacrificed profit to stay true to their personal values. Meanwhile, 63% if them believe they will start more than one business in their lifetime.
They’re inherently technologically savvy, of course, having been born into technology and 41% of them believe that technology is going to make the concept of “your desk” redundant. Instead, they reckon everybody will work via a mobile device.
All of this represents a stunning cultural shift compared to any generation that’s gone before but, of course, this generation are going to demand their accountant is at least sympathetic to their beliefs and motivations.
A 50-year-old individual pretending to be hip will just be embarrassing but an accountant who knows and respects this generation’s values is certainly going to be in a better position than one who doesn’t.
Here’s a good example: while it might be worth suggesting to a baby boomer that they cut the losses of a failing business and sell, to a millennial whose ethical beliefs make them concerned about the staff within that business this could simply be the wrong thing to say. It could even be offensive.
Taking a different approach
A better suggestion might be to start a rationalisation process, or to work on a redefinition of the company’s mission statement. Similarly, the environmental beliefs of millennials mean they’re just less likely to want to be involved in businesses that cause environmental damage, or that is wasteful.
It isn’t just with a firm’s clients that millennials are shaking things up. They’re also the new recruits for firms moving forward and research shows that millennials again have different expectations compared to previous generations.
They’re less likely to tolerate the dull and monotonous work, for example, and this can lead to a high staff turnover that adds unnecessary overhead costs for the business. Technology can again help here by again taking care of these same repetitive tasks, and the millennials will again simply expect this kind of technology to be in place.
What strategies and tactics are you using to grow your practice? Let us know in the comments below.