With the Coronavirus raging across the globe, many accountants have been with their clients every step of the way.
They were suddenly the beacon that everyone looked to, as help from governments and other bodies had been mostly financial. They assisted clients with explaining and compiling the required data and helped them to complete the forms.
Following the events of 2020, people need to make the most of prospects to help their businesses capitalise on the ‘new normal’. This year’s Practice of Now report showed that the accounting industry is ready for the challenge. Although completed shortly before the outbreak of the virus, the results from speaking to over 3,000 accountants globally were overwhelmingly positive.
The integral theme that reoccurred was that the profession was on the cusp of positive disruption. The survey found that not only did client expectations now include business and strategy advice far outside the usual remit of accounting, but also that accountants are actively responding to the needs of an expanded service menu.
Some highlights from the report include:
- Flexibility: 87% of respondents feel that their clients require more flexibility and improved service levels, but they don’t want to pay more.
- Compliance: 79% of respondents state that their working practices are changing as a result of regulations from industry, government, and international bodies.
- Broader service offerings: According to 82% of respondents, clients require a wider service offering than before.
- Digitisation: 54% feel that the speed of their services has increased thanks to technology, while a further 43% feel that it has improved their client service and satisfaction.
The logical conclusion is that the trend of customers’ needs and expectations driving innovation will be fast-tracked because of the Coronavirus.
As accountants were already beginning to pivot from traditional service models to new technologies before the pandemic, we know that they are well-placed to address these unique and urgent needs.
Service offerings for the adjusted norm
To adjust current services and to create new service offerings that support their clients through the pandemic and beyond, accounting professionals can focus on several common themes. While some include core competencies, others are far outside the traditional comfort zones. However, all areas must be considered if a practice is to flourish.
Help clarify government support
It is critical that your clients understand the aid that is available to them. Their success, after all, enables your own. It could even be said that, after the events of 2020, assisting clients has become an existential matter for accountants.
Governments globally have offered relief schemes, be it in the form of grants, loans, or deferred payment dates for taxes. Some have even established dedicated advice sources.
Accounting professionals need to be fully cognisant of these schemes and how to connect their clients to them. This has proven quite difficult as these schemes tend to grow and evolve quickly. Accountants need to gain a thorough understanding of all the available schemes and their intricacies so that they can pass this information to their clients in an easily understandable manner. In–depth knowledge of their clients’ industries is also essential to know which schemes apply to whom.
Accountants should never assume that their clients know what support schemes are on offer, regardless of how well established or publicised the scheme may be.
It’s pertinent to have open lines of communications with clients so that you can keep them abreast of any changes or developments. This could be through email newsletters, blogs, phone calls, live streaming or even face-to-face meetings, should they be permitted.
It is advisable to segment your clients according to how much help they need, and who would require specific types of support or funding from the emergency legislation. These groups of clients can then be contacted via group video meetings or through webinars.
Assisting clients with applications
Once you have educated your clients on the options available to them, you should be ready to assist them with applications for any government loans or grants that they might qualify for, as they could be required to provide key financial reports and the like. Whether you should offer this service free of charge is not an easy decision, but it could stand your practice in good stead in future. Lasting goodwill, referrals, and positive reviews are likely results of offering free help in difficult times like these.
Clients turn to accounting professionals in trying times because they are most likely to have the knowledge and experience to make sense of things. While some of the government schemes regarding unemployment or staff retrenchment falls outside the expertise of accountants, they often have the skills to navigate the details and translate it into layman’s terms for people to understand. These skills are yet another way that accounts can provide additional value to clients, transforming their service offerings during this time.
Offering technical support
Tech support is not an enviable role, but there is hardly an accountant around that hasn’t been asked for assistance of this nature. This could be from the how–to of video conferencing, through to gaining access to accounting data when out of the office.
As in-person meetings are on hold for the time being, you will invariably be working remotely with your clients to go over their financials. If they need assistance with their cloud accounting software, you will be well placed to help them.
By giving support around remote working, you offer a valuable service to your clients. Any help is likely to be well-received, mainly if it is outside your firm’s typical remit.
Move to subscription models
Because clients have many more touchpoints with their accountants, now is the ideal time to talk to them about moving from a fee-based service to a subscription/retainer-based one.
The benefit to your practice is obvious – recurring revenue into your account is significantly better than billing clients for once-off services, and it also removes the need for invoice follow–ups.
The benefits to clients are also becoming abundantly clear. If you’ve been charging for every point of contact during the pandemic difficulties, a subscription model would have saved them a lot of money. In the short term, you could be offering more services for less money, but this will balance out in your favour in the long run.
A subscription model also helps build a closer relationship with clients because they feel less restrained in asking for help. This puts the accountant in a good position to avoid future problems with the client’s finances.
This is a difficult time for everyone. But great challenges often present great opportunities. Keeping spirits high and continuing to deliver quality service to businesses presents benefits to both accountants and their clients. This COVID disruption has highlighted just how essential accountants and finance professionals are, and that an advisory role has never been as relevant as it is today.