Adapting your services to meet the changing needs of your clients

The demands on accountants are changing. Technology has opened up a world of possibility, and practices are adapting.

The adoption of cloud accounting and automated solutions has resulted in many of the manual processes traditionally managed by accountants shifting. The needs of small businesses have also changed in the technical age. As a result, we’re seeing a shift in the services many accountants now offer.

Some of the trends we’re seeing, like the automation of direct bank feeds and developments in artificial intelligence, show a future where technology and automation are going to streamline manual processes more and more.

While that may be seen as disruptive to some, it opens up new opportunities for the accounting profession. The market is seeing compliance work being commoditised and offered at competitive prices, which in turn has meant that accountants are now looking into new services to offer their clients as needs change.

Moving from the sidelines to refereeing the game

There is a real opportunity for accountants to move from a role on the sidelines as a spectator and become more actively and directly involved in the game, taking control and supporting the direction of the company more proactivity – becoming a virtual CFO for clients.

For some accountants, the move to advisory services can be a daunting prospect, but it doesn’t need to be that way.

In fact, more often than not, accountants are already giving this advice and sharing their expertise e.g. tax planning, corporate finance or cash flow management, and it is about doing this more often and more in-depth. The scope now requires accountants to take this expertise and experience and wrap it up into a coaching role, steering the direction of play a little more than perhaps you have done before.

How to make the transition

  • Get into the Cloud: One of the first things you should do if you haven’t already is move to cloud accounting. It’s a must for practices looking to make the move into an advisory role; it frees up time thanks to greater automation and creates more scope to deliver new services.
  • Plan: Review your practice and the advice you’re already giving. I bet you’re already providing an “advisory” service to many but perhaps you’re just not putting enough value on it. It’s crucial that you see “advisory” as a primary revenue stream, rather than just an add-on, which is a bi-product of what you already do today.
  • Start small: Review your client base and understand what additional services you could offer them. Through this understanding and auditing you can see more clearly the gaps within your clients’ businesses. Then, pick a subset of your clients and test your new service mix with them – review, adapt, build.
  • Training: Look at your practice capabilities, review your staff and their skill sets and understand their knowledge gaps. To move to an advisory role, you need to spend time equipping your staff so they can help your business grow.
  • “A goal without a plan is just a wish”; an old adage but true. You must make a plan of action and execute. It’ll take time, so be patient, and like all change it won’t be easy, but if you do it right you’ll be sure to reap the rewards.

Richard Bugler, managing partner at Albert Goodman LLP, advises that to be an accountant of the future you will need to adapt.

“Clients expectations are changing. Through technology, clients will expect a quicker delivery of service and a fast response,” Bugler says.

“Accountants of the future need to rebalance their service from compliance to advisory. This will necessitate new forms of training for existing and new staff.”

Small and medium businesses are at the heart of the UK economy. Thanks to technology doing the number crunching, the accountant can help those companies grow, in turn driving the UK economy’s growth.

Sean Evers is director, accountants, at Sage.

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