Comment – Playing the numbers game

Reviewing Financial Director’s survey of audit clients makes interesting reading (4 March). An average performance score of 6.5 out of 10, falling to 6.1 for the Big Five, would be a serious cause for concern in our firm.

The problem with the concept of ‘added value audit’ is that it implies basic audit is of little value in itself.

Bentley Jennison has recently undertaken a similar survey of 1,500 clients. Over 800 clients responded and our overall score was 8.6. We believe we can improve on that.

Although there are differences between our survey and Financial Director’s, there are similarities in our conclusions.

In particular, we also found that the level of fees was not the most important factor in selecting a firm. Clients emphasised that the fees should represent value for money and that bills should be easy to understand.

We also carry out regular research among new clients and those who leave us. Yet, a number of clients return to us. Having been wooed elsewhere by low fees they discover that ‘if you pay peanuts …’

We had similar findings to FD with regard to the comments about staff.

We scored 9 out of 10 for satisfaction with the team, as a result of providing continuity in our audit teams, leading to a better understanding of our clients’ affairs. Clients felt this was very important. There were areas where we could improve our communications and we are currently looking at that.

We have found researching our client base very valuable, providing an improved insight into clients’ requirements. I believe accountants are no different to any other supplier of goods and services: they must ensure they are providing value for money to their clients.

Our experience is that this is unlikely to be achieved unless there is a clear understanding of clients’ needs and the critical issues facing the client’s business. We see too often where this does not exist, leading to a raw deal for the client.

Unfortunately, clients are wary of changing advisers because of the potential disruption caused by getting to know new people. Properly organised, though, this should be more than compensated for by a better service, which makes a positive contribution to the management of the business.

There is no substitute for making a big effort to get to know the client and their business, as if they were your own. While this means we are not the cheapest firm, we believe it pays dividends, as 93% of our clients said they would be happy to recommend us.

Tony Stockdale is managing partner of Bentley Jennison

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