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2020 Vision: Tech providers, not accountants, clients’ first port of call

LAST WEEK I was kindly invited by Intuit to attend QBConnect as a VIP guest‎. For those that don’t know, this is their flagship conference, attracting over 4,000 guests from across the world.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the conference, when considered from a birds-eye view, is that the vast majority of attendees were actually small business owners, not accountants. And it’s this point that I’d like to focus on.

Very simply, in the past we’ve had accountants as ‘buffers’ between the software houses and the business owners. Certainly in the case of Sage I’d struggle to find many small business owners ‎who would have an interest in the product roadmap or latest developments, let alone attend a conference hosted by them.

Business owners taking the lead

However, the latest cloud packages are positioned as the choice of the business owner, not accountant; and this is reflected by the attendance. In fact, if you look at the rigidity of the brand guidelines of the major players, you can see that this is an active desire of the software houses.

Funnily enough, it is a validation of a prediction I made several years ago, that business owners will choose their ‘car’ and then choose a garage based on the car, rather than the other way around.

The fear that many accountants have is that with this increased emotional bond between software house and business, there is only a small step of automation required to cut them out of the loop completely for small micro-businesses and simple tax returns/statutory accounts. It doesn’t take much for a ‘File at HMRC/ Companies House’ button to be added to the software.

While QuickBooks have stated that they will not look to do this (understandably it could be commercial suicide), I think that it is a waiting game before one provider decides to chance their shirt on it – and then given the constantly updated nature of SAAS, it’ll be very quickly propagated throughout other packages.

Don’t fear change – opportunities abound

Where will this leave us accountants, having provided the software companies with lots and lots of customers? For those who are doing the right things, it’ll make no difference at all, and actually save us the cost of an in-office accounts/tax production system. But, we will be under more and more pressure to actually demonstrate the value we bring to our clients.

Personally – I see this as a fantastic opportunity for differentiation in the market place. Also, it’s great that computers can finally replace the ‘print trial balance, re-key into our system, print reports, bill client’ process (and mentality) in many firms. I welcome everyone else’s views with baited breath!

Carl Reader is a director of Wiltshire-based firm d&t, which won the 2013 British Accountancy Award for Independent Firm of the Year-Wales and South West England

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