Are you an analogue firm in a digital world? | AccountingWEB

Are you an analogue firm in a digital world?

I was shocked, but on reflection not surprised, to read about the imminent demise of Kodak, a corporate and cultural icon that we have all grown up with - when I say all, I mean those of us over forty.  Add to this the current travails of other icons like HMV and the dire state of retail generally and we have to recognise that the world has changed.

The reason?  In a word, digital.

Kodak and HMV, and the high street, are analogue businesses in a digital world.  They were unable, or too short-sighted, to adapt and are now about to drown in the binary tsunami.

The accountancy profession, like all other businesses, must quickly adapt to the new reality.  Firms that cannot, or chose not to, will be swept away.

The recurring nature of annual compliance work, together with the traditional "stickyness" of clients, has so far shielded firms from the full effects of digital.  This is just breathing space, however, and the water is now rising quickly.

It's time for firms to take a long, hard, honest look at themselves.  Here's my list of the "analogue" in a typical, traditional accountancy firm:

  • Paper-based client accounting records
  • Paper-based working papers
  • Franking machines
  • Letterheads
  • Printers
  • Answer machines
  • Fax machines
  • Photocopiers
  • Printed, bound financial statements
  • Comb binders
  • Budget booklets
  • Tax data cards
  • Physical client files
  • Filing cabinets
  • In-trays
  • Briefcases

I am sure that I have missed some but my point is that a firm with digital coursing through its veins would not have any of the above in its office - if, indeed, it has an office at all.

Old Greying Accountant's picture

Ah, but ...

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... if you have a filing cabinet you can stand on it in a flood!

ShirleyM's picture


ShirleyM | | Permalink

Are there really some accountants that don't have letterheads?

I get many requests for letters/information from banks, etc., and they insist it is on a letterhead. We may have joined the 21st century, but many institutions (eg. HMRC, banks, etc), and some clients, are just realising (or still haven't) that electronic communications are quite useful

Adrian Pearson's picture


Adrian Pearson | | Permalink

Yes, there are Shirley.

My old firm, for instance, has not ordered letterheads from the printers for a few years now. The "letterhead" design is part of the document in the word processing software and gets printed with the body of the letter on a colour laser printer.

Ah, you say, but printers were on my list of items.  That's true.

If wishing to operate purely digitally, it is perfectly possible and, I argue more efficient, to dispense with printing and posting locally in favour of using online services such as and  These services will print and post your letters for you.


Old Greying Accountant's picture

I would think ...

Old Greying Acc... | | Permalink

... for a small accountancy firm the cost per page of running a good quality colour laser printer is substantially  more than the costs of having professionally printed letterheads.

ShirleyM's picture

It isn't what you can do .... it is what others will accept

ShirleyM | | Permalink

We can do pretty much everything electronically. The problem is that some institutions just won't accept it and insist on the tried and true method of letterheads, real signatures, practice stamp, post, etc.

In addition, much as I would prefer them to, many clients won't/can't handle it either.

I like to think our practice is quite advanced, IT wise, but our clients are not. We have had quad monitors for many years now, much to the amusement of our clients who refer to us as mission control. As we still want their business, and as we are very much a personal service company (we actually meet our clients and talk to them) it isn't too much of a hassle to cater for them, even though I would prefer not to need letterheads, printers, etc.

We do use Docmail, but there are limits to it's use, as detailed above.

Conclusion ... we are probably a digital firm stuck in an analogue world, but it doesn't bother me too much, it would just be nice if everyone were at the same stage of development! 

Adrian Pearson's picture

On the contrary ...

Adrian Pearson | | Permalink

Shirley, you do seem to be a progressive firm - especially the quad screens.  How big are your desks? :)

The point of my post was to stimulate thought.  Having a printer (or letterheads) in the office is not a crime: we all have to work within the constraints that our environment allows.

However, if a reader recognises everything in my list then I believe they have to change - and soon.


ShirleyM's picture

lol ... 'corner' desks are ideal for quad monitors

ShirleyM | | Permalink

I realised that Adrian, but the the point of my response is that we can change what we do, but we cannot force others to accompany us along the way.

We either abandon those who lag behind, or we cater for all, and just encourage them and make sure they are aware of the benefits it brings.

torbenhalvorsen's picture

Less rather than none

torbenhalvorsen | | Permalink

I think your list of the analogue is interesting as is your perspective. It is a list for thought and reflection for sure, and perhaps it is good to do this regularly as our business environment changes.

But this conversation is quite old; for instance when we wrote about World Paper Free Day we said "In 1975 Business Week reckoned that by 1990 most record handling would be electronic".

But of course that bold prediction still has failed to materialise 20 years later.

For me it is Less Paper rather than no paper that is a reasonable objective.

Clients requirements and expectations are paramount surely?

For some clients they would rather see a beautifully bound set of accounts handed to them personally whilst others would prefer never to see them and believe it is a waste.

Some clients want to deliver a bag of receipts, others will want to scan everything in a deliver digital records.

Internally in each practice there may be much time saved with reduction in waste and costs by using the best technology to make processes efficient, and for those clients that need it there are ways to enable them to trade with their accountants electronically.

Importantly, for those clients that want to use paper  the practice can use technology to reduce the burden the client's paper gives them, and then return it to them for them to struggle with how to store it!


-- Accounting the PaperLess way™

It's not about the present, it's about the future.    2 thanks

zachpearson | | Permalink

As a young accountant currently sitting my proffessional exams I generally have a different perspective to many of the blogs I read on the site, you may see my thoughts as niave and inexperienced but I hope you don't disregard them out of hand.


The world is changing with my generation, the "download" generation, we want information and we want it instantly, paper is a nuisance to us, I don't recieve paper copies of anything ( unless it's my exam certificates), my post is 90% "bin-able". We know that information is held one a computer database somewhere, and we want access to it whenever "we" want.


From what I've seen, clients of all ages seem reluctant to change from what they know , the " If nothings broken" mentality, we as firms, as accountants, as people are also generally guilty of this mentality. I don't feel the need to press new technologies on clients as we do like to "cater for all " , what I do feel is necessary is that no client comes to the firm with a technology that is beyond our capability.


Some “analogue” technologies are mandatory, and we are stuck with them for now, but I agree that a progressive office is the way forward, firms that are a head of the technological curve will be better defended as the “new” entrepreneurs of my generation arise and need financial advice.

ShirleyM's picture


ShirleyM | | Permalink

You've got it in a nutshell :)

We need to have these things, for the sake of the clients who want it, and also for purposes of efficiency, and ..... dare I say it ... to reduce our carbon footprint and take a fewer resources from the world, but we also need to cater for those who won't, or can't, accompany us along the way.

Let's not give up on print just yet....

Baker Goodchild... | | Permalink

It's definitely important to have a balance of both.

Some clients love to receive old school (analogue) technologies, as they know the amount of effort that's gone into the creation of the mail shot; but we all have to move with the times and ensure that we're appealing to clients who want online mail and digital communications.

At our Mailing House, we still receive a lot of requests for direct mail shots from large companies - letter heads are extremely popular too; so i think it's fair to say that a lot of companies liek to have the best of both worlds.

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