Funding advice: How to take the next steps
The evolution of the accountant into a fully-fledged business finance adviser is just one of the trends that went mainstream during the pandemic.
When asked for their thoughts, many practitioners would previously have suggested clients talk to their bank manager or a fully-qualified funding adviser. Only a few hardy souls would have put business funding at the heart of their services.
After the influx of clients seeking government backed loans in April 2020, 35% of accountants taking part in an AccountingWEB Live webinar with Swoop Funding said they had supported accountants with loan applications.
During the “how-to” session, Paul Layte, founder of digital.accountant, described how “accountants have accidentally become bank managers, funding advisers and a shoulder to cry on”.
This trend isn’t about to stop any time soon, especially when clients prepare to move on from survival loans and grants to ways of rebuilding their businesses. Having taken their first steps with clients into looking at support loan scheme options, what role are accountants going to play when the client starts thinking about their next steps?
This articles offers a bit more advice to encourage practitioners to get more actively involved with the funding process.
Identifying needs and goals
Every business is different. Their funding needs will differ too. Asking a series of questions can help the adviser nail down the basics: how much money does the client need? For what purpose do they need it? What security are they prepared to give?
Up to date forecasts and plans will help answer some of these questions, but are no substitute for simply talking to clients. Cold hard truths need to be met in these discussions – is the money needed to help, grow or save a viable business?
As well as knowing the business context, it’s imperative to be familiar with funding options. Remember - there’s more to finance that loans and overdrafts. If your client relies on invoices, invoice financing could be ideal for them. If they’re a seasonal business, a revolving credit facility could be better. Would secured or unsecured finance suit your client?
Advisory skills and packaging advice
Technology has taken on a lot of the accountant’s workload, but can’t provide a substitute the for fundamental personal skills an advisory accountant needs.
“To be ready for advisory”, Paul Miller, founder of Cornish Accounting Solutions, said in 2019, “you need to do the years of service on the compliance work, to build a reputation, the empathy and the rapport with clients, so they trust you to advise them.”
Online cloud accounting software can help produce management information, while Spotlight Reporting and Futrli are great for condensing information into coloured graphs and pie charts. In different ways Fluidly, Float and credit control apps like Chaser can help with different aspects of managing cash.
Getting clients onto some of these platforms can directly benefit their cash position by improving collections and anticipating shortfalls in good time. Using these platforms to share data and insights with your clients with not only improve their understanding of the business, it will bolster your reputation as their business adviser.
Funding advice “should be seen in the context of and part of annual planning along with a budget and cashflow for the year”, according to Paul Layte.
“Taken with this it can be a proactive and recurring package where you plan and talk to clients regularly and should package it as such”.
Online accounting makes it easier for accountants to assess the health of client businesses, and when funding needs start to become apparent, online platforms such as Swoop open the door to a wide variety of options ranging from invoice finance to commercial loans, grants and equity investment.
Risks and myths
Funding advice is all about helping clients manage their risks and steering them away from trouble.
Knowledge gives you the power to stop this from happening, said Layte: “The biggest risk is not having up-to-date information on the business. So if you are not running a ‘real-time’ accounting service, that is a good place to start - information first.
“Good advice requires good information - how good is yours?”
For further advice on how to advice clients on their finance options, the Business funding through Covid-19 and beyond webinar is available to view on demand.