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Are you an analogue firm in a digital world?

6th Jan 2012
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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.


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Replies (11)

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By User deleted
06th Jan 2012 18:09

Ah, but ...

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

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By ShirleyM
06th Jan 2012 18:43


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

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Adrian Pearson
By Adrian Pearson
07th Jan 2012 13:56


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.


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By User deleted
07th Jan 2012 16:52

I would think ...

... 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.

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By ShirleyM
07th Jan 2012 17:51

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

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! 

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Adrian Pearson
By Adrian Pearson
07th Jan 2012 19:04

On the contrary ...

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.


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By ShirleyM
07th Jan 2012 20:08

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

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.

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Replying to cheekychappy:
By zachpearson
11th Jan 2012 16:00

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

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.

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Torben Halvorses owner of PaperLess Document Management for Sage
By torbenhalvorsen
09th Jan 2012 08:54

Less rather than none

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™

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By ShirleyM
12th Jan 2012 08:32


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.

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By Baker Goodchild Mailing House
23rd May 2013 12:56

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

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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