Accountants gripped by succession nightmares
The accountancy profession is sitting on a succession time bomb and needs to find new ways to attract ‘future stars’ fast; unfortunately it seems accountants ‘don’t do’ social media.
In the plush surroundings of The Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire this week, over 150 senior accountancy professionals gathered to share their views on the sector as it stands and where it’s headed at the first CCH Annual Conference. Among them was your deputy editor, the elephant in the room perhaps, being the only delegate under 30; not an uncommon occurrence at accountancy events, but it seems my face served as a worrying reminder to many of them of their own mortality. (Just what you need before your morning coffee, I’m sure).
Nearly every speaker at the conference mentioned succession planning in some capacity – usually accompanied by a wringing of hands and some dire warning about the ‘ticking time bomb’ and dearth of future leaders that was preventing many of them (some as old as 75) from retiring.
It won’t be news to many of you that accountancy is an ageing profession, but what was news to me was how suspicious of change many accountants are; unfortunately it seems a change is what’s needed if the profession is going to start attracting these ‘future stars’ it seems to so desperately be seeking.
Despite this, it was astonishing how closed minded many of them were when it comes to social media. Many had decided it was simply too risky to bother with, before even trying it out.
PwC’s Collaboration and Social Computing Global Programme Manager Andrew Brown gave a presentation about how PwC is using social media to strengthen and monitor its brand, interact with the media, allow staff to collaborate more effectively internally and also – crucially - to recruit and welcome new staff.
He spoke of the balance between the opportunities and innovations and the perceived threats from social media – for example it allowed the firm to search for and approach potential recruitment candidates directly without the need for recruitment consultants, but on the other hand made itself more vulnerable to having its staff poached by other firms engaging in similar activities.
Brown’s presentation, it seemed, was designed to point out the substantial gains firms could make from engaging with social media and offer practical examples of how this could be done, but delegates were quick to latch onto the perceived threats and were reluctant to let go.
One sticking point was the issue of corporate websites; Brown discussed how sites had evolved over the last ten years from being mere disseminators of information to becoming interactive, allowing users to rate and comment on articles. Interestingly, PwC does not have this facility on its website – the group appears to have decided 1995 was a good year and has left its website there in terms of its interactivity for the foreseeable future. The potential for negative comments was a risk Brown (and many others in the room) felt was too great; “what if someone logs onto my firm’s website and says something I don’t like and don’t want people to see?” was one question posed by a delegate.
It was left to the journalist in the room to argue that surely it’s best for firms to see complaints as they arise and deal with them there, rather than waiting for the complainer to tell ten of their associates and damage your reputation before you’ve even had a chance to utter a word in your defence. Ditto the use of social networking sites like Twitter and LinkedIn – you might not be active in those spaces, but other people are and they could be talking to others (perhaps even potential clients) about your firm without your knowledge. If you’re not there taking part in it, how do you know?
It’s a bit like, after mobile phones were invented, saying ‘what if I don’t want people ringing me when I’m out at the shops?’; it’s a perfectly valid position to take, but if the rest of the world has a phone and you don’t, then you become unreachable and irrelevant and no one wants to phone you anyway. When you’re in business and your bottom line relies on the phone ringing, that starts to become a bit of a problem.
The accountancy profession at the moment seems to me a bit like your archetypal dad on the dance floor at a wedding. He wants to ‘get down with the kids’ but he doesn’t know how to dance to the tunes they like. Well, dad, you’ve got two choices: Either get to grips with social media and start interacting with the young ‘uns, or sit in the corner and wonder why no one wants to talk to you.
It seems they're already planning next year's conference, so head to www.cch.co.uk/conference2011 to find out more.
You might also be interested in
I've been a journalist for four years, writing on a wide variety of topics from business and finance to travel, culture and celebrities. I began my career as an editorial assistant for Palladian Publications, a B2B publisher specialising in technical magazines for professionals in primary industries. I later moved into consumer magazines as a...