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Unlock the power of client conversations

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Sam Gooding, the owner of Gooding Accounts, explains how he gets the most out of client conversations.

23rd May 2022
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We’ve all been there. A potential new client walks through the door (or an email pings into our inbox), needing accountancy support, ideally yesterday. The sense of urgency is palpable. It’s clear from the first words uttered that there’s an immediate requirement to hand over the numbers to a seasoned professional, and to do so without delay.

This is completely understandable; accountancy, after all, is a complex profession, and it’s one that’s best left to specialists. That’s certainly always been the impression that our sector has conveyed, anyway.

The truth is that accountancy is intimidating. It’s almost that way by design. Ever-shifting laws and changes to legislation can be highly daunting for businesses, especially for owner-operators of fledgling start-ups, looking to make the most of each and every pound earned in today’s challenging economy.

Accountants can wield great power, yet with this comes the weight of great responsibility. As professionals we have a genuine responsibility to the clients who place their trust in us to make their hard work and labour count for more. In short, it’s up to us to help power their futures. 

And this begins with open, friendly and frank conversations – something that needs to be the number one focus for our industry.

Meeting huge demand

Covid has massively affected the rise of digital-first accountancy firms, partly in response to the vast proliferation of new UK businesses founded during the course of the pandemic.

Nearly 80 new firms were registered per hour in the first half of 2021. There’s undoubtedly huge demand for accountancy expertise and with the world moving increasingly online over the past two years, it makes a whole lot of sense for accountants to communicate with clients via digital channels. Surely face-to-face meetings are a thing of the past, after all, in the digital age?

To me, that sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth. I set up my own practice seven years ago after over 25 years working in the industry. When I did so, I set out to run a friendly and approachable firm and to break down the barriers that I don’t believe should have been put up in the first place.

Absolutely central to this is client conversations and taking the time to get to know them. What clients need from us and what they yearn for their finances to do has been the golden thread that’s sat firmly at the heart of my practice for almost a decade, and I have no doubt that it’s been the key ingredient to growth.

Be human: it’s a relationship, after all

We may all be professionals, but we’re also human - and the pandemic showed just how valuable and crucial the human connection is in the workplace. The personal touch counts for so much in accountancy. I referenced the weight of our professional responsibility earlier, and with this, I believe, we owe it to ourselves to get to know our clients on a human level to best understand how we can make their finances work for them, their personal circumstances and their ambitions, best. 

I always kick off every first meeting with a new client (whether it’s in-person or via Zoom) by carving out the time to not only get a sense of their business, but to also build a personal connection from day one - understanding what life stage they are at, their responsibilities and dependents and what their ambitions are for their business.

Without understanding the full, unfiltered bigger picture, I’m only ever going to be able to do half the job that they deserve.

Leave the jargon at the door

There’s simply no place in our world today for jargon or confusing ‘industry speak’ when communicating with clients: that’s my driving belief. In my experience, it is down-to-earth, uncomplicated conversations that most clients ultimately want from accountants: clear answers to clear questions. 

The Making Tax Digital (MTD) drive is, of course, going to be a huge turning point for our profession over the coming years, and firms up and down the UK are faced with the sizeable challenge of ensuring all clients are successfully transitioned towards digital ways of working well in advance of HMRC’s deadlines.

It’s important to me, as both a company founder and active accountant, that our clients aren’t confounded or overwhelmed by jargon when it comes to MTD or indeed any aspect of their financial activities; there’s simply no place for industry-specific terminology or intimidating communication these days.

As accountants, it’s our job to lighten workloads, eliminate hassle and maximise the opportunity for our clients - and that begins with straight talking.

Empower the future

Great accountancy comes down to chemistry; it’s about building two-way relationships. Our central purpose, as professionals, should be about empowering the future of our clients for as long as they require our support, giving the very best advice for their unique circumstances. 

As the world continues to evolve and we all move tentatively towards whatever the ‘new normal’ will be, there’s simply no need for accountancy to be a ‘closed shop’ any longer. The timing has never been better for accountancy to reinvent itself, champion the human touch and prioritise collaboration above all else.

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
24th May 2022 11:59

I concur.

Understanding a client's goals, their family, succession planning etc is important, that to me means spending time nattering, because out of such chats sometimes comes understanding.

I started my part time practice with the clear statement to clients that I did not charge for meetings or calls, there was never a ticking clock - I had that in my engagement letters(Maybe if I had needed the fees to live I would not have done this) In effect my hourly charge out rate re performing work at my desk needed to allow for this.

I developed with one client, especially at year end meetings, the practice of taking with me a bottle of malt and sitting generally chatting once the more detailed discussions were finished (they were, and still are, my next door neighbours)

Maybe I learned from an older generation, when younger I had accompanied my father (a solicitor) to meetings with his clients in the country (farms/estates etc) his firm often had long connections with the families (in some cases back to the Victorian era) and knowing the families was key to the family solicitor's role, the current children themselves possibly being clients of the firm in 20-30 years time.

Now this approach may be thought time consuming, wasteful, but I never had to waste my time chasing replacement clients due to them wandering as I never lost any clients to other firms, taking very good care of one's clients tends to stop them leaving.

Clients in my experience only wander if they are not paid prompt attention but if they feel important to you, you spend time with them , then your retention rates will imho vastly improve.

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