Head of Accountancy for Commercial IRIS Software Group Limited
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Client relationships

Do clients want a new kind of relationship with their accountant?

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Is face-to-face still best for client interactions or has the dynamic shifted for good? Steve Cox explores how the client-accountant relationship will evolve in a post-Covid world. 

13th Aug 2021
Head of Accountancy for Commercial IRIS Software Group Limited
Columnist
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As accountants head back to their offices, the focus has all been internal about staff and hybrid-working, but what about externally for clients? 

What does the return to the workplace mean for them and their interactions with their accountant? 

Life has changed 

So much of our lives have changed due to the pandemic. Do we assume that things will go back to the way they were for the accountant and their client? Or has there been a permanent shift? 12-18 months is a long enough time for new processes to bed in and for people to create new habits. I personally believe there will be no ‘back to normal’ for most people, with routines, patterns, and attitudes changing, at least to some extent, for good in both personal and professional lives. 

What will clients’ attitudes be? 

I wonder, do clients want to interact face-to-face with accountants now or are they happy not to? Firms up and down the country have put new protection measures into their offices to improve the safety of both their staff and clients who come into the office. 

Of course, each client is an individual and will have their own take on it. Some will still be wary of the risks attached to personal contact, with the pandemic far from over. That may depend on their own health and circumstances, and there are still a large portion of the population who aren’t vaccinated. Some will be very keen to get back to seeing their accountant in person and getting more from their time – a virtual call doesn’t cater for the ad hoc conversations that come from being in person. 

Friends or suppliers? 

While there are no doubt plenty of strong relationships and friendships between clients and accountants, ultimately for most people an accountant is a supplier to a business rather than a pal who you go for a drink with. 

So, for those clients, now we are well-versed in the virtual way of doing things, is meeting in person perhaps even less appealing or necessary from the client’s perspective? 

But, on the other hand, do you get a higher quality interaction with the accountant from face-to-face meetings?  Being able to read a client’s body language allows for a different level of conversation to be had beyond the virtual equivalent.  

Open questions 

So many questions spring to mind on this subject. 

Traditionally, the accountant needs to own the client process but what happens if clients demand a different way of doing things because of Covid and the adoption of digital tools? 

If a one-size approach doesn’t fit anymore, how do you report on efficiencies and progress on process? Do you need to bucket people into different client cohorts/personas? And then create processes for each individual? The mind boggles at the number of connotations!  What do you do in your firm? 

An HR element? 

I can see that in a post-Covid world, the emphasis moves more than ever towards the client relationship. That's not to say it wasn’t before, but it puts it front and centre for every member of staff, not just those who are client-facing. There has been a lot of focus on the mental health of staff, but what about that of clients - does a client manager become more like an HR representative? 

Like many elements of business in this much-changed world, it will be fascinating to see how the client-accountant relationship develops and evolves in the new normal. 

I’d like to hear what you think and how your practice is approaching this issue. Find me on Linkedin here

Replies (3)

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By Paul Crowley
13th Aug 2021 14:35

Meeting client still best at all points of the relationship
You got it right when you pointed our body language
Even on the telephone people tend to speak more quickly than they would face to face
A telephone does not adequately give visible sympathy

Pure email is worse
Each comment becomes an extra message

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By ArianBloodwood
18th Aug 2021 10:47

Thanks for these very interesting questions!

One aspect grabs me: you say " Traditionally, the accountant needs to own the client process ..." To me this attitude needs to be totally abandoned. Sure, as the accountant I have certain needs regarding statements I must make, info I must collect, responsibilities I must fulfill, and often a need to do certain steps in a very specific order.

At the same time, I always take the attitude that I must collaborate with the client around my needs and - most crucially - around theirs AS WELL. So that how the interacting actually proceeds is a result of this collaborating.

I would frame the situation, then, as the accountant needs to own their technical and professional needs but the whole process with the client is a relationship which both parties own and create together from their mutual needs.

Of course I as the accountant also have my personal needs alongside my professional-technical needs, e.g. some clients speak too quickly for me, so I need to ask them to slow down or repeat themselves.

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By North East Accountant
18th Aug 2021 13:01

Easy stuff fine online.

Complex stuff far better face to face.

But ultimately whatever the client prefers is what we do.

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