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How Tech Can Help Build a ‘Human Firm’

14th Nov 2023
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Sage is the market leader for integrated accounting.

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“First it was the digital revolution, now it’s the human revolution”, writes Will Farnell, award-winning accountant, business advisor, and author of ‘The Human Firm’.

In 2009, Will’s accounting firm was one of the first in the world to fully adopt cloud accounting technology. Since then, the accounting landscape has grown from a single ledger to over 700 pieces (and counting!) of add-on technology. Alongside this, Will has transitioned his services from “relatively impersonal compliance-based processes” in his words, towards “a deepening of authentic human relationships”.

Accounting is coming full circle. As more and more firms implement fully digital end-to-end processes and cloud-based systems, being 100% digital is no longer enough to stand out. For Will Farnell, the next opportunity – the evolution of competitive advantage – is the human side of work. It just so happens to be one of the hardest things to replicate.

Here are three things that you can do between now and the end of 2023 to deliver services and build great relationships with your clients with a full understanding of their business, goals, aspirations and challenges.


  1. Review your client touch-points

“Accounting isn’t about spreadsheets, P&L accounts, booking or tech. Done properly, it’s about enabling your clients to lives they want” - Will Farnell

In the last post, we explored the ways that knowing your client (KYC)  is one of the most important risk mitigators when it comes to anti-money laundering (AML). To strengthen existing client relationships, here are some ways that you can develop the quality and effectiveness of your client touchpoints.

  • First, identify any friction in your current processes: For instance, during client onboarding, how are you facilitating document sharing and verifying identities? Is there a way that you could make this simpler and easier?
  • Create moments: When you first start working together, does the first email make them excited to start working with you? How are customers greeted at reception – are they greeted by name, and are they offered a menu to choose a drink from? These small moments ladder up to create a lasting impression.
  • Help your clients understand the things they need, as well as what they want: Spend time early on in the conversation to understand them as people. Weekly bookkeeping is one of the best ways to check in and build a deeper mutual relationship.


  1. Write a statement of personality.

Will Farnell describes a statement of personality as “a deep articulation of your brand values that enables people within the firm to know how to respond to different situations”.

You can start by writing three things that make your firm unique, then examine your website to ensure these are reflected across your digital shopfront.

Take a piece of paper and write down answers to the following:

  • What are the things that we want everyone to buy into, and to understand?
  • How can our firm’s personality remain responsive to change, while staying consistent with our brand and culture?
  • Who are the personalities we want to attract to our firm, both clients and employees?

When you have a living brand that feels purposeful, real, alive, and something that will inspire people to do their best work, you can attract people who you want to work with and for. Employees will be more engaged and your existing client base will benefit as a result.

As more and more people work from home, and often balance more than one job to make ends meet, having a culture, brand personality, and its communication can go a long way to help clients feel supported through “analogue” human skills, rather than a impersonal digital message. 

It’s important to note here that this work can take months to uncover, and it will be continuously evolving as your firm, and the world around it changes.

Example human-driven purpose statements to inspire you

  • Airbnb – ’Creating a world where anyone can belong anywhere’
  • Tesla – ‘To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy’
  • Patagonia – ‘We’re in business to save our home planet’
  • LinkedIn – ’Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce’
  1. Connect great data to great insights.

“Great data delivers nothing on its own. To do right by your clients through delivering great insights, you also need to understand their ambitions” – Will Farnell

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and automation can do a brilliant job of moving data quickly from client to accountant; gone are the days that the client needed to drop off a bag of receipts at the accountants’ office. However, that means nothing without the ability to deliver business insights with empathy and an understanding of the client’s personal goals – whether that’s to become a millionaire, or to retire a few years early.

In Leil Lowndes’ book,  ‘How to Talk to Anyone’, the 34th tip advises that “it’s the Receiver’s Ball. Before throwing out any news, keep your receiver in mind. Then deliver it with a smile, a sigh, or a sob”.

When you strengthen your firm’s technical workflows, cloud-based processes, and communication with your client, you are well placed to build a ‘human firm’ that attracts the people you want to work with.



As more and firms go fully digital, accounting firms are positioned better than ever to differentiate their services, fortify their client-base and put their client’s wellbeing front and center.

Between now and the end of 2023, what steps can you take to deepen your understanding of your clients – their aspirations, their challenges, and their definitions of success?


Unlock your practice potential

From the 24th October, experts including Will Farnell and Ian Howell will be coming to Edinburgh, London, Birmingham, and Belfast to run tailor-made workshops. Find out more here.