While the accountancy market is going through a period of unprecedented change, the big leaps forward seen by Practice Excellence judges over the past few years are harder to find now that more and more practices are doing similar things.
This year's innovative firm category featured a lot of incremental innovations around online services rather than big, bold moves in new directions.
“The profession as a whole is going through an age of innovation - but the big bang and big ideas took root three years ago, and now the innovation we are seeing is about consolidation and best practice,” commented AccountingWEB global editor and judging panel chairman John Stokdyk.
“It’s becoming harder to find those that are constantly changing and developing.”
Making Tax Digital (MTD) could also be a factor here. The uncertainty and need to reassess what practices do and how they do it may have detracted from other areas of innovation. Such reviews can be a trigger for innovation, but it may be a year or two before we witness the results. In the meantime, MTD appears to have absorbed creativity and energy that might have been focused elsewhere.
Big, specialist contractor firms were very prominent in this category, as they have been in previous years. The challenge of serving thousands of customers has a knack of focusing the mind on efficiency; other practitioners could learn a lot from their techniques.
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Here are the five firms shortlisted:
This North London-based firm specialises in tech startups, adopting new technologies and approaches to ensure a better customer experience.
Recognising the requirements of the millennial generation, The Accountancy Cloud aims to solve the real life start-up challenges face, using innovative technology where appropriate. The firm has recently built a helpdesk hosting 350+ FAQ articles and runs a Slack community channel exclusive for clients for chat.
The Accountancy Cloud impressed the judges with its 92% customer retention rate and doubled client base in 2016.
Having embarked on its cloud accounting adventure eight years ago, Farnell Clark founder and Practice Excellence Pioneer nominee Will Farnell is looking for new ways to disrupt the market and improve customer experience.
“Effective use of technology is not enough on its own; it has to form part of a wider approach to client engagement and relationship building,” he says.
Clark lived up to this dictum by building his own practice management system to suit the firm’s specific requirements. This system gives Farnell Clarke control and transparency over every aspect of client engagement. The next phase will allow clients to log in themselves and track their work as it progresses.
The firm puts a lot of emphasis on keeping staff and clients happy and to create a funky, tech-savvy vibe in downtown Norwich. On that score, the firm’s innovative approach to workplace productivity extended to converting its storage room into a pub, the appropriately named Tax & Pounds.
With offices based in Birmingham and London, previous Practice Excellence winner SRK Accounting uses a number of different methods and tools to stay innovative, helping the firm to achieve an impressive 98% client retention rate.
These initiatives include a ‘Shortcut to Success’ programme, where all clients get access to webinars via the SRK mobile app. The firm’s Vision Board sessions help clients establish their ultimate business vision and provide coaching, while its entrepreneurs network provides an invite-only online group for clients to connect and collaborate with their peers.
The judges were impressed with the firm’s constant search for innovative practices, which has manifested in consistent year-on-year growth.
These Derby-based contractor accountants have developed an online app and regularly encourage feedback from clients to source innovations and ideas.
The inniAccounts development team includes cloud/AI experts and data scientists who are helping to formulate and implement innovation and improvements. Key projects include applying machine learning to automate accounting tasks and building up an online knowledge hub to give clients key information and updates.
Eventually the majority of accountancy will be automated, the firm argues. “Instead of seeing this as a threat, however, this can provide a great opportunity. Technology allows you to minimise the amount of work it takes for clients to complete their accounts and to redeploy resources to add extra value to service ensuring you can deliver pioneering service quality and expert direction.”
This Brighton-based online accounting firm was a winner in the growth category in last year's Practice Excellence Awards and is constantly creating new software and digital tools for the UK’s self-employed and small business owners.
The most recent launches include a free micro-business membership community as well as their own range of specialist financial products to give self-employed and contractor clients access to mortgage, insurance and financial planning services.
The judges were impressed with the commitment and scale of the firm’s approach to innovation, creating customer centric packages that demonstrated a drive towards outstanding client service and internal efficiency. The results were evident in attracting 1,900 new clients to the firm during the past year.
Practice Excellence Week is AccountingWEB's landmark festival of excellence, inspiration and celebration for the accounting profession. If you would like to hear more about the programme, please visit the Practice Excellence website or email [email protected].
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Contributions from the AccountingWEB.co.uk editorial team.