Embracing technology and being a ‘cloud-first practice’ no longer constitutes the highest level of innovation or impact. Candidates for the 2017 Practice Excellence Pioneer shortlist had to go beyond cloud technology to demonstrate their impact on clients and influence on the wider profession.
Many of the entries to this category confirmed the widespread shift to cloud systems, but candidates who could showcase their practical value to clients over the past 12 months were harder to find.
“The pioneer category is one of the hardest to win as you need to demonstrate you have an approach that can inspire other firms, or that clearly maps the direction of future services for the whole profession," said Sift chairman Ben Heald on behalf of the judging panel. “That, is extremely hard to do.”
Entries that showed a pioneering attitude, evident in their desire to deploy new technologies specifically with the aim of making things better for their clients, earned themselves a place on the shortlist.
Here are shortlisted Practice Excellence Pioneers:
Paul Donno, 1 Accounts Online Ltd
Starting out as a trainee management accountant in 1985, Paul Donno developed his skills and expertise managing 400 clients before founding his own firm, 1 Accounts Online three and a half years ago. Understanding the relationship between the "numbers" and success and the desire to help businesses grow is at the heart of his online, subscription-driven service. Paul has done away with time sheets, and invites clients to get in touch whenever they wish. This commitment to client care can be seen in a 100% satisfaction rating.
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As an early user of Sage One, Donno has been helping the Sage spread the word about online accounting. He also represents members in practice on the AAT digital advisory panel.
Will Farnell, Farnell Clarke
Happy staff and happy customers are the priority of Farnell Clarke founder Will Farnell. In the past 12 months he has focused on technology, business culture and staff development, including a £100,000 refurbishment of the Farnell Clarke offices, which now include the Tax & Pounds, an in-house pub.
He also offers services for other accountants, inviting them to his premises to share insight and expertise to steer them on their journeys towards success. His top tip? “Cloud-technology is no longer optional, it’s an essential tool for firms that want to offer their clients great service and great value. But 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.”
Client retention and referral levels are at an all-time high for the Derby-based inniAccounts. Part online app package and part expert team of accountants and account managers, the firm was founded in 2005 by a team of contractors and small business owners. Their philosophy puts clients front and centre and the firm is an early adopter of AI to automate accounting tasks with the end result that clients can devote more time to their businesses.
“Be customer-centric,” said the firm's entry. “It might seem cliche, but providing a quality service relies on more than just technical or process improvements... Our audience and the workforce is changing, and, simply put, accountancy firms aren't. You need to take the time to understand the different service expectations of the upcoming young professional workforce and millennial business owners.”
Over the past year, the firm has built up an online knowledge hub to feed clients compliance information and accounting. The underlying rationale for this content is all “helping our clients prosper in every aspect of their business”.
Warren Munson, Inspire Professional Services
Investment in the depth and breadth of his team has paid dividends for Dorset-based, Warren Mundson, founder of Inspire Professional Services. Supporting the firm’s claim as one of the South Coast’s leading firms, Warren’s focuses on offering strategic business, corporate finance and tax advice to the firm’s entrepreneurial clients. This approach has resulted in an impressive NPS score of 60+ and a 95% customer retention rate.
This advisory focus can be seen in a new strategic finance team, an expanded FD on demand service and the launch of a business academy. As a result of this entrepreneurial emphasis, the firm has seen a significant increase in client referrals.
His tip for other Practice Excellence pioneers is: “Decide where you want your firm to be, formulate an action plan and move boldly in that direction. This means regularly taking the time to step back from the business in order to scrutinise it and assess its progress.”
Hannah Xu, Xceptional Consultancy Ltd
Based in London, Xceptional Consultancy specialises in tax advice for medical professionals. Founder Hannah Xu is motivated to help them be more financially savvy and worry less about their tax bills, so they can help more people become healthier and happier. “I realised that the higher purpose of my business success is to make a bigger impact on human health,” she says. “If we focus on what we do for living, we will only make a living. If we focus on something bigger than ourselves, we will make a fortune.”
Having this purpose at the root of her practice helped clarify its value and find the right clients. Her outreach activities include a Facebook group where she shares insights on tax strategy and wealth growth and her own profit margin has increased by 15% as she has won new clients via social media and referrals.
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].