Editor AccountingWEB
Share this content
Video conference social media icons applications Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Meet, Skype
istock_video-conference_alexsl

Will accountants ditch face-to-face for video meetings?

by

After a year of coronavirus restrictions, clients are now used to meetings over Zoom or MS Teams. With lockdown easing across the UK, will we revert back to face-to-face meetings? 

22nd Mar 2021
Editor AccountingWEB
Share this content

Have your clients’ favourite biscuits gone stale in the biscuit tin? Since the pandemic hit last year, clients used to popping into the office have had to settle for online meetings. Now the country is gradually re-opening, Zoom-fatigued clients are itching to get back to physical meetings.

The “cautious” easing of lockdown restrictions in England will put accountants in an anxious position. Park bench reunions with another household were allowed from 8 March, and the stay at home order will end from 29 March, enabling the flexibility for private garden get-togethers. 

Requests to meet clients

As a viewer on AccountingWEB Live’s Any Answers raised last week, accountants now face requests for face-to-face meetings and the daunting dilemma of closing Zoom and mingling with clients again. 

With the virus still prevalent, and the government-mandated restrictions in place, the viewer isn’t ready for in-person meetings yet - despite pressure from clients saying that their friends’ accountants are having meetings. 

“I am not keen and don't feel we should yet and we are offering Zoom, phone calls, face times,” said the viewer. “We also send out information via emails, phone calls, WhatsApp. But some are quite funny with us that we won’t have face-to-face meetings.”

Similarly, viewer Luke Luke who is clinically vulnerable also denied a meeting with a client who “wasn’t too chuffed”. 

Do we even need to meet clients? 

But as accountants push back against client meetings, there is a question over whether face-to-face meetings are even needed. 

"I don’t think face-to-face meetings are going to be anywhere as prevalent as they were before,” said Any Answers Live panellist and founder of PJCO accountants, Peter Jarman.

His firm is having every meeting virtually where possible. If anything, the last 12 months have demonstrated that “location is no longer a major influence on potential clients” - and these clients want virtual meetings. 

Indeed, Insight 101’s Phillipa Haynes has seen the pandemic serve as a catalyst for change.

“Competition has broadened and location is no longer as important as it once was. We can reach further but that won't be face to face,” she said. “Some won't want this but over the years it is bound to change the landscape of accounting.”

Remote working changes the office dynamic

Another consideration for PJCO is the success of the government-mandated remote working. “I doubt we’ll have the whole team together in the office again,” said Jarman. “It’ll be a matter that part of the team will be in at part of the time. So there won’t be the option for clients to turn up. It will be a matter of arranging online meetings.” 

Sarah Sallis of The Accountancy Office and Any Answers Live panellist also doesn’t expect a return to the standard face-to-face meetings in the profession. “A whole new culture has been developed as a result of the pandemic and ppl are relying on zoom and virtual calls. Previously we had a number of clients who would have never considered Zoom as a way of communication and it was accepted that it was a face-to-face meeting. But those clients have now become accustomed to using Zoom.”

Face-to-face is still needed

But the success of virtual meetings has been a mixed bag. Bhimal Hira, a partner at Jeffreys Henry, told AccountingWEB that most of the younger clients are happy to communicate via Zoom/MS Teams – but this doesn’t suit everyone. 

“We've found the older generation still prefer face-to-face but socially distanced meetings. We've also found that our conversion of new clients has dropped as online meetings with potential clients just doesn't ignite that spark.”

Jarman has also met a couple of clients where there was no way to deal with them virtually. These tend to be older clients where technology is a problem but he also has a client with hearing problems and needs to meet in-person to lip read.

Although Sallis hasn’t had any requests for face-to-face meetings, she’s had two instances where new clients have dropped off ID documents or paperwork – but this was done at a two-meter distance and wearing masks. 

Video and face-to-face hybrid

Firms now tread a difficult balance of adapting to the new post-Covid world of video conferencing, but without the detrimental effect on their client conversion.  

Jarman wants to incorporate online meetings into his practice post-Covid, but while Zoom and MS Teams filled the void, he has reservations about their ability to replicate the same atmosphere as a meeting in his office with clients.

He thinks he’s found the answer in Connect 4, an app that brings together an inclusive video meeting with agendas and the option to go back to past meetings. “It makes it much more like a physical meeting in your office,” said Jarman. 

What does the future look like?

Meanwhile, Sallis isn’t ditching face-to-face meetings, although the flexibility of online meetings, without the hassle of travelling in for the meetings, is perk clients have appreciated. 

As restrictions start to ease, and firms wait on government guidance, it will be interesting to see whether clients want to return to face-to-face meetings or whether they would now prefer to hop on a Zoom call. 

But with Any Answer Live viewers considering socially distanced outdoor meetings in the near future, perhaps now might be the time to restock on your client’s favourite biscuits.

You can catch up on this episode of Any Answers Live on-demand. Peter Jarman and Sarah Sallis also discuss how the pandemic has changed the way they serve clients and what they're doing to strengthen client service post-Covid.  

Replies (23)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

By Bagas.Ynnya
23rd Mar 2021 09:32

I'm definitely not ditching face to face meetings. In fact after 12 months of not meeting clients, I shall be going out of my way to meet as many clients as I can in the coming months. Face to face meetings are just so much more effective than a video call.

Thanks (2)
Della Hudson FCA
By Della Hudson
23rd Mar 2021 10:24

Minerva Accountants was born in the cloud and meetings will remain online (or by phone). Working from home will be exchanged for working from anywhere in the world for the best work-life balance a modern accountancy business can offer.

Thanks (1)
Quack
By Constantly Confused
23rd Mar 2021 10:44

If I never had to meet another person again face to face for the rest of my life I'd die happy.

I read 'The Naked Sun' by Isaac Asimov when I was a youngster and Solarian culture, with its 'viewings' in place of face to face meetings, resonated with me.

Hmm, thinking about it I always wished Susan Calvin's job was a real one too, I was really disappointed when I found out it wasn't, maybe I really just want to live in Asimov's world surrounded by robots :)

Thanks (3)
Replying to Constantly Confused:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
23rd Mar 2021 12:24

Maybe you already are..........

Thanks (0)
avatar
By North East Accountant
23rd Mar 2021 10:45

Not us...... we'll always do face to face meetings.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By Richard Grant
23rd Mar 2021 10:51

Online every time. I have a London address, London phone number but am actually sitting in southern France and don't need to meet anyone other than online.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Richard Grant:
avatar
By Rgab1947
23rd Mar 2021 11:54

I like that idea. Well not in France with Macron dishing astrazenica and a 3rd wave but you know what I mean.

Will be spending more time in better climates but will have some face-to-face meetings.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Richard Grant
23rd Mar 2021 10:56

.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By mbee1
23rd Mar 2021 10:54

Unlikely to be many face to face meetings here. It sounds like this virus is going to be around a long time with face coverings and social distancing in place for many more months despite the slow relaxation of restrictions. We don't even plan to moce some (and only some probably on a rota) back into the office until the autumn at the earliest.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By jamiea4f
23rd Mar 2021 10:59

I’ll be making it a priority to go out and meet all clients as soon as. Clients appreciate you making an effort and it feels much easier to have face to face meetings than bloody Zoom, which I’ve never used for a meeting as I find it very unreliable.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By mkowl
23rd Mar 2021 11:01

Like many others it will be a hybrid approach for sure, but some clients want that option of face to face meetings and certainly with some clients its much better to do that. Couple of older clients struggle with technology.

But whilst the travel can be a bind at times - its also good to see clients on their home patch

And the ones where my wife has to come and collect me from the station due to the clients leading me astray in the pub

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Southwestbeancounter
23rd Mar 2021 11:16

We'll be having face-to-face meetings where they are necessary i.e. lots of paperwork to go through, sign etc such as new clients and larger more involved ones but for those that just come annually for a catch up we will dissuade for now and see if we can cut back going forward as they take up so much of our valuable working time which I hadn't quite appreciated until the last year.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By johnjenkins
23rd Mar 2021 11:57

I think face to face is of paramount importance when first taking on a client. You get the feel for the client, you can see how he answers certain questions. Dealing with clients after the initial meeting is always a mixed bag.
As for the headline the answer is NO.

Thanks (1)
paddle steamer
By DJKL
23rd Mar 2021 12:27

Of more importance, I need to track down whatever company provides zoom services and buy shares in same.

Thanks (0)
Brand and strategic digital marketing consultancy
By philippa101
23rd Mar 2021 12:57

From the replies here, the answer is down to personal preference and how your practice is set up. Della Hudson says Minerva accountants were set up cloud only so there's no change really. Other comments suggest that owners are chomping at the bit to do more face to face.

Some have fared well in lock-down, others have really struggled and that will be the difference between the approaches moving forward.

It seems wise to fit your business model around your brand and your ideal target client. This will help guide your decisions and next steps

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Munch
23rd Mar 2021 13:11

Like most things in life a healthy balance is best. The changes to working patterns in the pandemic should indicate that we can flexible. Meeting people face to face is healthy and much more informative on a number of levels. However, we can reduce costs and be more efficient by using remote working environments. In fairness, if we think about it, how much of our work was always done face to face anyway both internally and with client/customers. It is not really that big a deal.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Munch
23rd Mar 2021 13:11

Like most things in life a healthy balance is best. The changes to working patterns in the pandemic should indicate that we can flexible. Meeting people face to face is healthy and much more informative on a number of levels. However, we can reduce costs and be more efficient by using remote working environments. In fairness, if we think about it, how much of our work was always done face to face anyway both internally and with client/customers. It is not really that big a deal.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Andrew Jordon
23rd Mar 2021 17:02

From my perspective evidencing your value provided during an online meeting is a big opportunity. Assign actions internally and externally, share software demo's of scenario analysis, clear book-keeping tasks, sign engagement letters, whilst on the call.

Forgotten and unending zoom calls are my pet hate.

... I would say that however as I started Connect4! [one of our next features to go live is Meeting Insights- to ensure making the most of precious online meeting time].

P.s. I am definitely missing the in-person contact and is very much factored into our product roadmap to enable progression and accountability in hybrid client relationships.

If want to know more feel free to get in touch or take a look at website- would love to chat: https://www.connect4.app/.

Andrew.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Andrew Jordon:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
24th Mar 2021 13:02

Thought it was a game, I used to play it with my kids.

Thanks (0)
Morph
By kevinringer
24th Mar 2021 13:09

I've only done 1 Zoom client meeting, ever! And that was a potential client so maybe they don't count? I've been avoiding face-to-face for years because they take up too much time. I'm in rural Wales and clients have to travel an hour on average for the meeting and after travelling that long they don't want to leave after 5 minutes if that's all that's needed. Instead, I phone: doesn't waste anyone's travelling time, saves fuel and is better for the environment. Here in Wales I expect the work-from-home requirement to remain in place for some time yet, so I can't see face-to-face happening for a while anyway.

Thanks (0)
Replying to kevinringer:
Brand and strategic digital marketing consultancy
By philippa101
24th Mar 2021 13:20

If that's the case Kevin, are there any changes that lock-down has brought for you and your business? Are you still using phone or something else?

Thanks (0)
Replying to philippa101:
Morph
By kevinringer
24th Mar 2021 13:35

Main change is I mainly work from home instead of the office which means face-to-face meetings which were probably 10% of client contact pre-covid are now 0%. I reckon that when we get back to normality, some clients will request face-to-face and if they ask I'll agree, but not yeet.

Thanks (0)
Replying to kevinringer:
Brand and strategic digital marketing consultancy
By philippa101
24th Mar 2021 13:43

Understandable. Thanks Kevin

Thanks (0)