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The Accountancy Cloud wins Medium Firm of the Year at the 2021 Accounting Excellence Awards
Accounting Excellence Awards 2021

Accounting Excellence: Where leaders will go next


The pandemic, Brexit and MTD dimmed accountancy’s innovative spark during 2021, but you can’t keep the Accounting Excellence community down for long. John Stokdyk surveys some of the emerging trends from this year’s entries.

26th Oct 2021
Editor at large AccountingWEB
In association with
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The Accounting Excellence Awards ceremony on Thursday 21 October was a spectacular success, but the celebrations were tinged as much with relief that things were getting back to normal as for appreciation of the progress the profession made during 2021.

Capturing the mood as politely as she could, 2021 Outstanding Contribution Award winner Lucy Cohen said on stage, “It’s been… a difficult year.” Across the entire profession, accountants were stretched to the limit by constant compliance changes and the needless suspense and complications that accompanied the self assessment deadline, furlough and income support schemes, and Making Tax Digital.

Survival mode

In every category, the judging panels noted a more muted mood among entrants compared to pre-pandemic years. Spectacular innovations were thin on the ground and many firms advanced their claims on the basis of cloud app adoption or strong percentage growth, without explaining in much depth the strategy that got them there.

Most of the judging panels understood the reasons. Accountants were so busy responding to emergency demands from clients during the year in question that they had less time to implement improvements in their own businesses; and, we could add, spare time to craft compelling award entries.

What was surprising was how many Accounting Excellence Award entrants reported excellent growth as the UK economy went into hibernation. By giving clients practical support and advice when they needed it, the best accounting firms attracted clients who had been left out in the cold by less responsive business advisers. 

Find out how they do it at the Live Expo Accounting Excellence Theatre 

Almost with one voice, this year’s entrants cited recruitment, staffing and skills shortages as their main concerns for the year ahead. The linkages between staff who are happy in their jobs, committed to their clients and delivering superior service were clearly understood by most entrants. And how to get these aspects of practice right have already been discussed in Accounting Excellence Talks on recruiting the new generation of accountants, retaining and retooling your staff and overcoming obstacles to growth during the pandemic.

As Graham Carson from 2020 Investing in People Award winner Inca Caring Accountants explained, “mushroom management” doesn’t work in the millennial accounting marketplace; younger accountants are looking for meaning in their work and to feel genuinely valued by their employers.

To create a culture where everyone gets this experience requires continuous dialogue, according to Jackie Clifford, a judge for this year’s Investing in People award: “It means sharing organisational plans and listening to ideas about how these can be achieved. It means realising that each team member is a human being with a range of human needs and not being afraid to discuss these.”

But first you need to find the staff! As firms ran into capacity issues, Bookkeeping Team of the Year judge Jo Wood found that their most common tactic was to turn to software as an extra staff member and “focus on data and technology to improve efficiency to leverage people’s time”.

Workflows and onboarding

The software adoption patterns within the entries confirmed Wood’s analysis. As cloud accounting and app use became universal among entrants during 2020-21, the most visible area of growth - even ahead of cashflow forecasting software - was for onboarding tools. The prevalence of firms doing this was tracking at more than double the 2020 rate, and GoProposal was mentioned by a high proportion of practices now relying on automated onboarding and pricing.

Could there be any coincidence with this boom and Sage’s recent purchase of GoProposal? Both GoProposal co-founder James Ashford and Sage’s UK director of product marketing for accountants and bookkeepers Chris Downing confirmed the trend.

The rising need to automate the administrative drudgery around setting up new clients and ensuring that the kinds of service they were going to get were fully scoped out had become a top priority, according to Downing. “We’re still coming out of the pandemic and they’re thinking about how to survive, what direction their cashflow is going and how they are going to price and provide their services,” he said. 

“You need to do that with complete visibility and confidence about where the practice is going. Proposal management is key to ensuring that accounting firms can maintain profitability in the long term.”

A year to hatch new plans

Even if there were few big breakthroughs in 2021, the conditions are beginning to look more favourable for practitioners to make headway in 2022. The word from software suppliers last month was that the 12 month MTD ITSA delay would give them more time to refine and test their products.

A similar mood was evident among the Accounting Excellence Awards crowd last Thursday night at The Brewery. Everywhere I turned, accountants were swapping gossip about the latest app developments and the next project they were planning to work on within their firms. As Jonathan Bareham, founder of 2021 Small Firm of the Year Raedan said in September’s Accounting Excellence webinar, the remarkable thing about this community is how willing everyone is to share ideas and encourage each other to get even better.

That belief in continuous improvement remains one of the defining characteristics of Accounting Excellence and it’s a thrill to see up close how that trait translates into tangible advances within these firms. We're already looking forward to see what shape the underlying trends will take and where and how these firms grow in 2022.


Keep your eye out for more Accounting Excellence stories on AccountingWEB and come and join Jonathan Bareham and many other winners and finalists at the AccountingWEB Live Expo on 1-2 December.


Replies (3)

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By Mr J Andrews
27th Oct 2021 10:22

The only thing that caught my attention was ''.............Software Suppliers advised the 12 month MTD ITSA delay would give them more time to refine and test their products..............''
It really is a surprise that HMRC 'allowed ' a delay knowing full well that their and other Software systems couldn't cope with the shambolic MTD mess.

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Replying to Mr J Andrews:
By johnjenkins
27th Oct 2021 10:48

Ha Ha ha. The reason the software developers need more time is because IR35 has depleted the work force. HMRC played a blinder there.

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By Paul Crowley
27th Oct 2021 21:03

It is a shame that these leaders cannot be bothered to engage with any answers.
I wonder where the click bait is on this forum

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