All aboard! Onboarding fees continue to split opinionby
Are views changing around charging onboarding fees to prospective clients? A recent AccountingWEB webinar suggests that they might.
The term “onboarding”, yet another linguistic gift from our transatlantic neighbours, is quite often met with an exasperated sigh, if not outright derision by many in the accounting profession. Even with a suite of tools ensuring a smoother process, this essential first step with your new client still remains a time-consuming and complex affair.
In an episode of AccountingWEB Live’s Tech Pulse last year, the conversation regarding onboarding quickly turned towards the question of charging for the process. And while our guests were split on the idea, the general theme in the comment section leant more toward the negative, with users arguing that the process is a sunk cost when it comes to bringing in new work.
Charging a fee
However, a more recent conversation on AccountingWEB may hint that moods are softening to this potential money-making process.
With guest speaker David Winch posing a similar question to fellow guests Danielle Fisher, product manager at GoProposal, and Samantha Nelmes, director of LilyIris Accounting, both admitted they had noticed a step change in how accountants tackled the topic of onboarding.
“We have some accountants who see this as really frustrating because they can’t charge for the onboarding. But we also have a group of accountants who are now starting to adopt the concept of charging for onboarding,” Fisher responded, likening the process to the variety of consultation fees we all pay in other areas of our lives.
“I just think of it as being similar to when I go to the dentist or when I go to the estate agents – there’s always some sort of consultation fee at the start,” Fisher added.
Nelmes agreed with Fisher’s sentiment and has recently taken the plunge, charging clients what she calls a “setup fee”.
“If a client wants to work with us, fabulous. But we have a lot of things that we have to do in order to get you in as a client, so we charge a setup fee in order to do that,” Nelmes said.
After making the decision to charge her clients a nominal £30 fee for onboarding services, Nelmes said that only one client pushed back on the charge, while Fisher had seen “accountants become very successful [charging fees] by packaging it up as an experience or something to do at the start.”
Describing himself as an “old school” accountant, Winch took a more nuanced approach to the topic of fees, arguing that accountants in general undervalue their work, whether that’s during the onboarding process or in further advisory services.
“I think a lot of accountants naturally feel nervous about billing clients for anything. And what we tend to do automatically is undervalue ourselves,” Winch said.
“Because of that, scope creep almost becomes scope dash, with everything getting loaded in. You’ve agreed to do a set of accounts and then suddenly you’re also doing tax returns, or Companies House services. Are you pricing for that?
“Accountants have to recognise that and they have to be prepared to say to the client: ‘Look, you’ve got to pay me a sensible amount for what I’m doing, because that’s what I’m worth.’”
Looking to gain a further understanding from the accounting community, Winch turned to his colleagues with a poll asking whether they too have added a price tag to onboarding.
Over half of the respondents (57%) admitted they write off the time onboarding a client as a wasted cost, while 24% said they roll it into other fees. However, only 7% charge a nominal amount and 13% charge based on the time and costs of the process.
Looking over the polling, it seems that many still hadn’t warmed to the idea of charging. However, Winch was especially interested in the fact that most saw onboarding as a “wasted cost”.
“The impression I get is that accountants do regard onboarding as a waste of time and expense, rather than a valuable opportunity to get to know a new client and their business,” Winch said.