Services that matter most to clients
This is the second article in a new series looking at the profound difference accountants are making to businesses, lives and society. It reveals the services that make the greatest difference.
In the first article in the series we saw how 18 months of research for the book ‘The world’s most inspiring accountants’ found that the impact accountants are making is extraordinary in both range and scale. Apart from the medical profession, there is probably no other group making such a big difference to the lives of so many people.
This time the focus is on how accountants are making that kind of difference.
How they are doing it
The research suggests that there are four main ways that accountants are making a difference:
- Core services – the things that every accountant already can and must do
- Advanced services – the things every accountant must now be building into their plans
- Specialist services – the things most accountants can adopt a “just-in-time” approach with
- Humanitarian services – the extra things that make life joyful and really set accountants apart
In this article we will focus on the first two types of service – since commercially they are the most important.
The core services that appear to create the greatest impact include:
- Accounting systems - deliver up-to-date, reliable and accurate information at all times
- Robust internal controls - minimise the risks of things going wrong
- Bookkeeping support - ensure the integrity of the underlying accounting data
- Training - so that bookkeeping and accounts systems are used properly
- Management accounts - so business leaders receive the information they need
- Decision support - so information is properly understood and used to make better decisions and get better results
- Virtual FD - give them proactive high-level input when they need it
- Acting as a sounding board for ideas, issues and challenges - give them an independent second opinion
- Board/management meeting attendance and support - keep them focused, efficient and effective
- Business plan creation - help clients move forward in carefully thought through ways
- Integrated P&L, cash flow and balance sheet forecasting - ensure plans stack up financially
- Recommending books, software, third party experts - expose them to the very best ideas, tools and support
- Proactive and defensive tax planning - capitalise on legitimate tax reduction opportunities and challenge excessive claims made by tax authorities
- Cash flow management - ensure they don’t run out of cash
- Debtor (receivables) collection - prevent bad and slow paying debts derailing the business
- Raising finance - fund growth, investment and other plans
- Cost and profitability analysis - support better product, sales and marketing decisions
- Buying and selling businesses - help clients achieve their strategic plans
- Exit/succession planning - so they can get out when they want, and on the terms they want
Interestingly, what constitutes a “core” service appears to varies from country to country. And is also likely to evolve over time. Cloud accounting is a prime example. A few years ago this would probably have been regarded as an advanced or even specialist service. But research shows that it is becoming so important and transformationally powerful that it must surely now be regarded as a core service by any accountant who wants their practice to have a future.
In fact, one of the practitioners in the book summarises it all brilliantly this way:
“The point is that what we accountants see as fairly ordinary advice and support can often make an extraordinary difference to the businesses, lives and happiness of our clients. The profession has so much more power to do good than it gives itself credit for. That power is at our fingertips. And thanks to new technology, such as cloud accounting and everything that goes with it, our power to make a difference is getting greater and greater by the day.”
Advanced services are the things that every accountant must be building into their plans. Mostly because they allow you to make much more of a difference. But also because many accountants are already delivering them, and those that don’t keep up will get left behind.
There isn’t space here to discuss them all, but some of the more obvious advanced services include:
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- KPI identification, measurement and monitoring
- Business improvement advice
- Workflow and business process automation – which thanks to the cloud is now an affordable and transformational reality for small businesses
- Family finances – which includes family financial forecasting, retirement planning and other personal financial planning
Many firms are developing their competence in these areas through training or by buying in specialist software and tools. Others are recruiting people who already have the necessary skills (for example, many practices are recruiting tech-savvy young people to deliver their cloud based automation services). And some firms are forming strategic alliances with third parties who can deliver advanced services to their clients on a sub-contract or revenue sharing basis.
The rewards to accountants
Accountants who make a difference by delivering these kinds of services are rewarded extraordinarily well. According to the accountants that the research team talked to, the financial rewards include:
- “In return we can charge higher fees, making it a win-win all round.” – Mike Ogilvie, OBC The Accountants
- “Earned us our largest ever fee” – Andrew Gray, Kirkpatrick and Hopes
- “[Our approach] gives us a great reputation and attracts a lot of new clients” – Pieter Esterhuizen, Lumenrock
While on an emotional level, the rewards include:
- “It’s so fulfilling knowing that we are part of something that is making a real difference” – Simon Maddox, Owadally & King
- “To have a purpose beyond our daily working life is both humbling and satisfying. To have that purpose together as a team is unifying and empowering” – Craig Stanmore, Jaques Stanmore Financial Group
- “After all, if you don't enjoy it, what's the point?” – Ingrid Edstrom, Polymath
The next article in the series will take it all to another level, by focusing on the research insights into:
- What clients say and think about accountants who make a real difference
- How you can use their reaction to win new clients and earn higher fees
If you want further insight and proof before then, read a detailed case study from the book.
Steve is an FCA who is passionate about the profession. Often described as one of the world's leading strategists for the accounting profession, he has had helped hundreds of UK practices.