Word reaches us from across the Atlantic that US accountants are beginning to respond to client requests for advice, particularly around accounting technology and data security.
US accounting and banking are fragmented between the 50 state jurisdictions and the lawsuit-happy commercial environment has acted as a brake on the cloud-driven trusted advisor model within the profession. But that could be starting to change, according to a study of 400 accountants published by our US sister site AccountingWEB.com and international business software developer Zoho.
According to the report, 83% of the accountants reported that clients had been asking for technology advice, with queries averaging 5-20 a month, with desktop accounting software (62%), software training and support (46%), and data security (57%) featuring most often among their requests.
Yet only 18% of respondents said technology advice was already a core service. The rest were entirely reactive in providing these services when asked; 94% of respondents said they accountants proactively recommended technology to clients when they spotted a need.
A third of the accountants reported they didn’t charge for this advice, and a further 35% generated less than 5% percent of their total revenues from it.
Having crossed the Atlantic five years ago from the more pro-active UK market, AccountingWEB US publisher Andy North saw the survey results as a sign that US practitioners were at last starting to adopt a more advisory stance.
The next step after recognising that need among clients was for accountants to turn it into revenue-generating service line, he said: “If business owners expect to receive valuable technology advice then they need to be prepared to pay for it. This is part of a wider change in the relationship between accountants and their clients that started at the turn of the century.”
How to build an IT advisory service
Report author Brian Tankersley dedicates several sections to the practicalities of rolling out an effective tech advice service, structured around a simple framework:
Start from the industry niches where your firm is already strong, and focus your advisory team on researching the opportunities and technologies that are being deployed. “Advisory services are strategic in nature (direction, effectiveness), not tactical (speed, efficiency), so you will need to have a strong understanding of the client’s business and industry,” advises Tankersley.
Then start estimating the potential revenue opportunity. Remember that many IT projects are one-offs; they may not recur and will require more active marketing that traditional accounting services.
Set out a single page service description. This will form the basis of your pitch and the foundation for your broader advisory business plan. It should be written and revised frequently as you refine and build out your offering.
Don’t forget to examine potential liability issues and how to minimise their impact, nor the potential for conflicts of interest if you get more closely involved with software providers and external advisers. Your professional body should be able to provide ethical guidance in these areas.
Determine pricing for your services in terms of its value to the customer. “Sticking to a standard hourly rate for all customers and services makes it much harder for you to increase your prices,” advises Tankersley.
Finally consider the resources to needed to deliver your technology service start budgeting for the set-up and running costs. These should include software, hardware and tech such as collaborative tools, cybersecurity and online backup. You will also need to find the right staff, either from within your existing team, by recruiting new specialists or relying on external contractors. And make sure to include sufficient sums in your budget to market and sell the service.
AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.