What ‘excellence’ means to accountants
Mark Lee reviews Steve Pipe’s latest book, ‘The UK’s Best Accountancy Practices’, which features case studies from more than 40 UK accountancy firms - including the small firm Practice Excellence Awards winner.
I have long been an admirer of Steve Pipe’s extraordinary enthusiasm and commitment to the accountancy profession.
He has many fans – with good reason. Equally, I am well aware that his style does not resonate with everyone. Mine doesn’t either. And I also disagree with some of his advice about “advanced tax planning”. But that apart, I am very happy to endorse all of Pipe’s advice and observations in this book. Indeed, it would be hard to find anyone else with such an evident desire to help UK accountants increase their earnings and provide more valued services to their clients.
The book contains no pipe-dreams or theory. Just loads and loads of specific case-studies of activities, processes and ‘practices’ undertaken by successful accountants all around the UK - including Woods Squared, the small firm Practice Excellence Award-winner.
You may not want to follow all of the ideas presented. Indeed, you may be unable to do so. But you will learn a great deal more from this book about what others do to achieve success than you will ever glean from the Any Answers pages of AccountingWEB, or even from my regular articles here.
We could argue, as some have done on this thread for example, about Steve’s criteria for determining “the UK’s best accountancy practices”. But to do that would be to miss the point and to miss out on all of the real-life examples in this book.
The featured practices
More than half of the firms featured have just one principal/owner. However many such firms in the book have at least one member of staff. Most have more. There are also three start-ups. The other practices range from two to 16 partners.
The most successful practices tend to be bigger than one-man (or woman) bands. This is self-evident; if you want a better work-life balance you need to have someone else who can do the work when you’re not there. And the key way to raise profits without increasing your fees is to have someone else generating additional turnover greater than their employment costs.
Fifteen key themes
Pipe does not provide a running commentary throughout the book, but instead he suggests 15 key themes that emerge from the case studies. It would be easy to criticise the list as being too closely linked to the approach long advocated by AVN. But equally it would be surprising if it didn’t do this.
Industry insightsView more
Many specific AVN products and services are mentioned by contributors. However the appendix includes an even longer list of products and services from other suppliers that are also mentioned throughout the book - Pipe should be applauded for highlighting that accountants can achieve success and excellence without joining AVN.
Advanced tax planning
As mentioned earlier, I noted earlier that I have disagreed with Pipe’s views on this topic. In particular I dispute any suggestion that accountants have an obligation to notify all clients of every leading-edge tax scheme they hear about.
A number of the firms featured in the book have boosted their by offering “advanced tax planning” advice. Some of this is evidently uncontroversial and a good thing in my view. But I would counsel caution for anyone seeking to emulate those firms’ “success” through introductions to tax boutiques that promote what even Graham Aaronson’s GAAR report describes as “abusive” tax schemes.
I am also a tad nervous that some of the case studies cite tax savings achieved for clients “in the last 12 months”. As I have noted many times before, such assertions are often premature given the inherent delays in our ‘process now – check later’ self assessment tax system.
The case studies
This book contains an astonishing array of true-life stories from a range of accountants at all stages of their career. The stories they share include examples of:
- What gives them their competitive advantage
- How they have secured an improved work-life balance
- Where they found the confidence to charge higher than average fees
- How they secured improvements to their cash-flow
- What they do to convert more leads into clients
- Why they set pre-conditions that new clients must satisfy
- How they get buy-in and commitment from staff
- Why they feel more satisfied at work
- All the extra holiday time they have compared to most accountants.
and so on.
Reviewing the book on Amazon, Robert Craven wrote, “This book is not for the old school accountant; they will be terrified by the customer-focused, service-obsessed case studies/research that Steve has assembled for the book.”
I’m not sure that’s correct. I would prefer to think they will be inspired. I was. I were still in practice, I would be looking to emulate those changes advocated by the firms I can most relate to the book.
If you want to continue doing what you have always done then by all means do so and accept that you will continue to get what you have always got. If however you have any ambition to grow your practice or to increase your profits, this book will give you living proof of how other firms have done just that.
Copies of Steve Pipe’s book can be obtained from Amazon but it costs less if you order it through www.stevepipe.com and by so doing you will also be helping Steve’s favoured African charity due to his commitment to the Buy1Give1 charity.
These days Mark Lee focuses his business actiities on two key activities:
1 - He loves being engaged to speak on stage to audiences of accountants in all size of firms. His latest keynopte talk is: The rise of Robo-Accountants - and how to beat them. He is an accountancy focused speaker, futurist and influencer with a positive reputation...