Hook up corporate and personal financial planningby
The pandemic has shaken up numerous barriers to the way accountants operate, including the artificial divide between the company and its owners, says Tether CEO and founder Richard Bertin
All businesses have something in common, other than having a balance sheet. They all have one or more business owners. As the businesses grow, they may become institutionally owned, but the typical genesis is someone with hopes, dreams and ambitions.
So why do accountants build a value proposition around servicing the business rather than the owner?
Perhaps there are number of reasons. At one level there are many clear requirements for the business. Accounting, payroll, VAT and corporation tax, for example. At another level, these things are within a practitioner’s natural comfort zone.
So, what would you do if your clients say they believe you have got the accounting, reporting and compliance on the business at peak efficiency, and want to know how you are going to add value now?
It’s a fair question. The profession is very good at innovating, but probably more in a reactive way than proactive. A decade ago, few practitioners would have thought that they would run their firms in the cloud; now it is the norm.
You respond by getting all the team together for an “away day” to work on how you might improve your business and client offering. You ask the team to shout out what makes your firm great and some of the responses might come back:
- “We respond to emails withing 24 hours”
- “We turn the VAT return around with x days of the quarter end”
- “Clients have a lead adviser and someone else they can talk to.”
Nine times out of 10 the responses will be what the clients expect as a bare minimum, not what actually differentiates your firm. So, what’s the answer?
The pandemic might give us the answer
In many ways the pandemic rewrote the rule book for many accountancy businesses. The normal streamlined services of your business were disrupted and the profession had to react, to innovate. Clients and their business were in survival mode. Suddenly, remuneration planning was all about furlough, not dividends.
Meetings with clients were held on Zoom at a day’s notice, in a dining room, rather than a meeting room.
There was no such thing as “business as usual” for weeks in a row.
Post pandemic, the awayday might just elicit some different responses:
- “We went the extra mile to help our clients out”
- “We made sure we contacted all our clients within 24 hours of the lockdown to let them know we were there for them”
- “We talked to our clients to work out their immediate priorities”
- “We worked out how much cash our clients had in the business and personally to survive on”
- “We helped our clients build a strategy plan .”
The last year has made client relationships much more about personal service. Furthermore, it is now very difficult to argue that your clients’ personal wealth is not aligned to that of the business.
So why not build a business proposition that also helps your clients personally going forward?
You’re already doing personal financial planning
During the pandemic, corporate and personal financial planning have overlapped. Many clients will have mothballed their business in lockdown, but still had personal bills to pay. Cash is oxygen, both in business and in our domestic lives, and you will have been asked by clients about personal financial survival, not just about the business.
So, is remuneration planning about being tax savvy as an accountant? Or should it be about understanding your clients’ personal cashflow needs and planning accordingly?
Is compliance about meeting filing deadlines? Or, should it also be it about making sure your client’s life cover is in trust to mitigate inheritance tax?
What do your business owner clients really want?
What if you had a service proposition that focused on the owner as well as the business? If all accountancy firms are now cloud specialists, why would you define that as your own firm’s key differentiator?
The pandemic has brought us closer together in many ways, but hopes, dreams and ambitions have been on hold too.
As we come out of lockdown promoting the quality of your firm’s remuneration planning compared to your competitors may not be appropriate. But what about a “post pandemic” health-check? Re-establish what is really important to your clients and work with them to achieve these goals. If you don’t know what’s important to them now, then how will you know if you are adding value?
Ultimately, helping your clients meet their personal cashflow needs with a high degree of probability trumps getting the annual accounts prepared quicker than your competitors. Do both and you have a great business offering.
Call to arms!
With a new tax year upon us, what better time to get on the front foot with clients? Clients will often park the email or letter with the standard request for information to complete the tax return for last year.
Try a different tack. Suggest a post pandemic health-check or review; it’s all about getting to know your client better and building an advisory proposition at the same time.
A future article will explore how the relationship between accountants, IFAs and the financial sector in general, can be enhanced, as financial issue may well need addressing.
You might also be interested in
Richard Bertin is a Chartered Accountant, former chair of various committees and current ICAEW Personal Financial Planning Advisory Group member. He established and built up a successful fee-based wealth planning business, selling a stake in 2016 to Stonehage Fleming, the largest independent family office in EMEA.
He continued to further...