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 for entertaining, engaging and enthusing his audiences.
2 - He loves supporting savvy sole practitioners who want more out of their practice. More clients, more money, more time, more satisfaction - or everything!
An accountant by profession, Mark moved away from the provision of professional advice in 2006. He is now a professional speaker, mentor, author and debunker.
Mark is passionate about helping accountants generally so is a keen blogger and commentator in the accounting and tax press. He has been consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and has written hudnreds of articles here that have been viewed over a million times.
Check out how he could help you here: www.BookMarkLee.co.uk/savvy
Mark no longer gives tax advice despite being a past Chairman of the Chartered Accountants’ Tax Faculty. He is however Chairman of the Tax Advice Network - the UK's highest ranked lead generation website for tax advisers and accountants. The network also publishes a weekly practical tax update for accountants in general practice and full tax support, on demand too. You can also use it as a lead generation resource for local people seeking tax advice from an accountant.
Brilliant analysis and summary John. Like you I'm a tad cynical about some of the claims made around the subject.
I have long doubted the speed with which AI will change the work that accountants do. All manner of systems across the AI spectrum are having an impact and increasingly so. But the impact is slower than many proponents suggest. 'twas ever thus!
Those who embrace the new tech generally find it helps them work more efficiently and effectively. But equally the pioneers are often paying the premium price in terms of time (if not money) required to 'train' the new software and to develop new systems that 'exploit' it.
In the Susskind's wonderful book they lump accountants with other knowledge professionals and dismiss those who claim to be different.
However accountants ARE distinct as the profession is NOT a closed-shop. Our business skills also mean we have the potential to provide far more valuable services in the future with the assistance of products that include AI (or variations thereon).
Love it Tom. I’ve seen them all in the past and expect to see more this week.
Great interview Richard. Would also be interesting to know a couple of additional points:
1- Average fees that made up the first £100k
2 - Highest fee that contributed to the £100k t/o
I note that Mark and Glenn both started their own practices after previously being FDs.
It would be good to know whether their initial clients and first £100k of t/o came from typical compliance focused clients or, as I suspect, more from providing business focused advice and support - drawing on their previous experience as FDs.
Great summary Richard.
I too was struck by the absence of speakers trying to persuade accountants they need to move away from compliance work to advisory services. This was in stark contrast to the continuous (and often misconceived) talks urging this in recent years.
As long as accountants keep in mind that clients will largely continue to want a personal touch, and they provide this, they will hang onto their clients. Services will evolve over time - as they always have done.
I would agree that this is the NEXT of many more mid-tier mergers.
Disclosure: I'll be an alumnus twice over. I was headhunted to join BDO as a partner in 1997. However I originally trained and qualified with a predecessor firm of Chantrey Vellacott that merged with Moore Stephens in 2015.
Remembering my days as a partner at BDO (I left in 2001), the aim was to stay ahead of GT in the league table. This only started however after BDO first leapfrogged GT by merging with Moores Rowland in 1999.
Following that merger BDO learned what GT had been protecting. That is the fact that an enormous amount of work goes to the biggest firm outside of the Big 4 - when they are all conflicted. I suspect this remains the case.
Before the PKF mergeover, BDO did a great deal buying the tax practice at WJB Chiltern in 2007. This was easier to absorb as Chiltern wasn't a partnership.
If memory serves, that was partly a response to GT's earlier mergeover with Robson Rhodes and allowed BDO to reclaim the coveted 5th spot again.
When a merger doesn't involve all the offices (as with the current/imminent merger) it is always interesting to see which ones decide to go it alone and which ones look to join another national brand. Much depends on the client base of the office, the age of the partners and their aspirations.
For the more ambitious this could be a fabulous opportunity to do their own thing without the shackles and restrictions imposed by HO.
Time will tell.
Funnily enough I have looked back on my blog to see how accurate were my predictions ten years ago. What I found was that I wasn't making many predictions. And those I did make went against the prevailing view of the time.
For example, in 2009 I disagreed with those commentators and software suppliers who were telling accountants they must move into the cloud or they would lose their clients. I said that such views were, at best, premature. I was right ;-)
Ten years (almost) later and MTD is a great excuse/reason for accountants to ramp up the pace of change.
Your existing clients may be in no rush. An increasing proportion of new start ups will be asking about the cloud or will approach accountants AFTER having started to use a cloud bookkeeping package.
I don't think there will be much change over the next 12-18m. Equally I think things will be VERY different in 10-12 years time. When accountants will feel the winds of change will be somewhere between the two.
Come back Mr Lee all is forgiven.
Well. In my latest talk I debunk the hype (and fake news) that suggests that compliance work is dying. It's NOT.
However I also believe that within ten years or so, most of the compliance focused work currently done by general practitioners will no longer be required. Your systems and processes and software will almost certainly reduce the need for your involvement (or that of your junior staff); and there will be more direct filing of data with HMRC.
Most of your current clients will not force you to reduce your fees but some will recognise that you're doing less work than before. You may take the opportunity to provide more advice, help and assistance than before. And they may value this sufficiently to allow you to keep charging the same fees.
The real issue will be that there will be fewer new clients around willing to pay the sort of fees you currently charge for recurring compliance work. They will be looking for a new accountant to help with the little bits they can't do themselves. And, new start-up businesses will be largely reliant on online bookkeeping systems that contain direct filing facilities. (Again, within ten years or so).
There won't be a BIG change in the next 12-18m. There will start to be a shift in the next 3 years though.
As compliance based work gets simpler and, almost certainly, cheaper, general practitioners will have a choice:
1 - Ensure they can compete for new clients who want (simpler) compliance focused services. And ensure their systems and processes will enable them to manage the larger number of clients/relationships than they do currently - in order to generate a similar profit to now; or
2 - Develop the skills and competencies necessary to provide valuable advice to clients on financial, tax and/or business related matters; and if your current clients won't want or pay for such advice, you'll also need to develop the skills to attract, win and service new clients who will do so.
In my talks and programmes I recommend starting to build those skills now so that you are well prepared by the time you need to rely on them. You won't just be competing with better prepared and trained accountants; you'll also be competing with business coaches and management consultants who already have the necessary skills.
I'm firmly of the view that you cannot force-fit the future to your current business model. The world is changing. And the pace of change has sped up. Weirdly, it will never be this SLOW again!
It may surprise some readers but I largely agree with you (again) Mark.
I have long avoided the promotion of simplistic solutions or any suggestion that there is one thing that all accountants must do. It's nonsense, as you say.
Many other advisers to the profession focus only on helping firms to achieve 'success' through growth - using marketing, pricing or social media.
My preference is to encourage the sole practitioners with whom I work, to define success on their own terms. And then, if I can help them on their journey (and they can afford my input), we may work together.
There is no one-size fits all solution that's right for everyone.
Ten years ago how many of us thought our lives would revolve around smartphones?
Sure, not every small business has (yet) embraced all the available apps that will make their lives simpler, but the 'direction of travel' is clear.
Some people take longer to adapt than others. And longstanding clients of accountants who are not embracing the transition to a brave new world, MAY be more patient than newer business start-ups.
Of course the first generation AI assistants and all the cloud accounting facilities are not perfect (yet). But I'd bet they will get there within the next couple of years.
In my talks about the future for accountants I recommend planning for 3 future timeframes:
1 - The shortest one - 12-18m (this has long been the focus for many accountants' plans and focus);
2 - 18m-3yrs - With an open mind we can get a sense of what's coming down the line;
3 - 3-5yrs+ - Flexibility is key here as we can only sketch out what could be happening even over this relatively short period. Beyond this it would be foolish to make definitive predictions.