RQ aims to unlock advisory income for accounting firmsby
A new partnership between technology platform RQ and ICAEW hopes to bridge the gap between advisory expectation and practice reality, and potentially deliver more value and command higher fees as a result.
Use the word “advisory” to someone who’s been in the accounting industry for a while and it’s likely to solicit a hard eye-roll.
This isn’t because accountants don’t want to give advice – depending on your definition, they’re often doing so regularly. However, the past decade has seen a plethora of “added-value” advisory tools and services pushed to the profession that often haven’t met the mark due. This is generally down to three key factors: a dearth of relevant accessible information, fears of straying into regulatory hot water, and a perceived lack of value from any referrals made as part of the process.
One vendor hoping to bridge the gap between advisory expectation and reality is collaboration platform RQ. RQ’s platform offers a secure method of referring clients when they need specialist assistance from solicitors, financial planners or even other accounting firms. It features a compliant way for accountants to earn income from such referrals and also has a diagnostic tool to help accounting professionals understand their clients’ personal finances.
The vendor recently inked a partnership with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) where the tech company will provide its professional collaboration platform to the institute’s 12,000 member firms for free, in exchange for ongoing support, advice and promotion.
Move a step closer to clients
Johnny Ridd, RQ’s chief executive officer, told AccountingWEB that the platform focuses on smaller accounting firms that want to serve a rationalised client base more deeply rather than those looking after an ever-expanding roster of clients more efficiently.
“It’s something many firms struggle with,” said Ridd. “They know their clients need personal financial planning but don’t have the information. They don’t know what their clients have saved in pensions, their personal financial goals, whether they’re planning an exit, if they have outstanding mortgages and so on.
“Smaller firms may have an existing relationship with an IFA, but it’s managing this relationship effectively and figuring out who needs it,” he continued. “Rather than just saying ‘we can’t help with that’, we hope our platform will help accountants move a step closer to their clients.”
Within regulatory tramlines
The RQ platform has several different tools available to smooth the referral pathways for accounting firms.
RQ’s Referral Wizard promises to make it easier for accountants “to stay within regulatory tramlines” and generate revenue through referrals. All agreements with professional service firms and client consents are recorded on the platform, offering a full audit trail for professional body box-ticking.
To introduce a client to another professional services firm, the accountant selects their needs (for example, pensions, estate planning or investment advice), chooses the professional from a list of options presented, and picks the introduction method (for example, email the adviser and copy in the client, or send the client their details).
The platform automatically creates profiles for all major professional services firms and pulls in data from several public and propriety data sources such as Companies House, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and the Financial Services Ombudsman. This allows the platform to pull in a real-time feed of items such as past disciplinary action against the firm, any complaints to the ombudsman, and whether it employs advisers who’ve worked at previously failed firms – all things likely to interest accountants looking to make a referral but wanting to do a bit of due diligence.
RQ’s platform also gives accountants oversight of all referral relationships and activity in one place. It also acts as a shared customer relationship management system between accountants and professional service firms where they provide updates on shared clients, upload files and communicate with one another.
Keith Lesser, managing director of Lesser & Co Chartered Accountants and an early user of RQ, said this record-keeping facility is where the tool comes into its own. “The biggest plus for us is the admin management, having a referral centre in one place,” said Lesser. “Everyone’s inboxes are loopy so in the past, if I did an intro for a client in six months I’d forgotten about it or wasn’t able to find out what happened. Now all the information and feedback are in RQ.”
As well as referrals to other professional service firms, Lesser also uses the platform to manage referrals to other accounting firms.
The Referal Wizard is currently available free for ICAEW member firms.
Bespoke commercial arrangements
RQ lets accountants create and manage bespoke commercial arrangements with referral partners, including percentage, fixed-fee and quid pro quo revenue shares. Other features include streamlined payment and reconciliation processes.
Firms can log the details of any arrangements with other professional service firms on the platform, which can also collect the revenue on accountants’ behalf and handle the disclosure to clients in compliance with the Designated Professional Body (DPB) handbook and ICAEW’s code of ethics.
Financial diagnostic tool
The platform also has a financial diagnostic tool known as Compass. Built by chartered financial planners, the tool aims to help accounting firms document clients’ personal finances and discover their goals. The ultimate aspiration for Compass is to allow accountants to discover which clients may require other professional services.
Compass comes in the form of a survey shared with clients via a link. Several firms AccountingWEB spoke with that use the tool said they had shared the link in their initial client onboarding document. The link redirects clients to a branded landing page where the client answers questions on their current financial position and future goals. Other firms preferred to sit with clients and complete the survey together.
Compass then provides insights and feedback based on the client’s answers, which can be shared with them as a PDF as part of a discussion about further professional advice.
Paul Barnes, founder of MAP and an early user of the tool, told AccountingWEB that the diagnostic tool helps business owners to think more clearly about what they want from their personal as well as business finances.
“For accounting firms, it gives a bit of extra value,” said Barnes. “It might not lead to a referral straightaway as the client may not be ready, but it could uncover something like a buy-to-let mortgage separate to their business, and it’s also helpful from an accountant-client relationship point of view to understand a bit more about their life and ambitions.”
Compass is a paid-for product available on RQ’s Advisory pricing tier, which starts at £49 a month.