A TripAdvisor for accountancy practices is picking up steam, with over 900 accountants registered and reviewed on the site and a recent supplement in a national newspaper.
Vouched For is the brain child of Adam Price, a former banker in the city. Five years ago he launched the site concentrating on IFAs, before branching out to solicitors. At the end of last year Vouched For began working with accountants.
Whether or not Vouched For is successful (and by all accounts, it’s doing well) is actually a sideshow. User-generated content has become the defining force of the internet age and online customer reviews have also become standard in other professions and sectors. If Vouched For doesn’t do it, someone else probably will.
Services like accountancy are important decisions in peoples’ lives, contends Price. “They tend to be small businesses and there are lots of them, so consumers are a bit lost.” Once on Vouched For’s homepage, the potential client is asked for their postcode, what their needs are and then provided with a list of potential suitors, all with a photo and client reviews.
According to Price, Vouched For is not just for the clients: “From the accountants’ perspective, they are first and foremost accountants; they’re not experts in marketing. They don’t have access to big marketing budgets,” said Price. “Historically businesses advertised in the Yellow Pages or on Google, but in other industries sites like TripAdvisor have become one of the most important tools”.
Vouched For is bound to be unpopular in some segments of the profession – it’s not necessarily pleasant to be ranked. But Price argued that accountants have been the most receptive profession so far and the service does attempt to reward accountants who diligently use the service.
This past weekend’s Mail on Sunday carried an eight-page Vouched For supplement showing the top ranked accountants; in March there was another in The Telegraph. “We also give badges which an accountant can put on their site. When it’s clicked it takes the client to their Vouched For page”.
The similarity to sites like TripAdvisor is, of course, obvious. But any site faces a unique challenge given accountancy’s smaller clientele. A popular restaurant may have hundreds or thousands of clients per day meaning a useful review system would only require a small percent of customers to rate it.
Accountants don’t have that volume, so that model doesn’t work for Vouched For. Price attempts to compensate by going for quality. “Client reviews are all verified by the accountant,” explained Price. “If an account denies a client, we ask the client for their evidence.
“We look at a bunch of data to spot if anything is fraudulent. We also ask the accountant to verify that the client is a genuine client. If we believe the accountant is behind it, we would report them to their accredited body. But it’s very rare that we see accountant-led fraud.”
Accountants are also able to directly reply to any comment left and any abusive posts are moderated.
The number of review data on the site also gives Price a unique insight. “Clients take technical skills as a given, we only list chartered accountants, so they accept that the accountant has professional competency,” said Price. “It’s not just about finding an accountant that’s good, but an accountant that’s right for you.”