Kinder Pocock

Q: How have things been for your practice?

A: It’s been tough going. We’ve done so much for clients and lost a lot of chargeable time – but some are grumpy because we’re either looking to charge for support or they think we’ve not been in contact enough. We’ve done good things but it’s been forgotten by some. We have all clients on a monthly package and we did a lot of work for them to get through this year. We then charged for furloughing in July and perhaps we should have communicated the value in that service better. Some team members have found it easy working from home and others haven’t. And while we trust our people we’ve improved monitoring of workflow, using Karbon, to be better organised.

Q: How do you see the next few months, particularly lockdown/SA filing season and more government initiatives?

A: We’ve had everyone coming in for Monday planning meetings – these go on for a long time because of dealing with all the issues and the week ahead. Afternoons have been more for training sessions – this has involved grading clients and allocating them to our two new senior team members. Obviously, with new lockdowns and tiers it’s been difficult to get to know them and integrate as quickly as we would have liked.

Q: Longer term, how easy is it for you to plan? Where do you see the firm in the planning cycle, both long term and next 12 months? What is in your thoughts?

A: We have new offices, new people and new processes. I know what the team structure will look like and what our ideal client will look like – and it will involve us providing much more advisory; certainly with two seniors we can build deeper relationships.

On the tech front, it’s making sure you get the best out of it. We’ve been using Xavier every day; there’s competition for who has the highest Xavier score and then we build that into our analytics – but there’s so much more we can do. Take VAT returns; we can now do a pre-VAT check that picks up that clients’ bookkeeping is up to date – either they can sort it or we can do it for them with a charge.

Karbon’s my favourite thing. It sends out notifications, automates tasks and is helping with workflow for enquiries as well – we can even send a potential client a task list of what they need to do and have before they sign up. Practice Ignition sorts out the proposal and Karbon sends it.

Building a new normal way

We last spoke to Bruce in August 2020.

Q: How have things been since we last caught up?

A: We’ve had someone leave our firm, and I’ve reorganised the work around our existing team – that was a tough decision but it has worked well. It’s an upshot of the circumstances of recent months where I realised we needed to make changes. We’re now at two offices, Surbiton and Cheam (we had Kingston), having at one point been at four during the initial lockdown. The Cheam office is new, larger and gives us room to grow.

Q: How do you see the next few months, particularly lockdown/SA filing season and more government initiatives?

A: With fewer local offices it’s important that we up our online presence, so that’s a task to be dealt with quickly. There’s been much furloughing and insolvencies are increasing, so I think it’s going to be a tough winter. For my own practice, I’m trying to get a better handle on how we work and the metrics that flow from our operations.

As a management accountant in a growing business I’m always looking to improve the how to tweak and change things based on reliable information – but I am also a business owner and that can make it difficult to see the wood for the trees I recognise our monthly numbers, and the work people are doing, but from a system/process point of view we need better connection.

I’m managing cash and revenue separately. It’s against my rules of being a management accountant – instead I’m being an entrepreneur… I have a CIMA colleague coming into the firm to help connect the two.

Q: Longer term, how easy is it for you to plan? Where do you see the firm in the planning cycle, both long term and next 12 months? What is in your thoughts?

A: Fine-tuning the organisation is a big priority because it will help redefine the work people are doing and then manage from there. It will help me understand what work is going to be undertaken day-to-day and by whom. I’ve applied for a government grant to help me on that journey.

For the client, we’re looking to outline the path that a client will take and document it. From there it will mean that whoever is working with that client will know what they require in their lifecycle.

Building a new normal

We last spoke to Ria-Jaine in July 2020

Q: How have things been since we last caught up?

A: I’m now in my second year running my practice and have doubled my client base; we’ve 8-25 leads a month. I had a manic period of spending a lot of time on discovery calls and onboarding – I’ve now structured myself better to keep that work to defined blocks. When I speak to them I think about the ideal client: someone ready to embrace technology and willing to learn. If they make the commitment then I will too.

Ultimately, if we flow information between ourselves more accurately and quickly, then I can act in a more valuable way for them. This has included planning for lockdown, but also general tax purposes. I package things up from basic upwards – those at the bottom level won’t get the full benefit of what I can offer though.

Even then, I’ll run online demos, online videos or just have more regular check-ins, which I think demonstrates the benefit of a deeper relationship. Automation within our software, along with scheduling and reminders, helps with workflow and process.

Q: How do see you the next few months, particularly lockdown/SA filing season and more government initiatives?

A: I’m now looking for processes and systems and even easier-to-access client data – so client portals to benefit both myself and the client. I’m pushing with the digital processes that I have now, I probably have my app stack set so it’s about utlilising all the elements the best that I can – to really push to get my money’s worth – and the same goes for clients as well.

Q: Longer term, how easy is it for you to plan? Where do you see the firm in the planning cycle, both long term and next 12 months? What is in your thoughts?

A: We’re looking to employ someone. Having someone new and training them is really, really hard, but it would be great to get one more qualified accountant as a team member. I have a new staff member due to start early 2021 so will be focusing on client allocations and training to get us off to a good start. I have an office space but haven’t been there much. I’ve always wanted to offer a deep advisory service with quick support, but with a doubling of clients I need to streamline to be able to do that and manage if the client number grows

Wood & Disney

We last spoke to Brendon in August 2020.

Q: How have things been since we last caught up?

A: It’s been pretty much ‘business as usual’ the last few months – we’ve been fully open without any furloughing of our staff. Trading has been good, clawing back some of the fees that dropped off in April and May. Some project work has been coming in, and this has come from us being proactive with our client base. Lots of ‘looking after’ has led to advisory work. For example, some restructuring of property portfolios for tax planning purposes. Bringing clients’ bookkeeping up to date brings about other opportunities.

Q: How do you see the next few months, particularly lockdown/SA filing season and more government initiatives?

A: With the experience of what happened earlier in the year, we took the initiative of talking to our clients as regularly as possible. Key will be maintaining that communication – it has involved an awful lot of work but has stood us in good stead. There’s still uncertainty ahead for many sectors so we’ll still be deciphering what comes out of the government. We’ve got systems in place, including our outsourcing with AdvanceTrack, and so we know at a base level work is being done.

Sitting above that we use Senta’s tasks and deadlines capability to monitor the work. Part of what we capture in our customer relationship management (CRM) system is to check against what clients’ goals are – we can drill down into the information to check whether clients are on target. For example, letting them know that margins have decreased.

Q: Longer term, how easy is it for you to plan? Where do you see the firm in the planning cycle, both long term and next 12 months? What is in your thoughts?

A: I think that online will be more professional, perhaps using microphones and lighting. There is also phasing a return to the office – we all work across clients so communication is key. Longer term, we will keep an office.

Accountex Summit UK 2020

The recent online Accountex UK Summit saw AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth lead a 45-minute session giving a really concise and useful roundup of what goes on in the outsourcing industry, and how firms can make outsourcing work for them.

In ‘The good, bad and ugly of offshoring and outsourcing’, Vipul started with ‘the ugly’. There are lots of horror stories told by accountants who have had bad experiences with outsourcing.

“One of the things we often hear is: it doesn’t work. In many cases that can be true,” said Sheth. “One reason is a lack of tech. A lot of people in the industry don’t have the tech to manage outsourcing effectively – whether that’s the firm, or sometimes the outsourcer or offshorer. Without tech it can’t be managed successfully, or at scale.”

The ‘real horror’ is the lack of security protocols in place. “We do hear of outsourcers with little regard to these,” he added. When it comes to ‘the bad’, poor communication between the outsourcer and accountant is at the fore. “We’ve improved over the years,” said Sheth.

Secondly, outsourcing can be seen as a short-term solution to a workflow ‘problem’. “However, this means it’s not usually managed and put together effectively. Outsourcing is not a magic wand to ‘wave’; there needs to be thought.”

For ‘the good’, Sheth said that “we want accountants to go and help their clients more”. “What can you use your extra time created by outsourcing to do? Clients really want your help – and if you can demonstrate value then they will rarely question their fee.

The firms we serve have increased revenues through the pandemic. “They have capacity to drive growth, and offer new services. We’re seeing them offer bookkeeping in the cloud; lots of virtual FD/FC services – getting under the bonnet of client data and feeding back analysis to clients. It gives them a place in clients’ ‘boardroom’,” he concluded.

• Visit https://summit-uk.accountex.co.uk to access this archived recording, along with all the other sessions

While living in a Covid world has been turbulent for people and their businesses, it has also provided an opportunity for accountants to get closer to clients. Phil Shohet reveals how accountancy partners and owners must now take steps to improve their service offering, be more efficient and better manage their operations to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

 

 

For many practice owners and partners, this period of time is crystallising their future plans, ambitions and prosperity. But they may not be controlling their destiny.

While Covid-19 and its huge impact is key to this disruption, it piggybacks other big changes in recent months and years: HMRC’s digitisation project through Making Tax Digital; the huge increase in automation of accounting, tax and client data collection tasks; and online/digital-focused accountancy practices have all made changes to the landscape.

Practice owners and partners, certainly in firms focused on compliance services, can find themselves in a quandary about adapting and evolving. Their vision only reaches out to the next wave of tax return and accounting deadlines – setting out a path for future prosperity and the impact on services and your people can be hard to undertake when the day job is of comfort. Covid has, understandably, seen practitioners undertaking emergency support for their client base but spending even less time on their practice’s own direction.

So, this is a starting point for what accountants must focus on to service their client base, how that will impact on a practice’s structure and then expectations upon partners and owners to deliver.

What your clients want from you

Fundamentally, there are five key areas that clients seek support on from their accountant:

 

  • Compliance services;
  • Wealth management/protection;
  • Tax mitigation/planning;
  • Consultancy/business advisory services; and
  • An opportunity to have access to virtual information and forecasting.

 

This can be distilled even further. Ultimately, you’re helping people and their companies make (more) money, keeping tax liabilities to a legal minimum and protecting their gained wealth – whether for the business or family.

Unfortunately, there is historically a dramatic underservicing of clients. And this is not just in the so-called ‘valued-added’ services, but more generally. Why? Because so few practitioners actively ask their clients how they are and what they might be able to do to help.

Correspondingly there is an over-servicing of compliance technical processing, for example on small audits where the external reviews often praise the compliance detail and box ticking, but ignore the additional advisory level services.

There is not an overly-complicated way in which to bill more advisory fees compared with compliance. The compliance services themselves often create an opportunity to provide advisory – unfortunately, so often the tail wags the dog.

Self-assessment is a perfect example. Practices receive SA-related information so late from clients that it creates the huge overload of work in December and January. This creates a vicious, not virtuous, circle. It means there isn’t time to then get to know clients better.

So, the cycle needs to be broken: How do you get information in earlier? Rather than send passive emails to clients asking them to file earlier (which doesn’t work), instead call or email them personally and ask what they are doing, and how that impacts the direction of travel for their income and subsequent tax bill. This may give an opportunity to provide them with extra support – but on the proviso that their income information comes in earlier for processing. The practice should be looking at a real-time information flow between itself and clients and encourage the use of apps for client data delivery. You may then be able to bill more for supplementary tax support, mitigate their tax bill further, and all the while reduce your January workload.

The beauty of working this way is that you are using your combined technical knowledge and experience to better help your clients. It doesn’t need to be something you feel is out of your comfort zone.

Crucially, success in this area will be conditional on outsourcing some of your work to create a lower cost base and a more efficient processing system. MTD is pushing the need for a more regular flow of information between yourself and the client. A combination of automation and a dedicated third party managing/checking the flow of data is now crucial for the survival of a profitable and sustainable accounting practice. However, outsourcing doesn’t mean losing control of your clients; on the contrary, outsourced processes should help you better understand and communicate more frequently with clients.

So, think about the systems you and your clients use. Uniformity and ease of flow of accurate data are key. And while accountants are ruled by deadlines set by lawmakers and enforcement agencies, they should work with clients towards the practice’s own, most optimal, timescale.

 

Creating a firm of the future

While calling more clients more often is, in itself, relatively simple to conceive, there are broader considerations about how a practice will operate in the future. In essence:

  • Fees will be earned on the basis of value for money;
  • Firms will be organised into specialist departments along service lines;
  • Statutory requirements will become a ‘smaller’ part of the firm’s work;
  • More competition will come from outside the profession; and
  • The firm will be, in essence, a provider of business services.

Practices that are more proactive with clients, use technology to automate input-heavy processes and look to support clients across a broad range of needs will need to take the above points into account.

There are a large number of diversification opportunities that exist for accountancy firms, for which the level and extent is driven by the market the firm wishes to service, but more importantly the business development acumen of the partners and their desire to operate in a structure as suggested above.

Making such considerations is crucial. For example, is audit a viable service for smaller firms? There’s no longevity necessarily there: audit thresholds creep up and clients will inevitably move to bigger auditors when they seek funding and grow in scale.

Entrepreneurs can be a difficult client base to handle: they often make excessive demands. But if satisfied they will be lucrative in terms of both direct fee income and their willingness to promote your firm through referrals.

But it is no good understanding who you want to serve – and how – if your partners are unable to help adequately support existing clients and bring new ones on board.

 

Leading in a new direction

Partners must want to develop business, and that must sit alongside their desire to steer current clients. On the latter, too many partners spend too much time processing compliance work rather than understanding the client to drive more fees.

Small teams, or units, must support the partner in providing the client service. The partner can remain close, but not undertake the grunt work themselves.

For many firms it is a lot of change, whether measured by client service provision, processes or operational management.

But while accountants are good technicians, the owner/s and partners have to improve their focus on running a business and supporting clients; moving away from the coal-face of computations.

Over the last six months, Covid-19 management has, for many practices, required flexibility and swift decision-making to adapt workflows, processes and communications. It is essential that pragmatism is carried forward in the future to encourage questioning of the status quo, provide channels for new ideas from internal and external sources and take action to change where deemed justified. An ongoing questioning of comfort zones by all partners and a commitment to adopt change agreed.

This is, in some ways, the toughest aspect of change – where practices and their people have operated in a certain way for a long period of time. But leaders must lead, using their gravitas and persuasion to bring partners on board to start turning the ship. This means the most senior people must be flexible: client-facing but not number-crunching, and playing a part in setting a strategy or plan to drive up profits.

Covid has driven clients into the arms of their accountant, but if these closer relationships fail to be nurtured then other providers will come in to fill the gap: be they accountants or broader business support organisations.

You may be left with just compliance work, in a world where that offering will be commoditised and the price driven down. And, as such, you make your own retirement or exit route a more difficult and certainly less profitable one to tread.

Ultimately, an efficient practice with strong processes, using technology to automate and support your people, with partners closely aligned with the needs of clients, improves its value.

Phil Shohet FCA is a senior consultant at professional services consultancy Foulger Underwood. He can be reached at philip@foulgerunderwood.com

Being ‘more valuable’ to clients can mean many different things, but all iterations involve understanding your people’s current skills, and how you work together to adapt and evolve both them and your practice

Technological advances in the accountancy space, whether it’s for your back office or client-facing, have been rapid in recent years. It does feel that anything is possible.

Despite these advances, coupled with the technical nature of accountants’ offering, it is still a ‘people game’. You must get to know and understand your clients’ requirements, and understand your own team members’ personalities and skills.

Therefore, using tech to automate your services and provide a broader and richer offering requires more than IT investment.

 

Where do you start? Is it the client, the tech or your people?

Paul Richmond, managing director of people consultants theGrogroup, says that you must first set out a vision and strategy to deliver future success. “An accountant in 2030 will need to be an adviser, tech-savvy and a change expert,” he explains. “They will need to be widely connected and know people who help clients. Key talents will need to be curiosity, adaptability, emotional intelligence and a growth mindset.”

But these skills and personality traits are
difficult to capture in one person. And from a cultural perspective, practices have focused on compliance services that are defined by collating historic data – which means forward-looking services will require a shift in culture.

“It’s not an overnight switch. You can’t just say your job is going to change now; it’s an impossible thing to do,” says Aynsley Damery, CEO of business advisory platform Clarity. “‘Historic’ is ingrained in accounting, the ethos of preparing things based on the last year, so there requires a shift into the unknown.”

A key skill for all client-facing staff is empathy, he explains, as it puts your people in a position to listen and understand what clients are going through. “Most employees don’t know what it’s like to understand what it’s like running a business… the fears, hopes and challenges – everything a client’s going through,” says Damery. “It’s incumbent on leaders to help staff understand this, so when clients are upset or cross they will turn to you to share with.

“It is about your people becoming sounding boards – not necessarily ‘business gurus’. They need to be open, help understand the issues and challenges, and to avoid asking ‘closed’ questions,” Damery adds.

 

Focus on the process

Beyond strategy and culture comes process, setting out what you will do and how you will bring your practice closer to defining who undertakes which tasks.

“I’d map out the functions of the firm as a whole,” says Accounts & Legal director Stuart Hurst. “Rather than individual job descriptions, I’d look at job processes and ask people how they get from A to B to C to D… then ask the best way of doing it and what the barriers are to it improving.”

Setting out this path encourages your people to change and mould according to your overall direction of travel, rather than a pre-defined job description. “This way you’re changing the day-to-day… otherwise you create resistance,” says Hurst.

Once you understand where your practice is and where it’s heading, alongside a broad definition of how your people need to work and communicate with clients, what is next?

“I’m a big fan of really understanding what type of people you have in your team,” says Hurst. “Those that are more naturally extrovert will likely get more involved with clients and will be an easier conversion towards more proactive support.”

 

Ask the right questions

Clarity’s Damery believes a more nuanced approach is required, suggesting that extroverts aren’t always the best fit with certain clients. “It’s more about those that listen and ask the right questions,” he suggests.

“Remember that you’re not throwing people on stage and asking them to perform, and there isn’t ‘one way’ to train everybody – find methodologies that work for certain individuals. Build a culture of trust where people can fail safely, let them make mistakes in a controlled environment, and build trust and learn from it.”

You are looking to instil into your people that they need to open their mindset, that the firm is on a journey and you want them as part of that – though some things will change.

TheGrogroup’s Richmond poses an example of how the mindset and attitude must move. “One of the key frustrations we have is when accountants say: ‘We did a client survey and scored 8/10’. Well, you would because you asked the question: ‘Are we good accountants and do we give you enough help?’ To which the answer will be ‘yes’,” he says.

“However, what if you were bold and said: ‘To what extent do we help you with your strategy? Have we helped you grow your business this year? Do we enable you to grow your client base and suppliers?’ Ask that, and the response is likely to be 3/10.”

Damery suggests that taking such actions to change your firm’s direction doesn’t mean turning it upside down. Changes can be iterative and not necessarily revolutionary.

“There is still a place for people to do mainly technical work and a need for that,” he says. “Clients aren’t generally looking for anything mindblowing but focus, awareness and accountability – that shouldn’t be scary.

“Empower your team and give them the confidence to ask clients what you can help them with – ask the basic questions and respond in their language. They want help with the numbers, but also planning and the impact of the numbers and what different projections mean for them.”

 

Learn from each other

If you have junior team members that are more comfortable with using new apps, and some senior members very comfortable with having valuable conversations with clients, then there is the opportunity for both to learn from each other.

“Certainly, if you’re looking to upscale people in terms of facing clients, then you have to bring them along to the meetings; there needs to be a mindset of coaching staff,” says Stuart Hurst.

Paul Richmond also extols the virtues of training. “If your firm is becoming more adviser-led then training and recruitment must reflect that. You’re looking at relationship skills, EQ, influencing, persuasion and the ability to lead clients – ensuring your people want to know as much about clients as possible,” Richmond explains.

 

Be adaptable

As suggested earlier, adaptability is a key trait in a firm looking to support clients more proactively. And understanding your people’s ability to adapt may only come through experience. “While it’s trainable it’s much easier to recruit it,” says Richmond.

“You need to be having conversations with your individuals and using tools such as the nine-box grid to evaluate potential, and their appetite to adjust and develop. But people are either motivated by change and challenge or afraid of it.”

Hurst says: “The worst-case scenario is that someone doesn’t fit. Then it’s about reallocating – you need to have the right people in the right seat. That is not necessarily an easy or instant decision, so think carefully about performance management.

“Sometimes you have to nurture where you’re heading. With advisory it can be a bit more of an open conversation and by nature vary – certainly by client-by-client.”

Richmond asks you to consider which KPIs and metrics are being used to measure your firm’s success in operating with a different model.

“What do you want to hear back from a client?” he asks. “‘My accountant is always there for me and interested in how I do’. Then you must measure how often people contact clients or suggest ideas to them – what gets measured gets done. So, forget ‘who has hit budget’ and instead ask questions about client communication or adaptability.”

 

  • Kevin Reed is a freelance journalist and former editor of Accountancy Age.

AdvanceTrack is proud of its latest ISO certification for business continuity – but what does it all really mean and why is it so important for clients?

Kevin Reed steps into the shoes of existing and potential clients to ask Vipul Sheth, MD, to explain why they should be comforted by this ‘badge of business resilience’

What is the ISO and this particular ‘standard’?

It’s an international measurement tool of competence and excellence in a particular area to demonstrate the use of best practice across a range of areas…we also have ISO 27001:2013 Information Security Management, ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management and British Standard BS10012 Personal Information Management System. It’s great to have an external body review what you as a business are doing in a particular area.

This one is about business continuity and the ability of our business, with very clear direction, to continue to manage the business where events occur that are out of the normal day-to-day business. You just have to take the pandemic as an obvious example – six months ago, we would have thought something like that wouldn’t affect us but now we’re all more cautious about who we do business with and how. We want to give customers the confidence that we are a resilient business.

 

Why do you think it is important to AdvanceTrack and why now?

It’s important to us as a business because it hit home to our full team that they have a clearer direction of what to do, should certain scenarios present themselves. One of the scenarios we thought about was me dying. I hope to be around a long time, but something like that could be detrimental to the business. If I’m not here, someone has to have my thoughts on how things then move forward. What’s important is that the business continues to operate without me.

The pandemic, rather than applying for the standard, had got us thinking in more depth about what sort of things might happen and to be better prepared to deal with them.

With the pandemic we had a good bunch of people in our team who managed our migration to working from home successfully. If that is to happen again, it’s now enshrined with our formal disaster recovery and business planning processes.

The last few months showed us it is even more important that we demonstrate our ability to cope in incredibly challenging circumstances.

 

Why is it something that should be of interest to AdvanceTrack’s existing and former clients?

Our existing customers will know about this direction of travel. After our first client comms around the pandemic, one of them said: “We knew you’d have it under control.”

Existing clients see what we do every day, but for someone that doesn’t know us, gaining this certification gives them additional comfort. In very trying circumstances you will know that we have a robust business process to continue to be supported, and that it’s not something being made up as we go along. Gaining the standard means we faced a rigorous stress-testing of processes – of how we operate now and what we might face in the future.

 

What has been the process of audit and achieving the standard?

It followed the way most of these standards work. There is initially an overview and analysis taken by the standard’s auditors that you have the basis for commencing the certification process. That’s effectively ‘day one’ – auditors come in and look at documentation to support attaining the standard.

Then you also have to have an internal audit process, where you look to identify improvements to address before the ‘actual’ audit. However,
we also used an external body to undertake the internal audit – we didn’t want that stage too ‘friendly’… we went for rigour.

Then in the external process they’re seeking evidence that what we say we can do is actually something that is beyond the documentation. Such as demonstrating how we’d handle our servers going down for example, or one of our buildings suddenly didn’t exist – however unlikely these scenarios may be. It’s then a case of showing how long we could operate without impacting service.

 

How does it align or complement with other standards you’ve achieved?

We’ve always tried to demonstrate excellence – which is why we already have core standards. Allied to that it’s about showing consistency of delivery – that we’re ‘continuous’. What this has been about has been exactly that, even in trying circumstances.

Before we decided to go with this standard my phone ‘crashed’ and the backup didn’t work. I lost a lot of contact numbers. I told our CTO that this stressed me, and made me think about the business. As a result we ramped up the availability and resilience of our servers, shortly after this event, so we would lose very little data even if there was a huge problem.

 

How does the standard set you apart from competitors?

There’s a reason why accounting practices work with us and stay for the long term. It’s our consistent approach and high standards from a delivery point of view but also security and infrastructure. Ultimately, I sincerely believe in the abilities of AdvanceTrack’s senior management – that they’re better than our competitors.

 

What’s the future for AdvanceTrack in context of other certifications and standards? What are your next improvements?

We’re not ruling out other certifications – but these current ones are absolutely at the I’m sure as we evolve then other certifications will become important to us. It’s important to note that we don’t ‘chase’ certifications to puff up what we do. We strive for the best, as I’ve already outlined, in terms of service, security and resilience – these certifications are the upshot of what we do and try to achieve on a daily basis.

 

What ISO 22301 means for business continuity.

The ISO, in its own words, is an “independent, non-governmental international organisation with a membership of 165 national standards bodies. It uses this vast network to build international standards that are ‘consensus-based’ and
‘market-relevant’.”

ISO 22301:2019, of which AdvanceTrack has completed certification, focuses on security and resilience. Namely, requirements for robust business continuity management systems.

The certification requires rigour in a number of key areas:

  • Organisational context – an understanding of how the organisation works, for whom, and what that means for the scope of its business continuity requirements
  • Leadership – How the business continuity policy has been formed, and its communication  to interested parties; alongside set roles and responsibilities
  • Planning – The determination of risks and opportunities, alongside addressing them; and establishing and determining business continuity objectives
  • Support – Documentation and resources relating to the plan
  • Operations – Impact analysis; continuity strategies and solutions; implementation of solutions; recovery plans
  • Performance evaluation – Monitoring and assessment by internal audit and management of performance against business continuity metrics
  • Improvement – Corrective actions and continual improvement

Source: ISO (iso.org)

 

It was ‘accountants galore’ on AdvanceTrack’s webinar, ‘Scaling for Growth? Building an Advisory Mindset and Firm’, which discussed the cultural and strategic approach towards making a practice invaluable to its clients.

AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth started the conversation by highlighting the key challenges of changing how a practice – or any organisation – operates. These include altering mindsets, successfully adopting new technology and embedding change into the new normal.

 

“People are fearful of change, and will look to maintain the status quo,” said Sheth. “So leadership is required to change doubters to believers, and champions are needed to keep it all on track.”

Joe David from accountancy firm Nephos said that his background as an accountant in industry gave him a mindset that creating and analysing good data was key in supporting the making of decisions. This led him down the path of creating an advisory- and technology-led practice.

 

Clarity’s Aynsley Damery said that established firms have to go that bit further when it comes to driving change, particularly if ingrained in providing services based purely on clients’ historical information. “It’s about looking forward as a firm, and looking forward on behalf of your clients,” said Damery. He said that ‘champions’ within the firm, who will help instil that mindset while managing change projects, were vital. “They’re so important in terms of connectivity between management and the team – interpreting the vision and how it will work.”

 

Practice Ignition’s Trent McLaren said: “You must set out from the top, across the entire firm, the direction and why you’re changing. You also have to let them know about progression, or you’ll inevitably end up with silos of knowledge.”

Click here to access the webinar.

AdvanceTrack makes its third visit to speak to accounting practices about managing their clients and team in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. While lockdown has eased, it certainly isn’t business as usual – with our practitioners formulating plans for the immediate future, and longer-term.

 

Bruce Burrowes, founder, Kingston Burrowes

It has been four months since lockdown, and a lot has changed since then. How has your firm been since we spoke a few weeks ago?

There has been lots of communication, particularly where clients have needed funding. For ourselves, we moved from four offices into three – which involved consolidating two of them. It’s been a really busy time.

The main focus of the last few weeks is getting compliance work undertaken that might have been put off during the first few weeks of lockdown, alongside bedding the new office in. Clearly that has meant encouraging people back ‘into’ the office – one they’ve not been in before.

Thankfully, the new office space is
more than big enough to accommodate
six staff and practice safe social distancing. A team member has managed the day-to-day issues.

The main problem we have had is typical teething problems of being in a new office – we had to wait for new monitors to arrive.

A key part of our ongoing dialogue with team members has been: ‘It’s OK to tell colleagues if they’re too close or make you uncomfortable.’ Where an office had to hot-desk to allow for social distancing, little things such as assigning everyone their own wireless keyboard has helped make a difference.

Clients have been grateful for us keeping up communication lines with them – even if it’s been to say ‘we’re really busy and we’ll speak tomorrow’.

One person moved during this time, which has meant reallocating work, but that’s opened my eyes to some of the existing team members’ efforts and technical ability.

 

What about the agenda going forward?

We know that some people want to come in and physically see us to discuss their personal tax return. But as a management accountant by qualification I think I can lead my team to demonstrate support – and communicate – online if need be. We can’t discount online communications because we can’t have a trail of people coming into our offices. So we need to make that work.

 

And what about the medium to longer term?

My firm didn’t charge clients for furloughing support, up until June. We’ve then had conversations that begin with: ‘Well, we’ve helped you out for quite a while…’ Clients have realised what a proper relationship is with an accountant. Well, I’m not going to go crazy with pushing remote working, that’s for sure. Our trainees require – and will continue to require – close contact with more experienced team members to learn and grow. That learning osmosis won’t happen with remote working. For example, I saw one small issue that took four hours to deal with over email.

We’re seeing the split now between businesses that are getting back on their feet and looking to push on, and those that are still pushed back and furloughing. There’s still plenty of support required for them over the coming months.

 

 

Nikki Adams, CEO, Ad Valorem

It has been four months since lockdown when we last spoke, and a lot has changed since then. How has your firm and its clients been?

We didn’t furlough anyone. It was a conscious decision that we didn’t want to and we didn’t need to do that. We were in a good position before it happened so there was no compelling financial need to do so. The biggest operational challenge for us was furloughing coming into play – the speed that everything was changing. It was a case of getting to grips with things… The team are used to being the ones that know everything and confident in what they say – but we had no time, so it was stressful. Thankfully we have a big enough team to provide support where required; in this instance, to support payroll.

It really paid off for us, because we used people for different things as it progressed. Our admin team helped with client comms. We charged for furloughing support where they wanted us to do it on their behalf. For us it was beyond basic payroll support.

We’re now back in the office with half the team rotating with the other. There’s also a skeleton staff in all the time and a few people not in at all. We’ve actually recruited six people during lockdown – they were primarily very good accountants and technicians who had found themselves furloughed and weren’t happy about it. They’re experts in tax, R&D and digital.

 

What about the agenda going forward?

 There’s been no noticeable dip in enquiries; in fact, we’ve won some big accounts – where their accountant doesn’t have a digital focus. Some accountants have been hard to get hold of or have even shut down – it is difficult for the smallest practitioners without resource.

Our workplace has become almost like a clubhouse where you come specifically to collaborate or train. Most people want 50/50 between working from home and the office. We’re outcomes-focused so that helps provide flexibility.

 

 

And what about the medium to longer term?

We’d taken on extra office space. There’s an argument about needing it, but we feel it will be our flagship – a central focus that has energy and buzz and where we can exchange ideas. And what about the medium to longer term?

The medium term is not so great though, without face-to-face. It makes training really difficult.

We’ve also placed 130 clients from a previous acquisition onto our systems, so that’s exciting.

We’ve certainly noticed that the value piece has come back. Clients understanding what we can do for them. Some wanted to ease back because things were tough, and they’ve realised how important we are in getting them back on their feet so have changed their mind.

Finally: people. We want more – good ones.

 

 

Brendon Howlett, operations director, Wood and Disney

It has been four months since lockdown, and we’ve previously caught up twice. How has your firm been since we spoke a few weeks ago?

 It’s been much more settled. Businesses are releasing people from furlough, and for others the shutters have been coming down. We’re also seeing business trying to do different things to diversify. We’ve had tax and furloughing – the waters have been a bit muddied there with July payments in terms of how and who we bill, but we expect clients to pay if they can afford it.

From our perspective we still have everyone in at full capacity – and we’re still using the team at AdvanceTrack to undertake tasks for us. We are behind compared to the budget at the start of the year but our heads are above water.

Communication has started to change. We’re moving away from the shock of what happened four months ago and people are going back to work. There had been so much info and assistance – it has been really good for new business and new clients, so we decided to continue a high level of communication as much as possible. We’re still using Zoom, but have to balance that out with getting on with general workload as we had fallen behind.

I personally thought that a lot of our routine work would fall off, but our team have been able to hammer home self-assessment returns. I think that the typical late filers have had time on their hands and got this off their back. It’s also enabled us to have conversation about their general finances.

 

What about the agenda going forward?

Discussions about understanding cashflow and accounts are leading to financing conversations. And then there’s improving ongoing financial reporting. Where there’s uncertainty then we have to help clients plan –
it’s on us as advisers to make that happen.

 

And what about the medium to longer term?

Most of our A-list clients like the regular dialogue… even if they say we’re fine let’s speak soon, checking in on them helps. So…linked to this communication piece, we’re thinking about how we present this pro-active support – supporting the client journey is fine but how we market that is a big thing going forward. And what about the medium to longer term?

Part of that will be reinforcing to clients that
we can communicate with them quickly so they can act quickly. We’ve also got to keep showing our human side in that process to maintain and build trust.