What has technology-driven change meant for practitioners at the coalface? We get the detail from four accountants about how their role has evolved as part of creating a fit-for-purpose and modern practice.


Stephen Smallwood is managing director of Herefordshire-based practice Thorne Widgery.

What’s your current role?

As managing director, I try and run the business ‘as a business’. For the running of the business, the fact that I’m an accountant is almost incidental. I do much less client work than I used to.

I’ve always enjoyed tech work more than compliance. I get a great deal of satisfaction from making IT systems work and delivering value, rather than filling in a statutory report.

We’ve been actively involved in moving from a traditional practice to one of the leading proponents of IT systems – not hardware and cables, but systems for how you run your business. We were awarded Small Firms Innovator of the Year at the British Accountancy Awards last year.

How has your role developed, and why?

In the past five to ten years, I’ve moved from being a typical, though progressive, accountant serving clients, to being a director of a business that operates in the professional services sector.

We’re using Xero and its practice management module (XPM) and have converted to the cloud. We love it for our clients, but to my astonishment we’ve also ended up helping other accounting practices get the best out of modern and accessible software by helping them evolve their own back office. Altogether it has completely revolutionised how we go about things.

What has that meant for the running of the practice? Is it part of a broader strategic change?

I’d say that supporting other practices is now 15% of our business, which has developed from ‘Xero’ over the last three years. No accountant is normally allowed to get close and personal with other firms of accountants, but we do because of our knowledge of XPM. The result of that is we get to see some really interesting, good examples of practices, and we learn as well.

Our screens are full of pictures and graphs that allow us to analyse up-to-date information and find trends.

Do you prefer what you’re doing now?

It’s so exciting and so much more fun. Hereford is a small pond for us to fish so it has got us out and about and we’ve become a national practice.


Nathan Lewis is a client relationship manager at Bristol-based d&t Chartered Accountants.

What’s your current role?

As tax senior within the practice, I look at tax compliance and returns – along with some advisory work as well. I help junior members of staff, alongside dealing with HMRC enquiries – my background as someone who worked for the Inland Revenue and then during its merger to become HM Revenue & Customs helps.

How has your role developed, and why?

I see it as an evolution of tasks. The first online tax returns filed at the Revenue were printed off and then manually entered. And then, as I went into practice, tax software meant that boxes of clients’ receipts were no longer required.

Tech has also changed us from being a local company to an international one, where we can communicate over Skype. With Xero and QuickBooks you can even ‘take over’ a client’s desktop to show them how to use the software.

These tech platforms allow us to have much quicker access to client information. This allows us to review it more quickly, and plan for the future, rather than view information retrospectively.

What has it meant for the running of the practice and client service?

The tech enables one-man-band-style accountants to do more; so we have to use information and increase our value to clients – show them the extra things we can do.

The tax landscape is going to continue to change – HMRC wants to reduce the number of returns it receives – so we will look to offer more advisory-focused services and tax planning rather than looking backwards.

Up-to-date information is going to become even more important. Look at IHT for example, having the ability to see a client’s position and plan things such as gifts out of income for the years ahead.


Andrew Perrettis cloud accounting manager at TC Group (formerly Taylorcocks).

What’s your current role?

It covers lots of different things: the main role is to review cloud software and help staff and clients use technology. For clients, I help them with the scoping process to best choose tech solutions, then onto implementation and training.

As there’s only one of me, I’m also training team members so they can offer basic advice around accountancy software and add-ons.

How has your role developed, and why?

The role began officially in January 2018. I’ve been at TC for more than 11 years, qualifying as an accountant and then working with another manager to support a partner with their portfolio of clients.

I was looking after fewer clients than the other manager but my clients required more work: bookkeeping, monthly accounts, management reports. And then we looked at a way of managing my clients more effectively. Between the partner and myself we developed a process to get clients onto Xero using automated invoice capture, through to bookkeeping and reporting. With every client on the same process it made the whole thing much smoother.

Once we had 30 clients onboard, we looked to take it out across our other offices. I became more internally focused during 2017 as this process went on – and so I transitioned over my clients to other staff towards the end of that year.

What has it meant for the running of the practice and client service?

All bookkeeping across offices is done on Xero – we had shied away from the service because it wasn’t profitable. Now we actively go to win that and their whole process.

We do very much report back to clients – adding value through meeting people and discussing their up-to-date information.

Do you prefer what you’re doing now?

It’s exciting: working with staff and seeing our offices; working with clients on projects that provide value to them, teaching them about tech they wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.

My work is less accountancy-focused now, but clearly I retain the fundamentals. I do lots of CPD-accredited training related to my role – so it’s not a problem keeping that up.


David Rudd is senior client manager and business growth accountant at Colchester-based Wood and Disney, an AdvanceTrack client.

What’s your current role?

If a client has any issue I’m there to help them deal with it. Sometimes that can be historic compliance issues, but more recently it’s about ‘where they want to go’, ‘what will be the impact of me doing A, B or C’.

I’ll try and get to the heart of it – to understand what they really want to do; often their direction is not tax-related at all.

How has your role developed?

I’ve been here three years. At first it was similar to what I’d done before: accounts; corporate tax; and returns. Now everything’s in the cloud and in one place it becomes much easier to project forward for our clients – this leads to project work that isn’t about just compliance.

One client had 50% of turnover tied up in debtors – we then became their back office so they could focus on the business. Now they’ve progressed and have their own bookkeeper, and we have moved onto strategic analysis at board level – they have a bigger team and the next set of issues to deal with, but their financial performance has skyrocketed.

I now look at tech and see if it can break… then, if it works, how can we evolve it to make it even better for us? We’ve looked at every process, every single thing we do – can we do it better, find a way to evolve it, or speed it up to get a better result for the client?

What has that meant for the running of the practice?

It means we’re more goals-focused, which leads us to ask clients where they want to get to.

Using AdvanceTrack to take on accounts preparation and bookkeeping has freed us up to do other things.

While this created the opportunity for us to do different things, we then had to structure the team to work suited to them. We created an organisational structure to work out where we needed to head. Then we underwent DISC profiling to understand what people liked and what they should be doing.

If clients need specialist advice we now have strategic alliances in place… nearly every decision they make, they ask us first.

If we solve those problems then the tech will never replace that, because it’s about trust and helping people, that’s how we look at it. Tech’s not enough to solve the complex problems people face.

Have you had to learn new things?

It’s certainly taught me how to better speak to clients, and then I flipped it [onto managing director Peter Disney and operations director Brendon Howlett] and did it to them…

I’d never had or taken a board meeting or ‘taken charge’ of things – so that’s been transformative for me. That’s all from Brendon and Peter pushing me. I’ve also had some soft skills training, which was massively important – to better understand people.

AdvanceTrack is gearing up for a busy time with two big events coming up

It’s events-frenzy for AdvanceTrack, with attendance at Accountex and its own conference just around the corner.

Accountex London is held on 1-2 May at Excel. AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth will once again be at the show with his team, on stand 516 (by the entrance).

Sheth expects Making Tax Digital, which has been in force from 1 April, to be front and centre of conversations across the two days.

“Practices will be talking about MTD and the knock-on effects of the legislation,” says Sheth. “Their clients will be saying ‘we don’t want to do the bookkeeping’… but the accountants can’t really create value out of doing it themselves.”

That is where AdvanceTrack can step in. “Practitioners will ask us whether we can take on this bookkeeping – of course we can,” says Sheth. “We agree with the practice what the technology stack will look like and then get down to the detail.”

  • It’s not all about Accountex, of course. AdvanceTrack’s Client Conference 2019, held on 30 April, is also one of the big dates in the calendar. For those of you that have read our main feature, you will have seen that expert speaker and author Paul Shrimpling is talking at our conference. Other speakers include Ashleigh Lambert, Karen Reyburn and Matt Flanagan.

The ‘client journey’ will be the central theme of this year’s event, which will cover pricing, marketing, onboarding and more. We hope that attendees will learn about taking action and driving change in their practice.

Our next issue will cover some of the highlights of the show.

A year’s a long time…

… In the accounting practice space! Last year’s AdvanceTrack conference saw more than 100 practitioners and tech experts discuss our theme: the business growth accountant. MTD and GDPR – those dreaded acronyms – were front and centre of discussions. In a world of great change and uncertainty, alongside legislative-driven pressure, how can you structure your operations to best serve clients – and at a profit?

Last year’s event illustrated to accountants the importance of building client relationships by having more up-to-date information about them, particularly on the bookkeeping front. While much has moved on in the last 12 months, this thread will continue in our next event.

“I’m driving home the message about our investment in technology to run an efficient and reliable service to our client firms, and an increasing focus on building a scalable bookkeeping service,” said AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth. “What you really need to consider is you have a set of skills that can change clients’ lives. You must understand the finances, their industry and the whole thing put together – that’s really your role.”

The accounting profession is sometimes accused of lacking creativity. But before compliance and process, there comes ideas. Kevin Reed has curated key words of inspiration from some of accountancy’s expert commentators to help set a path towards practice transformation

“Create a life of freedom”

Amanda Watts is a business and marketing coach, founder of The Pioneering Practice Programme and creator of the British Accounting Marketing Awards.

You’re not in accountancy for the sake of it – it’s to give you the life you want and the life your clients want.

I often have accountants and business owners say to me, “I can’t attract the right staff or clients”… Well, as the leader you have to show up to the game – you have to set the culture and direction, then share it.

If you think everything you need to do to promote your business is just about marketing, then you’re missing the point. Create a life of freedom for you, your staff and your clients.

It’s about being true to yourself and creating something that you want. You haven’t set up an accounting practice for the sake of it, you’ve done it because of other goals, such as going sailing or to have a great life with your children.

 

“The next ten years in the accounting profession will bring greater profitability… for the lucky few”

Mark Wickersham is a chartered accountant, public speaker and author – he is well known as a profit improvement expert in the accounting community. His 2011 book, Effective Pricing for Accountants, was a number 1 Amazon best seller.

Accountants work too long hours for too little profit with increasing pressure on price. That has been the case for the last two decades. But things are changing.

The rapid pace of change in technology, cloud adoption and automation is forcing the profession to look to new ways to add value for clients. The future is advisory, not compliance. The future is interpreting the data, not recording the data.

This future lends itself to a different business model, a model of leverage and scale, not billing based on time.

And when we combine that with pricing based on value (not time spent), accountants will find they are earning more than ever before.

I say “for the lucky few” because unfortunately, many in the profession don’t want to change. They cling to the past. They keep their time sheets. They continue to focus on compliance services.

Yes, if you are one of the few ready to grasp change, the future is looking rosy.

 

“Don’t create a strategy without the detailed operational plan to deliver it”

Peter Gillman is the former managing partner and chairman of Price Bailey, leading it through a period of growth and development to become a Top 20 firm.

A practice’s executive board needs a mix of skills: creative; pragmatic/commercial; operational; and people-orientated.

I worked with a brilliant board that combined these attributes. It included inspirational creatives that were sometimes high maintenance, but so important to creating an ambitious and successful business.

Not all colleagues could understand their value and needed me to be an intermediary at times.

The commercial people and the pragmatists would see the ideas that have client/colleague value, or were unlikely to work. The operational people would understand the detailed steps required to deliver the plan. The people-orientated folk would understand the sensitivities and communication needs to enable colleagues to accept change.

As for ‘perspiration’… It is really hard work to operationally deliver change. It’s remorseless – but sensitive management is required to say “this is where we need to get to and this is the timescale that we envisage to get there”.

Accountancy firms, in broad terms, employ above-average intelligence people. That can be positive (they are thoughtful, receptive and understand business needs), and less positive (they have ideas of their own that might work for them but are inconsistent with the strategy/operational needs).

Respect for the executive is key to implementation and that respect is achieved through treating people the right way, aligned to commercial success.

 

“Manage self-belief. Do that and everything else follows”

Paul Shrimpling is the MD of Remarkable Practice. He has advised owners and managers of accounting firms for more than 16 years, and recently wrote The Business Growth Accountant.

I’ve had to take managing partners to one side and say: “Your job is to inspire your people and your clients.”

As a client or staff member, do you want an optimist in the room or a pessimist? Of course you want someone that’s going to help them achieve greater things. They want positive support.

The role of an accountant – either for the client or their team – is as the promoter and arbiter of certainty.

To help clients increase their certainty about the future, you’re someone who can interpret numbers. Part of analysing numbers has been to look at those in the past, but now it’s about looking forwards.

And once you’re interpreting that information and having those conversations, then how do you habituate it? That’s the perspiration bit…

  • Paul will be speaking at the AdvanceTrack Client Conference 2019. For more details, email advice@advancetrack.com.

 

“Accountants will become an unstoppable force for good”

Steve Pipe (pictured right) is a researcher, adviser, business author, speaker, trainer, strategist and FCA. He describes himself as “committed to helping accountants run their practices in ways that serve their clients and the world better”. The following is an edited and abridged extract from his upcoming book, When Good, Then Good.

The ground-breakers have shown how easy, quick, affordable and rewarding it is to help the world achieve the UN Global Goals by making a small change to their business models. The goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

That simple change is to ensure that when something good happens in your business, something good also happens in the world. For example:

  • When something good happens in your business, such as receiving a referral, winning a customer, making a sale, delivering a service, getting paid on time, receiving a testimonial and so on…
  • Something good also happens in the world– because, for example, you give a child access to food, water, sanitation or education.

Because we are numbers people, the profession will soon realise that the cost of being a ‘Business for Good’ is tiny. It will also recognise that the tiny cost (for instance, such as the $1.85 it costs to provide grain seeds that will grow into a year’s worth of food for a child in Africa) of making something good happen in the world can easily be funded out of the much larger amount of money and other benefits generated when good things (such as new clients, sales and on time payments) happen in their businesses.

Some parts of the profession are leading the way in rising to the challenge of the UN Global Goals. Regardless of whether they use the label ‘Business for Good’, they are showing us a better way that is already making life better for us all.

Soon, the rest of the profession will follow them, spearheading a movement that really will change the world. And accountants will become an unstoppable force for good.

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