AdvanceTrack’s conference gets a new name and new approach… join us at our ‘growth booster’ event!

At AdvanceTrack we never stay still. As a business that has existed for 21 years, and whose growth is still high, the only way to achieve is through a continually evolving plan alongside investment in people and technology.

Our new ‘accounting practice growth booster’ event, GBX is our investment in developing our conference into a series of sessions designed to support you in growing your firm.

We have gathered some of the best and brightest to deliver our event!

Almost needing no introduction is Dragon’s Den star and business investor James Caan CBE. James founded his own recruitment business, Alexander Mann, which he would sell for £95m. Investing in himself, James then attended Harvard Business School before starting a recruitment investment organisation, Hamilton Bradshaw.

Again, a familiar name to accounting practitioners is our next keynote speaker, Xero co-founder Hamish Edwards. In his role at Xero, Hamish has played a pivotal role in revolutionising the way businesses manage their finances, and this has had a  big impact on the practice community too.

Hamish is executive chairman of Firmcheck, an AML management system for practices which launched in 2022.

Our founder Vipul Sheth and CTO Ian Gregory will update attendees on the future of AdvanceTrack, and where we all fit in a world which continues to develop at a rapid pace.

Other guests include:

  • Anneli Thomson, Sandler
  • Aynsley Damery, Clarity
  • David Hassall, XU Magazine
  • Louise Walpole, Moneypenny
  • Paul Shrimpling, Remarkable Practice
  • Matt Flanagan, Bluehub

 

Final point… save the date! We’d love to see you on 14 May – we will be at the British Museum. If you’d like to find out more please contact us by clicking the link here.

 

If outsourcing works so well, shouldn’t my practice just set up its own unit?

 

The outsourcing and offshoring market has grown markedly in recent years. There are many reasons why that’s the case, but the key one is a difficulty among practices to keep up with increasing workloads – they just can’t employ enough people to undertake the work.

Coupled with the take-up or remote working during the pandemic; utilising technically competent people from other parts of the world has become more better understood and attractive.

Many practices have struck out on their own, employing staff abroad. Therefore, it is understandable that some practitioners will ask us the rhetorical question: Why wouldn’t we set up remote working abroad ourselves?

Time, money, expertise

What AdvanceTrack and its people bring to the table is years of experience of running an outsourcing and offshoring operation. Our people are our most vital resource, but they are underpinned by a huge investment in the best and most secure technology, supplemented by robust processes and workflows.

Increasing your resource, particularly in other countries, is much more than a ‘recruitment’ challenge. We have seen practices employ individuals abroad only to see them left to work from home, often sitting in different time zones to the UK practice – that’s a tough working environment, and sub-optimal.

We employ hundreds of accounting professionals, who work for our partner practices but also share a common bond, operating from one of our centres. They are in fact a community on their own behalf. And that’s without going into all the detail of the physical and digital security and processes that we adhere to (details on those can be found in other blogs).

Our managers can work with the teams to deal with issues, often without having to disrupt the partner practice. The team we have built is vastly experienced, has its own ecosystem and career pathways – again, this saves our partner practices from time-consuming day-to-day management and oversight.

It’s worth reiterating that our business is now more than 20 years’ old, and our people work alongside successful and award-winning practices. Rather than go out on a limb, we would suggest that working with us is a better way of investing in resource.

 

Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

If you’d like to talk to us about resource management and our people, get in touch by clicking here

What’s around the corner? Vipul Sheth predicts the direction of travel for some of the big issues impacting accountancy – and the wider world – in the coming months.

Accountancy consolidators

You only have to take a look at the Accountancy Age list of top firms to see the consolidators – generally those backed by private equity – are shooting up the charts. Growing revenue inorganically though is not necessarily a measure of success; the first wave of consolidators during the noughties all failed to develop synergies, economies of scale, or use their mass to win bigger or more valuable clients.

New practices can grow quickly but then hit scaling issues, as clients demand more time and more complex servicing. Larger practices are built on years of client and people development – but consolidation can be disruptive. I expect to see some of the private equity houses look to sell on and make a good return… how easy that will be is very much up for debate.

Election

We will have an election in the UK this year, and it’s by no means certain that the current incumbents will stay in power. Whatever the case may be, I hope for greater stability and planning in its thinking to encourage growth.

A bugbear of mine has been this government’s lack of planning to encourage entrepreneurs and investors to stay here and invest. There are EU countries ready to snap up the best people through a combination of their tax treatment and both residence- and investment-friendly policies. Can whoever forms the next government drive the economy forwards?

AI

We couldn’t have a ‘2024’ list without mentioning AI. The ‘warm glow’ created by ChatGPT still exists, but now time will tell whether AI can revolutionise how we as citizens live and work.

Certainly, there’s been concern among corporates (and governments) about making information freely available to be absorbed and interpreted into large language models. The next step could be AI platforms placed in ‘data bubbles’, with organisations then linking the platform with their own systems and information to help inform decision-making (as well as automating tasks).

Conversely, software providers are also adapting and embedding AI into their solutions.

Whether these private data bubbles will be effective or not, when information into them is constricted, remains to be seen – but it will be fascinating to find out the next level of AI utilisation in the real world.

Shared services and outsourcing

You can see in AdvanceTrack’s own growth that firms know they need resource and the recruitment market is difficult and costly. They are looking for someone they can entrust with supporting their practice. Some firms have looked to maintain control by setting up centres abroad – to varying degrees of success.

Expect to see more and more practices look to grasp the resources nettle – which will mean the outsourcing/offshoring offering will become more popular. I hope that, as firms transition towards models that involve greater automation and external resourcing, they stay laser-guided on developing their existing people while keeping a keen eye on what their clients want from them.

It is by no means easy to undertake that task, but resourcing is a means to an end. Without understanding what you want your firm and its people to provide (and to whom), then everything undertaken is done without foundation.

I wish you all the best during what is likely to be another busy and exciting year.

Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

If you’d like to chat about developing your accountancy practice, please get in touch by clicking here

 

A demanding and challenging year – but a rewarding one for both AdvanceTrack and its accountancy partners.

In a stuttering economy, one held back by high inflation and interest rates, AdvanceTrack celebrated its 20th year in business; a highlight was our annual conference at the British Museum.

Despite the tough conditions, we have seen outsourcing and offshoring appreciated as a key plank of the operational and strategic direction for accountancy practices. And not just in the UK, but across the world.

Practices’ services have been in demand, and we have worked more closely than ever with them to work through resourcing bottlenecks or, more often the case, as the backbone of their core services. In doing so we’re very proud to have maintained compound growth of 60%… Can we do that again in 2024? Well, that’s a tough ask – but not too shabby for a 20-year-old business!

Opportunity and investment

Keeping such a level of growth requires investment, opportunity and ambition. Seasoned accountancy tech pro Dermot Hamblin joined the team in the spring as sales director, and our longest-serving team members were awarded with a five-day trip to Dubai.

Staff numbers have increased, as have our office locations. We expect numbers of both to rise again in the next 12 months.

Speaking of our team – it seems a great opportunity to announce that former EY partner Craig McKell has joined AdvanceTrack. Based in Sydney, Australia, the chartered accountant will support our growth in the Asia-Pacific region. Craig has run a tech business for more than ten years and understands the steps to scale an organisation. AdvanceTrack has a core of experienced professionals managing at both strategic and operational levels. As important, we’re ready to take things to the next stage.

Our conduct and service

What we don’t expect to change at AdvanceTrack is our commitment to both service and our conduct. We consider ourselves as values-based, and we like to think that our accountancy firm partners would vouch for us as living to our principles.

The practice market

It’s been spoken about in recent blogs, but we will say it again: the inner workings of practices must be streamlined, efficient and provide insight to the clientele. Without these things in place then everything becomes much harder for the practice to operate day-to-day or to make a good profit. And, inevitably, margins erode.

Even though the working world is tough, practitioners are in a great position to support their end clients through the sharing of important and timely financial or business information – whether it’s cashflow advice, debt restructuring, credit control or more. My biggest concern is practices not grasping the nettle of automation, process improvement and tech investment to streamline and make efficient their core compliance services. Perhaps more will come out in the wash during 2024.

We see audit as a huge area of growth for practices and, therefore, us too. Our audit services offering will grow in the next 12 months as firms look to manage resources. Management accounts and bookkeeping will also be critical. We will make another big round of investment in our tech – and no doubt there will be more chatter and developments in the AI space too.

The next 12 months will be transformative in the way we deliver services to clients, and perhaps your firm is looking to achieve the same thing too. Let’s see what we can do together.

Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

Business owners take huge risks and make sacrifices over the long-term … but short-term policies are discouraging investment in the UK, which will impact the accountancy profession and stunt economic growth, argues AdvanceTrack founder and MD Vipul Sheth. 

Can this government support entrepreneurs? It isn’t currently – a shame, as entrepreneurialism is critical for a healthy UK economy.

A story in The Times states that the UK’s tech industry could ‘quadruple in value’ by 2032, to a staggering $4trn (£3.25bn), having recently broken the $1trn barrier to follow suit with the US and China. Tech Nation’s survey, from Dealroom data, estimated the current trajectory at $2.6trn, but this could be improved if a decline in venture capital investment activity seen in 2022 could be revered. 

Tech Nation chief executive Gerard Grech called on the government to introduce entrepreneur-friendly policies and a supportive regulatory framework – or risk further erosion from the likes of France as the European tech capital.

This call-to-action for the government is important, required, and supported by AdvanceTrack.

Practices need ambitious clients

For accountancy practices to grow we need businesses – their clients – to grow. And that means that the risk-reward ratio must be attractive to entrepreneurial people – at the least, not punitive. The current tax regime, which increases the rate of capital gains tax by the amount of ‘gain’, is simply unfair.

As a business owner myself, much of that time has been far from straightforward. But the current system fails to recognise the amount of risk, the time, and the effort that has gone into getting AdvanceTrack to where it is today. People can get very rich from selling a business – and I would expect (or at least hope) that everyone wants to pay their fair share of tax. But current policies re lowering investment activity at a crucial time – and you as practitioners will suffer from that fallout – as well as the tens of thousands of jobs that will fail to be created.

If we want the UK to be a success then we need the smartest people to stay here, and play a part in growing the economy. We can’t have good businesses set up in other countries when, with some long-term planning from a policy perspective, they would have chosen us.

Accountants and their representative bodies will lobby the government when either the tax authority is failing, or the tax system is creating an adverse impact. We shall leave the former to one side for the moment (and much has been said about it already); but I would urge you to push your institute (mine is the ICAEW) to call for a progressive but attractive tax system that drives our economy towards growth – we certainly need it at this juncture.

Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

It has to be one of our most fun – and eye-opening – articles for XU magazine.

We were lucky enough to have contributions from some of the UK’s most well-known accounting practitioners.

And these contributions weren’t just a few quotes for a feature. They have opened up to describe the many and varied (and often bumpy) paths that they took towards becoming accountancy professionals.

It’s certainly a timely article, because we know that accounting practices and finance functions are having a tough time recruiting and retaining good people. The market is febrile, with many outfits trying to expand, change direction or digitally transform – often all these things at once.

We’ve seen PwC reveal that it has lowered barriers to entry into their firm, and that has swiftly been followed by other practices doing the same.

It resonates with us here at AdvanceTrack, too. Our outsourcing services free up practices to not only be more efficient, but in turn to develop and grow their people – to build flexibility and opportunity into their model.

Our own people are also a huge priority, and we as an organisation must give them the right tools and environment to do well. Their development is vital too and, as we expand our services, we hope to give them more opportunities.

Some of the nine practitioners who we’ve highlighted faced hurdles that, quite frankly, shouldn’t have been put in their path. Whether it’s AdvanceTrack, your own accounting practice, or any organisation, it’s vital that we operate in a way that is efficient and profitable, but we must never forget that our foundation is people. Treat them well, either your own staff or of customers or those impacted by your products/services, and let’s make a positive impact.

Finally, I should flag up the hashtag associated with the contributions: #IWantToBeAnAccountant. The article can be accessed by clicking here.

And, of course, many thanks to our contributors: Nikki Adams; Theresa L Campbell; Lucy Cohen; Brendon Howlett; Stuart Hurst; Chris Kinsella; Bobby Lane; Sharon Pocock; and Carl Reader for their openness and support!

You can follow along with some of our other blogs here.

It’s been quite a week for the accountancy profession. It’s been one in which (I hope) AdvanceTrack has played its part – and I hope some certainty has been provided to outsourcing as a critical part in the profession’s future.

The second week of May saw what were the first ‘unrestricted’ major events for accountants take place in the UK since Covid-19 struck.

We hosted our AdvanceTrack conference on 10 May, which then led into Accountex across 11 and 12 May.

Technology tends to ‘leap forward’, certainly when it comes to its use in professional services. And there are a number of reasons for that, but primarily it comes down to firms becoming ‘used’ to doing things in certain ways, for certain clients.

For the accountancy profession, change is iterative and focused on the client i.e. keeping up to date with the latest accounting and tax legislation and their impact. Every so often, the changes put in place are seismic enough to drive firms to change how they do things. The push for online tax filing over the past 20 years has seen paper-based returns (almost) a thing of the past.

More recently, disruption came in the form of the pandemic, which required us all to embrace digital communication beyond just emails.

The conferences held last week were enormous fun and also insightful. Meeting people face-to-face always is, even more so after such a long hiatus. The AdvanceTrack conference’s theme was about you, your team and your practice growing. Discussion about ‘value-added’ services was never far away.

MTD to advisory?

Accountex was very much of a similar vein, there was plenty of discussion around ‘how can I manage Making Tax Digital for Income Tax Self-Assessment?’

I believe that growing your practice, while ‘dealing with MTD’ can be dealt with in similar ways. And that’s because the issues are similar. For advisory services, broadening your offering requires efficiencies and process – these in turn free up resource to get to know existing (or new) clients better – to have the conversations that open the door to new things.

MTD certainly isn’t as much ‘fun’ – or, it seems on the face of it that there’s not a lot of positives to be gleaned from many of your clients increasing the amount of reporting they have to undertake. Your people are not in a position to quadruple the amount of prepping and checking they can do. However, increasing the number of touchpoints with a client could well pay dividends longer-term if you can leverage that communication towards your service proposition.

Firms need to recruit both number-crunchers and those who can provide further analysis and ultimately higher-value services. For us at AdvanceTrack, we see our offering as critical in supporting practices – whether it’s gaining efficiencies or scaling up your service (both are interlinked).

Our tech and people enable firms to solve their recruitment woes, keep on top of new tech and processes, and ultimately providing the best client service. Don’t let the people war, or MTD, drag your practice down. Join the many others that are growing their offering by growing their links with us.

I’d be delighted to talk about what they’re doing and how you can do it too. Book a call. 

Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

In the first of a series of articles, we look at why it is important to understand what the client wants. Only when we do that, can we truly help clients fulfil their personal and business ambitions.

What the Client wants

Our profession has been going through change, but never more so than the last decade. It’s fair to say that the Pandemic has probably accelerated that change, with the move to the cloud being made even more relevant.

The story that underlies everything we do is that “Accountants Change Lives, but not by producing a set of accounts”.

As the son of entrepreneurs who benefited from an accountant who understood this over 40 years ago, I know that he made a difference to my future. Having worked on markets when I was 7/8 years old to help my parents, I went on to University and qualified as a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser, going on to work for 2 of the largest accountancy firms on the planet.

Why do I talk about this?

My parents’ ambitions were not necessarily for themselves, but the futures they could afford their children. I talk about this because we need to understand what is important to the client.

Below is the result of some research which shows that client meetings and strategic implementation and advisory is more valued than the compliance, yet professional firms spend a disproportionate amount of time delivering compliance.

what does client want

Credit: Aaron Dunn

The key therefore is to reduce the cost of the compliance element, whilst allowing the accountant/bookkeeper to focus on the client relationship. We’ll talk more in the next feature about how you do this.

In this issue, let’s focus on the client needs. In order to serve the client, they need to deliver value and then demonstrate this.

Let’s discuss this a little further.

what the customer wants

© AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

The most important part of the equation is to identify the client agenda. Understand what the client’s aims are. For some, that may be material things, such as a large house, car, boat etc. The reality for most business owners is something more emotional than the material things.

Financial independence may be just one goal for the business owner. For my parents, it was ensuring that the children got into higher education.

This was their agenda for the accountant to help guide them through. If we take the past 18 months, some of your clients just wanted to get through and retain their staff, home, business etc.

It’s therefore important that the firm identifies the client agenda, jointly with the client and then agree their role in helping the business owner deliver that. The accountant won’t stand behind the counter of the store or weld the metal in the workshop. Their role helps the business grow, prosper and deliver the goals necessary for the business owner to fulfil their goals.

The accountant needs to measure what that looks like. More importantly, has the accountant and their team shown they understand the business? The most valuable lesson any accountant learns is asking the business owner to show them around their business. It is usually their biggest passion (other than family).
If the accountant doesn’t know what drives the entrepreneur, they can’t help the entrepreneur. At some point, the relationship could break down if it is not nurtured.

what the customer wants

© AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

So you’ve helped the entrepreneur share their goals.

How are you going to help them?

Have you identified the issues that will hinder their success. What impact will it have on the resources required of the entrepreneur and/or your firm? Every firm may think they can do the job, but at some point, the entrepreneur may outgrow the firm. That doesn’t always mean that you can’t serve them.
Sometimes it is about collaborating with others to help the client, for example, the world over, there are incentives to invest in Research and Development. The firm may not be able to do that, but there are specialists who work in this area. The firm retains the primary relationship and has presented a solution that serves the client and shown that you can help them deliver value by keeping their costs down or bring cash into the business.

I’ve seen in my own training days, a very successful entrepreneur floated their business on the stock market. The firm lost the audit to one of the large international firms then. The firm acted to support the entrepreneur and their family to manage the wealth they built up over the 30 or more years since, serving him throughout his business career. They maintained the trust and respect and just understood that the business was best served by a larger firm for part of their requirements. Retaining the trust of a prominent entrepreneur helped the firm to continue to demonstrate its value to the family and the wider business community.

We’ve included ethical values. This is important in considering whether you should retain the client. When faced with such dilemmas, the firm always needs to consider whether they want to retain the client or not. If the firm or its principals are not comfortable with what a client is asking them to do, what is the appropriate action for them to take?

When I used to run a small practice, I’ve been faced with situations where clients I considered to be friends asked me to do something I just felt uncomfortable with, or they acted against my values. At that point, you go back to the values you live and breathe as they’re instilled in you as you grow up. I think of the way I dealt with bullies in the playground or the workplace. Do you do the “Hard Right” or the “Easy Wrong”? I’ve always done the Hard Right and it’s what allows me to sleep at night.

If enough firms and principals rewarded partners for doing this, rather than penalising them because they “lost” fees, our profession would be stronger for it.

Can we execute the work?

How many times have you been on the wrong end of poor service? It’s often because the provider has decided that you’ll be their test customer/client. You’re paying for them to learn the service, which they’ll then be able to charge other clients for in the future. I’m pleased to see I’ve always been in firms that either had the expertise or stepped away from delivering it themselves.

Today, our industry is incredibly collaborative. Think of the WhatsApp or other groups you’re a part of. One message and you’ll find someone who can help your client. It doesn’t have to be you. You can manage it. Just make sure it’s right for the client.

If you know what your client’s goals are, you should be able to measure the success of the project. This is incredibly important in showing the value that your firm delivers in yours and your client’s journey. Without this, you’re not helping to keep the client or the firm focused on results.

It’s then time to re-evaluate what goals are important and the cycle goes through the same process again. I know I set both personal and business goals annually. It’s important that as an adviser you understand what your client’s goals are and if they’ve changed in any way. It will help you focus on making those happen. Remember, you’re trusted with their innermost fears and ambitions. Guard them safely and bring your team on that journey, so they understand what they do is so much more than reporting history.
We help firms deliver their goals. We’d love to talk to you about yours.

In the next instalment, we’ll continue the story of how to improve the customer experience.

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 ph****@fo**************.com

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)