Some the most popular and well-known advisers and experts have been speaking to AdvanceTrack and accountants about how to lead through the crisis, while reconfiguring your services – and people – in a locked-down world.


While physical conferences and get-togethers are currently off limits, that hasn’t stopped AdvanceTrack from running a “mini conference” online via Zoom.

On 28 April, we ran a “Beyond the Pandemic – The Customers Journey”, a 90-minute online seminar, in which experts provided insight about how best to structure your approach to support clients through the crisis, and beyond.

Innovate and communicate

Kicking off the session was AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth. He said that accountants are in a unique position to provide real value to the people they work for – above and beyond a basic and narrow ‘service’.

But they must not rest on their laurels. “The wow of today is the normal of tomorrow,” said Sheth.

Citing the exponential improvements in Amazon’s service provision and constant innovation, he explained that day-to-day consumer experiences influence what people expect from professional services organisations – and they must step up.

“Don’t compare yourself with what other accountants do – consumers and clients are driven by other experiences they have – that represents their expectation,” he said. “So why do you do what you do? You have to deliver value.”

While the coronavirus crisis has proved incredibly disruptive, it has forced accountants and clients to communicate more – albeit via digital online platforms.

“The importance of relationships never goes away,” said Sheth. “And now we see our people increasingly moving up the value chain – with clients and in our business. If you weren’t using Zoom or Teams a month ago, you are now – and these tools are helping you have conversations.”

You might have had two or three client meetings in a day; now you can have ten or 15 – hopefully all incredibly valuable to you and clients, explained Sheth: “Being digital allows you to do that. You’re doing things a lot quicker, communicating more – so take the digital journey.”

Invest in relationships

Karen Reyburn, founder of The Profitable Firm, gave an inspirational talk focusing on the relationship-building you will inevitably be doing at the moment. And that, while billing and charging is a difficult and thorny task at the moment, you are investing in potentially keeping clients for a lifetime.

“Some things have changed in the crisis, some things haven’t,” she said. “Relationships… it’s always important to invest in client relationships.”

Putting yourself ‘out there’ will also engender positive sentiment towards you and your firm from potential clients and other working partners.

“So many of you are already spending time on the things that build relationships – sharing information, blogs, videos… just get it out there! You will get enquiries if you’re doing those things. You are on the front line of saving businesses,” Reyburn added.

Some firms are fearful of giving too much valuable information away in the public domain, via their website or on social media. However, Reyburn’s approach is very simple: “Give information away, charge for implementation.”

If people think that undertaking a task will be exhausting or difficult, they will come to you, whether you’ve given them the basic information or not, she suggested.

“The more you share, the more they’ll want to work with you,” she said. “Use content to build assets. What can I build so that when they have problems, this is the tool they use? This is why video is so powerful: you’re connecting with them faster – the number of accountants who are realising that it doesn’t have to be perfect, but doing so builds relationships faster.”

Efficiency and trust

As founder of presentation training business Speaking Ambition, and MD of Blue Arrow Accounting, Alexandra Bond Burnett is well placed o talk about how you build trust with existing and potential clients.

“How do you give someone the green flag that you’re the best person to choose to help them?” asked Bond Burnett.

Breaking down the elements that are required to create trust was a key part of bond Bond Burnett’s presentation.

The trust equation is: credibility; reliability; and intimacy.

  • Credibility – “Demonstrating your experience, be that talking about things you know and understand, having conversations with people and presenting your qualifications.”
  • Reliability – “This is about ‘showing up’. Doing what you said you were going to do. To be there so your clients don’t need to worry.”
  • Intimacy – “You can be credible and reliable, but you have to build that level of rapport. People make logical decisions but with a dollop of emotion. How do you make someone feel? Safe, challenged, that they can do anything?”

Bond Burnett pulls this together by discussing ‘self orientation’. “It is a funny phrase – but essentially we’re considering who do you think about when you’re communicating?” she said. “It’s more than likely that it’s ‘what will someone think of me?’ Don’t focus on yourself – turn it around and think about the client.

“How can they be helped right now, and then next week and then the week after that… then start communicating that to them. The hero is the client; make them the centre of the story.”

Service clarity

“How do things get done?” asks Trent McLaren, global head of accounting and sales at Practice Ignition. Accountants need to be clear about understanding the work entailed both internally for your practice, and what you do for your clients.

For McLaren, this ultimately means you are looking for a balance between the work your people undertake, the technology used as a tool and the processes put in place to make the work flow.

“When the customer and employee experiences work well, then you as a practice gain a competitive advantage,” he said.

“It means you’re completing work faster, with fewer resources, improving quality and hopefully improving customer satisfaction.”

Another key task is to ‘map’ the customer journey. Do you understand the path a client takes, and the touchpoints they have with you, as you work together? From them becoming a lead/prospect to becoming your client and beyond, think about how you communicate with them and the services you provide.

By doing this you create a ‘blueprint’. McLaren referenced an article by the Nielsen Norman Group on this very topic, which can be found here.




Panicking about your practice failing to meet the GDPR deadline sounds serious, but if you stop clock-watching and take some simple steps, you’ll keep out of the regulator’s bad books

Last month we spoke to two practitionersabout their efforts to get to grips with GDPR. Now, with the 25 May ‘deadline’ upon us, we cover the accounting experts’ take on how you can achieve compliance.

In this issue, we round up the wealth of material provided by the UK’s two largest accounting Institutes, the ACCA and ICAEW, and speak to Amanda Watts about GDPR from a marketing perspective – dispelling myths about sending those dreaded ‘re-subscribe’ emails.

AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth talks about the work being undertaken to ensure GDPR compliance.



Let’s start at the beginning: what are the key aspects of GDPR that will likely impact an accounting practice? The ACCA’s ‘How to Prepare’ two-part documentoutlines common actions that practitioners should be taking, along with a discussion about the most common GDPR concepts. We’ll focus on the first part.

The Institute states that GDPR “is not a departure” from current data protection rules in the UK, but more of an “expansion”.

GDPR is about the management and protection of personal data. It applies to controllers and processors of such data:

  • a controller is a person who decides how and why personal data is processed.
  • a processor is a person acting on a controller’s behalf. GDPR introduced new requirements in relation to processors. Processors have to maintain data processing records, document under which lawful basis they process data and inform data controller in case of a breach.

Accountants, suggests the ACCA, are ‘usually’ data controllers. There are several key areas where accountants collate personal data, store it and share it. This will include marketing campaigns; details being left with the firm by prospective clients; engagement letters; setting up standing orders; carrying out anti-money laundering checks; involving a third party to carry out money laundering checks; and submitting tax returns.

The controllers will have to demonstrate internal policies and controls in place and applied consistently. This will include documentary evidence kept and made available to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and regulators when required.


Action points

While the ICO has created a ‘12 steps to prepare’ overview guidance, the ACCA created a list of what it believes will be most relevant to practitioners.

First, ‘awareness’. Undertake training for yourself and staff – and be prepared to repeat this every two years and document your actions.

Second, plan an internal data audit. This is about reviewing and documenting what information is held, where it’s held, where it came from, how it was obtained and whether it’s up-to-date and correct.

Consent to process the data is required, and must be in a GDPR-compliant format. Consent should be reiterated where documentary evidence doesn’t exist.

Examples of the types of detail that need to be documented to demonstrate your compliance are provided by the ACCA. This includes policies followed to ensure data processing is lawful; policies on how data is stored, used and protected (in a GDPR compliant manner); policies relating to the management of privacy; subjects’ access request response procedures (referring to the new 30-day deadline to respond to someone regarding their data); procedure to detect, investigate and act on data breaches; how to manage data in times of organisation change; vetting third-party data processors; and IT security maintenance procedures.

For privacy communication and GDPR compliance notices, the ACCA suggests accountants consider updating engagement letters and creating personal data consent/opt-in forms. Other issues referred to above, such as subjects’ access rights and data breaches may require you to create draft templates. Also, attain and retain documentary evidence of third-party providers’ efforts to be GDPR compliant.

Lastly, the ACCA says practices must assess and understand their IT security. This will include consideration of passwords, data back-up, secure networks and encryption. Privacy notices will also be required in communication footers such as marketing emails and website landing pages.

The ACCA also has a series of GDPR-focused webinars you can view.



The ICAEW has, like the ACCA, pulled together a fantastic resource of material for the accounting community, including sample wordings for engagement lettersand GDPR checklists. Another of these resources is an FAQ, based on a whopping 94 questions received by the Institute during its ‘GDPR: You Questions Answered’ webinar on 23 January 2018. The answers were provided by the Institute’s Jane Berney and Mark Taylor.


Question:Would all email need to be encrypted when sent from a firm to its clients when it concerns services provided ie. an email asking for some information for a tax return?

Answer from ICAEW (abridged):The GDPR advocates a risk-based approach when considering security and privacy…encryption is not mandated but can be viewed as part of the overall security system…consider encrypting any attachments before sending an email. Many compression tools have encryption features. Similarly files shared using portal like software or on-line file sharing services should also be encrypted before being shared.

Q:We have users who store years’ worth of emails in their inbox. This very likely includes personal information on ex-clients or even potential clients that never became clients. Should we be going through these and deleting?

A:We would recommend deletion as best practice as you should only retain data (in whatever form) for as long as necessary. We would also recommend that you set a policy for the retention of emails.


Q: Should new engagement letters be issued to all (existing and new) clients?

A:Post-25 May 2018 engagement letters should refer to the GDPR as the applicable legislation (and the new DPA 2018 once it comes into force) not the DPA 1998 and explain how you will be complying with them. This could be sent, however, as an addendum to an existing letter once the GDPR and DPA 2018 come into force.


Q:Is the cloud a problem if server not in EU/EEA?

A:Yes – the cloud provider will still need to comply with the GDPR if processing the personal data of EU data subjects.

For more visit


Marketing lists… don’t panic!

A key area of focus, stress and confusion for accountants has been in an area that can be difficult to manage at the best of times: their marketing contact lists.

For Amanda Watts, an accountancy marketing coach, there’s no point panicking about a lack of plan and potential non-compliance. “It’s too late!” she says. What the regulators will want to see is that you’ve at least begun the planning process. But where to start? First, Watts suggests practitioners approach their third-party services providers who will hold or process details of their clients – and ask them for their GDPR and compliance details. These will need to be kept on file.

On the marketing lists, a key concern has been about getting everyone to ‘opt back in’ to receiving your material. However, “that’s not going to work because if someone has signed up to your newsletter already then they’re [likely to be] GDPR compliant anyway”.

Problems will occur where practitioners have acquired or leased data lists. See the main article for some guidance.

As for being fined, Watts believes that e-marketing third party providers will be more concerned about who you’re targeting. In other words, if they receive lots of bounce-back emails from your lists, they may say ‘stop sending rubbish on our platform’. “It’s not about the multi-million pound fines… it’s the platforms that will stop it,” Watts says. “So stop the rubbish going out to the audience. Quality will have to go up, and so business will fly.”