Call to action – accountants, let’s go!
Chairman of The CFN reflects on the accountancy market and gives four calls to action for accountancy firms
This blog was originally written in September 2019 for linked in. It received a lot of (positive) attention and was the catalyst to me completing my development of the Beyond 2020 Programme.
As I finish preparing the content for our imminent “Rising Stars” and “Power Pack” roadshow events for our member firms over the next couple of weeks, I’m reflecting (again) on the state of the accountancy profession and wonder where we’ll be in five years. The content of these events is a combination of forward-thinking discussion topics and high level technical training. I cannot help but think about how this knowledge will be used in the future by my savvy and ever-eager-to-learn delegates. I am very lucky to be working with such a committed group of skilled, and also genuinely nice, people.
And I am by nature a very positive and enthusiastic person. Yet reviewing the wider profession always gives me that sinking feeling which it somewhat alien to me and quite uncomfortable. As a newly-qualified accountant I was excited about this profession I had joined, but as the years (decades) went by, my rose-tinted glasses became clearer and I became very disenchanted. Not that I wasn’t proud to call myself a chartered accountant. I still believe its qualification brings some of the best training in the world and I was delighted to have achieved this at the young age of 22.
But there was a gradual trend in me to feel more disappointment as I became more involved with owner-managed businesses, saw what advice they needed and began to recognise how business was changing as the digital world, lifestyle and cultural changes started to make an impact on how our ‘nation of shopkeepers’.
Business was changing fast. Our nation was becoming more entrepreneurial, very exciting, but they were then also more demanding of its suppliers, quite rightly so. Yet the levels of respect historically afforded to ‘professionals’ were now being questioned, inevitably, as the information age opened up a myriad of new resources and a direct access point to knowledge about accounting, tax and business finance. Business owners were doing it for themselves! And most accountants just weren’t keeping up.
Yet I knew we, as highly trained and experienced business advisers, could offer so much more to our business communities. Some accountants were starting to recognise how they needed to change too. But many weren’t. I saw around the country, as a freelance trainer and presenter in corporate finance, that accountants were stuck in the last century. They weren’t opening their mind to the new world. And when the cloud accounting packages, and then Making Tax Digital, began to get more column inches, I was hopeful. Maybe this is what would push accountants in practice how they should become strategic business advisers.
This passion led me to form my training consultancy and then The Corporate Finance Network some fifteen years ago, as I was driven to create a brand for SMEs so they could easily identify the accountants who were experienced in issues other than the traditional compliance services. And I have been delighted with the flock of firms I now work with. Those who have invested in, not only their corporate finance services, but also in a whole cultural change in their firm.
Gradually these firms started becoming more commercial, they invested in the new technologies but also, more importantly, in their people. The training opened their eyes to the way business owners perceive accountants, and the skills entrepreneurs need themselves to run growing businesses, through all economic situations and developments in their sector and the country. And, more precisely, how we can provide them with those skills. There’s no such thing as a ‘business owner school’ is one of my many repeated phrases. Those business owners need teaching, need mentoring, need to acquire the skills and find the support from somewhere. And would it be from the accounting profession, or would it be from business websites/forums, social media contacts, ‘business coaches’, incubators, or another, more forward-looking and strategic, accountant?
These is a fantastic new breed of accountants emerging in our country, often from the younger generation, who have recognised the ways in which businesses need them to advise, the tech products which can help them achieve this in a streamlined manner and how to bring a culture of entrepreneurship into their own firms, leading them to support their clients in a full-service business advisory capacity. How refreshing!
As I ask my firms this week to consider their profile in their market and whether they believe themselves to be true ‘thought leaders’ for their local business community, and, more to the point, do these businesses perceive them to be such?
So my call to action for all accountancy firms is this:
BUSINESS ADVISERS - Can you truly say you are a business adviser? Do you continually provide proactive, strategic advice to your clients to make a difference to their growth trajectory? Can you support them fully with all necessary commercial areas including finding finance, considering an acquisition for growth, and ultimately, exit planning to finally sell. This relationship much further and deeper than the usual conservations with clients about their accounts, tax and even their working capital needs.
TRAINING & COMMERCIAL CULTURE - Do you develop a culture within your team of staff where you train them in being able to give commercial advice from the day they arrive at your firm, to spot risks and opportunities in a business, to be able to open up discussions or pass on their ideas to the clients’s main contact point in the firm? Do they continually witness the more senior members of the firm having strategic discussions, or are they only hearing about stock provisions, disclosure requirements and deferred tax?
PRODUCTS & CLIENT OFFERING - Are you using the tech products and emergence of artificial intelligence to revamp your service offering? Have you moved to a new way or working, not just operationally, but in the output you are delivering to clients? Are you considering how and when you are open to clients? The rest of the country is changing. The working week of 9-5 Monday to Friday is not so much the accepted norm and with the myriad of social media interactions, the new generation of entrepreneurs merge their private lives and working lives much more often than we did last century. And yet ‘work-life balance’ isn’t a phrase you’ll hear them use much, they accept this because their home life doesn’t have to wait until 5pm on a Friday either. Do you use the natural instincts of your younger team members to hone your culture, or are you knocking it all out of them when they train to become an accountant and turning them into accountants of the 1980s?
MARKETING - Does your marketing profile your firm as a thought leader at the top of your profession? Do your blogs, your events, your knowledge sharing all demonstrate that you are switched onto business’ true requirements for advice, support and mentoring in our current world? Look at your website, your social media stream and your own linked in profiles – how would you be perceived by a client wishing to exit their business soon or a growing young business? Can you offer them what they need?
Let’s all perfect an attitude of continuous improvement and awareness of how the world is changing. We need to ensure our profession leads the way for our country’s businesses and the time is now, not in 3 years or 5 years or 10 years, but today.