It’s been hard to avoid the buzz about artificial intelligence and it’s impact on the accounting industry.
While some praise the opportunities new technology is bringing to the table, others have voiced concerns about what AI and machine learning will mean for entry-level jobs and small firms.
There are plenty of articles out there about staying ahead by dedicating yourself to a niche, or becoming more tech savvy, these aren’t the only ways an accountant can differentiate themselves from their competition in today’s market, be it robotic or otherwise.
You can differentiate yourself or your firm in many ways; focusing on a local area, specializing in accounting for a particular industry, engaging with a specific target audience, or even simply offering a novel business model.
But the best way is to step into the role of advisor for your clients. Soft skills like communications, marketing and creative thinking are becoming more important than the more traditional technical skills and number-crunching. Research has shown that small businesses trust their accountant’s advice on financial matters more than any other source. The clear strategy is to differentiate yourself by capitalizing on this trust, and investing in their client’s success.
Obviously, you can’t provide ever service, but moving into the broader realm of wealth management opens more opportunities to set yourself and your service apart from every other run of the mill compliance and tax firm out there.
You might not be able to offer client’s specific product advice, but you can still become informed about what’s on offer to help them better understand their options. Build referral relationships with other businesses in the financial sector, life insurance firms, debt consolidation companies or managed investment funds, whatever you feel is relevant to your client base or your firm’s niche. Don’t be afraid to maintain a more active role in the referral process either, stay abreast of the advice they’re getting. The pay-off will be maintaining a healthy and informed client relationship.
Accountants are also in the best position to capitalise on clients who don’t currently see any kind of financial advisor, offering more sophisticated financial planning advice to these clients can be the stepping stone needed to start building a deeper, more profitable relationship.
Among large businesses, the main reason for terminating an accountant or firm is a ‘lack of understanding’ about the client’s business or the industry. This trend is not unique to fortune 500 companies either, but is mirrored by both small and medium enterprises too. It might seem like a daunting task to become an expert in an unrelated industry, especially on unpaid time. But the truth is, your clients will appreciate those efforts, and reward you with more work.
Most firms and freelancers out there only offer traditional accounting services. But most clients, if not all of them, appreciate more than just core services. As technology continues to disrupt these more traditional compliance services, offering advisory assistance is where the profession will be heading long term.
Director of Accounting for Private Educational Institutions at Jefferson+Partners (Sydney) from 2007-2015. Founded and led Lebrau & Partners Pty. Ltd. from 2015 until now - a boutique accounting firm serving educational institutions across the Asia Pacific (both public and private, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions).
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