The accounting newswires and related blogs have been very active over the past week with the news that Intuit is “TESTING” a new service offering people complete bookkeeping services in addition to the software.
The initial reaction of any normal professional bookkeeper on hearing this news is to curse and then think that the end of the world is nigh. “I’ve spent my time building their user base and now they go and steal MY customers?!?”
Well, guess what: This is what is known as business. I doubt it was in your 2019 plan, but you should have been discussing how you would react to such an event at your partner retreats, since the topic has been floating around for a long time.
Personally, I think Intuit should be congratulated for trying to disrupt itself. It has long made much capital out of delivering Minimum Viable Products (MVP) to the market, and now it’s delivered again.
How many large global businesses are truly considered to be innovative? If we look at the tech world, companies such as Google and Facebook may qualify, but do Microsoft or its subsidiary LinkedIn, despite the fact that they release products with new functionality?
I often tell my younger colleagues bald heads and gray hair have to be earned. They aren’t given away. In a situation like this, having the said appearance will help define your reaction to this event, namely because you will have been through similar events before.
Depending upon your age, Self-Assessment, RTi, Auto Enrolment, Year 200, Big Four entrants to the small business arena and iXBRL filing are just some of the regulatory changes that have been inflicted upon UK accountants, and I’ve deliberately left MTD off the list.
Some of these may not strike you at first glance as a direct threat to your business, but they all brought new entrants and new ways of working into the profession.
Self-Assessment saw the launch of franchisees organized by postcode and High Street operators that would mirror HR Block in the USA. But despite the noise and marketing campaigns, the new operators did not last long. Existing accounting businesses adapted to the new regime, tweaked their processes and reinforced their relationships with their existing client base.
On a recent podcast, Colin Dunn stated that after training as an accountant and then coaching them for over 20 years, he found the easiest way for any firm to win new work is to visit a client and ask, “Can you show me around your business?” Everyone loves to talk, but nobody more so than a business owner, when given the opportunity. It’s relationships that drive business, not tech solutions. Tech is there to support the business.
So, take this situation, as a well required prod from Intuit, and revisit your marketing, onboarding and workflow processes to ensure they are client focused and enable you deliver outstanding services for your clients. Also, take the opportunity to reinforce this message after the job has been completed. Don’t view this as the end, see it as part of the relationship.
Intuit is talking about a test service at the moment, but nobody should be surprised by this. After all, Carl Reader, Chairman at D&T, has been talking about “the Big Red button” being introduced by all of the vendors. It’s only a matter of who will make the move first.
Intuit is offering a very basic service to end clients, so think about how you are different. Like all accounting professionals, you have some problematic customers. Would you like to send them over to that company instead?
Have team meetings and discuss the options. Don’t be afraid to think differently. You don’t have to do what the founders of the firm did. It’s your business, and you can do what you want.
It’s also worth considering machine learning will take a lot of the data entry work away from your hands anyway. How are you going to react to this?
Paul Meades of Meades and Co. in Watford, UK, tells a story about how he used to fret about his business. If government regulation was taken away overnight, how many of his clients would remain?
The answer did not require many fingers to count. So he set about working on a niche and offering services that delivered real value to his clients. He’s re-engineered a thriving business that attracts quality clients of the type Paul has decided he wants to work with.
So remember: This is a test. A lot of what Intuit is talking about will be delivered by machine learning in a couple of years anyway. The world will not stop spinning, but how will you react?
The accounting profession has proved resilient and adaptable over the past 20 years, and I’m sure it will again.
About Dermot Hamblin
Dermot has worked in the accounting software sector since May 1996. He has worked at IRIS (Corporate Sales Director: 1996 – 2006) and Thomson Reuters Digital (Sales Director: 2008 – 2011). He has also consulted with Nomisma, onkho and PANALITIX, amongst working with many accounting firms directly.