In Defense of the Traditional Firm

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Burton Sweet
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Advisory services and accountants...really? Traditional firms have nothing to fear from the move to cloud technology and advisory services, there’s work for everyone.

These days, you can’t open a journal from an accountancy organization or accountancy-related website – this one included – without reading dire warnings of the imminent demise of compliance work and the re-invention of the traditional accountant as a “business advisor” or consultant.  Those of us who have been around a while can remember reading similar warnings 10 and even 20 years ago. And where are we today?

Personally, almost in the same position I was 10 to 20 years ago, perhaps better. My small practice has a proud history of providing accounts and tax compliance services to small businesses and in 2018 demand has never been so good. As 2020 Group’s Chris Frederiksen used to say, “Business is great – and we’re looking for more.” Although we’re going to need more staff if we get much more new work.

The fact is that our small business and private tax clients are more than happy with a professional, timely compliance service provided by their local trusted accountants – us. They don’t want business advice or fancy consultancy. Just keep them out of the tax man’s sights, tell them how much money they have made, how much tax to pay and when to pay it.

In fact I’d go so far as to say that the current growth of our practice is partly down to some competitors pushing packages of so-called advisory services, with their sizeable monthly fees, which the typical family business just doesn’t want or need. That’s good news for traditional firms.

I also find that a lot of young start-ups are coming to us for bookkeeping and compliance work because, while they could do it themselves, they want to spend their time working on their business and are happy to pay someone else to do the finance stuff.  Isn’t that how it’s always been? So despite all the premature announcements of my firm’s impending demise, I see no lack of demand for that type of work. 

And don’t get me started on the “cloud!” I’m fed up with these new advisory firms promoting their online services and treating more traditional firms as if we’re a bit of a joke. I have an office full of servers, PCs and desktop software that all work perfectly fine.

What’s more, the vast majority of my clients have the same.  In 5-10 years we may not be able to buy a PC as we know it, but I suspect my Windows 10 PC will still be happily running QuickBooks and Excel so I’m in no hurry to change yet.

Am I worried that other firms will leave us behind? No, because someone has to stay behind and support clients who don’t want to move online just yet. Plus I bought all my software outright, so look at all the monthly subscriptions I’ll be saving for the next few years! Who’s laughing now?

My message to those of you who identify with this type of accounting practice is simple – don’t let the advisory boys and cloud mongers get you down. There’s plenty of work to go around for all of us and I don’t foresee the work of the traditional accounting practice disappearing any time soon.
 

About nigeldharris

nigel

Nigel is a partner at west country firm Burton Sweet. A specialist in corporate tax, business advice and accounting software, Nigel is also a regular contributor to news pieces, podcasts and radio broadcasts.

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