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5 Ways To Improve Relationships With Technology

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Is your accounting firm future ready? If you haven't asked yourself this question lately, now's the time, especially as life starts to return to normal. Futurist Ian Khan recommends taking your business mindset from transactonal to thinking big, and he says technology will be key to ensuring you have long-term relationships with the backbone of your business: your clients and partners.

Mar 17th 2021
Chief Futurist Futuracy
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A few years ago, I spoke to the managing partner of a midsize accounting firm who I met at an accounting group conference.  “So, what is the big future-readiness challenge that you're facing, John?” I asked. His answer: “As a midsize firm, we don’t have time to think about future readiness strategies. It is just everyday business, tax season, and [then] all of it all over again.” Does that sound familiar?

For the many years that I worked with accounting professionals, my observations have led me to believe they have a very narrow view of themselves, something that I find just very transactional. Here’s the big question: If the transactional nature of the industry is getting disrupted due to automation through technology, what is the future of the accounting profession? To look at it another way, how can you, as a future-focused accounting firm, use technology to positively disrupt your practice to get away from a long-term transactional mindset and think big?

When the pandemic arrived in the US just over a year ago, we had no idea where things would go and how far-reaching the effects would be.

In March of last year – actually, on March 25, to be precise – I brought a few good friends and leaders from within the accounting profession together on a Livestream session to answer the big question: What is the future of accounting and finance over the next months and years? Terry Snider, then-CEO of Allinial Global, James Hickey, then-CEO of PKF, Memoria Lewis, CEO of Morison KSI, and Stephen Heathcote, CEO of Prime Global,  all shared critical insights and guidance. Watch the episode here if you wish.

Here was my key takeaway from this conversation: Your relationship with your clients and partners will determine the success or failure of your practice. Why so? Because ultimately, everything depends on relationships, not technology. Coming from me as a technology futurist, this might seem a little anti-tech, but there, I said it.

However, this doesn’t mean technology won’t be key to maintaining and growing those relationships. With this in mind, here are five ways you can improve your relationships with clients and partners using tech:

1. Time: With a digital communication revolution underway, you should and probably have shifted your business to involve more online communication. I refrain from using the world “virtual,” as it suggests something real is not happening. With an online communication strategy, firms have been able to keep their doors open and work ongoing. For a profession that accepts change rather slowly and has not changed much in the last 500 years, accountants have adapted to the digital revolution surprisingly quickly. An industry survey conducted in December 2020 suggests that 75 percent of registrants planned to attend all virtual CPE sessions in the next six months, while 25 percent were considering a mix of virtual and live training. Surprisingly, no one planned to attend all in-person CPE classes. Using available digital resources frees up your time to be a genuine consultant and advocate. If you have not fully gone there yet, it's time to do it right now.

2. Frequency: With the technology available in abundance, you get the opportunity to constantly engage with your customer and partner community rather than just during tax season or when an audit request comes up. The way to enable this is to create a periodic communique such as a newsletter or even start a podcast or video channel, if time and energy allow. Since they work so closely with clients, accounting firms have a moral obligation to help them and partners through knowledge and reach out to them through as many media formats as possible. Streaming services provider Conviva conducted a study that indicates that video content, for example, is over performing as more people continue to engage with digital tech platforms.

3. Work On, Not In: Leadership experts say you should work On your business, not In it, to grow. With technologies such as workflow automation, time management, project management, sales and marketing available to create automation and efficiency within your business, this is a great time to get out of the weeds and truly manage the bigger picture. There are countless stories of success of people taking this approach during the pandemic. Consider Amy Welsman, an ex-marketing professional who ended up launching her own line of artisanal hand sanitizers. For accounting firm leaders, this could be a great opportunity to add new business areas such as consulting.

4. Automate and Scale: Scale your efforts. For instance, use technology to accelerate an audit processor to collect more data. New technology-based, accounting-profession-specific tools and platforms are helping scale the accounting processes. Many large vendors are now offering AI, blockchain, and cloud-based tools to scale. Also, take a look at the Big Four firms and their focus on disruptive tech. EY is working on using AI to automate audit and complex areas such as IFRS16 analysis. Similar technology, GL.ai, by PWC is promising to revolutionize audit and other areas within accounting.

5. Value: Many firms are looking into transforming their business and adding either a digital services side or a business consulting side. This can be tricky, but many have succeeded. Adding value to your clients beyond just accounting services is a foolproof way to future-proof your business. With automation taking over many functions of the accounting process, firms must look at other services that can help build a better future. Start thinking as a strategic consultant to your clients and adding value beyond just transactional accounting services. One suggestion is to have an app or fully responsive website and customer access portal where clients can access all their documents from anywhere and any device. Give them an option of signing documents digitally, which is more efficient. If you take a look at the current technology offerings in popular app stores, some names that may ring a bell are Xero, Planday, TaxActExpress, Credit Karma Tax, TurboTax, QuickBooks, YNAB and others that are currently taking down the walls of traditional accounting.

Remember: The new generation of clients is using a mobile device or a tablet on the go to access information, and if your firm wants to remain future-focused, build your presence within their lives through technology.

No matter how big your firm is today, I'm hoping you plan to stay in business, help more entrepreneurs and enterprise make sense of the complexity of key accounting aspects of business, and make the world a better place. To do so, firms must change how they operate key elements of the practice and leverage technology everyday operational business needs. It is no longer an option to be a digitally forward business, but a necessity.

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