Let’s get one thing straight: Technology is not replacing you anytime soon. However, it is performing some of your previous functions.
So, the question now is: How well can you actively participate in your own redundancy of irrelevant tasks (in the eyes of the client)?
Know What Business You are In
When it comes to relinquishing control to technology, it’s important to remember what business we are in and not to confuse it with what we do. Despite some belief to the contrary, we are not in the tax, audit, bookkeeping or even the accounting business. These are things we do. Rather, we are in the client service business, and what we are distributing is knowledge. Put another way: If you don’t get involved and educate clients on how to effectively utilize technology in their business, chances are someone else will.
Tech isn’t the Answer, it’s the Enabler
If keeping the books is something clients struggle with, why not first offer to educate and empower them to do it themselves with a cloud accounting solution you set up for them or connect them with a trusted and high-quality consultant or bookkeeper who can get things right for the client and you? Some clients may prefer for you to handle their bookwork, which is fine, but always offer the self-service option first. Remember: You’re not in the product business, you’re in the service-based education and empowerment business.
So how can you play a proactive role in giving your clients this technology that can replace some of the tasks you currently perform and avoid pegging your perceived value only to tech implementation?
Introducing tech to your client is about pre-framing and positioning the conversation, not in a contrived way, but being clear as to why tech is important for them and their business. Also, discuss the benefits it delivers and the challenges it solves (from their perspective, not yours) and what the implementation is going to mean for your future relationship (e.g. enhanced quality of information that you can analyze and advise from, regular interaction and guidance on their business activity, setting goals and monitoring performance).
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The first step is getting the low-value repetitive work out of the way for both the client and you. Implementing technology is perfect for this! Review all activities that you currently undertake and determine what can be automated or eliminated. Clients’ expectations are rising about what technology should be delivering to them. They believe they know what’s possible and how it can help them but don’t know who to turn to for help and what and how to implement. This is where you come in!
The transition to cloud software has so far largely mimicked the desktop rollout (albeit with enhanced interest and participation by the profession). Arguably, cloud solutions are better suited to creating the advisory platform. However, what remains to be seen is that the mass adoption provides a universal shift in the trajectory of deliverable value-added services actually being provided by the professional advisor. Try and stay clear of getting stuck in the switch; if your focus is churning clients from desktop to cloud, you run the risk of just being the transition person, and once the job is done, your relevance will diminish. Cloud is (potentially) different if you continue to stay involved and interested in the client’s business beyond satisfying your need to access the data.
Beyond the Commodity of Automation
Always be willing to teach clients what you know (remember: de-mystifying is your role). However, be sure to keep it relevant to their needs. This is not about trying to show them how much you know, but more about them knowing (by your actions) how much you care.
One opportunity. beyond the tech introduction, is for accounting professionals to get more involved in the tech enablement of clients’ businesses by identifying and implementing technology solutions that can enhance business performance and results beyond the core accounting engine.
How can you discover solutions that can help clients manage key aspects of their business operations? Start with the Big Six:
- E-Commerce (POS)
- Advanced Inventory (Wholesale, Distribution, Warehousing, Manufacturing)
- CRM/Job & Workflow Management
- Receipt Capture & Document Management
- Analytics/Dashboard Reporting
- Advanced Payroll/HR
Introduce “business systems reviews” as a part of your service offering. Walk through your client’s business operations to understand the processes that occur before the accounting happens. This will help you appreciate the workflow behind the numbers, reveal opportunity for refinement and offer the possibility of utilizing technology to drive more effective businesses.
Enabling your clients with technology isn’t a threat to accountants and bookkeepers. It's an opportunity. Think of it as your responsibility as the professional to treat the client’s business as though it is your own. So it’s worth asking yourself this question: Based on what you know about your client, what technology will enable them to build a stronger, more fulfilling business?
About Clayton Oates
Clayton Oates is recognised as a respected member of the Accounting | Bookkeeping and Technology Industries in Australia and Internationally. He has been working in (and consulting to) the Accounting | Bookkeeping and Software Consulting industries in Australia for more than 25 years. After completing a Business (Accounting) degree at Monash University Melbourne he joined Price Waterhouse, working in the tax division for 5 years, then moving into industry as a retail Accountant followed by 9 years with Accounting firm Rutherfords (now Crowe Horwath), based in Northern NSW.
In 1997 he created (a Software Advisory & Consultancy business within an Accounting Firm) focussed on improving business systems, productivity and performance for Small Business Owners & Operators, Software Consultants, Bookkeepers and Accountants. Since its inception, QA Business has set up and managed thousands of business software systems throughout Australia, from start-up businesses through to large corporations.
Internationally Clayton has been recognised in the Top 25 Thought Leaders In the Accounting Profession (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) by USA based CPA Practice Advisor, the first inclusion by an Australian on this list.
Clayton is a sought-after presenter, regularly speaking at business and technology events around the world.