The question of where the accounting profession is heading has vexed accountants regularly for several years now, dividing the proactive from the reactive; those who are making changes to their practice and those who chose to “wait and see.”
Those viewing and even assisting in the all-encompassing “change” occurring in the practice of accounting know that doing little to nothing is not the tone of the day, with the largest chunk of accounting professionals simply wanting to know how to make necessary, incremental changes for the betterment of their practice and their work with clients.
Wayne Schmidt is the practice advisor with Karbon and has close to 30 years’ experience working with the accounting profession. We recently spoke with Schmidt, who will also be presenting at the upcoming Accountex USA (formerly SleeterCon) event, about what matters most to accounting professionals today and how exactly they can go about making the necessary adjustments to survive and quite possibly thrive.
AW: What do you believe is keeping most accountants awake at night and why?
Schmidt: Actually I don’t think anything right at this point of time is keeping accountants awake at night, apart from that one team member you really should let go (your team will thank you). However, change happens in our industry over a period of time, and already Australia and New Zealand have seen compliance services become commoditized.
Cloud accounting has changed the marketplace; clients now have more accurate information with bank feeds and greater visibility of cash flow, while the associated time cost in the practice dealing with legacy systems using data files disappears.
You will find removing data files gives you back capacity; don’t miss this opportunity to move toward business advisory services. The trend toward monthly billing will continue, and it’s a win for the client and solves issues for the practice with write-offs.
Already the trend in regions that have adopted cloud accounting is greater pressure from clients reviewing the value that traditional compliance practices deliver.
AW: What can you say to accountants who still aren’t sold on the idea that “advisory services” are the way to go?
Schmidt: Think of the value exchange at the moment. Clients [probably] see you annually, maybe even a few times more. They come into your office, find out how much tax they owe, and you bill them.
The government has positioned our industry as tax collectors. Yes, you can spin it that you’re a tax saver, but in the end, the client pays the government and you.
Now, business advisory services is a whole different conversation. It will involve regular business health check meetings, looking forward for the client, and being that trusted advisor.
You’re the change champion; always pushing, looking at business processes and challenging those dreaded words “we’ve always done it that way.” This changes the whole conversation with the client, from government tax collector to trusted advisor.
If nothing else, you will make more money. Business advisory services allow you to differentiate your practice and actively gain higher-quality clients while increasing fees.
AW: Are there any particular niche service areas that could potential take off over the next year or so and why?
Schmidt: Two words – cloud integrator. Look around at all the add-on products that allow cloud accounting products to deliver amazing benefits to businesses. I’m talking reporting, process improvement, eliminating data entry, ecommerce, payment systems, etc.
The opportunity to automate processes for a business has tangible benefits that can be measured and valued. As they say: automate, eliminate, and delegate.
AW: What are some of the best client retention methods you have heard of lately?
Schmidt: Moving to a monthly billing system that incorporates reporting or business health checks. You become the business coach for the client, holding them accountable. I’ve seen firms introduce strategy days or run quarterly advisory board meetings.
AW: Any final advice for accounting professionals to help make it through the next year in their practice?
Schmidt: Double down on your professional development, and attend as many conferences or vendor events as you can. Learn what’s already occurred in other countries. Change is happening. You can sit back and ignore it, resist it, or, my preferred strategy, run headlong toward the change.
Service-based industries tend to have change occur for years, so those that run toward it always end up leading from the front, which means you’re then in control of your direction and destiny.
The beautiful benefit is you remain relevant and are valued as a thought leader and trusted advisor, which means increased fees.