In our recent webinars, about the landscape of accounting in the coming year, we brought together some of the leading figures in the industry today.
In the UK webinar, our panel was made up of key industry figures including:
- Jeremy Hayllar, Head of Business Advisory, BDODrive Solutions at BDO UK
- Gary Turner, Co-Founder & MD (UK) at Xero
- Gemma Taylor, Technology Lead @ Propel by Deloitte
- Gilad Amir, Head of Fintech at Lloyds Banking Group
The panel for the Australia webinar featured
- David Boyar, Co-Founder of SequelCFO
- Rob Stone, National Partner Director of Xero
- Peter Saccasan, National Head of Business Advisory of RSM.
Artificial intelligence and automation
Machine learning and artificial intelligence have been on the rise for a couple of years now, but 2018 will see a real takeover from automation and tech. Across both webinars, AI and automation were hot topics of conversation, with each panel sure of their benefits.
Because of AI/automation, client meetings can be approached in a new way. Peter (RSM) tells us:
The availability of data being better and quicker will enable our accountants to refresh their clients relationships.
Jeremy (BDO) concurs, explaining that he sees firms focusing on how to engage with clients and raise efficiency. The underpinning solution to this is ensuring teams are capable enough to cope, but also having the right people to combine the powers of tech with interpersonal skills.
Firms need to be planning to get their teams to where they need to be and decide what incentives there will be for internal innovators.
Rob (Xero AU) tells us in his view, that 2018 is going to be huge for smaller practices:
Larger firms are competing more aggressively in the smaller business economy; 2018 is going to be the year of the small firm. SME firms have more access to tools than ever to chase high-value clients. The tools we use to convert data into information, like Futrli, will become essential.
So while the gap closes between large and smaller firms, there’s actually a marked difference in how clients are choosing their accountants. Of course, the larger firms will sometimes be better suited to some, while others will prefer smaller firms, but overall it’s the access to tools and applications that are driving clients towards practices. A trend noticed by Gemma (Propel by Deloitte) she explains:
Accountants have to become much more clued in about the cloud and apps. They need to be able to suggest a tool that can access real-time data. People want cash flow forecasting using AI to mitigate risk. It’s like with Futrli, we can deliver insights for clients to grow and spot risks.
Clients asking for technology that hasn’t yet been adopted by some firms shows that with time, younger generations of entrepreneurs and CEO/CFOs are recognising the power of real-time data and projections. This means technology must be adopted by firms across the world simply to keep up with client demand, let alone to stay competitive.
Education is changing
We believe that combining education with technology is the best way to work.
Gary (Xero UK) tells us in his experience education and upskilling is key. Accountants must expand their skillsets or else face being behind their competitors:
Traditional accountancy is expanding to encompass data compliance, advisory, skills and education making people up to speed, hiring. New skills in to firm, is the huge key area. If you’re not ahead of this in the next 12 months you’re going to be left behind.
Meanwhile, in Australia, David (SequelCFO) sees value in putting himself in the shoes of a business owner. He thinks that while education plays a huge role in client satisfaction, there are a few things to employ in your day to day practice which will get you started. He says accountants should stop regarding themselves as partners in firms, but to think how their clients do.
I put my job title as CEO on LinkedIn, which put me in the mindset of a business owner. The second you start thinking like that you start thinking about strategy and products and about value.
This is a theme spanning the planet, as Jeremy (BDO) confirms, saying the working backwards is a good way to get started. This ‘reverse engineering’ approach will show you what clients are out to achieve, therefore you can work in reverse to come up with a solution.
What does the client want in the end? … What information do people want to see? Work back from there.
Launching Futrli Advisory Certification in 2017 was huge for us, but the results have been better than we could have expected. It’s not about selling software or the cloud to business owners, rather helping them see the value in the products and the ways of working available.
Similarly, in firms younger staff (or more tech astute accountants in general) will be starting to train on cloud-based tech, and expect them rolled out in practices. Upgrade to attract the new generation of accounting professionals.
Focus shifts to strategy
That the importance of both business modelling and cash flow forecasting will increase significantly.
As we know, the best way to move forward towards growth sustainably is to have a solid understanding of data and what it means, and why. Clients need to know their core revenue streams so they can work on building other areas up to match those.
David tells us that he thinks strategic partnerships will be on the rise over the coming years. His approach is to maintain a broad network of professionals, who can learn from one another. Collaboration is key in his strategy, as he says:
Business owners are getting smarter, asking questions we don’t have all the answers to, and I think will start choosing advisors based on networks. We saw this year in the accounting world that all the accounting events have had record numbers – everything was over attended. We’re getting off our computer screens and into the real world.
Emphasis going on communication and face time with clients, we can see that the traditional stereotype of an accountant shackled to their desk is being subverted. It’s time to get out into the world, as better plans and strategies can be made.
AI and automation are claiming previously manual tasks, there’s a real need to expand on what you offer. Clients are beginning to pay for the knowledge gap they have, and which you can fill.
Real-time communication sees focus
A massive 72% of millennial business owners think instant response rates from their accountants a non-negotiable part of service, as found in The Millennial Business Owner-Accounting Firm Survey Special Report.
This, alongside the development of communication tools, means the structure of traditional firms is being broken down – and that’s true of businesses too.
Flexibility is an asset, so being able to jump on a video call is essential. Your team need to be vetted for who will be best at these interpersonal conversations. Gemma (Propel by Deloitte) tells us:
Facetime is really important to our clients, even if it’s not in person, video software does it. As long as you have a good relationship it’s not an issue.
Clients feel reassured hearing advice from a real person. Emails can be useful, but a block of text is harder to understand than an explanation that one can question and relate to.
With AI bots available, and a host of tools out there that can pick up queries for you, it’s going to be changing the face of communication between clients and accountants.
Marketing in 2018
David makes a solid point of referrals staying at ‘number one’ when it comes to revenue growth.
Rob (Xero AU) agrees, saying:
Do a great job for your existing clients, that is what builds advocacy from within networks as well, then having the confidence to ask for those referrals. Going that extra mile and surprising a good client with a great outcome, that’s what gets people talking.
Surprisingly, when asked for comments or questions, the UK audience didn’t ask about promoting advisory services, whereas over in Australia it was a hot topic.
White labelling the Futrli platform shows your branding on every page of the application. This positions your firm as professional in its reporting and forecasting, etc, but importantly allows you to claim Futrli as your own.
Referring back to The Millennial Business Owner-Accounting Firm Survey Special Report, the majority of respondents said they preferred monthly billing, which adds value for your firm. The trend is mostly with those 30 and under, as more than half prefer monthly billing and 31% want fixed fees.
Our key takeaways are the focus on education, automation and real-time data and communication. 2018 is set to be an exciting year, and as Gary says: “Who wants to be the last analogue accountant in a digital age?”