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New best practices for accountancy firms in the digital era

The modern, cloud-based digital age is changing the way accountancy firms work, and those firms which recognise this and take steps to adapt will be the ones that are most successful in the medium to long term. Here are a few ways for accountancy firms to make the most of the new digital landscape.

Don’t fight new technology – embrace it

Many accounting firms still consider the vision demonstrated by successful tech firms as disruptive, rather than transformative, but it’s a false equation. The successful firms of the future won’t be afraid to think further ahead and will accept new technology as a compliance enabler for their business.

These firms will be able to expand their offering into high-end consultancy at one end and ‘real time’ reporting and financial analysis at the other. The former will dominate narrow niches of commercial advice, as artificial intelligence and automation come to dominate the more general legislative and compliance areas of the business. The latter will leverage tech and automation to deliver insight for strategy monitoring and adjustment to help deliver client objectives.

Identifying new opportunities within the business will also be key to future survival and CRM deployment is an essential part of this in the changing landscape. Communicating such opportunities to those with the advisory skills to add client value and earn revenue in the process will also be key. A properly deployed CRM will empower the advisory arm of the accountancy practice to embrace continual service delivery where it’s most needed.

Demonstrate quick wins to overcome resistance to change

Resistance to change is inevitable, and can often provide a perfectly legitimate framework of checks and balances to make sure that any proposed changes are the right ones. You need to be able to clearly outline the benefits of change – and if you can’t, the changes may not actually be worth the trouble. But on the other hand, an influential partner or board member could also have the effect of preventing necessary improvements, purely based on their own prejudices and force of will.

So demonstrating quick and easy wins, with benefits for staff and partners, should be a part of the change process. Process automation such as quick and efficient client engagement and billing should be easily demonstrable benefits of embracing CRM. As is the winning of new business through cross selling or improved lead generation. Demonstrating successes such as these is a key change accelerator and CRM can make it even easier with the use of clear dashboards to convey KPIs.

Use a background plan to persuade partners to change

The problem isn’t that board members and partners are actively opposed to change – the issue tends to be that they don’t yet see the need. It’s very difficult to spell out a clear benefit of any given change or progression to every partner, who may have different levels of understanding regarding the transformation that is already underway in the industry. This apathy is also an obstacle to getting staff on-board, as they don’t necessarily get any direct credit from their work or input into the process.

So for real change, you should agree a background plan at board level. This doesn’t have to be spelt out in full, but broken down into small, easily understood steps, which can each be quickly and easily achieved. There should of course be a clear and detailed plan, with a senior board member assigned to make it happen, who can keep focused and disciplined during implementation, whatever the resistance from stakeholders.

Redefine the partnership model by creating a commercially-focused board

Partnerships aren’t the ideal model for any forward-thinking commercial organisation. The modern accountancy practice must create a commercial board which can focus on the long-term strategic objectives of the firm as a commercial concern, whether or not that affects the short-term impact on any specific individual’s earnings.
Partners’ access to the firm’s resources to affect earnings potential from traditional compliance-based activity shouldn’t be allowed to inhibit any plans to modernise the business. The firm should have the confidence to curtail or even cut off existing revenue streams in favour of longer term earning plans for the business.

Change is inevitable, and those firms which appropriate it first and best will be the ones with an advantage in the new CRM-based landscape which is already underway for accountancy practices. Embracing change – speculatively, and at a sensible pace, will benefit those firms which have the courage and vision to accept it.

John Cheney, CEO Workbooks

A Software-as-a-Service pioneer, John Cheney launched one of the first software as a service companies back in the late 1990s.

He is a successful entrepreneur with over eighteen years experience in the IT industry; ten of which have been running IT companies in Europe and North America.