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Richard Brewin | Focus on service to clear the advisory fog

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We recently collaborated with leading consultant to accountants, Richard Brewin FCA of Progress BB, to put together our latest ebook: “Making the shift from compliance to advisory”. Richard works with firms across the UK, helping them develop growth strategies and break their reliance on commoditised compliance services, and instead to build value in both their and their clients’ businesses. Here Richard shares his latest thoughts on what is one of the topics of the moment for accounting firms:

Another week and no doubt another series of webinars and LinkedIn posts around the accountant’s journey towards ‘advisory’. Whilst the profession wrangles over the very definition of the word as well as the rights and wrongs of a compliance/advisory future, most accountants in practice simply get on with the job of looking after their clients.

It’s amazing how much simpler and clearer things become for the firms who look outwards and focus on their clients, particularly if the strategies for doing so are commercially balanced and work as well for the accountant as they do for the client.

I doubt that too many clients are concerned about a compliance versus advisory discussion with their accountant. What clients want from their accountant is relatively simple:

  1. To be eased of the stresses and hassles brought on by Red Tape
  2. To have the confidence that they are being told the things that they need to know
  3. To be reassured that they have someone there who understands and supports them

This has always been the accountant’s role and success has tended to come to those who’ve focused on delivering it. The exciting thing about being an accountant today is that, thanks to digitalisation, client service has never been easier:

  1. The data needed to drive the whole relationship has never been more accessible
  2. The analysis needED to drive the client conversation has never been quicker to gather, interpret and demonstrate.
  3. The route to communicating your education and advice to clients has never been more systematic

Forget ‘advisory’, the successful accounting firm today has a focus on client data at the heart of its operations and a drive to client conversations as its external facing goals.

Everything starts with the bookkeeping conversation, a traditional source of frustration for accountants and client alike and one viewed as undervalued as a consequence. Those times have to be consigned to the bin. Technology has made it easy, the accountant has to make it important.

Without accurate data, the accountant cannot unlock the client relationship. It remains a reactive, low value and backward looking struggle. Addressing client data and bookkeeping issues and bringing all their records up to date has to be a priority for firms to sort.

With accurate data, the world gets very exciting indeed for accountant and client alike and, yes, we can use the word ‘exciting’ in accounting terms. The profession is now well served by what I call ‘Advisory Keys’—software solutions that quickly enable the accountant to demonstrate critical trends, issues and opportunities within the client’s business. Keys which, when put in front of a client, can quickly unlock a different sort of conversation with the client and open the door to a different and more rewarding relationship between accountant and client going forwards.

WhisperClaims’ R&D software is a classic case in point. The R&D tax credit market has a chequered history and many clients and accountants have had their fingers burned by false promises. For a client with clean data, The WhisperClaims software allows the accountant to quickly demonstrate to them the viability and worth of a potential tax credit claim. No more fishing around in the dark with speculative figures.

With cash flow and investment being issues for so many businesses, this in and of itself is a powerful driver. But it’s the wider relationship impact that excites me. Sitting down in front of a client and being able to show them quickly, accurately, visually and with confidence the impact of actions driven by your advice is what changes the nature of the client relationship. Historically, client relationships have tended to be based upon year-end accounts and tax returns with a smattering of advice. Anything more proactive was typically too time-consuming and costly to produce.

We no longer have that issue. Now the client can quickly be given advice, backed up by data and with the benefits there for all to see. This is what will prick clients’ ears up and grab their attention. All of a sudden, we are talking about future actions and not historical events.

Go back to what the client wants:

  1. To be eased of the stresses and hassles brought on by Red Tape
  2. To have the confidence that they are being told the things that they need to know
  3. To have the reassurance of knowing that they have someone there who understands and supports them

Now translate that into the strategies for your firm:

  1. Manage the client to sort out their data
  2. Use your advisory keys to drive the conversation
  3. Be there for them on their journey

My advice is to not overthink the whole advisory thing. Go back to the profession as it was up to the 1980s, when the client was at the heart of everything and the accountant truly was their Trusted Advisor. Use digitalisation to free up your processes and release your client knowledge, and spend that time meaningfully in front of the client with a story to tell.

Good luck!

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