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What clients really want from their Accountant # 4

We asked 428 business owners if they were interested in you having direct access to their data in real time and then send you alerts and advice if something untoward is happening. As you can see 21% are not interested at all yet 79% said they were interested in this, said it was worth exploring or suggested that is what you should be doing in the first place!

Survey - real time data

With real time data consolidated into one location using tools like PANALITIX (www.panalitix.com) you can interpret the numbers, be alerted to what is going on and then advise your clients accordingly.

With all of this data at your fingertips, what are you going to do with it? I think you have a duty of care and obligation to advise the clients how to improve the numbers. If you are living by the mantra of ‘all clients are buying all services that help them achieve their goals’ then it’s not selling new services. It’s servicing your clients properly.

Here is a list of 14 services that you could offer:

  1. Cash flow forecasting and analysis
  2. Profit improvement program
  3. Monitoring & accountability program
  4. Debt re-structuring
  5. Capital raising
  6. Interest reduction service
  7. Waste audit
  8. Revenue improvement strategies
  9. Creditor analysis & negotiation
  10. Product profitability analysis
  11. Debtor management service
  12. Tax planning & tax minimization
  13. Business Planning
  14. Inventory management system

All are valuable services that will make a significant impact to your client’s financial future. By ‘staying close to the numbers’ you have a better chance of the client buying the service. With good systemization of the services you can have Accountants of all levels deliver the service – not just the Partners.

You will need to learn some sales skills on how to have your clients buy them. You will also need some new tools (get rid of the spreadsheets, please) so you can systemize the services.

Now here’s the big one. We all know that cashflow (lack thereof) is the main reason businesses fail. The number one issue in businesses around the world right now is cashflow management.

We all know it and the Accounting profession is uniquely placed to help improve it.

Your clients want it as well. Well, not all clients want it. In our survey 29% said they did not. However, 71% said that if the service was reasonably priced and they could see value in it then they would be interested in exploring the idea.

Survey - cashflow

It’s a no brainer. I ask Accountants what’s the most valuable service they can offer to their business clients. No surprises. It is cashflow monitoring and forecasting. So if it’s the most valuable then how many of your business clients have a live, working, accurate and real time cashflow forecast? Very few is always the answer. Yet this is the most valuable thing you can do. Here’s what we (the business community) want when it comes to cashflow. We want to know how much free cash we have each month to spend on whatever we want to spend it on. We want to know how we are tracking and what we can do to improve it. Your clients are not financial analysts like you. You can help us in this area.

The service you provide is a cashflow forecasting and monitoring service. In your definition you call it a ‘3 way rolling cashflow.’ It covers the cash flow forecast, the profit & loss and the balance sheet. If your client is borrowing money from a bank then the bank wants it. Even if your client is not borrowing money then it is a good thing to have. The problem with ‘hard drive’ based systems (or heaven forbid spreadsheets) is that once they are created they are out of date. By using old technology you cannot monitor the cashflow unless it is manually entered.

With cloud accounting and ‘add on’ partners like PANALITIX you can do this automatically. You can prepare the forecast based on historical data plus some planning. You can ‘normalize’ the numbers month to month with the client. You can consolidate the data as it is transacted at the client’s end and because the accounting data is linked to the ‘bank feeds,’ the cashflow, the forecast and the balance sheet is kept up to date every single day. Now that’s Real Time Accounting!

If the bank needs an update then you can provide it quickly. If your client wants it then you can provide it quickly. If you have got your client on a monitoring service then you can be immensely valuable.

Becoming the Real Time Accountant is more than a goal, a wish, a hope or a mindset shift. It’s about changing your behavior, your systems, your technology and your services. It’s about making a difference.

RIP the Redundant Data Accountant. Rise…the Real Time Accountant.

PS. A full report on what 428 business owners want from their Accountant can be downloaded for free by clicking here.

What clients really want from their Accountant # 3

I think that technology is ‘dumbing down’ the value of the Accountant. Before technology Accountants had to think about the client’s situation more and communicate (with spoken words) more than they do now. These days the Accountant just needs to know which keys to hit in which order on the keyboard.

It seems Accountants would rather ‘rip off an email’ and think their job is done rather than give the client a call. It seems Accountants would rather send work via email or courier rather than present the work to the client. I think most of the value created is in the conversation and the presentation.

Take a look at what the 428 business owners told us when it comes to annual accounts. Over half (52%) said they got their year-end work either emailed, posted or couriered to them for signing.

Survey - The way financial statements are presented

This is disgraceful. Most of the profession’s revenue is in compliance right now. This is your primary product and you email it to your clients for signing! Save me please. No wonder clients do not value compliance! You don’t value it. You downplay the value of it by emailing it. I (and your clients) have 2 primary questions when it comes to our year end financials.

  1. How much tax do I have to pay and why?
  2. Where did the money go?

How will I know those answers if you email me your primary product? I do also wonder what happens in the face-to-face (45% of occasions) meetings. I bet they are not structured nor do they offer a huge amount of value.

Stop sending your primary product for signing via courier post or email. You are wasting an opportunity to add value, ask questions and maybe find another project.

Make sure when you do meet with your client to present the year end accounts that you actually explain what they mean. Make sure you do a 3-year historical ‘Business Performance Review’ at least once per year to add value to the history. Make sure that you ask (in this meeting) what their goals are and then you can start to match services that help them achieve their goals.

Technology can certainly make our lives easier and more efficient. Technology should enhance a client experience not diminish it.

Without a doubt the no. 1 technology thing that you can do in your firm is to suggest/encourage/cajole/insist your clients move to a cloud accounting product. Although there are issues associated with cloud accounting I think it is the most important thing you can do with your clients. The issues are only issues if you do nothing about the efficiency gains you get from using cloud based accounting.

With your clients on a desktop product you have redundant data. With your clients on cloud accounting you can be so much more real time. You can add value now, not later. You can get a heartbeat of your clients every day. You can make a massive difference to their financial condition. You can take the ‘financial intimacy’ up a number of levels.

Many firms are insisting that 100% of their clients move across to a cloud based accounting system. It just makes sense to do so. The vast majority of firms will have 2-3 products in their client base. Most Accountants will not align themselves with just one provider. I think that is the right thing to do. You match the product to the clients’ needs.

There are many firms who are going further than just promoting a cloud based accounting system. The ultimate solution at the client’s site is where every aspect of the technology ‘talks’ to each other. The accounting data is integrated with the customer data. The accounting and customer data is integrated with the inventory control data and all that integrates with the distribution system. So the entire supply chain is covered. All of that data is consolidated into daily ‘dashboards’ so the business owners can see what is going on in every aspect of their business.  This sort of technology used to cost millions of dollars to buy and implement. Because of the massive development in cloud computing you can get it for a few hundred dollars per month.

The right technology can give the business owner better data to make better management decisions. You can be at the center of all the technology by recommending systems which will help.

You are the expert in financial coaching. With better data you can be a better financial coach. With the right technology and the right data you truly can become the Real Time Accountant. You can download the entire report on what 428 business owners want from their Accountant my clicking here.

What clients want from their Accountant #2

Our research indicates a client will leave an Accountant for either ‘Service’ or ‘Services.’ They are either unhappy with the customer service (speed of communication, turnaround time, etc) or with the services they are buying or not buying from you. Under the services banner it includes value for money, pricing, mistakes or something else they think they need but are not getting.

We asked the 428 business owners ‘if you had to choose one thing, what should your Accountant do?’ We gave them 5 possible answers.

  1. Do more marketing
  2. Lift your service levels
  3. Be more transparent with your pricing
  4. Focus more on the future rather than the past
  5. Offer more services that help me improve my business.

If we bunch no. 2 & 3 together (service levels and pricing) then we get 31%. I am going to call those the ‘Service’ answers. If we bunch 3 & 4 together (better advice and valuable services) we get 61%. This would be the ‘Services’ answers. A staggering 92% said that they want more from you and they want to improve your customer service.

Survey - what advice to your Accountant

The business community has spoken loud and clear. Your clients want more help, more communication and better customer service. I know you’re busy (doing compliance) and that can no longer be an excuse. We’re all busy and time allocation is a priority not a resource. You must get a systematic program in place for contacting your clients. You must offer more services that really help your clients’ financial condition.

You have financial intimacy right now with your clients. That’s why they stay with you. You know things about them that very few people do. If you want to keep them then you need to increase the level of financial intimacy. You need to improve the customer service and you need to broaden your service offering. Since I started in this profession in 1994 I have been saying the same thing in many different ways. Be proactive and add value. If you don’t, someone else will.

You can get the full report on what else the 428 business owners said about their Accountants by clicking here.

What clients want from their Accountant # 1

We just finished a survey of 428 small to medium business owners. We asked them a whole series of questions regarding what they want from their Accountant. they way they wanted to be communicated with. How they wanted to be contacted and what services they are looking for. I am going to publish a few of the findings here. You can get the full report for free by clicking here.

One of the early set of questions was around communication. We were specifically looking for how well Accountants communicate now and what their clients want. With face-to-face communication you can see by the table below that 62% want more face-to-face contact.  Of course, provided there is value in the meeting.

Survey - more face to face

The key is that there is value in the meeting. You are busy and your clients are busy. If there is value then (judging by 428 responses) your clients are receptive to meeting you more frequently. To create value why don’t you do a brainstorm meeting in your office on the client. Come up with some ideas for improvement and take those ideas to the client.

Face-to-face meetings take time. A phone call does not. A touch base ‘how’s it going call’ is seriously valuable and shows that you are interested in their affairs. As you can see below a staggering 40% of clients NEVER get a call from their Accountant. What a wasted opportunity to add value and maybe find a new project. More than half got a call never or once per year.

Survey - how often called

I ask Accountants all the time if they have good relationships with their clients. An overwhelming YES is the response. To create a relationship it requires communication. How can you honestly have a good relationship with someone if you only meet with them 1-2 times per year and speak with them once per year? Just imagine if you only spoke to your life partner (assuming you have one) at home once or twice a year. How would the relationship be? For some of you… better!

So how much communication is too much? Just by asking the target market some still say (12%) that they do not want any phone communication from you. It’s interesting that 40% do not get a call now yet 12% do not want a call. So I am thinking thinking that 28% of the ‘I don’t get a call now’ group do actually want a call. The vast majority in our survey (78%) think a proactive call anything from 1 to 4 times per year would be a good idea. So call it 2 or 3 times per year.

Survey - how often like to be called

This is not rocket science. The service levels are so bad in the Accounting profession that anything simple like a proactive phone call to ‘check in’ can make the world of difference to the perception of you, your business and your services. You can get the full report for free by clicking here.

NZ Accountants – lets stop the rot!

This week the Accountants industry report from Business Fitness New Zealand – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – was released. It is not good nor bad but it sure is UGLY what is happening to the NZ Accounting profession. You can buy your copy here. I was asked to write the opening remarks for this years report. My summary says it all.

In 2001 I wrote the very first edition of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Accounting profession. Back then 105 (Australian and New Zealand) firms submitted their numbers and the average profit per partner was around $160,000. Since then businessfitness was formed and my original work has been carried on in New Zealand for 11 consecutive years.

I am thrilled that I have been asked to write the opening remarks this year. It makes me proud that the commentary and analysis has continued. However, it does not make me proud what is going on in the New Zealand Accounting profession. In short, it’s going backwards.

All you have to do is take a look at my profit per partner analysis below of the last 11 years. In 2004 the actual median profit per partner was $176,163. In 2014 the actual median profit per partner is $190,409. Not only has the actual profit per partner declined in the past 8 years (from a high of $229,646 in 2007) but when you apply ‘CPI plus a bit’ of just 5% to each year since 2004 the then the 2014 comparison results are staggering.

The other numbers of WIP, Receivables, Write offs, Average Hourly Rate and Productivity have gone up, down and sideways. At the end of the day it’s the profit per partner that matters.

Every expense in a firm is increasing. Salaries and overheads are increasing and you should be running a better firm each year so applying 5% per year profit growth is a very conservative growth target. Based on 5% the median profit per partner in 2014 should be $286,951. Alas, this year it’s only $190,409. That’s almost a $100,000 difference per partner!

 

On $190k how can partners afford private school education, decent cars, reasonable holidays and still give back to the community? Most can’t.

And to make matters worse isn’t the Accounting profession supposed to be “The Trusted Advisor” – the primary business adviser? Most partners are making less than their clients yet they are advising them of business success! Hmmm.

So why is this happening? I think there are 3 primary reasons:

  1.  Cloud accounting technology is driving efficiencies in the firm and the profession has been forced to reduce prices.
  2. Savvy clients have more information than ever before and they are asking more ‘price’ and ‘value’ related questions
  3. Nimble Accounting firms are promoting bundled and cheaper prices than ever before and thus ‘commoditising’ compliance.

There is more of this to come as well. To counteract these market forces the profession has not acted fast enough in marketing, value pricing and delivering business advisory services.

As the old saying goes “if nothing changes, nothing changes.” What that means is if you do nothing (strategy, process, tools etc.) then nothing changes. In this case doing nothing means everything changes. And a sharp decline in profit should be enough to motivate the industry to change.

I think there are 7 key things the profession needs to do to remain relevant and stop the leakage.

  1. Improve client service. One of the key reasons clients leave because of poor ‘service’. Adding value to what you are currently doing is critical.
  2. Train your team. Gone are the days when an Accountant who ‘processes’ compliance work can command the salaries they do. They must get new skills and add value to what work they are doing – otherwise the technology and off shore labour will replace them.
  3. Marketing every day. The profession has a lot to offer yet no one knows about the cool work you can do. Marketing is a must.
  4. Service offerings need to be increased. Just offering compliance or ad-hoc advisory is not enough. The profession needs to get involved in ‘financial coaching’ a structured way whilst staying close to the numbers.
  5. Pricing differently. Charging by the hour (especially in arrears) is so last century. You need to price in advance and preferably based on the value you create for the client.
  6. Sales skills. With increased competition and new services to sell the profession needs to learn how to sell.
  7. Cloud promotion. Due to social behaviour and technology companies driving change you cannot stop it. So join it. Promote cloud accounting & use modern tools to capitalise on it.

It’s not all doom and gloom. However if the profession does not do something different then who knows what the next 10 years will look like.

The graph below tells the story. I urge you to pass this onto every Accountant you know and let’s stop the decline. On January 20 2015 I will be doing a webinar in NZ to help stop the rot.

NZ Accountants

Elliott http://thefitnesscircle.org/nutrisystem/ News Pictures