It's not exactly ground-breaking to say that business priorities shift over time.
The world keeps spinning, and change is continuous.
However, what remains the same for accountants and bookkeepers at any time is that you need to know what is most important to your clients. And what has become increasingly critical to businesses today is accurate, informed insights into making wise financial decisions, saving money, and generating revenue.
According to Karl Smith, Senior Manager of Education, Training & Membership at SAIPA's CoBA:
"The main reason companies fail is due to poor management – operational, administrative and financial. This means company leaders, especially those running small businesses, need good advice on how to manage their organisations successfully."
Today's accountants and bookkeepers increasingly have the incentive and opportunity to move from bookkeeping towards the realm of data analytics. This means being able to leverage financial forecasting, analysis, and cash flow projection for your clients and generate dynamic financial and business reports that see to your clients' key objectives.
So, if this is the direction you want to take your firm, how do you go about moving into the advisory space?
Contrary to what you may think, giving your clients what they most need starts at the level of people, not numbers. To build and maintain good relationships with clients, which will help with client retention further down the line, you need to ensure that you have a good emotional connection with them.
In an article for Accountancy South Africa's May 2021 magazine, Peter Serite CA (SA), Managing Director, S&A Chartered Accountants, says that "the single most outstanding quality of anyone running a business is personal touch". It is vital to show your clients that you care about them, not just their money, and that you are prepared to spend your time educating them and listening to their concerns.
No one wants to work with an accountant or bookkeeper who only cares about figures. Yes, numbers are important, but your client wants to feel that you genuinely care about their business. As Faith Ngenway, Technical and Standards Executive at the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA), stated in SAIPA's 38th issue:
"The accountant of the future needs to fully understand the business of their clients to identify issues that may affect it going forward. In the current environment, most businesses need all the support they can get to put them on the road to recovery. It is time for the professional accountant to step up."
So, don’t be afraid to get personal. Get to know your clients and their businesses so that you can help them, especially following the pandemic. This leads to the second step…
Knowing your clients' needs and expectations is crucial. The only guaranteed way to provide your clients with what they truly need is to know what that is.
What clients most value when it comes to financial advice from their accountant or bookkeeper, is someone who knows what their financial goals are.
To help your client reach their financial goals, you need to know what those goals are and suggest a good process for working towards them and measuring their attainment. To do this, you need to work closely with your client to establish their KPIs and how they can most effectively reach their objectives. KPIs need to be SMART to be effective - that means they need to be:
By focusing closely on clients’ KPIs and how they can achieve them, you can provide highly valuable advice and maintain a good relationship with them.
Get on board with the latest technology. Using solutions such as Pixie to automate your workflow can save you a lot of time and energy. This can also help you to keep in regular contact with your clients, which will ensure that you maintain good relationships with them.
With so many new software solutions at your fingertips, it’s never been easier to automate the more humdrum elements of your work. So why not make the most of reporting software like Syft Analytics to help you generate data-driven insights for your clients in less time? You can then leverage this information to provide clients with a detailed analysis of what is going on in their business and how they can address any potential issues - as they occur.
AI tools are really useful at automating repetitive accounting tasks. PJ Bishop, Vice-President for Partners, Accountants & Alliances: Africa & Middle East at Sage, noted that AI enables accountants "to do more with fewer resources and has freed up time and energy for creativity when it comes to analysing and interpreting data to extract real value for clients". Some of the benefits of AI-powered accounting solutions which he lists include:
In Bishop's words:
"The accounting profession is modernising and becoming more sophisticated. While the rules of finance remain the same, the rules of how the work is done are shifting. AI can turbocharge the profession from a backwards-looking “bookkeeping” function to delivering forward-looking insights that drive strategic decisions and transform accountants into true changemakers."
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider what your role entails and how it might change as your clients’ needs change. The accountant of the future offers services beyond bookkeeping, and this is much easier to manage with the help of artificial intelligence and cloud accounting software.
The most useful financial advice is specific to the client. You need to be able to make realistic and informed suggestions about things such as:
According to UK Business Forum's (UKBF) 2020 SME insights report, niche advice is superior to general guidance when working with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). As they write:
"Although long-term, top-level business strategy can often seem like the more interesting side of business advice, this is not always what SME owners want to know about right away... There’s an opportunity for accountants to answer [specific] questions with relevant content – or even to go directly to websites like UKBF to provide advice for those who need it."
Clients who are running SMEs increasingly need personalised, niche advice. So, you need clear data insights at hand to give this to them. With the help of easy to use applications like Pixie and Syft Analytics, you will be better able to focus on maintaining client relationships and providing specific, personal advice to your clients. Knowing your clients and their needs and having the necessary data in a clear, visual format will help you provide specific suggestions for the actions your clients need to take.
Alex Hoffman is the Engagement Manager at Syft Analytics. She writes the blog and works on various other aspects of content creation at Syft. Alex has a background in film and television, as well as English Literature. She enjoys writing helpful, educational, and entertaining articles for readers. Alex is also currently completing her Master’s in Creative Writing. She can be found in her natural habitat - a bookshop, café, or library - drinking tea and most likely reading. Alternatively, you can find her on LinkedIn.
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