7 habits of successful accountants

For a moment, can you to cast your minds back to that wonderful moment in the fantasy children’s book, The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe, when the youngsters leave the real world and enter a magical landscape through the back of the wardrobe that is full of danger and adventure.

I believe the accounting profession is experiencing a similar ‘doorway’ moment and 2017 is likely to be a watershed year or a tipping point with the landscape changing inexorably to one of automation, innovation and disruption.

But what differentiates those that are able to thrive in challenging times? Here are the seven key habits I see in firms of highly successful accountants that are turning today’s digital disruption into a world of opportunity whilst helping their clients in incredible ways.

1. Break with the trusted adviser myths

Being a trusted adviser in 2017 means your clients:

  • Want more not less
  • Will shop around for the right experience
  • Demand data in an accessible, mobile, app format
  • Expect compliance to be done and handled digitally and data shared with them in real time
  • Want more advice, assistance and consultancy to help make the data valuable
  • Look for an adviser who is more successful than them who inspires them
  • Success means habitually responding to the privilege and opportunity that trusted adviser status really does bring

2. Live an authentic mission, vision and plan

Success cannot be left to chance, in this new digital landscape a successful firm will always have an authentic believable mission and vision. The importance of creating a mission statement, a vision statement and a values statement cannot be over emphasised as each has its own distinct function in the strategic planning process for the successful firm.

Here’s a list of catalyst questions and the answers you give can help you differentiate:

  • What does our firm exist to do?
  • What type of businesses do we serve and what would make the ideal type of business?
  • What are your reasons for the answer to number 2 and what does that reveal?
  • What ‘business advisory services with purpose’ would we like to offer?
  • What’s the one clear offer we can make to new or existing clients that’s different and easy to understand and believe?

3. Really understand what your clients want

Take the time to understand that almost all of your clients will use their smartphone for business multiple times a day and that is only set to increase in 2018. Smartphone adoption and app use is now widespread across all sectors, professions and age groups and apps are now the preferred tool to interact, search, watch and listen and we use them to bank, book taxis, create invoices, raise quotes, view films, search for information and guidance – and so much more.

Research during 2016 found that in an average month people spent 73.8 hours in smartphone and tablet apps. Usage time peaks at 93.5 hours for device owners aged between 18 and 24. However, the research found increases in online app use across all age groups: each month, 35 to 44 year-olds spend 78.8 hours in apps and the over 45s spend 62.7 hours. In 2016, there were over 200 billion downloads of apps and in 2017, that number is expected to increase to over 250 billion with over 800 billion hours spent on apps in 2016 (source AppAnnie).

Client expectations have changed and they want mobile, they want on-demand and real time data and they want to be able to send data to their accountant using a smartphone.

4. Respond with successful profitable services

Assuming that your firm is already offering automated management accounts, tax returns, state tax, payroll dividend vouchers and auto enrolment, firms are now shifting from a pure compliance focus to relational engagement services including:

  • Helping clients understand the data
  • Using ‘push notifications’ to provide data in small, valuable chunks
  • Offering a SWOT analysis of their business
  • Marketing and growth programmes
  • Tax efficiency and planning
  • KPI planning
  • Balanced score cards
  • Legacy planning exit planning

Number crunching is taking a back seat and will over the next few years largely be taken care of by AI.

Tailored business advisory services are emerging as the way forward to bring you closer to clients. This will require a change to the pricing model and a move from the transactional commodity to outcome-based pricing, which successful firms find more profitable.

5. TMAI© everything in new client acquisition and stop what doesn’t work

Test, measure, adapt and improve everything you do in client acquisition and stop what doesn’t work. Look at referral generation, mobile marketing, your website and social media, blogs, seminars and webinars individually and if you can’t measure it, it isn't working and if it isn't working, stop it or charge to another cost centre.

6. Focus on making your website work

The firms we work with focus on three essentials to make their websites work:

  • Put SSL on your website – SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer; a standard encryption technology that is used to transfer data from a user's browser to the web server. On a website the secure transfer via a standard SSL certificate is marked with https:// in front of the url instead of the old http:// and is especially important for companies and websites that collect personal information. It shows you are serious about security that’s a reputational plus and because Google also allows search engines to crawl HTTPS pages by default, it improves SEO chances and sites without SSL are flagged.
  • Your website needs a call to action – 90 per cent of visitors won’t be ready to make an enquiry but your website needs to make a soft offer and it’s a major oversight that 96 per cent of sites have no compelling soft offer. Offer something compelling, engaging and free such as a download of an e-guide that’s of value to the visitor in exchange for basic data.
  • Smartphone detection – automates app distribution by detecting when a mobile or tablet is being used and ask if the visitor would like to download your mobile app from the app store.

7. Launch an app for your clients

The cloud is growing and 83 per cent believe that understanding technology is now as important to their job as understanding accountancy. Respond by launching an app. Why?

  • Mobile use has overtaken web
  • In 2016 app revenue grew by 40 per cent
  • Apps account for 89 per cent of mobile media time, with the other 11 per cent is spent on websites.
  • Mobile is now the first screen

The front screen of any mobile device is prime time real estate and real estate an accountant should own. Get control back with your own app with tools, including GPS logbook, expense management that your clients and prospects will return to it time after time.

Your app opens the door to a new way of communicating with clients with direct personal messaging. Automated push notifications have a 0 per cent bounce rate, an 80 per cent+ higher open rate than email and take seconds to send.

Own the digital relationship with your clients

There can be no doubt that the move to digital technology has become a mobile-first experience and a key question being asked now is ‘who owns that digital relationship’ and many accountants have realised it is not their firm, and have been able to remedy that.

Accountants must counteract ‘the Google effect’, the disintermediation plans of government bodies and the lure of free software. Rather than giving away control of the data associated with cloud bookkeeping and accounting software, central to achieving this is to enable the collection of key data from customers – namely income, expenses and mileage.

There is a compelling opportunity for all firms, whether large or small, to now turn digital technology to their advantage, and without that needing to cause lots of unnecessary disruption. These seven habits of successful accountants will help to lay the foundations for you and your clients to be better prepared for the market conditions we all operate in today.