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Professional services: A new world order?

Lynne Rawlinson


Many of us will be familiar with the ‘Big 4’ Accounting Firms. Whilst auditing, accounting and taxation are the established core services, they also offer management consultancy, systems and operations consultancy and increasingly, corporate legal services. They have developed the capability to offer Business Solutions, not just transactional accounting services geared up to meeting regulatory requirements and deadlines.

Within the small to medium enterprise (SME) sector is this approach thinkable?  Could the service be more than a traditional accounting service?

In the good times, SME accounting practices was growing, there were more clients, greater demand than could be fulfilled. This profusion also upwardly propelled the hourly rates too.

However the recent challenging years will have been business changing. Some practices will have been merged or acquired, some may downsized with some even having folded. 

So what can the practice owner consider to move their organisation forward:

  • Regulation & Technology: The profession will be subject to changing (possibly increasing) regulation. Existing and new technology can increasingly support the preparation and delivery of repetitive accountancy tasks efficiently and productively in line with new or forthcoming regulatory changes. Cloud based services, aligned to regulation requirements, now offer cost effective subscription based solutions.
  • Process Improvement & Governance: Review internal processes on how client projects are delivered from inception through to delivery. Are there similarities? Are there opportunities to ‘template’ these processes? Does your existing technology help with this or does it hinder standardisation? The potential value to you and your customer is that you are able to quickly gauge the effort required to support the client’s project through the use of templates and checklists.
  • Business Advisory Strategy: The above gives the practitioner owner time to focus on clients’ special projects and to grow their business within a strategic framework – one which could include: business vision; customer focus and customer service; market and sales planning; up-to-date CPD training; introducing or enhancing skillsets into the organisation – to deliver true business advisory services. It is also important to consider surrounding the business with alliances and partnerships that support the strategy leading to clients being able to access a potential ‘one-stop shop’ for business solutions.
  • Openness: Increase your transparency. All too often, the practice will engage with the client at the beginning of a project, randomly, often at short notice, and at the end of a project, together with an uninformative invoice. Imagine if your clients were able to see daily progress on the project? This could be analogous to customers being able to track the delivery of their catalogue or web orders. Within a process minded and customer-focused organisation this will be a welcome offering. Cloud and smarthphone technologies easily support safe and secure access by clients to their portfolios.

Ah – but all this is cost and affects the bottom line!!

The initial costs will be there. However by reviewing your business strategy, reviewing, streamlining and formalising the business processes, by introduction and use of the appropriate technology, these costs will actually contribute to reductions in your service delivery costs. Furthermore, increased productivity will give your organisation the leverage to move your business towards being a more consultative and business solution service – distinguishing you against your traditional competitors. 

Whilst the above looks at a high level at the SME accounting profession, this experience is applicable to the legal and financial professions.