- Successful implementation of new capability is within the reach of every accounting firm.
- Be strategic in your approach to new services. Provide services that your clients rate as highly valuable.
- Don’t let a quest for perfection get in the way of progress.
So, you’ve revised the business plan and you are committed to introducing a value-adding service to your clients. What, exactly, should you do next?
Firstly, you need to set some strict criteria before implementing any new service. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Will clients appreciate it?
- Will it generate a superior rate per hour?
- Do you have systems and team members to get the work done (ie you are not relying on principals doing these assignments in an ad hoc manner)?
- Is someone in the practice genuinely enthusiastic about this area and prepared to act as its champion?
The what: The service you are introducing
Be strategic in your approach to new services. It’s wise to provide services that your clients rate as highly valuable and are priced based on this value, which exceeds hours spent.
Set out below is a selection of potential services that CAs could consider introducing, covering many of the areas that accountants typically contemplate.
Level 1: Cash flow budget, financial health checks, benchmarking, cloud accounting design and monitor KPIs, management meetings, external CFO services, boards of advice, data analysis.
Level 2: Estate planning, valuations, business plans, planning days, salary packaging, business succession, team member surveys, client surveys and advisory panels, angel investor business matchmaking service.
Level 3: Financial planning, lending services, client education programs, recruitment, transition planning, government incentives, team incentives and employee share plans, surviving the tidal wave of change, business migration.
Level one will generally be within accountants’ existing experience and skill set, often simply needing the means by which the work gets performed and formalising the way in which the services are packaged and promoted. It’s often beneficial to start at this level before proceeding to more advanced services.
Level two consists of services that the firm may not have actually provided in the past or relied on a principal undertaking bespoke engagements. Typically these services require additional knowledge, training and new systems in order to be a profitable mainstream offering.
Level three moves even further away from traditional accounting practice. Introducing these services typically requires enlisting assistance from people who are already experienced in this area. Such assistance can be provided by various means – employing an expert, hiring a mentor, a referral arrangement and/or a commercial support agreement. A good example of the latter is a third party organisation that provides a licence to accountants who are providing financial services advice.
The how: Your approach to providing the service
It certainly pays to consider the extent of your prior knowledge and experience in assessing how you tackle the new service. So too, this assessment should extend to the time frame in which you want to introduce it to clients and your budget for establishment costs.
The extent of any spare capacity that can be used for setting up, and ultimately providing, the new service must also be assessed. For some, the conclusion from the assessment will be that the firm has sufficient capability to develop the new service internally. This is the DYI option.
In many cases however, it makes good commercial sense to leverage what others have already built. The advantages include having a track to follow, speed to market and leveraging the experience of others.
By way of illustration, examples of this assisted approach option include the following.
Astute Estate Planner: A highly effective system by which accountants can take an active role in their clients’ estate planning arrangements and cement their role as the client’s most trusted adviser.
Transition Planning Australia: A methodology and consulting framework that empowers accountants to assist their clients to exit businesses and/or retire with optimal outcomes.
SMSF Expert: A licensing option for accountants whereby the statements of advice are provided by the licensee, thereby eliminating the need for an internal paraplanner and considerably reducing the FOFA compliance burden.
The who: The people on your team who will do the work
In many instances, the people on your team are eminently suited to providing the new service. At level one for instance, it may simply be a matter of training employees in the use of the systems and software required. Level two may require your team members to attend external training courses, while level three may require them to gain specialist qualifications.
On the other hand, better outcomes for level three services such as government incentives or business migration may be achieved by recruiting someone who already has a successful track record, and clientele, in that area.
For many practitioners, often the thought of commencing something new is more daunting than actually starting.
It may also be appropriate to form a collaborative relationship with a third party that will complement those parts that your firm provides. For example, Nem Australasia assists accountants with business improvement services by filling in any gaps between what their firm is confident in providing and the client’s total requirements.
As part of this arrangement, Nem actively works with accountants to progressively assume more of the running with such assignments.
In the Astute Estate Planner example above, the system integrates work with a number of large legal practices so that estate planning facilitators can “press a button” to send an electronic briefing paper via a secure API so that estate planning lawyers can prepare, discuss and implement the appropriate wills and estate planning documents in a timely and cost-effective manner.
The facilitating accountant can charge appropriately for this value added service. Such legal firms provide excellent training for practitioners who want to specialise in this area.
Tips to get you started
For many practitioners, often the thought of commencing something new is more daunting than actually starting. For those intimidated by a blank screen, it can be helpful to engage a business coach or a mentor who has done what you are contemplating. Enlisting the support and encouragement from a peer group can also be most beneficial.
Don’t let a quest for perfection get in the way of progress. It’s far better to undertake some live testing on collaborative clients than to be endlessly getting ready but failing to launch. The learning outcomes from these early prototypes will help to refine the service that will ultimately rolled out.
Just because this area may be new, there’s no reason to put it in the “too hard” basket. Delivering first-rate additional services is within the reach of every accounting firm.
This article is part of an ongoing Working In Practice column aimed at CAs working in SME accounting practices. If you’ve got something specific that you would like this column to cover, email the Acuity team now.