- As a CA trained in the law, business adviser Kenfield has a rare ability to deal with both legal and finance challenges.
- He founded the Solutionist Group to work with family businesses and accounting practices in a multidisciplinary way.
- Kenfield advises young CAs to direct their careers to practices that suit their personalities first and technical skills second.
“Don’t worry about thinking outside the box; go and make your own box.”
This is Jon Kenfield’s advice to accountants preparing for life in public practice and beyond. It reflects his lifelong philosophy – one he has used to build successful companies outside traditional accounting and to help numerous people in their business and personal lives.
Kenfield founded the Solutionist Group to work with family businesses and accounting practices on a wide variety of problems. The idea arose out of his experiences as a business adviser and dispute resolver. As a CA trained in the law, Kenfield has a rare skill – he’s equally at home with legal and financial challenges as with people-related ones.
Moving away from tradition
“We are trained to be discipline-centric,” says Kenfield. “Accountants approach things from a numbers perspective; lawyers apply legal thinking; psychologists take psychological angles. Each approach labels and pigeonholes us, as advisers, and confines us to specific professional boxes. This may not suit our clients’ needs, at all, and it limits our ability to differentiate our practices.”
The Solutionist Group uses holistic problem-solving and a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach. “We realised there was no professional title that accurately described what we were doing, so we invented the ‘Solutionist’ name,” he says.
In 2016 Kenfield also started The Family Business Institute, which is a training, accreditation, marketing and referral organisation for family business advisers.
Kenfield believes professional advisers have had it good for a long time, gaining high status and generous rewards in return for providing clients with skilled, valued and trusted services. He also believes that unless professional advisers evolve, they face extinction at the hands of advancing technology and increased outsourcing.
Don’t worry about thinking outside the box, go and make your own box.
Today, he says, advisers see their technical focus as driving 80% of practice income, with a client focus driving the rest. But he predicts that within a few years, traditional sources of practice income will reverse, with client focus driving 80% of income. Kenfield has worked with many CAs on the Public Practice Program and observes: “They all want to be ‘trusted advisers,’ but less than 10% will likely get there ... They aren’t trained to equate what their clients really need with what they are willing and able to supply as CAs.
“Soft (human) skills are actually the hardest skills to master,” he adds. But there is good news: although many “people people” find it hard to be businesslike, most lawyers and accountants, with the right brain wiring, can readily learn to become excellent “people people.”
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Kenfield advises young CAs to direct their professional careers toward practices that suit their personalities first and their technical skills second. Family businesses and private clients form a large part of most professional practices. Sadly, Kenfield sees too many of them being poorly advised – especially under succession pressures. Many get “hoovered up”, go broke, or simply close. He says that is not good for CAs, their clients, business families, employees, or society.
Kenfield draws a comparison with the medical profession: in the same way the medicos have had to learn that recruiting only candidates with high academic scores leads to poor working interfaces with patients, so accountants need to learn that their future depends on the human quality of their working interface with their clients.
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“Technically correct advice doesn’t build personal relationships,” says Kenfield. “So if CAs want to do interesting work, like business succession, wealth transfer, and legacy planning, they must learn to become ‘agile advisers’, skilled at doing what computers cannot do. This stuff currently lives outside traditional professional practice and beyond conventional professional indemnity insurance coverage.”