More tech on show than ever...but how to navigate?

Accountex has come and gone. It’s always a useful forum to meet up with clients and catch up with some of the IT offerings from the larger software houses and app developers. My observation this year was a conflicting matrix covering the visiting practitioner, attendees at seminar sessions and the range of demonstrations of software on the stands.

On the return train into London I observed a couple of tired looking accountants travelling alone, carrying the exhibition carrier bag, well stocked with handouts and advertising materials and still wearing their name tags. I wondered what they had achieved investing a day at the show, away from client work.

Lots, and lots, to take in

Accountex is an unstructured way to expose yourself to a range of presenters who are outlining regulatory changes and briefing accountants on the new technical developments needed to service their clients.

From the point of motivation there are the presentations by second generation boot camp presenters, sometimes promoting their own books suggesting how you can build a practice of £1m within 12 months, or setting out pathways for practitioners selling more advisory services to SMEs, and the like..

Then there are the software houses promoting new products, new apps and advising how practitioners can change workflows, regiment processes within their businesses and bring about a significant improvement in productivity, client servicing, profitability and improve the lifestyle for the practitioner and their staff.

Of course, some of these presenters are painting a picture of ‘sunshine and rolling uplands’. Others are stressing the complexity of regulation and the penalties for non-compliance. Then there are those professing the end of the world as we know it, with dramatic change forcing one and two partner firms out of business.

I have used the word ‘show’ - and indeed there is ‘theatre’ to savour and enjoy, even if the end of the ‘accounting world’ might be somewhat delayed.

No wonder the two accountants on the train after the show looked somewhat perplexed, and thinking how quickly they could get back to servicing their clients in the safety of their offices.

Practitioners can't easily wipe the slate clean

Partners/practitioners who have started their business from scratch within the last two to three years, who have no history or baggage in terms of clients and staff requiring redirection, have a distinct advantage.

Setting up a new practice with a disciplined approach can be very rewarding.

The practitioner insisting on one accounting platform and turning down clients who want an alternative will gain significant process benefits ahead of the established practice partners or general practitioners who are seeking to turn the ‘oil tanker’ to take advantage of the new IT and processes.

Gain a broad view of your needs

Changing a general practice in terms of its servicing client profile and pricing through the use of new IT requires skills of analysis, client profiling, competitive pricing reviews, strategy development, communication with clients and retraining and motivating staff. 

There were very few businesses represented at the ‘show’ recognising or providing the range of skills required. The need for turnkey consultancy services which can assist practices to move from ‘a to c’, even if they do not move them from ‘a to z’, was compelling - but the resources distinctly absent. 

There is no doubt that the investment in software, retraining and communication with clients is, for the smaller practice, a really high hurdle to jump and I feel the two fellow travellers coming away from the ‘show’ were rationalising whether to pull out of the race, or find a way round rather than jump over the hurdle.

Keith Underwood is a director at Foulger Underwood.

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