Sage has produced a new research report entitled: A New Breed of Accountant. It’s a strange piece of work but one that provides extraordinary insights when viewed in a specific way. Sage draws comfort from the fact that significant numbers of those interviewed appear to consider themselves as ‘entrepreneurial’ in both the way they perceive and run their practices. Sounds good until you look at the numbers. This first graph shows that 20% consider the ethos or spirit of their business is entrepreneurial. I don’t believe that. While the report notes that there is considerable interest in using online solutions for example, the professional take-up has been painfully slow. I think I know the real reason.
Setting aside Sage’s stillborn Online Line 50 offering, when professionals see what an online solution can deliver, they usually run for the hills. Only yesterday I heard from a provider who says that they were basically told to ‘sod off’ by one practitioner who takes in client spreadsheets. The solution dispenses with that need and would provide the practitioner with a way to be much more effective. Trouble is, the practitioner saw the potential for a transfer of power into user hands and took fright. An entrepreneurial mind would have seen this as an opportunity to add value and carve out cost.
This graphic throws up more interesting questions. Here, 29% say that an entrepreneurial attitude towards running the practice is extremely important. Again, I don’t get this. Does it mean looking for more cross and upselling opportunities? If so, then what’s in it for the client? A full 30% consider themselves to be entrepreneurial but that it is not essential. In other words, I take my chances when I can but we’re on easy street so why bother? The rest don’t care.
Either I’m missing something or the profession is myopic. I know for example that at least one on-demand vendor has found it almost impossible to get professional practices to take its solution on board, despite already having thousands of customers who would jump at the chance of working alongside their professional advisor and the fact it is integrated to a professional production solution.
But the same research finds that 40% of clients want online access and fully 90% want that shared with their accountant. Sage then extrapolates these findings to determine that technology has a large part to play in the developing relationships between professionals and their clients. That’s not unreasonable but it leaves open a question that’s much harder to answer.
If, as seems to be the case, clients are expecting the basic compliance services to be a given, then what qualifies professionals to act as business service providers? Very little in my experience. And I rather suspect this is exhibited by the implied inertia underpinning these results.
Time and again in both history and business cycles, the period immediately preceding a seismic change is characterised by an apparent period of fabulous wealth and opportunity. What usually happens is that the incumbent is blind to the real threats that are facing them and/or incapable of responding. I believe the profession is in that position right now. It may not look like it, it may not feel like it but it exists nonetheless. I’m not alone in that thinking, but I am one of a very small minority. We have other plans.