Top 6 advisory skills accountants need to succeed in 2020

Written by

Parth Shah

Managing Partner

Now that the self-assessment tax season has come to an end, accounting practices can take a sigh of relief and take some time off to recharge and decompress. However, the ‘calm after the storm’ also brings an opportunity for accountants to prepare for the new tax year, upskill themselves, and expand their service portfolio.

Given how new technologies, communication methods, and job roles have dramatically altered the way businesses and clients interact with each other, accountants like yourself must focus on enhancing advisory skills to manage new-age clients and operational challenges.

We spoke to several accountancy practice experts to bring together this list of top advisory skills to focus on this year to help accountants deliver a great advisory service:

1. Advanced technological know-how

According to an IDC study, around 40% of all technology spending in businesses will be for digital transformation. The widespread adoption of technology through software, cloud, and electronic applications has shifted the balance of power towards the customer.

According to Martin Bissett, Founder of The Bissett Group, accountants must possess strong knowledge of what technology is critical, what is merely ‘nice to have,’ and what is superfluous, to increase profitability in that client’s business to the level desired. 

“Today, your clients expect you to be sufficiently savvy about all the platforms, processes, and integrations in use. You thus need to focus on smart, capable technology solutions that have robust controls, deliver quality results, and are also easy to understand by your client,” he explains. 

But it isn’t just the physical technology that needs to be considered that can add unnecessary complexity. Ashley Leeds, Head of Growth at Accountants Millionaires’ Club, believes that accountants need to be able to take the technical stuff out of the numbers and present in a way that their clients can understand. 

“They deal with people from all walks of life. Not everybody gets excited by a P&L or a balance sheet, or even knows what it is for that matter,” he adds.

2. Increased attention to detail

A detail-oriented approach to projects is what sets the top accountants apart from the mediocre ones. It involves procuring and checking the right documents, being aware of all necessary compliance norms, having excellent bookkeeping and compliance skills, and gathering and analysing appropriate sources of data.

As you know, in accounting, even minor errors in data entry can add up to significant discrepancies in the final result. It is always good to remember that attention to detail with your bookkeeping and care with your tax software solutions should ensure that no such errors creep in at any stage.

3. Awareness of the client's need and industry

“The driver for most of the accountants I meet is a desire to get involved (in their businesses) and to help people (with their personal needs)” shares Richard Brewin, FCA, co-founder of ProgressBB who has coached and presented to accountants across the UK, as well as in the US and Australia.

You can share proactive advice only when you have a comprehensive understanding of the industry in which your clients operate. It is thus ideal if you specialise in only a few niches rather than working as a generalist.

By doing so, you can acquire in-depth knowledge of the selected niches, enhance your services by learning from clients in that niche, and subsequently establish yourself as an industry leader.

4. Ability to build relationships

As experts with in-depth industry knowledge, you should focus on encouraging and assisting your clients in growing their businesses, however large or small they may be. In this regard, active listening allows you to understand the client’s vision and to take it forward.

Based on data analysis and the client’s KPIs, you can suggest new ways to reach and exceed those metrics. You can also connect clients with business coaches or influencers to give them guided assistance with their professional and personal goals.

The ability to help your clients have a robust financial, mental and physical health is something all accounting practices should strive for.

5. Proactive customer service

The ability to build a strong relationship with the client and gain their long-term trust is essential for those who provide advisory services. You are not exempt from this notion either. Customer service experience should thus be a high priority for you:

One way of doing this is by:

  • Providing weekly/monthly/quarterly reports of the work done
  • Connecting on a video conferencing tool or meeting for lunch periodically
  • Suggesting new solutions and checking on progress from the last meeting
  • Asking for feedback and implementing changes quickly

It even makes sense to appoint an account manager to every client for faster and better communication.

Research from Bain shows that businesses offering proactive customer experience services enjoy an increase in client retention by 5%, which goes up over time. Delivering timely and accurate responses to client queries is also essential to earning their trust.

According to Paul Shrimpling, Founder of Remarkable Practice Ltd, customer service requires a series of skills to work well.

“That includes having conversation skills – both questioning and listening skills. Preparation skills, on the other hand, help build rapport with business owners. Yes, technology helps but skills around leading and managing change are what will determine an advisors’ success,” he explains.

6. Communication with impact

86% of employers and executives feel that ineffective communication or lack of collaboration is the reason for workplace failures. Accountants should thus make it a point to implement processes that keep everyone on the team connected and in the know at all times. “Communicating with impact and challenging clients are probably two of the most important aspects from an advisory perspective. If you can’t communicate with impact, the message is lost. If you don’t challenge yourself, you don’t add 360-degree value. Additionally, if you don’t practice silence, you can’t listen to what your business is saying,” adds Alastair Barlow, Founder, flinder. Communication should thus be transparent and in real-time so that the team can respond promptly to situations, and also stay in touch regardless of where they are located. 

OVER TO YOU

It is impossible for the accountant to be an expert at all their clients’ needs. But building a network of contacts that reflects the accountant’s ethics and values will enable them to deliver a complete solution to the client.

The thing is, we have to own holding our clients accountable for getting stuff done and moving the needle forward. The product or solution or advice we deliver will help them achieve their desired outcome, but we have to stay on top of things to ensure they get there.

As an advisor, it is your responsibility to create and protect the sustainable value of your client’s business. But if you are busy managing tedious functions such as bookkeeping, year-end compliance, payroll and other admin stuff, there’s no way you can give the support your clients expect and need.

That’s where accounting outsourcing can do wonders. And since you have read this far, let me add that Stellaripe has the experience, expertise and resources to take you where you want to be. With our fully managed outsourcing support, we can free you up so that you can invest in more time with your clients and generate more advisory revenue.

Think of us as an extension of your accounting practice – a virtual shop front!

Call us on +44 20 3475 3537 to get your questions answered right now. We love to talk!

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