When I consider what the future holds for accountants I find it helpful to look back at predictions made in the recent past. Many other commentators seem to be unaware of the difference between genuinely new innovations and those that are variations on a theme.

This is one of the reasons why my talks focus on what accountants need to do in the immediate future – so as to be ready for the longer term changes that are coming.

My approach is very different to those futurists who focus on changes that won’t impact most accountants for years; and those who suggest that you have to adopt the newest innovation that their company has produced.

Not every new innovation means you are immediately at risk of losing your clients and all new business opportunities. That’s not going to happen and I feel that suggesting otherwise undermines the legitimacy of one’s predictions as to what the future will bring.

On the other hand it is equally short-sighted to ignore longer-term trends and the likely impact of new technology. In a world where the pace of change is faster than I have ever seen it, we need to focus on the immediate future – what do you need to do over the next 12-24 months to be confident of surviving and thriving into the longer-term future.

Let’s take a key development that was being discussed on AccountingWeb over ten years ago in 2008. It was billed as the ‘Great Debate’ and was sponsored by a key supplier of the service being debated.

Over ten years have passed and the service in question is still not yet having a serious impact on the way that most accountants operate.

But I sense that, at last, things are changing. There are three primary reasons for this:

1 – It’s being seen as more commonplace;
2 – Established cloud based systems make it much easier to adopt;
3 – It’s as hard as it has ever been to recruit and retain the people you need in your practice.

What am I talking about?

Outsourcing.

The ‘Great Debate” in 2008 revealed many accountants with entrenched positions – mostly against the idea. I am sure that many still hold the same views now, whether they were early advocates or implacably opposed to the idea.

I contributed to the debate in 2008 and then, in 2011, I wrote an article encouraging accountants to adopt more of an open mind as regards outsourcing. My 2011 article included the following clarification:

To my mind, ‘outsourcing’ means sourcing suppliers of work that will be performed OUTside the firm and that would otherwise be done by employees INside the firm. Outsourcing OVERSEAS is not the only way to outsource.

So let’s move away from the preconceptions that outsourcing is synonymous with offshoring.

In recent weeks alone I have come across firms who outsource (within the UK) the following:

– Bookkeeping for clients (indeed, some weren’t even previously offering the service to clients);
– Payroll services for clients;
– Company secretarial work for clients;
– Tax planning and support (in effect avoiding the cost of having high level tax expertise in house and on tap 5 days a week); – for example using the Tax Advice Network
– Provision of credit to clients who want time to pay their fees (why act as a bank by allowing clients extended credit terms – often at no charge?)
– Typing and transcription services;
– Telephone answering;
– Writing newsletters for clients;
– Tax return preparation work in the UK.

To my mind all of the above constitute outsourcing.

And despite the passage of time I still find myself sharing the same clarification now as I did back then. However my 2011 list was incomplete.

More recently I have spoken with many accountants who outsource accounts prep work for clients.

And, these days, I regularly encourage busy accountants to outsource all aspects of tax and accounting compliance work, rather than trying to do everything in house.

This is especially important for sole-practitioners and for those firms who are unable to find, train and keep good staff – or who don’t have or can’t make the time to do this.

I often explain that ‘outsourcing’ may mean simply engaging a trusted independent local bookkeeper, accountant or tax adviser. Or it could mean sending work to a larger concern – typically, but not always overseas.

The key with outsourcing is to test a supplier with one or two pieces of work. If that goes well you can send them more. If you don’t like the style and approach you can simply try someone else.

Regular readers will know that I now have an association with an outsourcing company. Global Infosys, based in Harrow, North West London.

Now would be a great time to have an initial discussion with them and to see how things go – if you then get inundated with compliance work in January you will be well set up to avoid having to work crazy hours as you have done in the past. Please call Mukesh, Jarmilar, Antoaneta or Eileen on 0208 424 8916 and tell them I suggested you get in touch.  They’ve been with the company for years and are lovely people to work with.