The future of compliance services for accountants – 15 years on

Jun 4, 2024 | Business Strategy

15 years ago, in June 2009, I wrote a blog post titled: “The future of compliance services for accountants”

That post was controversial as, in it, I challenged the conventional wisdom of the time.

In summary, I was one of very few commentators arguing that it was perfectly reasonable for accountants to continue focusing on compliance services, if they wanted to do so.

Unlike most others I said that compliance services were not dying in 2009, nor were they going to do so in the near future.

I’ll let you be the judge of whether I was right or wrong.

Today I am revisiting what I said 15 years ago as now, in 2024, I see things are, at last, changing.

I have copied key elements of the original June 2009 post here, to save you from having to look back. I’ve added some additional comments – 15 years on.

Many commentators seem almost contemptuous when talking about accountants who focus on the provision of compliance services.

That attitude continued for most of the last 15 years

We’re told that fees are being forced down and that firms that focus only on compliance services face an uncertain future. I’m not sure I agree. If you have an established practice and know your clients well, you are not suddenly going to lose a swathe of clients who all decide to rush off at once.


About the only thing that could cause a speedy dissipation of your client base would be widespread publicity of your incompetence or negligence. Any other changes to your client base will be sufficiently gradual for you to take steps to stem the flow as and when it becomes necessary to do so.

I remain of the same views today – 15 years later. And I have every confidence that the accountants who ignored the prevailing wisdom 15 years ago will continue to do so today – until they start losing multiple clients, and even then only they find it more difficult to replace their clients than they did in the past.

Of course the better prepared and ready you are for such changes, the faster you will be able to adapt and evolve. I do think it will be evolution rather than revolution in this regard.


What will change first and fastest in my view is your ability to win and retain new clients if you and they are focused on compliance services. That means tax returns, bookkeeping and accounts preparation.

Looking back 15 years I suspect the key changes in prospect back then were related to automated bookkeeping systems. Cloud accounting was really in its infancy and smartphones were only launched in 2007.

15 years ago we didn’t have apps or 3G (let alone 4G or 5G) connectivity so many of the developments we’ve seen in recent years were not yet available – let alone mainstream.

And obviously, back in 2009, Generative AI was just the stuff of science fiction. Not any more and the speed with which it will continue to develop and disrupt the marketplace is only going to grow.

Back then you also were not competing with well funded and widely marketed cheapo online only compliance services.

These two most recent developments are the ones that will have a growing impact and likely cause you most problems as and when you seek to attract fresh clients.

I finished my 2009 post by noting that:

….for most firms of accountants there needs to be something equivalent to a burning platform before there will be a consensus for fundamental changes. At the moment, few partners accept and believe that forthcoming developments will have such a big impact.

15 years later and I believe that any accountant seeking to attract compliance focused clients is very soon going to experience the ‘burning platform’ in terms of the competition they face.

There are also numerous reasons to accept that compliance services are at last, now starting to evolve faster than ever before.

Not everyone is agreed as to the severity of the ‘fire’ however and many traditional, experienced accountants still seem to think they will be able to resist making major changes before they retire or sell their practice.

As I intimated 15 years ago, you can sit around and wait for the flames to lick the soles of your feet, before you jump into the icy water beneath. Life has been good on your platform, but it will become very different over the next few years. You may not be ready to jump just yet, but when you do leap off the ‘burning platform’, will you be able to swim and to keep your head up?

It is very risky to assume you’ll be able to sell (or retire from) the platform before you are forced to jump. There may not be much platform left. This is why I have long encouraged accountants to develop key business skills, to get themselves the equivalent of some water wings and rubber rings, and a decent swimming instructor.

15 years ago I largely dismissed the views that the compliance world was about to change. I hope you’d agree I was right back then.

But, 15 years later, I am now satisfied that things will be very different in just a few years time. You still have time to learn to ‘swim’ before you jump (or are pushed!), but I wouldn’t keep putting it off any longer.

If you’d like to have a chat to see if I might be the right ‘swimming instructor’ (or mentor) for you, please pick a time that suits you here >>>

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