The future of compliance services for accountants (ten years on)

Jun 11, 2019 | Business Strategy, Key Business skills

In June 2009 I wrote a blog piece titled: “The future of compliance services for accountants”

I didn’t go for big headlines in 2009. I didn’t say anything outrageous and I didn’t look to attract attendees at high-priced seminars to help accountants survive and thrive in a brave new world.

I did what I always do. I told the truth, as I see it, and without the hype that grabs the headlines. The original post is still on my blog but I have copied key elements of it here, to save you from having to look back. I’ve added some additional comments – ten years on.

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

That attitude continued for some years but has calmed down a little at last.

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 – ten years later. And I have every confidence that the accountants who ignored the prevailing wisdom ten years ago will continue to do so today – until they start losing multiple clients, and they find it more difficult to replace them 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 ten years I suspect the key changes in prospect were related to automated bookkeeping systems. Cloud accounting was really in its infancy back then and smartphones were only launched in 2007. Ten years ago we didn’t have apps or 3G (let alone 4G or 5G) connectivity so much of the developments we’ve seen in recent years were not yet available – let alone mainstream.

I finished my 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.

Ten years later and I believe that the ‘burning platform’ does at last exist. There are numerous facilities and reasons to accept that compliance services are starting to evolve – faster than ever before. Not everyone is agreed as to the severity of the ‘fire’ however and many older accountants still seem to think they will be able to resist making major changes before they retire or sell their practice.

As I intimated ten 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 am encouraging accountants to develop key business skills, to get themselves the equivalent of some water wings and rubber rings, and a decent a swimming instructor.

Ten years ago I largely dismissed the views that the compliance world was about to change. Ten years on and I am convinced 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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