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March 12, 2015

There is more to accounting than book-keeping: ICAEW

By Isabella Grotto

Accountants must become better at advertising services outside their standard provision if they are to retain clients, according to research by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW).

Increasing technological availability means clients, particularly in the small and medium sized enterprise (SME) arena are finding it increasingly easy to carry out basic account preparation and book-keeping tasks themselves.

As such, according to research published by the ICAEW as part of its Tomorrow’s Practice initiative, firms need to demonstrate their ability to provide a diversified and tailored service to clients.

The three most popular services purchased by SMEs over the past 12 months, according to the report, were accounts preparation (65%), tax services (62%), and bookkeeping (32%).

Speaking to IAB, ICAEW member department director Amanda Digne-Malcolm said: "The perception among businesses is that accountants are there for a narrow piece of work: getting out the accounts and doing the tax, whereas actually the reality is accountants have a whole heap more to offer and a strong skill-set that can support businesses into growth."

Therefore one of the things practices need to get much better at, and traditionally haven’t done so well and still don’t necessarily do so well, is articulating what they can offer and how they offer it, she continued.

The risk is that as statutory audit and tax regulations render some accountancy services optional for smaller businesses and advances in technology enable others to perform some tasks independently, accountants find themselves facing increasing competition and pressure to differentiate.

"There is a slight disconnect [between practitioners and clients]," Digne-Malcolm explained. "The trust is there, but understanding everything that can be offered is not there and that has to sit at the practices’ door; they need to be better at articulating it and we need to be better at helping them articulate it."

Yorkshire-based Praxity member firm Garbutt & Elliott’s senior partner David Dickson told IAB the findings are part of a "continuing process of accountants having to adapt to a swiftly changing market".

Dickson is thankful that processes such as accounting are becoming easier. "It means that accountants now have to provide an additional service other than book-keeping and the firms that don’t do that will die, while the firms that adapt by providing add-on services will grow," he explained.

Cloud-based accounting is a prime example of the rapid changes under foot, Dickson said. "In my view, within three years, if you have people who do book-keeping in firms that don’t understand cloud, they won’t have a job."

With change showing no signs of slowing down, it is up to accountants themselves to ensure that the pace of change doesn’t overtake them, he explained.

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