What will your accountant look like in ten year's time? What would you want them to look like? I don't mean... literally, though if they're anything like me, they'll probably be a bit wrinklier, a bit less hair on top etc. What I mean is, if you could dream up the kind of accountant that would truly help shape your future and fuel your success, what would they do?
It's a question we constantly ask ourselves. If Scholes CA is to prosper, we have to keep challenging ourselves to anticipate and respond to our customer's needs in ever more innovative ways.
Much is made at the moment about the impact of cloud accounting and Artificial Intelligence (AI). There is no doubt that technology is going to reshape aspects of business finance and accounting, and in turn the nature of what accountants do will have to change. Consumers' expectations of accountants will shift. Innovators will disrupt the market. The old guard will retire, through choice or necessity.
If your accountant can help monitor your business finances through the cloud and communicate with you effectively on Skype or Facetime, without the need to shuffle bits of paper about, do they really need to have a great big office five minutes down the road? Of course there is no real replacement for getting together from time to time. But does that need to happen so frequently that close proximity to your CA is an absolute must?
For a few small businesses, with relatively undemanding requirements for accountancy support, a relatively impersonal, cloud based service will therefore increasingly become the 'go to' choice. For those small businesses who do not require extensive consultancy or tax planning services - those who essentially require only a transactional, compliance type service - this makes a lot of sense. The long term trend towards deregulation and simplification of the UK accounting rules and tax laws for the smallest businesses point in that direction too.
For other small businesses, who have more complex needs or more ambitious growth plans, it is probably fair to say that a cloud based service on its own may not be the best fit. Technology - and AI in particular - is not yet at the stage where complicated business issues can simply be fixed at the touch of a button. Effective tax planning and successful business growth activities still rely heavily on the expertise and judgement of people like those in the Scholes CA team, who work closely with our customers, building effective relationships and taking the time to truly understand their businesses and the challenges and opportunities they face.
So what does this mean for small accounting firms like ours? I think the trends outlined above will drive firms to differentiate more. It's a 'fork in the road' moment, really - I think pretty soon most firms will either become online, transactional, primarily compliance-focused; or go niche and differentiate through quality advisory services. The transition will be painful for many but the outcome worthwhile for most.