In this whole debate, it’s important to focus on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘who’.
Focus on the needs of the client and work backwards to the technology and who should be delivering it. The efficiency gains that new technology has and will continue to deliver to small business are immense. Clinging to a battle over who will the control functions such as data entry is not important as it is fast disappearing with bank feeds and AI; ‘let it go’. Debra Anderson may be absolutely correct in that some small data entry jobs may be lost to bookkeepers; not because the accountant is better placed to deal with it but because the function simply ceases to exist.
The new accounting technology is here to benefit everyone: client, bookkeeper and accountant, and it is here to stay. No one owns this space; ultimately it will be the survival of the fittest. As Lielette Calleja says, “We are moving into each other’s spaces, you can’t avoid that.” Who will have the will and the business model to survive and thrive? Adviser business models (bookkeepers and accountants) must evolve to fit the new landscape in which anyone can play. Build a compelling business model and you will do very well into the future – be so damn good you are impossible to ignore. How? By ‘consuming’ the technology, being nimble with your business model and adjusting your service offering to suit what the client wants.
Bookkeepers have already been disrupted with the increased automation of lower level bookkeeping functions like data entry. Perhaps this has handed them a head start on accountants, as the progressive thinkers among them have already started evolving their business models. The forward thinkers are on top of the software and its constant evolution but at the end of the day, the software is just a tool it needs to be applied together with the right skill set to get the best client outcome.
Some progressive accountants are addressing this space by building strategic bookkeeper alliances while others are rolling their sleeves up and starting/buying bookkeeping business (with the inherent risks and learning curve that brings). Their clients are seeing business improvement driven by great technology through competent advisers. Non-progressive accountants whose clients are mired in using semi-manual systems and antiquated software had better hope their clients are not networking with the clients of the ‘progressives’ as they will become a serious flight risk.
Ultimately though, it must come back to what the client wants and what they are prepared to pay for. Clayton Oates addressed this issue recently, saying “pay attention to what the customer needs are”, “we need to have the client at the centre of all of this not just thinking of our own top line revenue”. Once we have done this, “then upskill ourselves to deliver those services”.
In Clayton’s “circle of trust” he has the key participants being the accountant, the bookkeeper and the right consultant/technologist delivering the best client outcome with the right technology. It is hard to disagree with this viewpoint. The strategic alliance (the client’s circle of trust) seems like the most logical way to deliver ‘what the client wants’ with maximum efficiency and minimum duplication.
Peter Thorp, director, Australian Bookkeepers Network and Australian Bookkeepers Association