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Why demand for advisory work has changed for good

Business

One accountant says that his clients are contacting him more than ever for support beyond basic compliance.  

By Christine Chen 12 minute read

Advisory work surged due to Covid and demand has proved resilient despite the economic downturn, says HLB Mann Judd’s director of business advisory services Andrew Ash. 

Tax returns and financial statements used to be an accountant’s raison d’etre, with business advice a luxury for clients, but Mr Ash said that Covid had changed this mindset.

“There was a huge uptick in advisory work during Covid,” he said. “Clients were talking to me about strategy, scenario analysis, structuring, staffing; I got questions around processes, remote work too — clients didn’t even realise we could help them with more than just compliance.”

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He said the extra Covid work helped to build a better relationship with clients. 

“I think clients got to know their accountants better and we got to know them better too,” said Mr Ash.

Mr Ash, whose client base comprises private and family businesses, said that accountants for SMEs were particularly well positioned to work directly with business owners, advising on business and operational decisions.

He said those who sought to understand their clients’ needs, strengths and weaknesses would win the most advisory work.

“If you're just helping your clients with a tax return and you're not talking about other stuff, they're probably not going to come to you for advice for other things,” he said.

“But if you take a deep interest in them and figure out what they want to achieve in their business, what they’re doing, advisory work just naturally flows out of that.”

Mr Ash said the impact of high interest rates and inflation was “universal”, but insisted demand for advice had remained strong.

“Business owners are feeling the pinch in the short term, but longer term they’re optimistic. There’s still a lot of demand, people are still spending money,” he said.

Running a business could be lonely, and in tough times, accountants could serve as support systems offering strategic advice to refocus priorities and preventing impulsive business decisions, he said 

“In this environment, it’s normal for clients to react without zooming out and thinking of the bigger picture. But you need to go back to your original goals. Before things got tight, what were your objectives? Don’t lose sight of that.”

Using scenario forecasting and check-ins as a way to track progress and manage concerns, Mr Ash said that he was having more contact with his clients now than before Covid.

“At the moment, that’s all my days: calling clients and talking to them. Some clients, I talk to every second day because there's so much that they want to do."

“Just being there for clients and not being afraid to pick up the phone and speak to them is important. It’s easy to forget that your clients want to talk to you. Every day, if you just call a handful of clients, you'll get some advisory work just doing that naturally.” 

Mr Ash's ultimate counsel for becoming a better business adviser: "Know your client." 

“If you know your client, they'll trust you, and they'll come to you for more things than just compliance.” 

“Clients like to talk to their accountants about things that they can't necessarily talk to others about. They might struggle to talk about succession with their kids or they might not be comfortable talking about finances to family or other people, but they're usually more open with their accountant.” 

“I definitely have a few clients tell me to put psychology services on the invoice,” Mr Ash quipped.

Christine Chen

Christine Chen

AUTHOR

Christine Chen is a graduate journalist at Accountants Daily and Accounting Times, the leading sources of news, insight, and educational content for professionals in the accounting sector.

Previously, Christine has written for City Hub, the South Sydney Herald and Honi Soit. She has also produced online content for LegalVision and completed internships at EY and Deloitte.

Christine has a commerce degree from the University of Western Australia and is studying a Juris Doctor degree at the University of Sydney. 

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