There can be no doubt that the move to digital technology has become a mobile-first experience with the number of smartphone users expected to reach 16.6 million in Australia this year.
According to the Deloitte Australian Mobile Consumer Survey, ‘smartphone has become much more than just a means to communicate – to call, to message, to link socially or in business – it has become the personal remote for life and the consumer is in control.’
Australians connect with their smartphones more than 440 million times a day and devices are integral to how everyone lives, organises and enjoys their lives.
This disruptive use of mobile technology poses new major challenges for accountants, as they are forced to reset their strategies for a digital age.
There is a huge hill to climb as currently less than 1 per cent of Australian accounting firms have a solution to engage with their clients and prospects on their mobile devices.
These devices are used for all kinds of business activity: talking to customers, raising quotes, creating invoices, capturing receipts, and searching for information, guidance and help that are relevant to their business. A smartphone holds all that’s important to a person, whether it's choice of music app, sports app or financial app. Today, clients use apps to find answers and to interact with the world in many different ways.
ATO app plays to ‘app-savvy’ reputation
Many industry bodies and software providers have their own apps, including the ATO.
The decision by the ATO to launch its own app plays to the fact that Australians are fast gaining a global reputation for being ‘app savvy’. Its introduction will undoubtedly impact accountants by changing their role, and they will no longer act as intermediaries between the ATO and the client. So, why have some firms taken the decision to give the ATO app to their clients?
They may have believed that this demonstrates their willingness to embrace new technologies, but we argue accountants need to take the long view and ensure they do not relinquish ownership and control of the client relationship.
The simple act of giving clients the ATO app gives a loud and clear message that an accountant does not need to be involved in their tax affairs. This only serves to diminish the value of the accountant’s role in this ever-changing world.
The ‘added value’ concept is not new, but it becomes increasingly relevant now that the ATO is encouraging a direct connection with Australian tax payers. In practical terms, accountants will need to focus on giving professional advice, helping to make sure businesses are inputting the correct information, that their systems are robust enough and guiding them through the process. It is all about how to add value to a client’s business.
Give clients your own app
A simple and straightforward way to add value to the client relationship and to make interaction easier is to have a firm, branded app. Giving a powerful single app to a client for free that acts as a single contact point for all things financial sends out a very strong message, that the accountant is embracing change and wants to interact within the way studies show most businesses prefer – on their smartphone.
The app creates a connection between the firm and the client at all times with their own tax data and key financial dates stored within and with access to a range of useful tools, such as GPS mileage tracking and photo receipt management.
All online portal and accounts software logins can be held in it too, creating a single interface the client needs. It is easy to communicate through the app one-on-one, to a segmented group, or to all users at once, using push notifications which are five times more effective than email.
Push notifications are a ‘game changer’
As one key influencer to the profession said, “Push notifications are a game changer”.
Because they go directly to the recipient within the app, there is a 0 per cent bounce rate and an 80 per cent higher open rate than email shots. They take seconds to send and can be segmented to clients, prospects, sectors or everyone on your contact list.
Smart firms use them to approach those who may be thinking of selling their businesses along the lines of, “Thinking of selling your business, call now for a free business consultation”.
Don’t give away control of your client base to software companies
Across the globe, accounting firms have been giving away control of their client base to software companies and as a result, the emotional bond between business owners and software houses are intensifying.
Putting the accountants’ interests first and building a powerful differentiator strengthens unique client engagement and provides the strategic framework needed to gain control of this new app world.
Getting an app is just the start of the journey. Once it is built, a mobile app needs to drive engagement and constantly evolve.
Artificial Intelligence apps
Amazon Lex’s speech recognition and natural language understanding capabilities have the potential to build an entirely new generation of apps that have human-like intelligence and can see, hear, speak, understand and interact with the world around them. The potential to add a voice or text chat interface to create bots on mobile devices that can help with basic tasks is set to transform how accountants respond to customer requests and make them more productive.
There is no doubt that disruptive technology is turning the accountant relationship on its head. Advances in mobile technology are shaking up traditional methods of communication, and clients are engaging more with their smartphones and expecting fast service responses from their chosen advisors anytime, anywhere.
So, is it a bad idea to give clients a third-party app? Absolutely, as accountants can be taken out of the loop and could potentially lose control of their biggest asset: their client base.