This could go a long way to explaining why so few accountants have pursued licensing. And also why so few accountants have a strong relationship with a financial planner.
Over the last 12 months, my business has handled hundreds of licensing queries as we supported various professional accounting bodies with their member queries. One of the services we provided was an independent matching service where we identified possible licensing homes for accountants who were looking to become authorised.
To support this service, we analysed over 20 different licensing options geared towards accountants. What we discovered was that the vast majority of these options are trying to do one of two things: either licence accountants’ in an attempt to ring fence them and have them as a referral source; or to turn them into a financial planner through overlaying traditional models and processes that don’t quite fit.
This made our job very difficult as very few of our accounting clients were seeking to become a referral source or a planner.
So, if what’s currently on offer is of limited interest to accountants, what’s the magic formula?
The lightbulb moment came for me when I attended a presentation by Andrew Inwood of Core Data. Here, Andrew talked about types of clients and their expectations, as well as how they are looking for different types of advisers. It provided a framework for why accountants are a natural fit as advisers – and why moving into the world of product will negatively impact on their position of trust. Andrew even developed a formula around this.
This led me to coin my own phrase - ‘Licensed Accountant’, which sits much more comfortably with many of my accounting practice clients. They want to provide strategic advice and manage the overall financial affairs of their clients without any inflexible arrangements or in an area they are neither trained nor comfortable in.
We’ve seen the gamut of small licensees to large institutions throwing massive amounts to ‘crack the accounting nut’. The real opportunity and the key now then is to work on creating new and different models to support accountants (and their clients) who are not comfortable with the existing models.
We know that accountants need to extend the scope of their advice. We know that their clients are seeking more holistic advice from their most trusted adviser to guide their personal and business financial affairs. The challenge now is to develop different models to support accountants in delivering this advice. Thinking outside the box and embracing both new concepts, such as tailored robo-advice, while partnering with traditional investment adviser and stockbroker models, could well hold the answer. Only then can accountants gain traction in the advice space.
Kath Bowler, chief executive, Licensing for Accountants
Kath Bowler is CEO of Licensing for Accountants, an independent firm which supports and transitions accountants into licensing. With a 20-year career in the accounting and financial services industry, Kath has sat on all sides of the fence as a regulator, financial adviser, accountant, policy adviser, head of a licensee and consultant. With this deep insight she is dedicated to developing solutions that allow accountants to be active in the licensed advice arena.