Accountants pushed on fee shakeup to avoid ‘nails in coffin’

Accountants who stubbornly resist new models of pricing and marketing are “cutting off their nose to spite their face”, according to one industry consultant.

Across the industry, accountants are struggling with the concept of 'value-adding' services, fearing that attempts at upselling may alienate their client base.

“The thing is, people want help and they want it from their accountant,” Mayflower Consulting director Sarah Penn told AccountantsDaily.

“By not providing the services they want, you’re doing your clients a disservice. If you think you’re well placed to help your clients with the issues they have, then tell them. Don’t stay quiet because you feel like there’s something dirty about sales,” Ms Penn said.

“I think this is a very big problem, partially born out of the fact that the accounting profession has looked very similar for a very long time. But in the last five to 10 years, the ATO is now a major provider of online tax services for end users, and there is a race to the bottom with commoditised services,” she added.

“For accountants who haven’t taken action, every change in legislation is another nail in the coffin.”

In particular, accountants are struggling with the idea of changing their fee structure to appropriately price the value that they are, or could be, adding for their clients.

“Pricing is a very easy issue for accountants to grab hold of,” Ms Penn said.

“A lot of accountants work on a six-minute increment fee for service, which is fine as long as the client feels that the services they’re getting line up with the cost they’re paying,” she said.

“The issue with advice is sometimes you can make a massive difference with short piece of work and sometimes you can do hours of work and still not make much difference,” she said.

“If you want to go down the advice route, think of value pricing. Look at the value you’re giving the client, and price effectively against that.”

The pricing models that financial planners use, such as charging a percentage of assets, can also be effective – but accountants are strongly resistant to being associated with the financial planning industry.

“This is the thing: your average accountant looks at a planner and isn’t impressed,” Ms Penn said.

“But they’re cutting off their nose to spite their face. There are shonky advisers out there, but there are also shonky accountants. At the heart of it, everyone is trying to do the same thing – help their clients save for retirement, get their finances organised and support their families,” she said.

“I get that [accountants] are cautious and detail-oriented and nervous about everything that is in front of them, but remember – financial planning businesses are worth two or three times what accounting businesses are worth,” Ms Penn added.

 

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