Too much tech could homogenise your firm

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Businesses up and down the land now have access to great, ultra-efficient software that can neatly streamline processes. Just be careful not to sacrifice your firm’s individuality.

Accountants are perenially in demand and able to work in an array of sectors and industries. They also have access to a proliferation of high-quality, advanced software that offers deep insights into performance, with the ability to manipulate data and forecast to an incredibly granular level.

Standing out in such a crowded environment is not straightforward.

With such powerful analytical tools available, and with certain software emerging as the most popular, there is an awful lot of potential for homogenisation, argues Richard Brewin, founder of Progress Barnwell Brewin. 

“Accountants have always had a challenge in differentiating themselves from the competition,” he tells AT. “We tend to offer the same services and say the same things, and it’s often only once you take on a client that differences start to come through. 

“Now we’re in an increasingly digitised world, essentially we’re all going to be pressing the same buttons, using the same software and the same apps. That makes it even harder and even more important to find what it is about your business that sets you aside from the competition.”


However, with a set of software and apps operating as a well-oiled machine, Brewin argues that accountants have an opportunity to put their own spin on their work. 

“There’s an opportunity for the profession to stamp their own personality on their firms in a way they wouldn’t have been able to in the past,” he says. “You don’t have to be this standard digital firm if you don’t want to be. You can provide the services you want to provide in the way you want to provide them. Your clients and the marketplace are either going to agree with you or they won’t, but the starting point has to be your firm reflecting what you want.” 

It’s a sentiment echoed by Factotum co-founder Bobby Lane, who takes the view that a well-assembled set of digital tools provides a springboard to enable firms to stand out.

“Now we’re in an increasingly digitised world, essentially we’re all going to be pressing the same buttons, using the same software and the same apps.

“The advent of this technology was a really good thing. Before that, when you charged a client £400, around 75% of that fee was for processing and 25% was adding value,” he explains.  

With that software in place, Lane explains, businesses are in a strong position from which to innovate and differentiate themselves. 

“Now that processing is automated, the client is still happy to pay that £400, but the ratio is turned on its head and £300 of that £400 is available for you as professionals to translate data to your client and start talking strategically about the business.”

What’re you aiming for?

With that in mind, Brewin says it’s important for firms to find a focus. 

“It’s your firm, and you can do what you like with it,” he says. “You don’t have to do the standard digital things. The danger with digitalisation is you can end up with systems and processes which are very effective, but no-one gets any satisfaction from it because it’s not achieving the things you want to achieve.”

At that point, he says, it’s important for businesses to step back and take stock of their overall goals. 

“You have to go back to the root of your vision,” he says. “Revisit that and compare that to where you are and what you’ve got. It might be that specialising is a great way forward, though it comes with risks if you go too niche. But if that’s a particular interest, then why not? It could be a trade sector, or type of client. 

“We’re in a profession that is naturally demanding through deadlines, expectations and the professional standards that we work to. You may as well do something you’re interested in as well, and not be too hemmed in by the technology and what you see others doing.”

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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