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A hot date for the advisory accountant

If there was ever a moment for accounting professionals to consider how they’ll push into the advisory role – it was yesterday. The rate of change in the accounting profession is rapid and will continue to leave those reluctant to evolve in the vexing dust of 2020, writes Luke Sullivan.

A hot date for the advisory accountant
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  • Luke Sullivan
  • November 16, 2020
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For accounting professionals to thrive beyond this year's carnage will not only require a strong vision as to how advisory services will actually function for them, it will demand swift and assertive action to instigate this new approach, which should include a focus towards delivering a greater level of client advocacy and value that is served today.

As technology gouges through the accounting professionals service suite, trying to pinpoint  what exactly the clients of tomorrow will pay them for will be harder to answer. One thing is clear, thinking differently will be paramount.

Narrowing down a brief for accounting professionals with a SME client base that addresses the push into advisory services will include the premise that accountants will need to be more than a just great tax adviser. Becoming intensely client-focused, delivering accuracy and relevance in services that are loaded with added value, and becoming agents of transformation while maintaining the positioning as a true small business champion will round out this brief.

Accounting professionals can easily add these layers of value by broadening networks, creating new relationships and increasing capabilities to then pass on in the form of empowering information and solutions. With an identified need to increase relevance as a direct response to the ever present future threats of redundancy and irrelevancy, an evolutionary pathway forward here seems clear – become a hub of digital knowledge and get more connected.

Considering today that on the ASX200, Information Technology (eg: Xero) is larger in sector than telecommunications (eg: Telstra) and utilities (eg: AGL), it’s an appropriate snapshot to use in influencing accounting professionals that stepping into an advisory role is actually to avoid more compliance work, and to acquire functional knowledge around areas like business strategy and transformation, IT, data, cyber security, and e-commerce.

Apple, Amazon, Xero and Afterpay – this is what is sexy nowadays, and above all most relevant. We’re in the information age and those who provide easily accessible information are most desirable. Accounting professionals need to begin to see their purpose as problem solving agents that understand the products and services of today’s digital titans, and more importantly understand that their SME client roster needs advice on this area – because their survival depends on it.

Digital technologies have obvious appeal, and it’s driven largely by the thirst of digital natives who are plugged into online networks, their lives integrated with technology at every touchpoint, exercising their demand to have what they want, when they want it, and where they want it. This group of people is also the accounting professional's client base of the future, and to dismiss these millennials is to be happy with the clients you’ve got today, disregarding the clients of tomorrow, along with any considerations of succession planning for the actual firm itself.

There is a cheat code for accounting professionals to fast track the entry into the advisory role. And that’s by seeking out partnerships and collaborations with other professionals that know this new digital landscape and younger audience better than they do. This is where the magic happens, but partnering with friendly magicians is key.

While there are many networking opportunities for accounting professionals to pursue under the orbit of advisory services, there is an open gold mine via collaborating with brand and marketing agencies.

The truth is, branding and marketing professionals are not actually magicians, surprising I know. Though our focus on the growth and survival of SMEs are much like that of professionals. Adding to this, our industry has also gone through massive disruptive change and continues to do so. We’re dealing with the same sorts of threats to our own futures.

Brand and marketing agencies go on far too many business dates, and perhaps ignored by accounting professionals because they don’t go on enough business dates. Regardless of the frequency, it seems if the required networking surrounding advisory services was compared to a dating app, accounting professionals and branding agencies don’t even know each other exist because one is swiping right on Tinder, the other sending winks on RSVP.

With both our businesses' success determined by how many SMEs we grow and keep alive, it’s perhaps the best time to date each other.

To explore an accountant-brand marketer relationship, let’s highlight the classic statistic that 95 per cent of Aussie SMEs don't make the five-year mark. The binding element here is that both accounting professionals and branding agency have a core purpose in thwarting this outcome. 

Build value, sell products and ensure the numbers add up. If you assess the aforementioned key value focus areas in the SME advisory accountants tool kit, it’s very similar to that of the branding agency.

Australian SMEs equate to over 90 per cent of our nation's business footprint, and they’re the majority of accounting professionals and branding agencies client bases. They need their numbers crunched, their online banking connected to their eCommerce, and their Digital Marketing delivering a sustainable return to their business.

SME focused branding agencies have continuous exposure to digital technologies that are often presented to their clients with the goal of solving problems surrounding lack of capital, saturated market competition, and very little time for the business owner to execute tasks.

For branding agencies to deliver solutions, they first have to onboard the SME as a client, and this is a competitive and exhaustive process in itself. Buying trust is just that, a cost. And the SME ends up paying for it anyway, when mostly they can't afford it, thus eroding the value exchange. The marketing industry is a heavily competitive international affair with a multitude of products and services making empty promises, clouding true service in a fog of jargon and lingo, all which simply get in the road of SME’s finding good branding partners to receive services from.

Branding agencies need to partner with other professionals that have trusted relationships they can share, simply to ensure their solutions that are loaded with added value actually reach the SME. It’s here the symbiosis between accounting professionals and branding agency exists. A mutually beneficial relationship with knowledge and information flowing freely with the client in the middle as the beneficiary of this network exchange.

The Australian government undertook research that suggested Australian SMEs were one of the slowest in the world at onboarding new technology. Insight gained here resulted in a federal stimulus program, that once deployed aimed to influence SME behaviours and their ability to onboard and embrace digital solutions. Deloitte chaperoned the program by connecting branding agencies like COG Branding with SMEs to assist the process along with implementing business strategies and branding initiatives.

This represented a market proven case study where SMEs trust the advice and referrals of accounting professionals, and when they take the lead with an accountant-branding agency relationship, all three are winners.

If Australian SMEs are to continue to hold up our nation's economy, then the least accounting professionals and branding agencies could do is go on a few dates together.

Luke Sullivan, managing director COG Branding

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