The (b)leading edge of Accountancy marketing

Estimated reading time: 4 min

Sage publishes an annual survey of accountants attitudes – what’s interesting is that it is global and the summary report details some good findings about the profession.  It’s called The Practice of Now 2018 

As a marketer who works with professional services businesses, my reading highlights some big numbers in the research about artificial intelligence, fear of competition, lack of optimism and increasingly demanding clients.  The implications for marketing, I will cover at the end of this article.

10 take-outs from the Practice of Now 2018 report

  1. Clients are changing faster than accountants. – 42% of clients expect accountants to provide business advice.  This shows how frontline accountancy is in the mind of the client and how banks and business mentors have failed to take up the slack here, which is an opportunity for growth.
  2. Revenues rise as cloud accounting allows firms to be more productive.  56% of firms saw a revenue rise.  If your firm didn’t see this fee income growth – start to review your working practices.
  3. Practice Management in the cloud is at 53% adoption – clearly we are into the mainstream majority now.
  4. But confidence is lower – 40% feel less confident about the prospects for their practice.  Clearly Xero’s goal of putting accountants out of business is realistic and beginning to come true.
  5. Competition within the industry is more visible – are you buying up a practice from a retiring competitor?  Clients will go to an accountant who serves their needs – even to another city or country.  This is both a threat and and opportunity for new business development.
  6. Artificial Intelligence is helping free up administrative tasks and it’s more than just automation. Moving from data entry, email and diary management to higher value services is a no-brainer… but how to set it up is the challenge as these skills aren’t in-house and they may not be in the IT services organisations who work with accountants either.
  7. Most accountants are doing some workflow automation – 49% want to do more of it.  So the benefits are noticed (see 2 above).
  8. The language of accountancy is changing – “Tell me how much money I have” and “How much am I owed?” is SO refreshing compared to “debtors, creditors and accruals”.  From a marketing point of view, these messages are very powerful and simple – but does your firm use this language?
  9. Advisory services are wanted by 42% of clients – but if you don’t market & position the firm to capture this revenue, clients will go elsewhere.
  10. The BIGGIE – 67% of accountants say that cloud technologies make client collaboration easier. Phew, glad that worked out because it jolly well ought to be this way.

Should I worry about artificial intelligence?

If you’re not sure what A.I. could do for your business, start asking questions now.  Because we all understand automation in things like bank feeds, this is a very small part of the working practice move towards higher functionality for humans and lower functions for machines (or software robots).

The easiest way to understand the potential for AI in accountancy is this extract from the report

Candidates for automation already include assigning incoming bank statement entries with the correct nominal codes—via training the machine becomes able to predict what codes should be used—but in the near future the power of AI to learn means it will become involved with operations like analytics and report creation. For example, software will be able to predict a client’s cash flow based on the company’s previous behaviour. Based on self-generated data, AI will be able to make predictions and decisions. This isn’t limited to client data. By examining things like seasonality data, AI can help with practice management. AI and automation aren’t just desirable because they make life easier. Research has suggested that the tedium of repetitive tasks can lead to a high staff turnover, introducing additional costs for a practice such as recruitment and training. Automating these processes makes complete business sense.”

It goes on to say

“AI can flag the anomalies, saving time and resources, making the accountant more productive.”

Your strategic marketing pathway

And as a marketer, if I am advising a modern accountancy practice this is what they should be doing for strategic marketing.

Firstly get your brand positioning updated to reflect modern working.  Think Nena and Kim Wilde – “Anyplace, anywhere, anytime” and you’ll be on the right track.

How that branding plays out into your collateral, positioning, services and online profile should be straightforward.  The key is to get the strategy right first and the rollout should be clear.  You will need new keywords for SEO, your client communications will become driven by client preference and choice and your language will simplify and align with clients’ choices of words. 

Other than that, it’s marketing business as (un)usual for a modern accountancy practice. 

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