If you haven’t heard of Alternative Accountancy, look them up. We joined a few of their hangouts recently and found interesting topics and polls and some great speakers from large UK firms. 

While AccountancyManager is designed for small to medium practices, keeping an eye on the likes of Saffery Champness, Kreston Reeves and Grant Thornton helps us take our users to the next level – and find out where the cracks might be along the way. 

Optimism for the road ahead

How businesses will look as we emerge from the lockdown has been a core topic of the hangouts. But the consensus is that we should be looking much further ahead than the next few months. According to all the panellists, the outlook is overwhelmingly positive – as long as you have the right systems in place and buy-in from your staff and clients.

“We’ve all been talking about digital transformation – but now we’re doing it. And we’re actually seeing the best of our people right now. We’ll come out of this as a different firm, with different views.”

– Julie Berry, IT Partner at Saffery Champness

Poll result: 91% of the audience stated they are excited by the challenge of creating a new post-Covid practice.

The acceleration of technology adoption

Without a doubt, the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the adoption and use of technology. It has forced us all to open our minds, push our abilities and help others keep up. 

“Leaders have talked long and hard about what the younger generations want. Now we’ve been forced to deliver on some of these things, we know: they work.” 

– Mark Reddy – Finance Director of Grant Thornton

Chris Madden, IT & Operations Director at Kreston Reeves, made the interesting observation that everyone at his firm had flocked to new technology far faster than he had anticipated. It seems that necessity has turned large numbers of people into enthusiastic early adopters. 

Ian, an attendee, agreed;

“Had we tried to roll out the same things before, we would’ve tried for 6 months and not got anywhere. But the uptake has been quite phenomenal. We’ve made so much progress in such a short space of time, because we’ve been forced to.”

Poll result: 72% of the audience thinks accountancy businesses will maintain the momentum on technology innovation once the lockdown ends.

Goodbye offices. Hello collaborative workspaces.

Across the board, all panellists agreed that the office environment would be different as the lockdown eases. Chris Madden, approximated that they would have a 30% to 40% reduction of office space in the years post-pandemic. “Now that employees have proved they can be trusted and productive at home, it doesn’t make sense to spend time and expense commuting to an office – or paying for the overheads.”

Collaborative work space

“Our own policy is that our offices are for meetings and collaboration, not for sending emails.”

– Chris Madden, IT & Operations Director at Kreston Reeves

Julie Berry adds: “Premises will be repurposed and will serve a different function. Of course this will take time, but it’s a very exciting prospect.”

Diversification of job roles

Some large firms are starting to redeploy some of their practitioners to work in other parts of the business. Kylie Grant, Project Director at Menzies, is currently leading their digital transformation project – digitising their processes and automating as much as possible. For Menzies cross-team working isn’t the future, but the present:

“We have people in disparate teams making each other aware of the services they provide clients and how they can help”. 

– Kylie Grant, Project Director at Menzies

Kylie advises that the success of this approach comes down to a foundational consistency in how people work, access data and store documents across the business.

Flattening hierarchies and closer connections

Although the lockdown has restricted human contact, video calls have invited us into people’s homes, reminding us that everyone is ‘just like us’. Julie Berry recalls a meeting when one partner was working in his garage, a far cry from an ivory tower. At AccountancyManager, we recently enjoyed our CEO’s three-year-old son running into his office, solemnly reporting the size and location of a particularly scary spider. 

“People have felt more connected with each other and leadership… This has been a revolutionary event that has pushed evolution along the right lines” 

– Mark Reddy

Mark also stated the importance of having a social aspect to team calls and involving the wider team in certain decisions. Making sure every person knows that they are part of the solution.

“Lightheartedness goes a long way – we’re having to show strong leadership and resilience, but empathy has to go along with that.” 

– Julie Berry

The inevitable rise of business advisory services

Already the panellists have seen a move from transactional work to business modelling, restructuring and insolvency work. 

Richard Kleiner, CEO of Gerald Edelman suspects that advisory will continue to become more important as businesses inevitably take stock of their position, who their advisers are and the quality of their advice. For some firms, Richard says, compliance-based work is not the future. Owner-managed businesses and SMEs are going to want more than accounts and tax advice. 

“Accountants should start thinking ‘how can we perform a wider range of business services?’ Even if that’s with strategic alliances with other experts.” 

– Richard Kleiner, CEO of Gerald Edelman

The power of automation and data

Mark Reddy, expressed enormous relief that they had already moved to a new ERP system earlier in the year.

“I dread to think where we’d be if we were still using a system with manual processes” 

– Mark Reddy

With the management system central to the business, the ability to reduce administration, automate processes and, where possible, self-serve, is of paramount importance to the efficiency of the team and your relationship with clients. 

Poll result: 81% stated that they would be asking the practice to invest more into the technology budget to support the new agile working environment.

Woman working on laptop

Julie Berry goes on to explain that data held within these systems is a hidden gem for every firm or practice.

“By using the systems we already have to their full potential, we can unearth insights to make crucial business decisions. We’ve all realised how important data is for making decisions and judgement. People don’t always see the value of it but it gives us the insights we need to move forward” 

– Julie Berry

Of course, your clients using automation and reporting technology makes your life easier. But by implementing more digital processes, they’ll soon see the many benefits themselves. From saving time to detailed scenario planning and risk mitigation. 

“The key is to take clients on the digital journey. We’ve had a very positive response, especially as some of these operations have made them more efficient as well”. 

– Julie Berry