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Reinventing the path to advisory

Colin Timmis, Xero South Africa Country Manager

 We know the role of accountants and bookkeepers is changing. The evolution of the industry and the impact of technology and new digital tools on this community has been underway for a while now.

Accountants are increasingly stepping into the role of advisors and business advisors. But this path to advisory isn’t all about technology. It’s about mindset, re-thinking the role of advisory, and the human connection accountants have with clients, all supported by the right insights and technology.

Remember it’s a two-way street

Advisory is collaborative not communicative. One of the most critical parts of building a strong relationship with clients is by listening. This is crucial to understanding what a business owner wants. They might be focussed on growth, securing funding, expanding their team, or they might be struggling.

This helps to form the nature of the relationship. Whether it’s focussed on helping them with access to stronger  financial insights, speed and accuracy of numbers, or broader business advice. Also how hands-on or off they want the relationship with their accountant to be.

One-size-fits-all doesn’t work anymore

We often think about segmenting clients by things like the industry they operate in, their size, and sometimes by nothing at all. But why does this happen when each business and its owner is unique? For those who aren’t already, practices should be moving towards segmenting their clients by their specific needs and ambitions – not just by industry.

There is a really strong opportunity for accountants to reinvent the way we do advisory by responding to the different personalities and characteristics small businesses have. This is not only good for small businesses, but also for accounting firms – helping them to elevate their role, expand their services and really make a difference to clients.

Creating more tailored support

Truly understanding these needs means you can then support them with the right tools and to fully step into the advisory role. You can provide a more tailored service, allowing accountants to move away from just showing clients specific, standalone ‘features’ of cloud accounting software.

Instead, it empowers practices to present a number of features – and wider integrated apps – that target a problem or a frustration that their client is facing and advise the best approach. This helps avoid showing features or services that are irrelevant and strengthens the client-accountant relationship.

Solving operation frustrations

One of the main areas small businesses need support is around operational frustrations. They want to free up time to focus on running their business.

Recommending tools like Smart Lists in Xero is a good example. This is where a business can analyse purchases – who bought what product or who has bought a similar product, and save these reports as campaigns. When you think of this in a business mindset – it’s not accounting. It helps small businesses to understand the value of working with an accountant and investing in cloud tools beyond day-to-day number crunching.

The path forward

Scaling advisory in a firm isn’t easy. It has got to be inherent in the culture and behaviour of the organisation. It’s about changing culture, it’s uncomfortable, it’s difficult to measure, but it’s the best way to scale.

Employees need to believe and be passionate about understanding the needs of their clients, so they can package up and recommend features and services that solve these specific needs.