Many of us find change challenging. We rationalise our caution by quoting the popular saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, which makes a desire for change seem almost perverse.
But what happens when it is broke? Or broken enough to need fixing? Or due to break very soon? What happens when your competitors are less broken than you? Or when your customers think your offering is broken? In these circumstances, you can’t afford not to fix it.
This article looks at what drives change in a modern accountancy practice.
Types of change
Many of the most powerful forces for change are completely out of your control. These include:
There’s not a lot you can do to stop the economy nose-diving. Or expanding, for that matter. But there are things you can do to protect yourself against the worst effects of a slowdown and exploit the opportunities offered by an upturn. New attitudes, new working practices and new technology are often a large part of the answer, and these need careful change management.
Laws and regulations
Laws and regulations have a profound effect on how accountants work. GDPR, Making Tax Digital and FRS 102 are just a few recent examples of this kind of change. Be prepared to change your internal procedures and workflows within your practice and your software and other IT systems in order to keep up.
Over time, you’ll get new clients who will make new demands on you. Even long-standing clients will expect you to offer them more services, or expect you to deliver those services differently. Online tax and accounting; mobile access to financial data; secure client portals; a social media presence… What technology do you need to meet these demands?
To be the best, you have to employ the best, so your accountancy practice needs to be able to hire and retain talent. As well as flexible working, better work / life balance and a range of interesting and challenging assignments, staff these days want to be able to broaden and deepen their technical skills. They also expect to have access to the latest technology to help them do their job. Better make sure you’re providing it!
Imitating your competitors is not always a winning strategy (“Tax returns for a fiver” anyone?) but neither is ignoring genuine competitive pressure. How will you respond if another accountancy practice offers something that you don’t, or can’t? These days, technology is often the key to unlocking new markets and opportunities and getting back your competitive edge.
Throughout history, once a technology becomes available, someone somewhere will exploit it to their advantage to do new things, or to do existing things better, more quickly, more cheaply or some combination of the three. The most radical technologies reshape the way we see the world, like the iPad, growing quickly from desirable consumer novelty to become a valuable business tool. What paradigm-shifting technologies await accountants in the near future?
Other pressures for change are self-generated, but no less important. These include:
A desire to grow your accountancy practice
Even if you’re happy for your practice to stay roughly as it is now, you need to continually take on new clients just to replace those that you will inevitably lose. If you want to go further than this and expand your accountancy practice, you’ll have to consider taking on even more clients, perhaps by taking on more staff or by working more efficiently. You can also charge existing clients more for the work you already do, or get them to buy additional services from you. Technology – including tax and accounting software – can help you pursue these growth strategies.
Your staff, partners and managers aren’t the only people who may look for opportunities to extend their technical and other skills. Over the course of a working life you will naturally look for new challenges, both to develop your career and to explore your own potential. This kind of self-generated pressure for change is an important driver of personal growth.
With pressure coming from so many sources, it’s important to recognise that change is a constant fact of life. At some point, for any one of the reasons described above or a combination of many, the pressure for change in your accountancy practice will become irresistible.
Recognising that many people are fearful of change, the question then becomes “How can I encourage people to get behind these inevitable changes and make them a success for our accountancy practice?”
This is a topic we’ll return to in later articles. To find out when new articles are posted, why not subscribe to the Wolters Kluwer blog?