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5 things for accountants to focus on in 2018

What should be on your radar for 2018?

It’s January, busy season is coming to an end and it’s time to start putting serious thought into the year ahead for your accountancy firm. So, what should be on your radar for 2018?

As a modern accountant, you’re riding the wave of evolutionary change taking place in the industry, utilising the most valuable fintech and cloud apps to create a practice ‘app stack’ that brings maximum efficiency to the firm.

Meeting the expectations of your clients is also a focus – offering the kinds of advice, service and long-term trusted relationships that are now seen as the norm by the new wave of ambitious, tech-savvy business owners.

So, to help you plan ahead with confidence, we’ve highlighted five key things to put on your 2018 to-do list – keeping you, your team and your clients ahead of the curve.

1. AI and automation – an opportunity, not a threat

The threat of accountants being replaced by software ‘robots’ has been a common theme over the course of the preceding year. But 2018 is the year where artificial intelligence (AI) will go from being fiction to a practical reality for a large number of practices.

Many of the leading accounting software providers – Xero, QuickBooks and Sage included – are incorporating practical elements of AI and machine learning into their offerings. And the key takeaway here is that your role as an accounting professional won’t be replaced by an algorithm – AI will sit there in the background doing the mundane data entry, coding, data analysis and automating of financial admin – giving you more time to focus on value-add services.

So, dig down into the latest product releases from your accounting and fintech providers, and see where AI can save you time, improve your automation or bring you high-level analysis.

Find out more of the benefits of AI for accountants in this post from Boma Marketing.

2. Being ready for Making Tax Digital and digital accounts

Making Tax Digital (MTD) is on the horizon and will begin to impact on your VAT-registered clients in 2019, so it’s imperative that both your practice systems and your clients’ accounting software set-ups are up to speed when it comes to digital accounts and online tax submissions.

If you have clients who still bring in a shoe-box full of paper receipts at year-end, or who are using outmoded desktop accounting to manage their finances, it’s time to outline the benefits of a move to the cloud and digital compliance.

To get clients ready for MTD:

  • Explain the need for MTD compliance – there’s a handy summary of the basics of MTD here from the team at FD Works, explaining the impact for SMEs.

  • Move clients to online accounting – and showcase the key benefits of mobile access, flexible real-time reporting and integration with other business apps and online solutions.

  • Use Receipt Bank to automate bookkeeping – keeping client’s books, bank reconciliation and online storage of receipts up to date throughout the year.

  • Be ready for digital tax submissions – by making use of the open API and digital tax templates offered by your accounting provider and achieving full integration with the proposed HMRC portal for submitting client returns.

There's a helpful overview of Making Tax Digital here from the ICAEW.

3. Added value, customer relationships and working with the right clients

Business clients want real added value, better business advice and a stronger, trusted relationship with their accountant – and that means your firm getting proactive about working with the right clients to achieve this focus on value-add advisory services.

To move towards deeper and more trusted working partnerships:

  • Highlight where you add value for clients – and offer additional services such as cash flow forecasting, streamlining of expenses processes or analysis of cost management. Go beyond the basics and offer more ideas for improved value.

  • Focus on working with the right clients – and define your ideal client type, so you understand the business audiences, industry sectors and personality types that will result in the most productive customer relationships.

  • Review your client base – and ditch the bad customers who are holding back your efficiency and are keeping you from concentrating on your top-priority clients.

  • There's more advice on creating meaningful value for clients in this article from The Ravens Wood Consultancy

4. Having the right people in your firm

Finding the right talent is a challenge for any accounting practice, but it’s increasingly important for your firm to have a diverse and multi-skilled pool of people, so you’re able to meet client expectations, take your next growth step and remain a profitable practice.

The influence of tech and the move to value-add services mean your firm needs a new kind of talent. Rather than hiring the usual ‘number crunchers’, build up a team that focuses on customer relationships, building trust and offering high-level tech support and business guidance, rather than just basic compliance and accounting.

To broaden your talent, try recruiting:

  • The tech specialist – someone who’s a cloud advocate, knows the app market inside out and can help clients to seamlessly customise, integrate and refine their business and fintech software.

  • The client services manager – a ‘people person’ whose skill set lies in relationship-building and true customer service. Someone who will be a client’s first point of contact and their trusted go-to adviser.

  • The commercial thinker – a strategic brain who’s worked in business, thinks like a businessperson and has the real-world expertise to improve a client’s business model, make them more profitable and grab the best commercial opportunities.

There's more recruitment advice for accountants in this 'Solving the talent challenge' guide from the team at Silverfin.

5. Get your clients ready for the late payment legislation

SMEs are owed £26.3 billion in overdue payment and this culture of late payment, especially by larger corporate organisations, is something the Government is keen to reverse.

The ‘duty to report’ legislation aims to reduce late payment and makes it compulsory for bigger corporates (those with £36m annual turnover, £18m balance sheet or 250+ employees) to publicly report on, and proactively reduce, their payment times to smaller businesses.

That drive to reduce payment times provides some key opportunities for accountants, including:

Planning for success

No accountancy practice stands still for long – and those that do are the ones mostly likely to miss the big client opportunities. So we hope you can take some inspiration from our top 5 focus areas to help your firm succeed in 2018.

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