Posted by: Ashley Choate
As the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) succinctly stated in the title of their 2017 report on the top issues for CPA firms, change is on the horizon.
Namely, according to the report, change may be necessary in order for organizations to overcome some of the most common accounting firm challenges that have developed in recent years. Surprisingly, these issues are similar to many of the growing pains that businesses in other industries have been facing, particularly with regard to technology and growing demands among consumers for fast, mobile, and highly personalized services.
As with any business, priorities vary according to the size of the organization, but the accounting firm challenges below are four of the top priorities key to all financial services companies to date.
Finding and keeping qualified staff.
All hiring managers face challenges with regard to finding the right people. This task is especially challenging for industries that require a high level of training and experience. According to the AICPA’s 2017 report, locating and retaining qualified staff was the greatest concern for organizations with between 2 and 5 professionals on staff, with 70 percent of those organizations surveyed indicating that it will most likely continue to be a primary concern within the next five years. The issue ranked third for firms of 6 to 10 professionals and first again for companies with 11 to 20 and 21 or more.
In short, finding the right people and keeping them in place seems to be the most difficult of the top accounting firm challenges. Companies that expect these issues down the road may want to get creative about building up staff. One suggestion could be offering educational incentives for lower level staff to encourage those individuals already immersed in the industry to expand their knowledge and become more central to the organization. Another suggestion is creating a strong employee outreach campaign through social media, which could draw qualified individuals who are looking for a more positive and encouraging work environment.
Keeping up with technology.
Staying current with technology is pretty much the most widespread concern within any industry, particularly with regard to security and data confidentiality. Even more—particularly for accounting firm that deal with large amounts of data—making use of technology in the right way could make the work easier and more manageable, allowing firms to take on more clients or accomplish better customer service by clearing up time for customer interaction.
Hinge Marketing, a research-based brand marketing firm, recently conducted their own survey regarding accounting firm challenges today. The survey found that 50 percent of respondents reported technology as one of their greatest issues, particularly as it relates to keeping up with “evolving technological needs and related client expectations.”
- Do focused research at least once per week for just a few minutes to stay apprised of recent technology trends.
- Encourage staff and employees to stay open to evolving technologies.
- Build relationships that will ensure information about new technological tools is passed along quickly, especially those that could encourage efficiency and growth within the business.
- Stay apprised on client payment processing software and technology in order to make sound recommendations for accounts receivables best practices
Staying informed about regulatory and tax law changes.
For every financial services organization, tax law, forms management, handling requirements, and regulatory statutes are essential to all core internal policies. These legalities change from time-to-time. According to the AICPA, larger organizations tend to struggle with this less than the smaller companies, most likely because they have dedicated professionals keeping track of these changes.
Regardless, tax laws are one of key accounting firm challenges simply because of their vital role in the success of any financial organization. Keeping track of bills in motion within the government, especially those likely to pass, and creating plans to respond to any adjustments should be an assigned duty for one or more staff member, ensuring that firms can adapt quickly in the event that new laws are enacted.
Marketing differentiation and attracting new business.
In this new world of business where individuals often file taxes online and small business owners have access to information that may make them feel they don’t need an accounting professional, good marketing is more important than ever. Another of the top accounting challenges from the couple of years is attracting and sustaining customers. More and more individuals and smaller businesses seem to think accounting is something they can handle on their own.
With good advertising, particularly taking advantage of social media and online ads, accounting firms can get the word out about their services, appealing to business owners who are afraid to make mistakes and individuals who prefer convenience or larger refunds. Marketing is always a challenge, but successful accounting firms must set themselves apart from the competition in the current market and appeal to either an intrinsic need or a unique preference.
There are plenty of tools available to make it both easy and cost effective to draw the right customers in—and follow-through is essential. People talk more and more these days, so providing the best customer experience possible should always be the centerpiece of any bid to draw new customers to any business.
Ultimately, most of the accounting firm challenges listed above aren’t entirely unique to the financial services industry, but accounting does face one very unique challenge: perception. For most people, accounting means stuffy, boring people locked in dark offices crunching numbers all day. The public is also inundated with crime shows that skew the perception of financial professionals towards seeing them as potential crooks or con men. This may not be the perception of every mind, but there is an underlying negative attitude.
Show them your accounting firm is different. Creating an image, an appeal, that is more approachable and the common consumer or small business owner might be curious enough—or need help enough—to reach out. That’s the first and hardest step. The rest is up to you.