Is it all different strokes for different folks or are there more similarities than you might expect?
BT’s Julia Newbould spoke to three different accounting clients about what they wanted from their accountant relationships at the March 2018 Accounting Business Expo held in Sydney – retiree Jack*, business start-up owner Scott* and corporate worker Laura*. While each had different financial needs and were at different stages of their self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF) journey, they were united in a desire for less jargon and clear disclosure of services.
*Names changed for privacy purposes.
Understanding the services with a view to the future
Retiree Jack previously worked in financial services and continues to keep up-to-date on the industry. He manages the investment side of his SMSF and is clear on what services he wants from his accountant – the end part of the management process including tax, compliance and audit completed efficiently. That said, he is currently looking for a technology solution for his SMSF and would be open to discussing and purchasing through his accountant if he can’t individually access it.
By contrast, business start-up owner Scott left the army to start his business and was unsure of exactly what he might need from his accountant, beyond that he needed help.
“It would have helped to have upfront disclosure on what I was going to need to start the business and what the costs for those services were going to be. People don’t know what they need to know so it would have been good to have a list,” Scott said. He said he would have welcomed his accountant taking a business coach method of working with him and the offer of help with learning the accounting software he needed for his business. This presents a great opportunity for accountants to naturally extend their services or communicate other services offered.
Laura, currently working in finance, agrees with the need for a clear outline of services and what she might need to do if she accesses those services. She and her husband opened an SMSF with an accountant but closed it recently.
“My background meant I was better placed to understand the requirements of an SMSF but I don’t think I knew enough, particularly about trustee responsibilities. I needed more disclosure from my accountant about what was actually involved, a longer term view. There’s also confusion for many people over the difference between an accountant and a financial adviser.”
Clarity over services needed to be combined with clear communication in language that people understand, even when they don’t work in the financial services industry.
Scott said “there was a lot of jargon so I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the decisions I made but I trusted the accountant.”
While Jack and Laura were more comfortable with the jargon given their financial services backgrounds, Laura said, “my husband didn’t understand the jargon and I needed to translate it for him after every meeting.”
In addition, all three agreed a more regular program of communication from their accountants would be valuable.
Jack ideally wanted to hear from his accountant quarterly with up-to-date information on regulations that might affect his SMSF.
“I want my accountant to keep me up-to-date because it reflects that he is up-to-date too,” Jack said.
Scott adds he only hears from his accountant when it is time to invoice for compliance, a situation that didn’t build a relationship between the two.
This need for simpler communication offers an immediate step that accountants can take to better communicate their skills, services and how they are adding value. The services were in many instances being provided by the accountant, but the value they were adding particularly with compliance was not being communicated.
Value and fees
It’s not uncommon for accountants to face battles over fees, there is a general reluctance for people to pay for those things they see as a ‘have to do’ rather than ‘want and look forward to’.
However, all three expected and were happy to pay the upfront costs required for accounting services. Laura and Jack were both more comfortable with the ongoing costs, perhaps a reflection of their closer understanding of the services they wanted and felt they were receiving. By contrast, Scott was fee-focused and planning to seek a new accountant offering lower fees in the future. It is also worth noting that he felt he didn’t have a rapport with his accountant, which may have affected his willingness to pay for services and, with his focus on his new business, was careful with noting where expenses were going.
The question of rapport is an important one. Building a strong relationship with clients not only develops greater trust but is also more likely to reveal the full client circumstances and needs. For example, Laura has closed her SMSF but still needs assistance with a long-term retirement plan. She’s had time out of the workforce too, meaning her superannuation balance is lower than it might otherwise have been and needs assistance in reviewing her options.
Scott, on the other hand, needs to move his superannuation because now he has left the army; he can no longer contribute to the military superannuation fund his money is in. He is self-directed in his investments and would be interested in an SMSF eventually, though his finances and concern about fees may suggest it is not suitable at this stage. Scott’s lack of bond with his accountant has meant his accountant is unlikely to know this information and therefore unable to take a proactive approach in suggesting suitable services to help.
It is often enhancements driven by relationships that can improve the client’s experience of service, understanding of the value of working with an accountant and is more likely to drive future work, particularly as clients develop a trust and belief that their accountant knows what they need.
Linking value and service
Based on the feedback, it seems one of the biggest challenges for accountants is in ensuring clear and simple communication and building a strong relationship. This in turn is likely to reinforce the value of their services to their clients and the greater likelihood of being able to identify client needs and respond to them.
This communication has been prepared for use by accountants only. It must not be made available to any retail client and any information in it must not be communicated to any retail client or attributed to this article. This information has been prepared by Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL & ACL 233714 (Westpac) and is current as at 27 March 2018. Names have been changed and details of the opinion or experience have been reproduced with permission. For illustrative purposes only. The information provided is general in nature and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs and therefore, before acting on it, you should consider whether it is appropriate for you. It may contain material provided by third parties derived from sources believed to be accurate at its issue date. While such material is published with necessary permission, no company in the Westpac Group accepts any responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of, or endorses any such material. Except where contrary to law, we intend by this notice to exclude liability for this material. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. You should consider whether or not provision of SMSF financial advice services is appropriate for you. ©Westpac Banking Corporation 2018