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Tomorrow's Practice - the findings

Tomorrow’s Practice is about making change work for chartered accountants and their clients. It’s driven by a recognition that the market for our registered practice firms is altering radically under the pressures of regulation, technology and economics.

Executive summary

Tomorrow’s Practice is about making change work for chartered accountants and their clients.  It’s driven by a recognition that the market for practitioners has been altered radically by higher audit thresholds, regulation, technology and more intense competition.  

What should accountancy practices come to look like in the next few years? What services will clients want? We’ve engaged across the breadth of the profession and heard first hand from clients, and businesses who are experiencing - and innovatively responding - to the challenge. We will use the invaluable insights from this work to help shape and develop our support for practices going forwards. Businesses face strong pressures too and change is creating a yearning for counsel they can trust. 48% regard their accountant as their most trusted business adviser - only 6% thought the same of their bank, 3% of their lawyer. Our professional inheritance gives us a great advantage; adaptation and innovation will allow us to capitalise on it.

The catch is that businesses often see us as more about providing reactive (‘doing the books and tax returns’) rather than proactive support. They regard many practices as more concerned with offering individual services rather than holistic, imaginative advice and support.  

They want advisers who understand them and their business, - ambitions as well as finances - who proactively identify paths to success.  And there’s a clear demand from time-starved executives for one stop advice shops.

Professional training has already given us the skills to analyse a firm and facilitate its growth. The key is to recognise that individual services can be sold as a result of providing - and billing for – business advice.  We must be client led rather than product led.

And change is delivering positives too. Technology expands the reach and depth of services, allowing practices to focus on higher-value client needs.  The once forbidden territory of legal services has been opened to the profession.  Regulation has created new markets in pensions and auditing.

Many practises are already client led and moving into fields such as whole of life wealth management, financial services, corporate finance and cyber security.  They’re embracing technology, together with project and relationship management skills.

But whatever services are on offer it’s advice, grounded in real understanding of clients’ needs, which will be the key differentiator between successful and less successful practices.

Methodology

Tomorrow’s Practice has been a national conversation within the profession.  During the second half of 2014 we had over 15,000 interactions with individuals to collect their views and opinions on the needs of small businesses and the future of accountancy practices.

Activities have included:

  • Round tables with practice firms in Birmingham, London, Bristol and Manchester - enabling local discussion and debate;
  • Conference panel sessions - continuing the conversation at our practice conferences;
  • 2 Webinars for the small business community and the practitioners that support them - widening the conversation regardless of geography;
  • Over 50 face-to-face interviews with practices and business owners - exploring the key themes from the point of view of practitioners and clients;
  • Blogs and LinkedIn discussions - a forum for member views, an essential part of this project;
  • Formal research with small and medium businesses, consisting of a quantitative survey of 500 UK SMEs during May-June 2014, carried out by IFF Research, and independent qualitative market research commissioned by ICAEW, winter 2014.

Find out how we got here

Taking it forward 

Take a look at what we found  

Tomorrow's Practice findings in four key areas.

Forces of Change

ICAEW firms advise over 1.5m businesses in the UK. We are their most trusted adviser but regulatory changes, technological advances and economic pressures are changing the landscape in which we operate. These aren’t challenges, they’re opportunities, but only if we adapt and innovate, only if we’ve got the vision to identify them and the vision to exploit them.

State of Play: Practices and Clients

There’s an intrinsic level of trust between an accountant and their client. Our recent Small Business Matters research found 48% of businesses saying their accountant is their most trusted business adviser. Only 6% thought the same of their bank and only 3% of their solicitor/lawyer.

Looking to the Future

We’re grateful to Richard Watson, Author, Futurist & Scenario Planner for sharing his views.

Follow the conversation at #TomorrowsPractice

Tell us what you think

What are your opinions on these key findings? We would love to hear your comments.

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