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Four-day week won’t work for small accountancy firms

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 12 Aug 2022

To make the four-day week work, firms would have to increase their fees by 25% to match the required output, “which wouldn’t go down too well with clients”, says director of small accountancy practice.

The four-day-week trial in the UK, coordinated by 4 Day Week Global, is just over two months into the pilot and has people questioning if the system could work in their sector.

The idea of receiving 100% of the pay for 80% of the time, in exchange for a commitment to maintain 100% productivity, sounds appealing, but what are the practical roadblocks for small accountancy firms?

“In my opinion, it is not going to work because you’re going to get clients who are disgruntled on a Friday or Monday because they can’t get the advice they want on a particular day. Broken down, clients want answers pretty much straight away, so you have to make yourself available,” says David Webb, Director and shareholder of Edwards Chartered Accountants.

“Accountancy is a service business and if the service is not provided then clients will go elsewhere,” he adds.

Webb also says small firms like Edwards predominantly deal with family-owned businesses that want that closer level of service, “to take the worry away”.

Fees would need to increase by 25%

Moving away from the idea of chopping off a whole day somewhere during the working week and looking at the model from the 100/80/100 system, Webb still believes that this wouldn’t be achievable for accountants. Unless they were to increase fees to make up for lost capacity.

He says: “Employing the 100/80/100 rule would mean you’d have to increase fees roughly by 25% and I don’t think that would go down too well with clients. Because as a firm you look at the hourly capacity you’ve got under different grades of staff and you multiply that by the hourly rate, discount a little bit through efficiency, and then that gives you your potential capacity.”

“Now, if you reduce that to 80%, to service your client base you’ve got to take on another quarter of staff to cover it and get back to 100% of hours worked.”

There is one way a four-day week is possible in accountancy

Webb can understand the attractiveness of working four days a week at 80% and earning the same money, “but the economics just aren’t there”.

He thinks the big question is will firms go to 100% capacity within four days, as this means they will not lose capacity. Essentially this way accountants are working hard for four days and having a Friday off, but then the big drawback is not being able to service clients on the Friday and answer questions, which can lead to losing clients.

“It all falls down to service levels and if your service levels drop, you lose clients. But if your service levels are good, you retain clients and get a good reputation and gain new clients,” he explains.

Webb believes that service levels are more important than fees in a way because firms have to give good service before they can charge a fee. And if they’ve given bad service then clients will not want to pay that fee.

He adds: “I’ve been in the profession a long time and I suppose maybe I haven’t got total foresight with where the sector is heading. But I do understand that the business is based on service levels. It always has been and always will be. If you get the service levels right, you get rewarded, but if you get the service levels wrong, which occasionally you do, you get the sack.”

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