The new world of trust has real rewards

Chris Harland sees his relationship with clients changing over time. Here, he outlines the way in which technology and face-to-face discussion can make a difference beyond the numbers.

In recent years, new software has made it very easy for clients to do more of their own accounting and compliance.  At the same time, it’s given accountants the opportunity to access information in real time and forge a new kind of relationship: one of trusted adviser.

We’re now able to help with so much more, including planning, strategy and tax efficiency. It’s no longer a question of just sorting out the year-end accounts.

Recently, I was working with client who runs a fencing business. We noticed a slump in profits and set up a computer system which monitors margins on a job-by-job basis. Through daily observation, we’ve managed to increase gross margin significantly – from 12% to 20%. And now we’ve also introduced him to Xero and got the two systems talking to one another. That means we have solid management accounts and cashflow forecasts.

This was a client who’d previously used Sage but hadn’t really touched it for many years. Now, he’s logging on to Xero all the time, as the interface is designed for the end user rather than accountants.

Another client – which produces reservoir linings – was on Sage and also switched over to Xero. I visit them monthly to look at their management accounts and it’s a chance to talk about their new business opportunities, R&D claims, shareholdings and so on.

So it’s not just a question of software. We also see the value of face-to-face contact. Sitting down with clients, you learn so much more. And once we take on the trusted adviser role, there’s almost no limit to the type of help clients may ask us for. We’re even asked to sift through CVs for new employees or discuss systems implementations. Absolutely anything that’s integral to the success of the company.

Of course, many people will see us as their first port of call, but we can also put them in touch with other professionals such as solicitors and bankers that we’ve come to know and trust.

A property developer we work with sees me very much in the role Finance Director. I sit down with the MD, go through the numbers and start asking the key questions. Where are we heading? Is it working?

When you’re proactive rather than reactive, everyone wins. If a client has a high level of profit when they’re coming up to their year end, spending on assets may work out very tax efficiently for them, for instance. You need to be on top of the situation and in a close working relationship to spot all the opportunities.


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