The bookkeeper / accountant relationship has always been a topical subject. Accountants blaming bookkeepers for dodgy work and the WIP they have to write-off as a result of it. Bookkeepers snarling at accountants for being elitists. Sound familiar?
Looking back to when I was an undergrad (circa FY2006) the firm I worked for (who shall remain nameless) would not dare touch bookkeeping. Not because it was boring, low value and transactional work (which it is) – but because we were too good for it. Yup. The opportunity cost of doing bookkeeping at $70 per hour was offensive to the rates one could charge for preparing a set of financial statements (that is, 3x that rate).
Fast forward 10 years and that same firm now provides bookkeeping services.
So what’s changed?
The efficiencies that cloud technology has brought has meant it is more ‘cost effective’ for accountants to offer bookkeeping services to their clients, and effectively cut out the middle-man bookkeeper. While bookkeeping is not a largely profitable business model compared to traditional accounting compliance and consulting work (most firms struggle to break even), it is an attractive service for firms to dabble in. From our experience these are the main reasons why that is so:
1/ Bookkeeping is a good training opportunity and forces ‘confident’ graduates to get back to basics and learn the fundamentals (Dr = Cr);
2/ The accountant can manage the quality and integrity of the underlying financial data;
3/ It’s a good marketing tool to be able to offer a ‘one stop shop’ service;
4/ The accountant is not at risk of getting their grass cut by ‘business coaches’;
Point 4 is the most interesting. The more ‘enthusiastic’ bookkeepers are moving away from ‘bookkeeping’ (in its purest form) to become more of a business advisor and technology integrator – services that could be seen as moving into accountant territory. As technology and automation threaten to make bookkeeper’s roles redundant, the profession must adapt to in order to survive and remain relevant for their clients. Providing consulting services to clients is one avenue to do that.
Accordingly, the scope of services offered by accountants and bookkeepers is becoming increasingly blurred and creating an interesting scenario as both professions battle to remain relevant for their clients and maintain their margins.
So, how do the professions work together to ensure the client still receives value from both providers?
THE ADVISORY DOUGHNUT
1/ Build a relationship with each other!
When we onboard a new client the first thing we ask for is the details of their accountant. We immediately touch base with them to inform them of who we are, what we do and most importantly, why we do it. Go for a coffee, talk about each other’s business and the services you provide.
2/ Narrow scope – be clear about what services you’re providing
In your engagement letter and proposal, be clear about what services you provide and ensure this is communicated to the accountant. Explicitly document the scope of services to ensure you are not stepping on each other’s toes and also so the client is clear of the expectations of each service provider.
3/ Regular communication
Check in with each other at least quarterly. Ensure the arrangement is working for everyone and make it an open forum for feedback and knowledge sharing.
For example, we send monthly notifications when the month end is complete as well as schedule catch ups with our accounting partners to talk shop and ask for feedback.
Summing up – it’s all about collaboration
The client receives the most value from both the bookkeeper and accountant when they work together. Your clients should have the confidence that the two service providers are working together to achieve their goals – not burning billable hours and at each other’s throats competing for fees and the attention of their customer.
Ditch the ‘us versus them’ mentality and get on with delighting your clients.