Leading up the Accountex, where Silverfin can be found at stand 920, I had a chat about the challenges and opportunities in accountancy with a young and dynamic accountant.
Glenn Martin, like many Northerners, prides himself on plain-speaking pragmatism. But if his manner of speaking is traditional, his methods are distinctly modern. The county Durham-based accountant prides himself on augmenting his skills with the latest technology.
In a short space of time Glenn Martin, owner of Avery Martin Accountants & Business Advisors, has forged himself a reputation as being somewhat of an authority on accounting technology, regularly contributing on AccountingWEB.
To pick his brains further, we sat down with Glenn to find out more about his tech philosophy, accounting’s digital transformation and the profession’s future...
Hi Glenn, thank you for your time. To start, what is the current state of affairs of UK accountancy?
Personally, I feel it's in a great deal of transition. The older generation looking to exit and they’re being replaced by new millennials coming along who only know the digital way, but lack experience.
Then there are people like me in the middle, with small low cost operations, but who can rely on 25+ years of experience. I see some great opportunities for firms like mine, to take clients from the 3 or 4 partner firms. Historically these firms relied on their high street address and 50+years trading for business. They probably only grew with inflation each year.
We’re seeing new levels of scalability in the profession, too. You see new firms open up and after four years they are 1000 client firms. Previously, this growth was impossible.
No doubt technology has played a huge role in this kind of explosive growth. On that topic, what excites you on the tech front for 2017?
There is a lot going on. The new cloud practice management stuff looks really good, plus we are still waiting to see what the big boys have planned with their long awaited cloud solutions. Accountex this year will be the best and busiest yet.
We are having to make to decisions about software that is not even available yet - that’s about as exciting/worrying as accountancy gets.
That worry ties in with this idea of ‘digital transition’. But what does the digital transition of the profession actually mean?
For me, it means we can do a much better job for the smaller client. By getting the numbers right we can provide much better information to clients in real-time.
The array of bolt-ons that accentuate your offering allow small firms to do really fantastic work. In the past, these insights were only available to you if you were with a Big 4 firm or you had deep pockets.
How are things on the ground? By that I mean, how are accountants dealing with the challenges of digital transformation?
Its polarizing the profession, to be honest. The old school are still campaigning to slow the pace of change or are frantically trying to leave the profession. Others see the opportunity to steal a march on the next tier up firm.
For me I find it a lot more interesting than it used to be, and it has reinvigorated my interest in the profession.
And then there’s also the looming impact of MTD (Making Tax Digital). What effect do you think it will have on accounting's digital transformation?
Its clearly going to compress the time for it to happen and even drag some people kicking and screaming into it.
So, for you personally - what are some common sense steps you’ve taken at your practice to stay ahead of the curve?
There are two schools of thought here: sit back and see what develops, or try and anticipate how it will pan out and try exploit it and lead the way forward.
My hope and aim is to fall into the latter category. As my firm is only 3 years old, I have no legacy issues as such. All my clients either work with software or I won’t take them on. So far so good with not much resistance.
And a big one, where do you see the future of the profession lying?
Everyone talks about ‘advisory, advisory, advisory’ as the way forward. Don’t get me wrong - it will be a vital part in the future but I still think that compliance will always make up 50% of my practice’s revenue.
My thoughts on this are reflected in how I price my services. I offer Bronze, Silver and Gold level service. Bronze is a basic compliance service and, whilst I would like everyone to move on to Silver and Gold, there will always be a core who only want Bronze. With MTD on the way there is fresh requirement for more compliance just delivered in a different way.
The art will be to convert clients to the higher value advisory offerings. But it just has to be enough, but by no means does it have to be all your clients.