How accountants can effectively respond to new priorities

Strengthening client service is the biggest priority for accountancy firms in 2021, despite plans to also reduce head count, according to a recent report.

A recent ‘Future Focus’ report, which identifies the overarching priorities for UK accountancy firms over the next 12 months, surveyed 250 senior decision makers and found that 38 per cent of firms are committed to strengthening client relationships and two thirds have an actionable plan in place.

Planned strategies to improve client relationships include increasing proactive account management (38 per cent), increasing the speed with which client queries are handled (38 per cent), improving client call handling (36 per cent), offering complementary services to clients (35 per cent) and using client-facing software (33 per cent).

The report also revealed that cost cutting is the second largest priority for 32 per cent of firms, followed by new business growth at 24 per cent. 39 per cent of those focused on cost cutting will do so by reducing head count through furlough or more permanent measures, 37 per cent will delay or pull back capex spend, 35 per cent will introduce cost saving measures and 34 per cent will use outsourced partners to deliver services more efficiently.

Client care blackspot

Against a sector wide focus on client care, this could present a worrying picture and a ‘client care blackspot’ according to Moneypenny, whose research also shows that 68 per cent of firms still do not answer all inbound calls and 29 per cent don’t consider their website an important communications channel.

It’s encouraging that so many firms are prioritising client care, but for those also looking to reduce costs and in particular head count, this will be especially difficult. It could cause a huge client care blackspot.

Communication is the cornerstone of the client experience and it’s closely tied to new client growth too. If calls go unanswered, websites don’t provide a viable alternative and there are fewer people in house to notice – firms could well lose the revenue they told us they’re so keen to protect and grow.

Figures reiterate the telephone’s position as the most important channel for business communication across all sectors – with 56 per cent of UK companies citing it as the principle channel to converse with clients.

If client care is the biggest priority, firms must always be accessible which means ensuring that every client interaction is handled efficiently and professionally, whether it’s over the phone or via a website tool like live chat.

We already know that 69 per cent of people will hang up rather than leave a voicemail. This inaccessibility can have costly consequences and must be tackled in order to avoid damaging existing relationships and the ability to secure new ones. Looking ahead, firms really must really prioritise adequate resource, whether that’s inhouse or with an outsourced partner, to reach their goals and give clients the experience they expect.

The Future Focus report also looked at firms’ approach to marketing and new client growth. Other interesting findings include:

  • Firms with 500+ employees are almost twice as likely to list strengthening client care compared to smaller firms (250 employees and less)
  • Firms in in Wales, the North West and the West Midlands are more focused on client care.
  • Southern firms are more focused on finding cost savings than their northern counterparts.
  • Larger firms, those with 250-500 employees, are more likely to focus on offering complementary services (47 per cent compared with the 35 per cent average for all other firms) as well as improving the way inbound calls from clients are answered (47 per cent compared with an average 32 per cent for firms under 250 employees)
  • Firms in the West Midlands are least focused on new business while firms in the South East and South West are the most likely to focus on securing cost savings.
  • Firms based in the South East, the North East and the East Midlands are most likely to lean on outsourcing partners to drive efficiencies.
  • A quarter of firms are planning to grow their practice through new client revenue using social media (37 per cent), referrals (36 per cent), increased business development (36 per cent), increased marketing (35 per cent) and use of promotions (33 per cent).

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

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