Going back to Melbourne for the first time since 1999 was a real pleasure. It was every bit as welcoming and warm as I remember. Last time I was here as a Management Consultant for PwC, this time I came as a Director of Fourfold Australia.
My goal for this trip was to meet existing and potential clients for Fourfold. My meetings were all around Melbourne CBD and one trip to Geelong. The firms I met varied from new start up to firms with over 200 staff. As you can imagine no two meeting were the same and yet they were all very similar.
The world has changed. Covid and the great resignation have taken their toll. There are fewer (if any) local staff available and those remaining often flit around jobs looking for better packages.
This leaves accounting firms (and most other businesses) competing for the same resources and still having vacancies to fill.
I realise this isn’t news to most people but there were some interesting take outs from the meetings…….
During the meetings, one thing that stuck out was local accountants’ desire to grow their business. They wanted to do this by using their time to provide value added services to their clients.
The primary elements of value-added was becoming a trusted support and adviser in their client’s business. The value add role included;
– Tax Planning,
– Finance expert,
– Support person.
One of the most common problems among local accountants is price competition for compliance work. Accountants don’t want to compete on price, which means they don’t want to offer compliance work as a service. Yes they offer compliance work but only as a necessary evil attached to the real value added service mentioned above.
Accountants want to grow and add value to their clients, they don’t want to compete on price and they don’t want to do the regular compliance-based tasks of bookkeeping, reconciling, work papers or tax preparation.
So now maybe we can see the issues facing accountants. Increased competition in compliance work and no staff to delegate compliance work to. How do accountants grow their business if they are spending long hours doing tasks such as book work and work papers?
How do they do this with a shortage of skilled resources?
Every accountant I met wanted to meet me as the local representative for Fourfold Australia. They wanted the peace of mind that there is a local presence.
All meetings were punctuated with the question “does your team have Australian experience”.
This is really important to accountants. They don’t want to be explaining GST to staff, they want a basic understanding to build on.
Another question I was asked was, “how does your business work”? This is a polite way of saying who are you and why would I want to work with you.
Many accounting firms have worked with overseas outsourcing firms and have been severely bruised from the experience. The accountants wanted to know that they will be working with a registered local businesses, with a local resident director.
Many accountants had worked with other outsource firms and decided they would never do it again. Why? Because they expected cheap reliable staff to do all the work they didn’t want to do. What they got was more work trying to explain what they wanted done, followed by tasks being done slowly and with poor quality.
The definition of madness is doing the same thing again and expecting a different result….. and yet here I was meeting these accountants as the representative of an outsource business.
It seems that the expression “necessity is the mother of invention may be true? The accountants were willing to talk to an outsource person partly out of optimism but mostly out of necessity?
Accountants kept telling me that price was not on their list of considerations. In fact of all the meetings I had only one accountant asked about our pricing. All the accountants wanted was long term, reliable, experienced team members.
In an ideal world the accounting firms wanted to spend their time client facing and delegate the rest. Reality with the current availability of staff is they can only do this by delegating the repeating, task orientated roles.
The accountants all recognised that achieving this would mean a long-term relationship with a trusted third party like Fourfold.
In a Nutshell,
As a director of an outsourcing firm, the Melbourne business trip made me better understand there is a real need for quality outsourcing industry.
The outsource industry is still in its infancy and the early adopters with the right model will be able to add value to their clients, work fewer hours themselves and earn higher profits.
The real question, of course, is who is prepared to put in the effort now? Who will change how they work now in order to create a life that they love?