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Who grows up dreaming of being an accountant?

Not many of us, let’s face it.

Accounting often tops the list of the most boring industries, but in reality there's so much passion, innovation and talent within it. 

Despite this, the industry struggles to shake off outdated clichés, like dusty desks piled high with paper and a total lack of work-life balance. 

This negative perception is harmful for the future of accounting, making it harder for firms to attract both new talent and new clients. 

How can we change this? 

We visited Xerocon 2024 to see what Jo Copestake, UK Sales Director at Xero, has to say on the topic. According to Jo, who’s received many a raised eyebrow in her time for trading travel for accounting, the industry needs to be transformed from the inside out. 

And it starts with reimagining your approach to two things: talent and clients.

Talent 

The world of accountancy is faced with a shrinking talent pool and an ageing workforce. This is hardly the recipe for a thriving future.

If you’re looking to hire (and retain) the brightest minds in finance, Jo believes you need to be asking yourself three questions:

1. Are you listening to your people?

If you can recognise what your employees enjoy about working for you and do more of this – as well as act on their suggestions for improvement – you stand a much better chance of keeping your best people.

Where do your staff prefer to work? Most companies these days acknowledge that it’s not essential to have everyone in the office five days a week. So don’t limit your talent pool by restricting your location. If you’re in the position to offer remote roles, this could really open up the number of candidates available to you.

Think about reassessing your dress code, if you have one. Formal workwear can make people feel restricted and uncomfortable, and unless they’re client-facing, it doesn’t serve much purpose. This survey found that more than 80% of people perform better at work when dressed comfortably: the people have spoken.

Ask yourself whether your staff feel psychologically safe at work, too. Are minorities represented? Is your senior leadership team diverse enough? How could you flatten the hierarchy so that people feel comfortable speaking up? Give your employees a voice and they’ll thank you for it.

2. Are you hiring for skills or opportunity?

It’s easy to hire the best qualified person for the job, based on how many boxes they tick on the job description.

But when companies focus on potential over exact experience, they tap into a broader talent pool, bringing in individuals who may not have all the required skills yet but possess the drive, creativity and ability to grow. 

These candidates are often more innovative and can adapt to changing business needs, like  digitisation. Digital transformation is happening at speed, and you don’t want to be left behind. Identify who has a passion for digital innovation and support them to make the necessary changes.

Consider soft skills as well as technical skills when you’re recruiting. One of the talents accountants need is the ability to resiliently deal with tough clients and have those difficult conversations. A candidate with a background in customer service, for example, could bring those transferable skills with them and learn the technical elements on the job.

Hiring for opportunity can also make your firm more diverse and inclusive, as it reduces bias towards traditional qualifications and opens the door for candidates from varied backgrounds. This hiring mentality is essential for building a resilient and future-ready team that can evolve with your firm.

3. Are you clear on your purpose?

When we think about our purpose in life, we don’t always consider the role that work has to play in this. 

If we’re spending five out of seven days a week doing our jobs, it makes sense for them to add something to our lives. More and more Millennial and Gen Z workers are looking for meaningful jobs or opportunities at purpose-driven companies.

Accurise, one of our Platinum Partners, is a great example of a firm with purpose. It donates all of its Pleo revenue share to local charities to give back to the community. Similarly Thrive, one of our Gold Partners, is a certified B Corp, which means it’s verified to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

Clients 

For many businesses, finding an accountant is tiresome.

Rarely do small business owners wake up in the morning excited by the prospect of finding the right accountant to help them file their tax returns.

Standing out from the crowd requires a bit of creative thinking on your part. What can you do to surprise and delight clients over and above the services they’ve come to expect of you?

Take a genuine interest

It’s all about the small things, says Jo. When you reach a joint milestone, such as doing business together for a year, sending a card or cake is an inexpensive touch that speaks volumes of the kind of thoughtful practice you work for. Even remembering your point of contact’s birthday goes a long way.

Hold yourself accountable

Businesses seek out accountants’ help for a reason. Whether that’s for tax, compliance, bookkeeping or something else, they have a job that needs doing. Helping your client get the job done – and fast – is what will set you apart from the competition. Why not hold regular accountability meetings with both parties involved, so you can track your progress, remove any blockers and tick off your to-do list quickly?

Ask for feedback

We all know the phrase “the customer is always right.” Whether you agree with it or not, there’s something to be said for getting insights from the people who buy and use your services the most. 

When was the last time you asked your clients how you could improve? You might discover some small things you can change that would make a world of difference to your offering. Or if there’s a bigger issue, it’s better to uncover it now so you can work through it and future-proof your firm. Try these tips to make sure you get the most out of the conversation.

It’s always worth checking review sites like Trustpilot (if your business is listed there) to see what people have to say about you. People are often more honest online than they are face-to-face.

Take a look around your office

Is it an enjoyable place to be? Do you have an inviting communal area or comfy chairs in your meeting rooms for when clients drop in? Your firm is a shop window into your business, so making sure it’s professional is key. If you have brochures or magazines in your waiting area, keep these regularly updated. Invest in some artwork for the walls to brighten the place up, and a few plants here and there can make the space feel more homely. 

When we say ‘rebrand’, we’re not talking about gutting your practice from the inside out. It’s about making a few changes over time that can have a huge impact on the way talent and clients perceive your business. 

By rebranding and embracing innovation, you can dispel outdated clichés and showcase your passion and expertise within the industry. This transformation can do wonders for your firm's image, as well as help you build a more inclusive and forward-thinking workplace. 

Ultimately, adopting a modern approach is the best way to ensure your accountancy firm remains competitive, relevant and prepared for long-term success.

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