For many accounting firms, the end of financial year is when things really start to get hectic. But while tax season can often put a strain on resources, it’s also a great opportunity to connect and engage with clients – especially for firms that also provide financial advice services.
So, how can you make the most of this busy period and find ways to improve your business at the same time? We asked Count’s team of Practice Development Managers to share their insights.
What are the biggest challenges accounting firms face during tax season?
Vicki Massey (VIC): Firms with a large base of individual clients will be especially busy from July through to October. But regardless of whether a firm deals mainly with individual or business clients, many face the constant challenge of being under-resourced – and that places extra pressure on staff at this time of year.
How can firms better manage their workload at this time?
Andrew Hammelmann (QLD): Attracting and retaining quality staff is an ongoing challenge, making it more difficult for firms to operate at capacity at this time of year. That’s where solutions such as technology and outsourcing can help to maximise efficiencies, by streamlining and automating standard compliance tasks.
Malcolm Hills (QLD): Firms need to have a clear understanding of how many clients their advisers can realistically assist during the busy season – which is why capacity planning and diary management is so important. Advisers have to be able to deal with referrals from the accounting side of the business while making sure they’re devoting appropriate time to the individual needs of each client.
How do successful firms decide which clients they should prioritise?
Paul Liddell (VIC): End of financial year is a good time for advisers to check in with the accountants – together, they can work out which clients would benefit most from advice. Another idea is to have an iPad at the front desk where clients can do a quick financial health check when they come in. Accountants and advisers can then use this data to find out the client’s priorities and make sure they’re addressing these.
Vicki Massey: A lot of clients only come in once a year during tax time – so there’s a great opportunity to drive higher engagement. By going through your database, you can identify clients who have a purely transactional relationship and try to deepen that relationship with them going forward.
How can accountants use EOFY as an opportunity to build those deeper relationships?
Alina Chawynski (NSW): It’s about being proactive, not reactive. For example, with more changes to super rules coming into effect on 1 July, it’s a good opportunity to contact clients who might be impacted so that they understand the changes – instead of waiting for the clients to come to you.
Paul Tsikopolous (VIC & WA): As well as thinking about clients who will be impacted, you should make sure you’re having life-values-based conversations with each client. One way is to ask non-financial planning clients to bring in their super statements, so you can help facilitate a conversation with an authorised adviser.
Malcolm Hills: One strategy is to use the tax return as a trigger point for asking questions about their financial and life circumstances. You can ascertain if any major events have happened throughout the year – for example, if they got married or divorced, changed jobs, or had a child. Identifying these lifestage changes will help you uncover where financial advice may potentially benefit their situation.
And once you’ve identified clients who could benefit from financial advice, what are the next steps for converting them into advice clients?
Alina Chawynski: The challenge is that many accounting clients may not be aware that your firm provides financial advice – or they may not really even understand what financial advice means. So it could be as simple as saying to them, “Did you know we can help you with that as well?”
Paul Liddell: Because the accountant already has a relationship with the client and is in the unique position of understanding their financial situation, they can identify the key issues and flag them with an adviser – then set up a meeting to discuss these issues in-depth.
Vicki Massey: Some accountants assume that their clients aren’t interested in advice, or they don’t understand that their clients could benefit from seeing an adviser. But now more firms are running seminars for their accountants to educate them around the value of advice – and achieving a higher rate of referrals as a result.
What else should accounting firms be thinking about at the beginning of a new financial year?
Kavita Sharma (NSW): For many firms, this is the one major touchpoint of the year that they have with their clients, so they should use it to capture qualitative data about each client. And as well as looking at ways to expand their service suite, they can also use this time to improve the client experience and also their internal processes. This includes reviewing their business goals and strategies, tracking their progress and updating their business plan if needed.
Andrew Hammelmann: Business leaders tend to be very focused on the day-to-day running of their firm, and they often feel like they don’t have time to plan the future of the business. But the best thing you can do is sit down and actually set business goals for the coming financial year – thinking ahead about what the challenges are and how you can improve the way you do things.