Last week I spent the day in London at the annual accountancy exhibition, Accountex, held at the ExCel. I first went to the exhibition two years ago and was amazed by the number of stands and variety of speakers.  Having skipped a year to attend the Sage conference, Sarah and I decided we would go to Accountex again to find out more about developments in the accounting industry.  We planned in advance what we wanted to get out of the day and went to different talks and visited different software stands so we could get the most out of it.

Its always difficult to take time out of the working week but it is so valuable to make the time.  Being in an environment that we can relate to and can learn from gives us the best opportunity to think about what we do, how we do it and how we can make things better for ourselves and our clients.

Some of the speakers were inspiring and motivational.  Others were practical and gave us the information we had been looking for to deal with MTD (Making Tax Digital).  Some gave us insight into software that can help the smooth running of our practice, whilst others recommended software to help businesses in particular industries.

We use Xero for many of our clients and there are now 700 apps which link to it to make keeping accounting records easier for different industries.  When I first started using Xero, back in 2011, there weren't any!  Trying to work out which of the 700 would be best for our clients is an impossible challenge so hearing from others which ones they have found work well is a great place to start.

The main theme this year seemed to be that accountants need to become advisors to businesses rather than just dealing with their compliance.  They need to introduce time saving accounting software to their clients so that when they receive the accounts, probably on a more regular basis, they can spend less time sorting out the compliance side and more on supporting their clients.  And they need to introduce software to their businesses which can help them to provide this advisory service more easily.

Sounds great but how many businesses really want an advisory service?  We do have clients who feel they don't get the support from the accountant that they would like or expected to get but do those clients really want to be automating their bookkeeping so that they can get the support from their accountant that they want?

I may be old fashioned but the majority of the clients I work with don't want to do any of the bookkeeping themselves.  They like it done for them, they like the contact they have with us, they like to know that it is done properly and that we deal with the accountant (and HMRC) for them if there are any queries.  Some businesses just don't need advisory services from their accountant.  They are happy as they are with their business.  They don't want to grow it.  They just need compliance services.

Despite the introduction of these time saving apps and automated accounting I think there is and will continue to be a need for businesses to have a real person doing their books.  Building a relationship with your customers and your suppliers is important and in a large business the bookkeeper will be doing this.  This is far more effective for credit control and cash flow management than automatic debt chasing software.  A growing business does need an accountant to support them and advise on tax planning, budgeting and forecasting but they do also need the compliance work - tax returns, annual statements, statutory accounts and corporation tax calculation.  There is, of course, software to do all this and no accountant will be doing it manually any more but, as with any software, there has to be understanding of what the software is producing.  Our payroll team are able to calculate pay and deductions manually so they know what figures the software should be producing and if it doesn't will investigate why.  It is not always the information which is put in which is wrong.

Planning and implementingAttending Accountex really gave us food for thought.  We spent the whole of the return trip sharing what we had seen and heard and discussed how we could use these for ourselves and our clients.  It was definitely a valuable day out of the normal working week.  We all need some headspace from time to time to help us take a step back from what we are doing and really look at where we are going.  Planning and implementing takes a whole lot longer than one day of course but the day provides motivation for the next few weeks and months.

We are now busy planning what we will implement from our learning at Accountex which will enhance the service we provide to our clients.  And having been given four very interesting books to read I shall be spending the next few weeks getting even more ideas!