Practice Management Small Business

What SMBs Want from Their Accountant – 2014 Update

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Written by Doug Sleeter

In its continuing effort to provide leadership in technology consulting for accounting professionals and small businesses, The Sleeter Group recently conducted research among decision makers at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) across the United States. This research is a repeat of a study administered last year, which was presented at the AICPA/CPA2Biz SaaS Executive Round Table event.

The goal of this year’s research was to confirm the findings from last year and identify any important trends developing in what SMBs want from their outside accounting firm. As was done in the original research, we asked a series of questions targeting the types of services currently provided by CPA firms and the types of services businesses desired. We also focused on understanding the SMBs’ impressions of what services their accountant could provide compared with what they thought their accountant wanted to provide. The data might surprise some accountants as well as SMBs, because quite often, the difference between what businesses want differs from what they think their CPA wants to do for them, especially in the area of technology consulting.

The combination of The Sleeter Group’s 20 years of qualitative research with the two years of quantitative research data leads to some interesting findings in how accountants work with their clients and how SMBs want to work with their CPAs. We feel the results paint a picture of significant opportunities for forward-thinking accounting firms that invest in technology skills and build client services to leverage these skills.

This article summarizes the results of our research. The complete results can be found in our 2014 research report on What SMBs Want from Their CPA.

About the Research and Respondents

The data for this year’s research was collected through an online survey conducted at the end of January 2014. Over 1,000 prospects were screened for qualification, with a final sample of 188 respondents used for the analysis. In looking at business demographics, what we discovered may not be surprising to most accounting professionals and was consistent with last year’s findings.

Almost half of the SMBs surveyed generate under $250 thousand in annual revenue, and less than 25% generate between $250 thousand and $1 million. This is quite different from the demographic makeup of U.S. businesses, where 85% of companies have revenue under $250 thousand and 95% under $1 million (U.S. Census Bureau 2007 Survey of Business Owners). However, when you consider that more than half of U.S. businesses make less than $25 thousand and would probably not use the services of a CPA, then the revenue breakdown of these SMBs falls in line with expectations.

As expected, there’s a correlation between the annual revenue of a company and the number of employees it has on staff. In Figure 1, you can see the percentage of firms with less than $250 thousand in revenue (48.5%) is very close to the percentage of firms with one to five employees (44.6%), and as we examine the percentages at higher revenue breaks, the percentages at higher employment breaks closely match.

Revenue and Number of Employees

Figure 1: Correlation between revenue and number of employees.

Every participant in this study was involved in the decision to hire an outside CPA firm or accounting services organization. Sixty-nine percent acted as the sole decision maker, while the rest were part of a team. Since almost 70% of the companies have fewer than five employees, it makes sense the decision is made by one individual in nearly 70% of cases.

In examining the types of businesses that engage CPA firms, 73% of respondents were from service firms. The United States has a service-oriented economy, so the percentage is consistent with the national breakdown of U.S. businesses, where 77% are classified as service companies (U.S. Census Bureau 2007 Survey of Business Owners). Of these companies, 50% provide services to consumers (B2C), and 50% provide services to other businesses (B2B).

Examples of typical B2C businesses are auto service, artists, churches, construction, hair salons, landscaping, and legal. B2B business examples include advertising, design, information technology, consulting, and property management.

What Technologies SMBs Are Using Today

In 2013, we asked SMBs about their current accounting systems, and it was no surprise to find an overwhelming number using QuickBooks on local hardware in their offices. That hasn’t changed in this year’s results, but we do see a slight decrease in the percentage of QuickBooks Desktop users, from 68% to 62% (see Figure 2). In the white paper, we dig into this data quite a bit more.

SMBs current accounting systems

Figure 2: SMBs’ accounting systems in 2014 versus 2013.

Additional findings:

  • The use of internal bookkeepers increased from 40% to 43%.
  • The hiring of external bookkeepers (other than a CPA) increased from 17% to 22%.
  • The use of a QuickBooks Hosting service or online accounting software remains below 10%.

The majority of businesses continue to live in the “old world” of desktop software, running within their own offices. Their adoption of cloud services is limited to add-ons that connect to the cloud, such as merchant services, online banking, or Bill.com for managing AR/AP and cash management. At this time, it’s difficult to say whether the low rate of usage is due to resistance or to a simple lack of knowledge. If it’s the latter, then there’s a great opportunity for CPAs to provide technology services by educating SMBs on the various options.

How SMBs Select Their Accountant

To understand how businesses select an accountant and what’s important in their decision to engage an accountant, we presented SMBs with several factors and asked them to rate each factor’s importance in selecting a CPA, using a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is not important at all and 10 is extremely important (see Figure 3). To no great surprise, “expertise” and “responsiveness” were the top-rated qualities, with scores averaging over 9.

What business owner doesn’t want an accountant who is good at what he or she does and responds to questions quickly? What may come as a surprise is that “proactive strategic advice” was the third-highest-rated factor with an average score of 8.7, coming in ahead of “reputation” and “low fees.” The fact that proactive strategic advice rated so high shows SMBs want a CPA who is a partner in their success and often thinking about their business. Proactive strategic advice can be business or tax planning, but it can also take the form of technology planning to improve the efficiency of the business’s operations. Simple recommendations, such as a solution for online document sharing or associating electronic documents with accounting transactions, can go a long way in solidifying the perception of the CPA as proactive.

How SMBs select CPA

Figure 3: Criteria SMBs use to choose a CPA.

Should Accountants Specialize?

The percentage of SMBs who require or prefer their CPA to be a specialist in their industry increased from 53% in 2013 to 62% in 2014 (see Figure 4). This may indicate a growing desire among SMBs for CPAs with knowledge of technological solutions for specific industries. There’s still a significant number of SMBs who don’t care if their CPA is a specialist, and a possible reason for this is the misconception there’s no need for industry expertise unless the accountant is helping them with business planning, technology planning, or business-process engineering. This could be a strong warning sign that SMBs who answered “don’t care” are only receiving compliance services (e.g., tax preparation and financial statements), which is quickly becoming a commoditized service. In the coming years, the real opportunities for accounting professionals will be in advisory services, which develop deeper engagements with clients.

SMBs that want CPA to be a specialist

Figure 4: SMBs who want their CPA to be a specialist in the SMB’s industry.

How Satisfied Are SMBs with Their Accountant?

To gauge how satisfied SMBs are with their current accounting firm, we asked how likely they would be to recommend the firm to a friend, colleague, and/or other business on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very unlikely and 10 being very likely. What we discovered is that 59% of SMBs are “highly satisfied” with their external accounting firm, 21% are “satisfied,” and 20% are “dissatisfied.”

Figure 5 shows an Accounting Net Promoter score of 39, which is near the top when compared with other service businesses as measured by Satmetrix. Net Promoter is a tool that’s used to gauge customer loyalty. It serves as an alternative to traditional ways to measure customer satisfaction and claims to correlate with revenue growth.

Net Promoter score

Figure 5: Accounting received a Net Promoter score of 39.

The Net Promoter score is based on the following criteria:

  • Promoters (score 9–10) are loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others, fueling growth.
  • Passives (score 7–8) are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to competitive offerings.
  • Detractors (score 0–6) are unhappy customers who can damage your brand and impede growth through negative word of mouth.

To calculate your score, take the percentage of customers who are promoters and subtract the percentage who are detractors.

What Services to SMBs Want?

In looking at the services SMBs are currently receiving from accountants (Figure 6), traditional CPA services dominate the top five spots in 2014, just as they did in last year’s study. Technology services, such as creating a dashboard to monitor the business or general technology consulting, do not even crack the top ten.

Top services received

Figure 6: Top services SMBs currently receive.

When asked about the services they want from their CPAs, there’s a clear desire for planning, strategy, and analytics (Figure 7). Those services, plus “create a dashboard to monitor business” in the top three, demonstrate SMBs are open to receiving technology recommendations from CPAs. This presents an opportunity for CPAs to provide another level of service that can only benefit all parties.

Services SMBs want

Figure 7: Additional services SMBs want.

How Do SMBs Want to Communicate with Their Accountant?

We asked respondents how they currently communicate with their accountants and how they would prefer to communicate with them. As expected, the traditional methods – in person, phone, and email – were the most mentioned as the current form of communication, but an interesting trend developed when comparing the current methods to the preferred methods. As Figure 8 shows, SMBs desire to move away from typical communication and engage their accountant in more nontraditional, technology-based forms of communication. While SMBs may want to communicate this way, it’s not possible unless the CPA makes it an available option. After all, communication is a two-way street, and both parties must have the ability to use that particular method. If CPAs made these options available, it would satisfy the preference of clients and show the accountant is ahead of the technology curve. This would be a step toward proving the CPA’s qualification to provide technology services.

Communication

Figure 8: Current versus preferred methods of communication.

Why SMBs Switch Accountants

While examining the importance of the factors in choosing a CPA, we also asked respondents if they had ever switched from one CPA to another. Approximately half of the companies switched at some point in the life of the business, which was consistent with the results from 2013. As a follow-up question, we gave survey participants a series of reasons and asked them to tell us how much of a role each played in the decision, with 1 meaning no role at all and 10 meaning a large role. As you can see in Figure 9, the top reason was the CPA “did not give proactive advice, only reactive.” This reinforces how SMBs view the relationship with their accountant. They see the CPA as a resource with the knowledge and expertise to help make their business successful, but if the CPA isn’t ahead of any potential issues or recommending ways to streamline operations, then the SMB may move on to an accountant who will. It’s a good reason for CPAs to make sure they’re current on the latest technology solutions for businesses and inform their clients on the benefits.

Why SMBs leave CPAFigure 9: Top reasons SMBs leave their CPA.

SMBs Want Advice on Strategic Planning and Technology

A major focus of this research was to understand how much involvement SMBs want from their CPA as far as “strategic technology advice” compared with “strategic business planning advice.” The idea was to get the SMB to differentiate between an obvious match (business and financial planning) as compared to the technology planning area.

Just as we discovered in the 2013 study, SMBs turned to accountants most often when seeking strategic financial advice (see Figure 10).

Source of strategic advice

Figure 10: Who SMBs turn to for financial advice.

But when asked about business and technology planning, the CPA wasn’t someone they turned to very often (see Figure 11). For business planning, the majority of SMBs said they “sometimes” seek out the advice of their accountant, while nearly a quarter said they “never” do. When it comes to technology planning, almost two-thirds of respondents said they “never” seek out advice from their CPA, showing SMBs don’t believe accountants have the expertise in technology to provide such advice.

Majority don't look to CPA

Figure 11: Majority of SMBs don’t look to CPAs for strategic advice.

Where Is the Profession on Technology Adoption?

To understand why SMBs hold this view of accountants, we asked them how “up to date” their accountant is with regard to adoption of new technologies. We found only 13.5% said their accountant is ahead of the curve as far as technology usage inside their firm, 17.1% said their accountant is “behind,” and 59.6% said their accountant is “current” (see Figure 12). It’s not surprising that SMBs don’t think of accountants as technology experts when three out of four believe their own CPA is behind or just keeping up.

Technology adoption by CPAs

Figure 12: Only 13.5% of SMBs say their CPA is an “early adopter” of technology.

Despite the perception of accountants as unable to provide technology-related planning and consulting services, we did discover almost half of SMBs want a CPA who is proactive in helping them plan and implement technology changes. However, when asked if their CPA is proactive in helping them plan and implement technology changes, almost 80% of SMBs said “no” (see Figure 13). This leads us to conclude that there’s a significant opportunity for firms to differentiate themselves in the market by providing technology-related services and to market themselves as being experts in technology. If nearly half of SMBs want the help and almost 80% of accountants aren’t providing the help, then the doors are wide open for someone to step through and fill the demand.

SMBs want help with technology

Figure 13: Majority of SMBs say their CPA doesn’t help them with technology.

Summary and Recommendations

In summary, although SMBs are mostly happy with the accounting profession, there’s room for improvement.

More importantly, the new world creates new business process complexities for SMBs that they’re not equipped to handle alone. When an SMB starts selling online, taking credit cards, or streamlining their paperless workflows, they often don’t have the expertise needed to evaluate options and integrate the “chunks” to create an efficient business system. This is where accountants have incredible opportunities for growth. While many traditional accountants haven’t focused on these types of engagements, we believe that data in this survey make the case that accountants who develop services in business process engineering, strategic technology consulting, and business planning will experience significant growth.

When combining these new services with a change in business model, the inspired accounting firm will be well-positioned to thrive in the new world. The new business model for the firm will de-emphasize the traditional audit, tax, and other compliance services and move toward a collaborative, accountant-centric tool set where both accountant and client can access the same data anytime, from anywhere.

Opportunity for Accountants to Differentiate

For accountants who stick to financial statement and tax preparation services, the dramatic improvements in technology will continue to commoditize those services. A good gauge for how quickly these compliance services are being replaced by automation would be to consider payroll tax preparation services. Within the last eight years, the whole concept of accounting firms providing payroll tax services has all but gone away. Payroll services include tax returns, and payroll software automates the tax filings to the point where it’s no more complicated than pressing the submit button. How much longer will it be before other tax and compliance services are automated to similar levels?

If you want to differentiate your practice and position it for growth into the future, here’s a checklist for getting there:

  • If you’re mainly in the compliance-services business, move toward higher value-added services, such as strategic business consulting, strategic technology planning, tax planning, and collaborative accounting services, where both accountant and client can access live data.
  • Educate your staff on new-world technologies and adopt a set of recommended products for your clients.
  • Agility trumps ability. Don’t assume you can use just one tool. Each client may require that you collaborate with him or her using different tools. You don’t want to lose clients because you “don’t know” their systems.
  • Develop skills to connect systems together from multiple vendors. We call this “digital plumbing.” The future will need many digital plumbers to connect systems together and troubleshoot “leaks” in digital plumbing between applications.
  • Use and recommend collaborative accounting technologies to broaden and deepen your client engagements.

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About the author

Doug Sleeter

Doug Sleeter is a passionate leader of innovation and change in the small business accounting technology world. As a CPA firm veteran and former Apple Computer Evangelist, Doug has melded his two great passions (accounting and technology) to guide developers in the innovation of new products and to educate and lead accounting professionals who serve small businesses.

Doug is best known for his expertise in QuickBooks as well as driving the adoption of online accounting and small business process solutions. In the early 1990s, Doug was a pioneer in developing the first QuickBooks seminars in the country and has since built the largest group of accounting software consultants in the small business accounting profession. Doug serves on several advisory boards for technology companies and has consulted with numerous industry leaders, including Intuit, Sage, Apple, and Adobe Systems.
CPA Practice Advisor has recognized Doug as one of the "Top 25 Thought Leaders" in the accounting profession for the past several years and he has been named to Accounting Today's "Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting" each year since 2008. Highly sought for his ability to engage and educate accounting professionals, Doug presents at various accounting events throughout the year, including those held by the AICPA and numerous state CPA societies. Doug also hosts the annual Accounting Solutions Conference, attended by hundreds of accounting professionals, industry leaders, and technology developers.

29 Comments

    • Doug thank you for the excellent article.

      we are a product innovation incubator in silicon valley. I am particularly interested to the elements of interaction between CPA and consulting in technology.

      We are currently investigating the problem of extracting data and typing them in Excel spreadsheets. We wonder if you could offer a minute to answer few questions here:
      https://survey.zohopublic.com/zs/dfCKOV

      Please feel free to share the link with relevant SMB in accounting.
      Have a wonderful day.
      Paolo

  • Agreed, commodification of payroll is here full blown and as you stated financial statement and tax spaces are increasingly vulnerable to the same fate as payroll. I disagree that accountants have “incredible opportunities for growth” with SMBs online. Avalara for example (sales tax management) delivers seemless solutions for QB integration for ecommerce. An accountant is not needed to set up or maintain tax management in ecommerce. This is typical and there is software out there to manage every function in ecommerce traditionally previously needing an accountant. Most ecommerce integrations (Xero-Vend for example) marginalize and reduce roles and functions formally filled by accountants.

    Most of the BI tools developers stress their tools are accessible to non-accountants (executives and management) and empower them to bypass the traditional accountant in assessing KPIs, forecasting, etc.

    Most new tools (software) we see ultimately reduces traditional accountancy work.

    With “commodification of the space” on one side, and “BI Tools” and software on the other, where does an traditional accountant add value? It’s very possible the traditional accountant today is kind of like the blacksmith of yesterday, with technology marginalizing their role in society and to SMBs.

    • Henry, I completely agree that the accountants’ cheese is moving. Some in the profession who are not willing or able to adopt new business models will find it very difficult in the coming years.

      But those who do see what’s coming and act on it will find great success!

      This is why we’re doing this research. All progress starts with the truth and we hope learning more about how SMB clients think and what they want from the profession will help all of us find the “gold in the hills.”

      In many ways, the movements (to cloud systems for example) are still “slow.” But the curve is steepening, and this is the best time for all of us to jump on the new opportunities and differentiate from competitors.

  • I was surprised to see that the online accounting software users didn’t change much between 2013 and 2014. It looks like it’s about 9 percent in both years.

    • Karl,

      We didn’t specifically measure just “online accounting software” usage. We went much deeper than that.

      If you download the survey and look at Question 29, you can see that we measured many business processes that together make up the accounting solution.

      In question 29, we measured whether the SMB decision maker who engages or plans to engage an accountant if he/she:
      – Already Have
      – Want within a year
      – Want to learn more about
      – Don’t Want
      – Not sure

      And we asked about:
      – Sharing documents via an Internet Document Storage Vault
      – Associating electronic documents with accounting transactions
      – Have accounting records accessible from the Internet
      – Have virtual Windows PCs accessible from the Internet (Hosted Desktop)
      – Want the CPA to have on-demand access to the accounting records
      – Want the ability to associate electronic documents with CRM and other software
      – Share bookkeeping tasks with the CPA
      – Ability to securely share passwords/login credentials with employees
      – Run your business using SaaS solutions

  • Great article. In the “Top Services Desired Outside of Services Already Received” chart, five of the seven topics are related to analytics. Planning, Strategy, Dashboards, Analytics, and Cash Forecasting are all part of the analytics field. There is a real need for robust analytic products to keep small businesses growing and competitive. This is not Big Data, either. It is Small Data. Analytics against this Small Data is achievable for small businesses right now. Accountants can be heroes on this front, helping clients understand their data and making smart decisions from it.

    Kurt Steckel
    CEO, Bison Analytics

    • Kurt,

      Agreed. How can we be the “advisor” if we cannot provide the basic analytics that clients need to make business decisions?

      Dashboards should be table stakes for the accounting system, and that’s where the business owner should live every day.

      The accountants should provide the setup and configuration of the dashboards, and then help interpret them as a service to the clients.

    • >>. There is a real need for robust analytic products to keep small businesses growing and competitive.<<

      Where is the evidence for this? Neither webKPI or Corelytics have gotten any 'traction' with advisors after being around for over 3 years, have they?

      If you look at the U.S. Xero distribution channel you'll see only about 10% of that channel (about 2 dozen advisors) incorporate Fathom (arguably Xero's leading analytical add-on)as an available tool for their clients. If there were a 'real need' for robust analytic tools with SMBs and advisors you would see a much higher percentage of the Xero channel incorporating Fathom or Spotlight Reporting.

      Intuit's 65,000 QB Pro advisors engage in discussion on Intuit forums, LinkedIn, etc. The talk of needing analytic tools for clients is slim to none, check it out.

      I understand and agree with the value of analytic tools for SMBs and there is tremendous untapped potential use and leveraging of an asset(data)with SMBs – but that's as far as it goes. I respect the research but the facts on the ground (some of which I've illustrated) are more telling.

      • Henry, I appreciate your insights. And Charlie, thank you for drawing a distinction between “need” and “demand”.

        I’ll address the “need” first. We all agree there is value in robust analytics tools for SMBs. I contend that SMBs “need” these tools in high-cost markets to remain competitive. These SMBs must use their brains to solve problems, not simply throw more bodies at the problem, as can be done in low-cost markets. Problem-solving requires robust analytics tools, not only dashboards. A dashboard is a subset of the analytics tool-kit. In a robust analytics product, a dashboard is an entry-point for deeper analysis. But if it doesn’t provide limitless drill-through and drill-down capabilities, it is not a robust analytics tool. Dashboards have value. They provide an executive with answers to high-level questions. Drilling into the details answers the important “whys” and “hows”, especially when done by an intelligent analyst. Answering these questions and doing what-if analysis and forecasting are the heart of analytics.

        As for the “demand” question, there are two primary issues keeping analytics from exploding with SMBs. First, there are few enterprise quality analytics stacks that are affordable for SMBs. The good news is that the pricing for this software is dropping. Second, there is a lack of experienced analysts to set up and interpret these tools. This is where accountants can fill an important void. If accountants provide robust analytics tools and serve as analysts, they will help their clients grow. When clients see this necessary combination of robust analytics tools and capable accountants/analysts, the “demand” will materialize. I’m betting it will, and it will be a win for clients, a win for accountants, and a win for the SMB community as a whole.

        Side note: Accountants must trust that moving into a robust analytics tool gives them more time to do analysis. Conversely, they will spend much less time doing repetitive Excel-dumps and manipulation. Clients want an analyst, not an Excel-jockey. If the accountant serves as an analyst, they are a “trusted advisor”. Clients will be more satisfied because they are extracting far higher value out of their accountants’ time for the same dollars spent. This is the boost that robust analytics tools provide to accountants.

        Kurt Steckel
        CEO, Bison Analytics

        • >>the “demand” will materialize.<< I saw Field of Dreams too, "if you build it, they will come", but it was a movie.

          Instructive to the point will be Insightsquared (with their debuting QB tool) who embodies this combination you theorize is required and is experiencing explosive growth across their line of analytic products. Will their QB product match the explosive annual growth rates of 20x that their other products are realizing?

          Contrary to the conjecture I read here, accountants have not played a pivotal role in Insightquared's phenomenal growth and I don't believe accountants are essential to the growth of any BI developer. The BI space is not about accountancy. It's about Data Analyst, it's about CFA work. Saying "If accountants…..serve as analysts" is speculating about counterfactual situations.

          They're different beast. Sure a few cross pollinate but that's the exception. It plays well and to the crowd to suggest accountants 'can be' analyst, but that's not what's happening in the market with BI developers who are getting traction. Dig into Insightsquared's growth and success and you will see no trail of accountants.

          Also instructive is Australia and New Zealand. Fathom and Spotlight between them have about 500+ Analytic tool Add-on App users (Xero based). On first blush that might not seem like a lot but they're years ahead of the U.S. market in this space. The U.S. is a very slow adopting space, slow with advisors, slow with SMBS adopting too.

  • From an old world perspective, there is justification for caution and a slow pace of adoption I think.

    1) Reliable high speed internet connections are not available in all areas of the country where SMB’s exist – and where the owners live. Until the buildout is complete (or more complete) there will be areas where high-tech solutions are not practical.

    2) There is a shadow of doubt over the ability of any provider to guaranty that data in transit is protected and whether the data at rest is protected. Heartbleed is just the latest event that contributes to that shadow.

    Not that the future won’t arrive at some point – but barriers to full adoption include the ‘Digital Divide’ and the extent to which the public and business adopters have confidence in the tools.

  • Just a suggestion: Perhaps the CPA could leave the technology to us technology professionals by partnering with a reputable IT shop that has a particular focus on accounting firms.

    With all of the government tax law changes, industry oversight, and so much more to keep on top of it really begs the question that a CPA then has to stay on top of our technology industry(I have been serving North American accounting firm’s IT needs for 15 years now).

    If I read this right essentially what is being advocated for here is an in-house professional IT Services division for the CPA firm’s clients?

    Trying to be all things to all people has always been a bad recipe no matter the industry.

    Perhaps the CPA should stick to what they are really good at. And, likewise we IT Pros need to stick with what we are good at. Together we can do good things. 🙂

    Philip Elder

  • But you may not be good at understanding the workflow and accounting processes needed. Sure IT shops can deploy the servers, decide what cloud to use, but you aren’t necessarily the ones to help with how the business flow/record flow works.

    Just as you said, stick with what you are good at. You may not be good at recommending and implementing accounting software solutions.

    • Susan,

      Agreed. That’s why we are better together. 🙂

      Over time as we grow to know the products being used by the firm, how each firm has their business set up, and how the CPA firm we partnered with operates we can build a very good mutual consultancy.

      Philip

  • The most captivating sentence in this article from my perspective is “proactive strategic advice” was the third-highest-rated factor with an average score of 8.7, coming in ahead of “reputation” and “low fees.”
    As I have been working with accountants and discussing the benefits of moving to the cloud the conversation always hinges on the “eco-system” and the tools that are needed to be a true consultant or advisor to their
    It’s an exciting time in this industry and I’m anxious to see what your report reveals next year.

    • Phillip – I think you’re right. Together IT and Accountants are way better.

      As Natasha points out, the key phrase is strategic proactive advice. And the professional businesses turn to most often is their accountant. So the opportunity for accountants is to team up with IT and develop a strategic advisory team.

      • I’d agree with that Doug. For the majority of accounting firms (exceptions would be larger ones with existing in-house IT Consulting divisions) most firms run the risk of biting off more than they can chew technically unless they partner up with an IT firm or take on more specialized staff with the appropriate skill sets.

        John Power
        CEO, BizTools Analytics

  • The result of your survey is not much of a surprise to me. I am not a CPA, I provide accounting/Bookkeeping services to SMBs. Five years ago I started losing clients, they went for cheaper pastures (my rate was $25-30/hr). At the same time I grew more and more frustrated with the one-size-fits-all accounting packages (wrong tool for businesses, infested with useless features that I didn’t need and the one I did need were not there). I started learning how to build systems for my own use. Today I build systems (online small ERPs, web Apps) from scratch for SMBs and spend 60/70% of my time on system development and 30-40% on accounting.

    • Thanks Tom,

      Your story is very common, even though many don’t even stop to think about all the force-fitting of software to the client needs.

      Your building from scratch sounds very ambitious. Most of us cannot to that, so we’re left with searching for the right match for each client.

      Thankfully, #chunikification of the business process (http://www.sleeter.com/blog/2012/03/chunkification/)really helps.

      But at the same time, chunkification creates new challenges for accountants/consultants because we need to dig deep to find the right product for each client. And then we need to develop the right digital plumbing connections to make sure each chunk fits into the overall system.

  • Wow, never heard of ‘chunkification’ before, learned something today. So the trend now is to use a bunch of smaller pieces one taped to the other and emulate the Pharmaceutical industry. A guy sees his doctor because of loss of appetite who prescribes medication ABC that addresses the issue at 70% but also raises the patient’s blood pressure. At the next visit the doctor prescribes medication XYZ to lower blood pressure which also creates respiratory issues, and so on. Fast forward a year, the poor dude is taking half a dozen medications, needs a walker to get around and has aged six years.

    …” Your building from scratch sounds very ambitious.”
    It is not ambitious. It’s just a matter of realizing that your client has been struggling with this issue and the willingness to provide a better solution.

    ….” Most of us cannot to that, ”
    Yes you can. Any accountant can build the knowledge and skills to do that. There are tons of sites and forums that offer free tutorials.

    …” so we’re left with searching for the right match for each client ”
    Nope, cannot find the right match. You can find something close, and… expect some side effects.

    I had a few posts about this whole issue a few years ago. There are some remnants still floating around
    here ( see 10th post )
    https://digitaltoolfactory.net/blog/2010/05/is-it-time-to-replace-quickbooks-with-less-accounting/

    and here ( see 5th post )
    http://panorama-consulting.com/which-erp-vendor-provides-the-best-small-business-enterprise-software/

    • Tom, Great points all around.

      I like your analogy about prescribing drugs with side affects, and the point that makes, even if it is an argument against chunkification. The reality is that we’re seeing a LOT of chunkification now, but the succcessful chunk vendors will build more and more functionality into their products as they learn what customers really want.

      For this reason, I predict that the current trend towards chunkification will be a pendulum. I’ve spoken about this many times.

      Chunkify, Unify, Chunkify, Unify…

  • Doug, thanks for a great piece of useful and informative research. It’s relevant to several stakeholders in the general SMB accounting space – including vendors like BizTools 🙂

    It interesting to note there’s some correlation (I think) with your results and some of those within the recent NMGI/Insight Research Group’s “Accounting Firm Operations and Technology Survey” by Randy Johnston et al.

    Specifically, within the “Top 10 Problems that Technology Can Help Solve”, coming in at #1 was “Attracting New Clients” and at #7 “Offering value-added services over and above compliance offerings”.

    Certainly I’m biased but there would seem to be relationship between these 2. A firm could presumably work towards solving #1 by addressing #7…along the lines of your survey results shown in Figure 7 above.

    John Power
    CEO, BizTools Analytics

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