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Ettean Smit - October 2020
A lot has been written about the need for accountants to be business advisors as opposed to only compliance officers. A very relevant subject but, the volume of information is so immense that it remains difficult to fully comprehend. Of course, you are certainly already providing some type of advisory service, all the things that your clients don’t do, can’t do, won’t do, or simply don’t have time to do.
However, there is a fundamental flaw in many of these articles. They rarely appreciate the burden of compliance (tax and otherwise) placed on accountants by legislation, as well as the time to comply with these requirements. In our pre-COVID past, the Finance Minister, as well as the Minister of Small Business Development, have communicated the willingness to reduce red tape for SMEs. This burden has become so massive that the International Labour Organisation says the burden “can encourage businesses to remain informal and small to avoid compliance costs, which of course limits our ability to create the jobs we need”. For more on initiatives on how to prevent small businesses from remaining informal, you can read Sipho Nkosi’s excellent opinion article here (https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/2019-08-30-sipho-nkosi-cut-red-tape-to-prevent-small-business-staying-informal/)
People don’t enjoy paying for services that are not tangible. A TV license is one example, especially if you haven’t tuned in to a public broadcast channel in years. Many of the services we offer are not dissimilar.
How can we ensure our clients consider compliance work essential?
We need to educate our clients and we need to do it regularly. I recently overheard a colleague say: “but surely he should know this, he has been in business for years” and maybe he should, but it is still our responsibility to educate and inform, why else would they pay us to do it? One method of training I have seen work very well is a monthly newsletter focused solely on informing the clients on basic topics we take for granted daily.
An example of such a newsletter topic would be to communicate a real scenario where an individual was helped by the UIF in a time of crisis, throwing in the difference between an employee and an independent contractor and what it means to be a responsible employer. This is all information we take for granted, but inevitably your client will also educate his staff, suppliers, and customers, further enhancing the reputation of your practice and making it far easier to sell other compliance offerings. Positivity sells.
Show them the sheer volume of what you do, implement client portals and encourage your clients to use them. It is amazing how many files you will upload over time, and your client cannot help but be impressed by it.
Create a feedback channel through your website (or a survey of your choice) with pre-populated questions about compliance matters. The idea is to test their knowledge of the various topics. Questions should be easy to answer with limited typing but make use of slide bar or tick options.
To conclude, we as accountants too often go the negative route regarding compliance, agreeing with clients about the sheer amount of different compliance and where taxes ultimately end up. Which makes our job more difficult when we need to get the clients to comply with all the different legislation.
Let’s stay focused on the positive, keep our clients informed about what we do for them and yes, we all would love to only be on the business advisory side, but compliance comes with the territory and is part of our core business.