4  takeaways from the 2015 Practice Excellence Conference

So, after having 3 things I’m looking forward to at the Practice Excellence Conference, it’s time to have a look at some of the main takeaways.

There’s actually some distinct points specifically for vendors and suppliers to the sector which I’m going to write a separate post on shortly.

As a note, the format of the conference held up again this year, with highly interactive sessions (every table was a participating group) steered by top notch speakers. That balance between serious insight and peer collaboration is highly effective.

Brand makes business sense, and builds significant value

One of the most fascinating impressions made by Chas Howes (former FD of SuperDry and one of the keynotes) was just how many of the questions from attendees were about the significance and power of brand in building identifiable business value. The follow on discussions encompassed the brands of their own firm (relative strengths and weaknesses), talking to clients about demonstrating brand value, and looking at brand as a way to make business investment decisions.

Equally fascinating was Chad’s assertion that what he really wanted from accountants was help with the hear and now, rather than the future planning part. Absolutely tight processes, access to accurate and timely data (real time), and insightful ways to increase efficiencies. All the things that keep a fast ship moving, and providing the key information to keep focussed on the future.

Client insight, resource management and efficiency is still hampered by inadequate core data control.

Practice Management is a perennial issue, and after a number of the tech sessions, there were plenty of conversations still going on about how to handle core client information, workflow, and getting decent data analytics. Not just in multi-site firms.

The lack of connectivity between software was a big bug bear, but so was how and where client communications were (or had to be) stored, and how decision making would be significantly improved if systems could be interrogated properly . It struck me that the data handling of CRM systems were better at handling some of the operational aspects of business than practice management software.

The direct results of these frustrations were the slowing of investment decisions (a lot of vendors and permutations to follow), and a perception that the firm may not grow quite as fast as it could as client insight (and resourcing choices) were being obscured.

The rise of online systems and broader application ecosystems holds hope for the future, but there is still much to be done before firms will have a convincing array of choice around central data.

Cloud has practical risks.

The concerns over security of the cloud seem to be over (on the whole), with consensus that accounting software vendors have engendered trust through relative longevity, and no obvious disasters! As a direction of travel the inevitable move of all clients to cloud systems may still seem some way off, but seems largely to do with what is perceived as the best software fit for each client.

But there are some risks which came up which surprised me. Connectivity issues (even within urban areas) kept coming up, and frustration with substandard broadband, intermittent connections, and poor 3G coverage hampering acceptance. Not what I was expecting, and speaks to a general point of the importance of digital infrastructure right across the UK.

Secondly, was the security of the software firms themselves. Xero in particular was cited as being over leveraged, or being on an ‘obvious’ VC timeline – both of which didn’t instill much enthusiasm for the long term. A buyout or a crunch could nose dive the service it was felt – and significantly was impacting on some firms enthusiasm for wholesale adoption.

Value added services? Nah, Valued Services.

Great session from Rudi at Accoa on pricing reinforced to me that the pure distinction between ‘compliance factories’ (which is a touch patronising if you ask me), and advisory firms is not necessarily the future (or immediate future).

The impression made again was that advisory is not revolutionary. It’s probably more about how it’s packaged and sold.

Rudi’s fascinating technique of how to identify basic agenda items, to build up packages that are totally geared towards group or 1:1 dynamics was deeply thought provoking. Discussions afterwards centred around how much of what was identified as advisory was in fact what they already did for clients, but were not charging for. The complementary relationship to compliance was also made.

These combinations of valued services (that is, valued by client and firm) seemed to be a powerful and natural progression.

To summarise

  • Brand  – understanding this can seriously increases client and firm success.
  • Client insight – data flow is holding up investment and firm growth potential
  • Valued services – over added value services every time.


A big thanks to all the AccountingWEB crew – and congratulations to the worthy awards winners. As judge of the Medium Firm of the year, and Unqualified/Trainee of the year  I know the competition was very tough!