Listen to this episode here: Find the Right Focus

Welcome to our blog for TALKING NUMBERS with Paul Jansz, In this episode, we share a conversation with Keddie Waller, the Head of Public Practice at CPA Australia. We’ll be focusing on a report called ‘My Firm, My Future’ (2019).

CPA Australia and the Public Practice in SME

CPA Australia has around 8000 firms in Australia and New Zealand, and an even larger population of members are working within those firms. They focus on understanding the pathway and journey of their members in order to support them better. Keddie says proudly that, when a person just comes in as a member, CPA Australia knows more about what this person needs, and ensures to provide the right information and tools straightaway.

The Public Practice division of CPA Australia aims to be a partner of businesses, especially for members working as sole practitioners or in smaller practices, who don’t have the same networks like those in a medium or a large firm.

Keddie’s role is to support and ensure the right strategy are in place for CPA members working in public practice and the SME sector. One priority is listening and responding to member feedback in need.

Keddie gave an example that happened during the pandemic lockdown. In this challenging time, Keddie’s team spoke with a large number of members in public practice, especially for those in the tax profession. As a result, the COVID Hub was born to respond to support and alleviate member’s pressure and pain. They developed client checklists, information packs, and other things that CPA members could use to directly provide their clients, so they don’t have to do this themselves.

Focus on Member’s Focuses

Keddie has been with CPA for 16 years now and has seen a lot of change. They’re really proud that they make the member’s focus on the core of service, to build businesses based on the market. When developing strategies and tools, Keddie and her team always seek advice from the Public Practice Advisory Committee and take it to member groups so they can hear the voice of member panels.

Keddie and her team are always checking in with those groups, listening to the feedback, looking at the data, and developing the strategy to hit the nail on the head, and making sure they’re providing valuable and relevant information, tools, and support.

The Birth of ‘My Firm, My Future’

CPA Australia released a report called The Firm of the Future in 2007. The objective was to look at future opportunities and trends and helping members set up for success, by identifying how they can be relevant and valuable to their clients now and future. This report received great feedback.

The accounting profession is constantly evolving, with different pressures coming in outsourcing, offshoring technology, pressure on pricing, and many more. In 2019, Keddie and her team realised it’s time that people need a current version. They interviewed over 1000 consumers, over 800 small businesses, over 500 members in practice. After the interviews, they also had focus groups and discussion groups, pulled out all different themes. It became a very comprehensive report.

Trends and Progress

Keddie thinks the report has some great information for members. From a client’s perspective, they noticed an increased demand for advisory services, and some of those areas include financial planning and consumer credit. Almost one in five SMEs said they would look for advice and guidance from their accountant.

Keddie suggests that the advice and services a business has today may not meet the future client’s needs. A business must continue to look and understand what that means to remain relevant and connected with their clients.

Trust is the Key

Keddie cites from a 2020 report called ‘The Value of Advice Research’, which was a continuation of the research on the regulatory burden, that “Trust is absolutely key”. SME clients implicitly trust their accountant to act in their best interests, and they are looking them as their guides.

This report identified that specialist knowledge was highly valued by SMEs and banking. The value of advice is in high demand, and proactive business advisory often does not get out of reactive compliance and traditional accounting work. Keddie believes there is a real opportunity for members to use that information and intel from those services to leverage and provide proactive business advisory services and set their clients up for success.

A Piece of Advice

Keddie says, if 2020 has shown us one lesson, it’s about that ability to have contingency plans and being ready to adapt. Keddie encourages members to think about the contingency plan to be ready to react to unfortunate times such as this lockdown in Metro Melbourne. There won’t be a magic answer to everything, but there are some things you can put in place and be prepared for.