When I am conducting firm technology and process reviews I ask them to show me the final product that is produced for clients. Typically it is a bound set of financials with a covering letter and some documents for the client to sign. I then ask the firm what they thing the client does with these reports. Responses vary from “the client loses them”, “the throw them out”, “they send them back to us” or the worst response so far is “they use it as a doorstop”. What intrigues me is that it is almost universal that practitioners acknowledge that clients do not value the financial statements and tax returns produced. They are treated like hygiene, something they don’t really want to have done but they know they have to have them prepared. What surprises me is that so few firms have done anything about it by trying to produce information for clients that they would truly value.
So what needs to be done?
Firstly, we need to stop thinking like accountants and start thinking like the client. What would they want? For a start most small business owners have complex structures consisting of companies, trusts, superfunds and more. If you asked your clients why they have those entities I’m sure they’d say it’s because “you told me to” and that they know it’s something to do with tax and asset protection. But from the client’s perspective the whole structure is “just me”. So why don’t we produce a consolidated report that combines all of these entities together to create for a client a financial picture of their world?
Have a look at the “One Page Client Report” Excel template we have developed. You can find it here.
This report combines together all of the client’s income and assets onto a single page. Of course you fully disclaim it as there are quite a number of assumptions as to how it is put together. It shows all the sources of the client’s income. It shows all of the clients assets including their home and value of their business . Many firms print this report in colour and laminate it. I’m told that clients often pin in up in their office. Now that’s better than be treated like a door stop.
You don’t have to use my report, but I suggest that you shouldn’t do what I’ve seen some firms do. They take the idea and produce their own one page report for clients that’s 7 pages long! I think they’ve missed the idea. Clients want simplicity. They want clarity. In our profession we often get set concerned about technical accuracy that we forget that communication is equally important. You don’t want your clients saying that visiting my accountant is a mystical experience. Remember they write newspapers for a reading age of 14 – that’s the average reading age of the Australian population. Could a 14 year old read and understand your communications. I’m sure you have clients with a reading age of 14.
So let’s stop manufacturing doorstops. Give client these reports electronically and produce something that a client will truly value.