One of the training sessions I run for accountants is Effective Delegation . At a recent session we talked about the process for briefing an accountant on a typical compliance job. In some firms I see a well structured, standardised process that requires the director or partner (or sometimes the manager) to do a briefing session with the accountant allocated to do the job. In some others I see little structure and a more “same as last year” type approach. The I think the former is wise and the latter unwise and potentially dangerous.
Let’s say you are the primary relationship holder with a husband and wife team of small business owners who have a company and a trust which you do year end accounts and income tax return for and you also do the individual income tax returns for them. Typically as the primary relationship holder you are having conversations throughout the year with the client and may even be providing additional services on a monthly, quarterly or adhoc basis.
In keeping with your firm’s process, the husband and wife team have sent in the information you requested in your end of year checklist and these have been loaded directly into the client portal by them. Your client service coordinator has reviewed what has been loaded and confirmed everything is there and the job is ready to go. In addition, you had recently had a meeting with the clients and where they told you about a few changes that have occurred in their business recently and which you realise will have an impact on the year end work.
You have booked a 15 minute slot with the accountant previously allocated as responsible for this job and here are some things you might want to consider (not definitive but I hope will give you some ideas):
- Notes from last year
The accountant will pull this up on their screen to check if there was anything noted last year to be aware of this year.
- Permanent notes
The accountant also pulls this up on her screen to see if there are any important standing notes.
She points out that there is a longstanding agreement with this client that you can only contact them via email and then they will ring when available to talk about whatever it is you want to discuss,
- Information provided
Again the accountant has this at her fingertips and you skim through it together to see if it looks like there is anything unusual. There is, but fortunately it matches what you understand from your recent client meeting.
- Information from your recent client meeting
You share with the accountant that the clients they had acquired a warehouse since last year and to do that had liquidated about half of their share portfolio and sold a small investment property. You can see that the details of these things have come through into the portal from the client.
- Scope of work and fees
You are a firm that agrees a fee upfront with each client based on an agree scope of work. When you met with the husband wife recently and they told you about the warehouse acquisition and sale of shares and investment property you had already managed their expectations to expect a higher fee this year. You and the accountant agree on the scope of work and the hours needed – an hours budget and on the fee for the client. (You looked at last year’s as part of the process.) This will be now sent to the client using the firm’s engagement letter software to get client sign off digitally before the job commences. In keeping with your firm’s policy the turnaround time for the job that has been promised to the client is 3 weeks from when they digitally sign the engagement letter.
- Format of accounts
Your firm has recently made some changes to your standard formats, based on client feedback and a fresh look at what is useful for them. You remind the accountant that this new format is to be used. This includes an appendix with some graphical presentation of some key data.
- Additional opportunities to assist the client
This will be considered again as part of completing the work but I reckon it is always worthwhile to pause for a moment to consider if there are unmet client needs.
Now all of this might not actually take 5 minutes, but for smaller, simpler clients it probably could. In this instance I’ve suggested it might be 10 to 15 minutes. My point is that I expect you will get a great return on investing this time up front. What I regularly come across or hear about is situations where circumstances have changed for a client and this information has not been passed on to the person doing the job. That is never going to end well!
So please consider what you are doing in terms of briefing up front on jobs. Whether it is a 5 minute or maybe even a 30 minute exercise I’m convinced it is worthwhile from both and efficiency and quality perspective. In the daily hustle of getting work out the door it is easy to overlook this.