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Bankstream Accountants Confidence Index : Autumn 2015

By Bankstream

Bankstream

Bankstream, in association with AccountingWEB, has today released the results of their latest quarterly survey of accounting practitioners. The Bankstream Accountants’ Confidence Index for autumn 2015 was 7.2; equalling the score in the summer survey, and slightly up on the spring quarter (7.1). The score measures accountants’ rating of current and expected performance of their practice and their clients’ small businesses.

Over 250 accountants in practice participated in the survey which, despite being conducted during the summer holiday period, revealed excessive workload as the top challenge to practice performance (23% nominated too much work as their biggest challenge) followed closely by staff issues (21%). 

Looking towards winter, practitioners seem even more concerned about workload as the year-end tax season approaches. During the busy period, most accountants (52%) plan simply to work longer hours to cope while, given the prominence of staff issues, bringing in additional people to cope with more work is the solution for less than 10% of practices.

Delving into the recurring issue of overwork, the autumn survey investigated the nature of the work accountants are doing. In particular, focus was put on the work that is required to reconcile the records prepared by small business clients who use accounting software. Results showed that 95% of accountants must invest time (usually a considerable amount of time) fixing the data files prepared by their clients. This ‘double-handling’ of bookwork not only means that many small business people are wasting their precious time sitting at the computer, but also that accountants end up seriously compromising their practice profitability as in around 80% of cases this rework was not fully recoverable.

As with previous quarters, the autumn edition of the Bankstream Accountants Confidence Index investigated issues around fees. Previous surveys have revealed widespread fee stagnation, so this study asked accountants what they expected would be the most common response from their clients if they implemented a 5% fee increase across the board. Just under 70% expected varying degrees of objection from their clients, yet very few thought their clients would actually take their business elsewhere.

In summary, excessive workloads, staff issues and unprofitable double-handling of client-prepared records cast a shadow over an otherwise buoyant accounting profession and suggest problems with how work is being done, rather than any lack of it. Fee stagnation also appears not to be caused by concerns over losing clients, thus further indicating the issue is with the supply side of accounting services rather than demand. Accountants who are able to better organise how they go about their work to reduce rework and improve efficiency (such as by using technology to automate manual processes) are right to feel confident in an environment where their skills are clearly in demand.

Published September 2015