I’m a (very) small business – I set myself up as a Ltd Company when I went freelance about 18 months ago, and one of the first things I did was to get myself an accountant.
At about the same time, I also set myself up with an SaaS provider (FreeAgent Central) who offer a bookkeeping product specifically aimed at freelancers and contractors.
What I’ve been noticing, however, is that I keep finding myself politely declining offers to do this, that, and the other from my accountant – because my software is already doing it…
– Calculating and generating payroll schedules
– Generating VAT Return figures (including FRS adjustments)
– Quarterly PAYE returns
– Generating Dividend Vouchers
– Calculating Corporation Tax liability
– Reminding me about payment deadlines for all of the above
I know that FreeAgent isn’t the only product around that does this sort of stuff now. Any old software can handle the record-keeping and reporting – but the next step is doing something useful with the raw information to actually help the business owner focus on what matters. Xero , for example, seems to be going from strength to strength – making real inroads into MYOB’s Sage-like levels of market-share in New Zealand for precisely this reason.
I’m well below the audit threshold, and only need to file the most abbreviated of abbreviated accounts. It’s only a matter of time before SaaS products like FreeAgent will offer to generate and electronically submit those for me too.
From my accountants perspective – I’m pretty low maintenance. I think I’ve emailed a procedural question now and then, but that about it. I provided them with a login to my books, so they could get whatever they needed from the live system. I don’t think I’m ever going to trouble an audit dept, and I’ll probably end up using a copy of TaxCalc to do my personal return as it’s less work than filling out my accountants’ personal tax questionnaire (paper based). The only real chance of some meaty work is if I get slapped with an IR35 investigation or similar.
So – do I even need an accountant? Do accountants need clients like me?
My point is this: An awful lot of the (chargeable) jobs that accountants have taken for granted are becoming commodities that software is perfectly capable of doing, and is increasingly capable of delivering direct to clients. What are firms going to do to replace that work?