Digital collaboration


20th July, 2018

Advisors should collaborate with experts to offer rural clients specialist advice

Is your firm doing what’s best by rural clients so they have access to the specialist services they need to run a successful agribusiness?

Despite being viewed as a traditional industry, agribusiness is rapidly changing. This demands a higher level of specialist advice than what most accounting practices have offered previously.

A modern agribusiness might benefit from support and advice on budgeting, HR and payroll issues, software and technology, hedging strategies, debt restructuring, nutrient plans, carbon trading or succession planning, just to name a few.

Even the most legendary rural accountant can’t be an expert in everything. As a trusted advisor, an integral part of the role is to know your limitations and introduce the right support where needed.

Identifying the expert referral gap

Unfortunately, firms and advisors can be guilty of overpromising and underdelivering by not bringing in the right specialists from within the practice or elsewhere.

READ: Ongoing volatility means NZ agribusiness needs more from advisors

Here are some of the reasons why advisors fail to look for additional support:

  • It’s natural to fear losing your client to a new advisor.
  • It can be hard to admit you don’t know everything to your clients, especially those who expect a lot from you.
  • The traditional accounting practice remuneration model doesn’t always have incentives for referrals within the practice.
  • It’s not easy to develop and maintain a strong network with external specialists who have the right advice.

There are also personal failings that can occur, such as:

  • overconfidence in one’s ability
  • lack of faith in specialists in or outside the practice
  • a lack of knowledge around the range of issues your client may need to deal with in running a modern agribusiness

This means advisors who push into areas beyond their skills can end up providing poor or unsophisticated advice. Alternatively, advisors may not be helping clients access the range of specialist services they need. These clients then miss out on crucial opportunities to protect and grow their wealth, while your firm misses out on potential revenue.

Closing the gap

With modern accounting software solutions, the ability to look inside and dissect a client’s business has never been better. The time spent on compliance work keeps reducing. So there’s more scope to focus on value-added services.

Cloud accounting tools are extremely collaborative, meaning a “shared advice” model has never been easier to implement.

So, the modern advisor doesn’t need to fear working with other specialists on complex client issues. Instead, they need to back their relationship with the client so they can facilitate this approach.

The relationships advisors have with agribusiness clients are often multi-generational. This great level of trust and knowledge of a client’s affairs comes with more ability to influence important, yet tricky decisions. These include financial performance, succession, estate planning and so on.

READ: Connected Practice – tips on shifting to business advisory services

The old rule of “doing what’s best for the client results in the best outcome for the practice” holds true. It’s pivotal that rural accounting firms and advisors reflect on the demands on modern agribusiness and have a clear plan for the firm to provide relevant specialist services or have external networks to give clients the best possible access to this advice.

5 key steps for building the ultimate expert referral network

  1. Know your own service offering – build a talent map and work out where the specialist knowledge resides within your own team
  2. Develop external relationships where needed – work with specialists you trust to support your clients where you can’t
  3. Spread the word internally – make sure your entire agriculture team knows where their team mates’ strengths lie
  4. Collaborate – discuss clients businesses collaboratively within your practice to see where other advisors’ skillsets can add value
  5. Reward referrals – set up a remuneration model that rewards organising referrals. Give incentives to advisors not to simply sit on large fee books. Have KPI targets for remuneration based on referrals to others and growing the value of current clients within their book

By creating the right environment for specialist referrals within the practice, your business will ensure its clients are as successful as they can be. The additional value that clients receive is accounted for through growing your share of wallet (the proportion of services you provide to the client versus those provided elsewhere), higher fees and by creating stickier clients.