The growing complexity of the tax and business operating landscape means clients need more advice than ever. In a Sage 2020 report, 82% of accountants in the survey said clients are demanding a more comprehensive service offering, regardless of any technological or societal factors.

As this need for more complex advice increases, in-house accountancy teams face a choice: mix and match advice from specialists or offer everything under one roof.

Tolley spoke to tax professionals to get their take on what clients want from their accounting firms.

Adrian Young, a tax partner at Manchester and Stockport-based accountancy firm HURST, believes most clients want it all in the same place.

Clients want a "one-stop shop"

“What clients really like is a one-stop shop,” Young said. “I can talk about tax. I also understand corporate finance, I understand the audit process. And on my right-hand side, I'll have somebody from audit and somebody from corporate finance who are equally versed in tax. People generally don't like multiple different teams coming in and saying I'll have to put you in touch with my VAT person, or I'll put you in touch with my audit person. They like to have one or two people in the room who can really understand everything that needs to be done.”

In-house teams also increasingly expect their accountants to proactively offer other services that can help meet their business goals.

Download Tolley's new report: Advicepower! The tax accountants turning to advisory services

More than just compliance advice

Karen Campbell-Williams, head of tax at Grant Thornton, said, “I do quite a lot of our client satisfaction reviews where we go and talk to clients about our service and what can make things better, and the message we get from them is, we want you to tell us about what other things you can help us with — how can you support us and help us achieve what we are trying to achieve.”

37% of accountants in the Sage 2020 report agreed that client expectations have widened to include services such as business advice.

In-house teams increasingly seek to handle work themselves via third-party content services like Tolley rather than pay for costly advisors. This also applies to areas like international tax, which traditionally was the remit of the big four accountancy firms and specialist boutique providers.

For some companies, like Ultima, an IT services company, leaning on their accountants for broader advisory work is not new.

“We use the accountancy firms for a lot more than just audit and tax," said Tamsin Ashmore, CFO at Ultima. "They incorporate all elements of advisory for us, from IFRS conversion projects to due diligence, to cost transformation discussions.”

Clients want cost efficiency

“We are seeing an enormous demand for this kind of information and a massive uptake in the in-house market because it's saving them money,” said Moniza Syeda, global mobility tax content manager at Tolley. “They're not having to go to the big four to get that basic information; they can now just access it through our library content, and if they do go to those advisors, they're asking very direct questions and keeping control of costs.”

A word of caution

A word of advice from Adam Brodie, Finerva's co-founder and CEO, “Our approach is if a prospect comes to us, we will listen to them and see what their needs are, and we will focus the conversation and subsequent proposal on those needs. It's important not to oversell in the initial conversations and identifying and focusing discussions on their most pressing needs.”

Not all clients want more. Pushing advisory work on organisations that don't need it could risk alienating existing clients. Aggressively cross-selling advisory offerings to existing clients—even if they might benefit—is a potential turn-off if those clients feel they are being pressured into buying additional services.

For more information on what clients want, see the full Tolley Thought Leadership report here.