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How to incorporate Bundled Services into your accounting firm

Accounting firm owners could benefit from taking the time to evaluate their accounting firm as a business. As the owner of my accounting firm, I did just that and realised some changes needed to be made, starting with bundling our services.

Many accounting firm’s follow the traditional model of accepting clients in various industries through recommendations. Others provide clients with valuable services along with business-related compliance services, but don’t highlight those.

We as business advisors would agree that best practices for any business start with an evaluation of current practices so that weak points can be identified and evaluated for improvement. When speaking with other accounting professionals, I find many have similar concerns and “pain points”:

  • We spend countless hours learning tax law, software applications and best business practices. Clients call with a “quick question” and expect an answer without a charge for the time or advice.
  • We set up a plan for “making it through another tax season” and then lose control of our process when the client is not forthcoming with the necessary information to complete the engagement in a timely manner.
  • We bill for the services provided once the engagement is complete and then may have to negotiate our fee or wait for payment until the client receives their tax refund.
  • We start an engagement and then find that there is unanticipated work to be done in order to complete the job properly. We feel we should be paid for this “scope creep,” and then we have to explain to the client why the bill is higher. In some cases, we may not be adequately compensated for this extra work. If our clients are buying our services and advice based upon our knowledge, why are we selling them time?

Our lawmakers have identified us as Specified Service Businesses, they clearly see that we have great expertise as our clients’ advisors. They have also challenged us to interpret the sweeping new laws and provided us with an opportunity to reach out to our clients and start a conversation.

What better time than now to step back and evaluate your accounting firm’s procedures and incorporate a bundled services approach into your pricing and onboarding process? This is an opportunity to redefine how you work with your clients, be specific as to expectations and get paid for your knowledge.

Incorporating a bundled pricing system will also enable you to:

  • Standardise your service offerings into packages that your clients and staff can understand
  • Give your clients what they want, in addition to what we think they need, by separating compliance work from advisory engagements
  • Lock down your fee based upon a service level, helping to eliminate scope creep
  • Get paid up-front when you start the work, thus freeing up time and creating an improved cash flow for your accounting firm
  • Enhance your clients’ experience as you take the time to discuss their concerns
  • Ease into advisory services

When getting started, remember to do the following:

  1. Develop your mission statement. I recommend that you and your staff members get together and create a mission and vision statement that is right for you.
  2. Create a business plan. When creating the accounting firm that you want rather than the one that you have, best practices endorse starting with a business plan. Just as you would recommend to any one of your clients who is evaluating their business and looking to make a change, think about the steps that you need to take in order to reach your goals.
  3. Review your current processes. I recommend you make use of an action plan to help you organise and accomplish your goals. Even though you are excited to create the accounting firm of your dreams, it is important to try going slowly at first by creating tasks you can accomplish.
  4. Evaluate your services. Are there services you wish you could offer but do not know how to initiate the conversation? Start by setting up a list of service categories — you can then identify value propositions that will “delight your clients” and create new opportunities for accounting firm revenue.

Evaluate each one of the services you provide, then review and list all the steps or processes that make up that service. Picture a typical project type, then list the services encompassed in that project. By doing so, you create bundled offers or packages of service offerings.

Your bundles will be specific to your accounting firm and either your current or target clients. Your offerings chart for individual clients may look something like the one referenced in the linked whitepaper, but can certainly be more elaborate. It can contain more lines or services to help your client understand just what they are buying.

Remember that each bundle is a set of services packaged together and each is referred to with a descriptive name that describes the level of service. If you choose to move to a bundled pricing system, you will find that new opportunities will emerge from your regularly scheduled appointments, we have.

Now, our clients call and ask for more and expect the additional services to come with a separate engagement letter and invoice. Incorporating bundled services will help you deliver more value to your clients through advisory work. In turn, you will see improved team morale and cash flow, a better overall client experience and the accounting firm you want.

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UK entrepreneurs pledge support for construction skills initiative

An initiative designed to attract new talent into the built environment industry has secured the backing of entrepreneurs from three high-profile firms.

Black & White Engineering (B&W), s h e d and James Christopher Consulting are the latest companies to become sponsors of PlanBEE (Built Environment Education), a flexible training programme designed to attract and retain the brightest new talent in the region, plug skills gaps and create a more flexible workforce capable of working across various construction disciplines.

The initiative was launched in 2016 when Gateshead College and Ryder Architecture formed a powerful alliance with a network of architects, designers, contractors and engineering specialists.

Rather than follow a traditional training model where students complete their qualifications while working in one company, PlanBEE gives trainees the chance to work in several companies across the built environment industry.

This radical approach allows entrepreneurs to make their business more competitive and efficient by hiring staff with a more rounded understanding of the industry.

Students on the programme will now benefit from a wider range of expertise with B&W, s h e d and James Christopher Consulting on board.

Launched in the United Arab Emirates in 2007, B&W is a mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) design consultancy with offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Baku, Manila, London and Newcastle. The company offers design and consultancy services to the construction industry worldwide and has worked on numerous large-scale iconic projects including high-rise towers, data centres, hotels, shopping malls and airports.

Steven Horn, director, in B&W’s Newcastle office, said: “We need to see more young people coming into our industry with knowledge of different areas of the built environment. The way PlanBEE is structured allows us to achieve this. The programme is ideal preparation for how we want to develop our staff, which is to give them opportunities to experience different ways of working on various projects around the world.”

Newcastle-based s h e d is a structural and civil engineering design consultancy that specialises in complex engineering design and Building Information Modelling (BIM), an approach that helps firms risk-assess projects at an early stage by generating intelligent 3D models of buildings before construction takes place.

Marc Horn of s h e d said: “Our expertise in BIM requires us to recruit staff with a rounded understanding of the built environment sector. PlanBEE enables us to achieve this because it moves away from traditional off-the-shelf training initiatives that shoehorn professionals into narrowly defined roles in a single company.”

James Christopher Consulting, an established engineering practice in Gateshead, offers design services to the built environment sector and works on a wide range of projects, from small-scale specialist structures to large-scale commercial developments including land reclamation and drainage works.

Technical director Craig Higgins said: “We were delighted to get involved with PlanBEE and were impressed with this novel approach to recruiting, training and developing staff. There’s a strong emphasis on the application of digital technologies to different types of construction projects and we want our workforce to be at the forefront of this revolution.”

Working with Gateshead College, the PlanBEE group has created a bespoke higher-level skills programme that provides budding professionals with study and off-the-job training at the college’s construction facility on Team Valley, along with a job working with some of the region’s leading companies. It has been tailored specifically for and by the North East construction sector, providing students with a starting salary of £10,700 per year, a professional qualification and a guaranteed job opportunity on graduation.

Established by Ryder Architecture, the initiative has already attracted some high-profile names, including Brims Construction, NBS, Desco (Design & Consultancy), BIM Academy, Sir Robert McAlpine, Xsite Architecture, Robertson, 3e Consulting, Cundall, Arup, FaulknerBrowns, Sadler Brown Architecture and Tolent.

Chris Toon, deputy principal at Gateshead College, said: “It’s great to have three additional sponsors on board. The industry has called for employees to be skilled in a greater range of disciplines, such as surveying, landscaping, architecture and planning, and PlanBEE addresses this fundamental need.

“We are proud to be at the forefront of an industry-led initiative that’s becoming a national exemplar for the recruitment and development of construction employees.”

Mark Thompson, managing partner at Ryder Architecture, added: “It’s fantastic to see the positive impact the programme is making on the students and sponsoring businesses, and we’re delighted to be welcoming the new sponsors to our third cohort.”

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Memphis educators recognised for excellence at award ceremony

THE New Memphis Institute has kicked off a special program to award distinguished teachers and school leaders in the city’s highest needs schools.

Recipients of the New Memphis Institute Educators of Excellence Award were recently honoured at a luncheon with a panel of Memphis’ top education leaders, including Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Achievement School District Superintendent Sharon Griffin. This effort is part of New Memphis’ leadership program that works to attract, develop, activate and retain talent in Memphis.

“Educators are a vital strata of talent in our city that often goes under acknowledged. At New Memphis, we believe it is essential to recognise the contribution of our best educators, to learn from their experiences, and to support them in their growth,” said Nancy Coffee, New Memphis President and CEO.

Five graduates of the New Memphis program made the inaugural list of 2018 honourees and each received a $1,500 check. The recipients are:

Rebecca Bowers – Category: Teacher – Rebecca currently teaches 3rd grade at Kingsbury Elementary. She is the grade level chair, serves on her school’s instructional leadership team and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Auburn University with a degree in Early Childhood Education. Rebecca has seven years of service and is a Memphis Teacher Residency mentor.

James Johnson – Category: Teacher – James currently teaches Science at Chickasaw Middle School. He serves as the science department chair, student council advisor and track coach. He has also worked a diversity, equity and inclusion coach at Teach for America’s regional institute for several years. James has seven years of service, is a Teach for America – Memphis alumnus and a former Student Government Association President at the University of Memphis.

Kevin Kimberly – Category: Instructional Staff – Kevin currently works as a development coach at Perea Elementary and a Chief Educational Consultant at ForwardEd Consulting. A former middle and high school principal at Memphis Catholic, Kevin has seven years of experience and completed his Master’s in Education at the University of Notre Dame.

Tamera Malone – Category: Instructional Staff – Tamera currently works as an instructional coach at Gestalt Public Schools and previously worked as a middle school teacher and special education teacher. Tamera completed her Masters in Teacher Education, Special Education at the University of Memphis and is currently completing her Doctorate at U of M in Instruction & Curriculum. Tamera has nine years of experience, is a graduate of UT – Knoxville and served on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s National Teacher Advisory Council.

Jeffrey Veale, Jr. – Category: School Administrator – Jeffrey currently works as the School Director at Leadership Preparatory Charter School but previously taught 3rd grade mathematics at Ford Road Elementary in the Innovation Zone. He has been recognised with the 2012-13 Most Effective First Year Teacher award and the 2012-13 Featured Teacher for Elementary Effective Practice conference. He also worked for four years in operations leadership at Teach for America-Memphis regional institute.

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Oxford and Cambridge top the list of best universities in the world

The UK is still home to the top two universities in the world, according to the 2018 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Oxford University is on top for the third consecutive year, while Cambridge keeps its second best position for the second year in a row.

However, UK is no longer the second most-represented nation in the rankings. Despite the UK having 98 institutions in the full list of 1,258, it loses its spot to Japan which claims 103 positions. The UK does however retain its status as second most-represented in the top 200.

The US’s Stanford University completes the top three, maintaining it position from last year. The US still leads the way as most-represented with 172 institutions in the list.

This year’s ranking see the University of Dundee and Royal Holloway slipping out of the global 200.

China’s new top university, Tsinghua, claims 25th spot, and overtakes the UK’s LSE for, which falls one spot to 26, and the University of Edinburgh which drops from joint 27 to 29.

There are a number of climbers in the UK, with University College London rising two spots to number 14, and the University of Warwick scaling 12 places to joint 79th.

The University of Birmingham jumps 25 positions to joint 116, while the University of Aberdeen leaps 27 positions to 158th.

Phil Baty, editorial director of the global rankings, said: ‘We see some individual stars in the UK this year, but the broader national data story is really one of stagnation and modest decline, with the UK taking a minor hit to its research reputation.

‘We can only speculate at this stage as to any connection with Brexit, the risk, however, to the UK’s reputation and research capabilities from its separation with Europe is very real.

‘The ground-breaking work of UK universities mustn’t be undermined by complacency and politicking.

‘To ensure they continue to thrive on the global stage, positive immigration and investment policies are crucial.

They must be free to attract and retain the very best international talent and international students post-Brexit, and they must be protected from cuts, the flow of research funding and academic talent mustn’t be impacted.

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Why an MBA still trumps a master’s in finance in banking

A decade ago, an MBA was clearly the top qualification to have if you wanted to start down the path toward a high-level job in banking. Then quietly, more top business schools began offering an alternative: the cheaper, more technical master’s in finance degree. By 2015, hiring totals suggested that a master’s in finance may actually have trumped the MBA as the top qualification. However, new data shows that MBA programs may be having a renaissance of sorts, at least when it comes to compensation.

Comparing salary expectations for MBA holders versus those with a master’s in finance is a difficult task. While MBA programs usually require some previous professional experience, you can often enter a master’s in finance program directly from undergraduate studies. This means an MBA should demand a higher starting salary than a master’s degree, and in fact it does. But MBA holders are also now seeing greater increases in salary post-graduation than they did previously. The picture is more muddled for recent master’s of finance graduates.

The average degree holder at eight of the top 15 master’s in finance programs recently ranked by the FT reported lower annual salaries after three years of experience than those who graduated one year earlier. This only occurred with two of the top 15 global MBA programs – IESE Business School in Spain and the University of Cambridge, both of which ranked outside the top 10.

Meanwhile, graduates of every top 15 MBA program but one reported at least a 100% increase in salary from the time they entered the program to three years after earning their degree. Even graduates from IESE and Cambridge Judge saw their salaries more than double over that period. That’s a stark difference from just a few years earlier, when graduates of every top MBA program reported three-year salary increases that were lower percentage-wise than the previous year. The value of an MBA appears to be on the rise.

When it came to the Masters in Finance courses where students didn’t have prior professional experience, the FT compared the starting salaries directly following graduation to what degree holders were making after three years. Among top schools, graduates from first-ranked HEC Paris saw the biggest three-year salary bump of 82%. The master’s program at the U.K.’s Imperial College Business School fared the worst, with graduates only earning a 43% increase in pay over three years. Imperial College alumni from 2015 now earn an average of $92k, meaning their starting salary was around $65k after graduation. At HEC, it was around $75k.

For MBAs, sticking around pays

There are several possible explanations for the new narrative that top MBAs are still a good deal. A masters qualification is well-aligned with lucrative sales and trading jobs, fewer of which exist now than in years previous. And of course, not as many MBAs enter banking as often as in previous years; many now take jobs in tech and consulting, so pay could be rising due to scarcity value. But the data seems to reject the premise that other industries are out-paying finance professionals, particularly in the early years for those who went to top schools.

Business schools that are the chief feeders into finance – Stanford, Wharton, Booth, Harvard and Stern – all saw their graduates who remained in the industry take home bigger salaries than those who left or never entered finance in the first place. Graduates of all five with the exception of Stern earned salaries north of $200k if they stuck around for three years.

Banks are thirsty for masters candidates

Perhaps the best news for master’s of finance grads is that they are clearly in high demand. Over 95% of students from nine of the top 10 programs had a job within three months of graduation, with four schools sporting 100% employment rates. For top MBA programs, the highest employment rate was 95% (Booth), while several languished in the 80%-90% range.

If you have little or no experience, a master’s in finance appears a near-lock to find a decent job in the industry. But it still pays to have an MBA. You just need to land a job first and handle the culture of banking for more than a couple years.

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The lowdown on the BACK2Y conference

BACK2Y – literally, “Back to why [you do it]”, i.e advise clients – returns this year after its organiser Paul Armson’s alternative conference of the same name launched in 2014.

Last year, a room at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole just about held 198 for the one day event. This year, in response to demand, Armson (pictured) has booked more space at the city’s International Convention Centre, upped the number of speakers and is hopeful of 350-plus attendees.

The format of adviser conferences tends to be predictable: the latest practical information and opinions are imparted, mainly from providers, together with rehashed gripes and with a couple of motivational speakers thrown in.

The ‘industry’ wants advisers to give clients what it wants – product distribution. It’s time to wake up!

BACK2Y was an altogether much more emotive event.

The allure, according to those who went, was the promise of a space to share ideas at what the participants consider to be the vanguard of financial advice.

Speakers spoke evangelically of epiphanies turning them away from transactional advice, the practice of selling products to meet clients’ perceived needs so ostracised by today’s financial planning frontline.

‘Product’ is a dirty word at BACK2Y, and product providers, with their stands offering free stuffed animals and mugs in exchange for five minutes bending your ear about their latest ‘solution’, are banned.

The lack of corporate sponsorship is reflected in the price, with currently available tickets for this year’s one day event ranging from £297 to £347.

The conference does sell something though – professional elitism.

“Most advisers won’t get BACK2Y. But that’s OK. It only takes a few to start a revolution,” Armson said.

A Yacht & Two Pauls

Armson is a part-time financial adviser and CEO and founder of Inspiring Advisers, a coaching programme in which he teaches advisers “how to really succeed as a lifestyle financial planner”.

BACK2Y is an extension of the philosophy Armson preaches in his adviser training company.

“Inspiring Advisers can show you how to WOW! your clients in return for vastly increased fee income – and have a lot of fun in the process,” according to its website.

Mrs Miggins seeking advice on what to do with a pension pot of £50,000 – low, but sadly above the national average – probably isn’t going to be able to afford that vastly increased fee, so presumably only advisers with a large proportion of pretty wealthy clients need apply.

Not a criticism, but a reality.

Armson himself ‘semi-retired’ in 2005 at the age of 45 and split his time between advising clients and sailing “Spellbound”, his 60 foot Oyster yacht, around the world.

In between that he spent three years working alongside Prestwood Group’s Paul Etheridge, founder of the Institute of Financial Planning and darling of those who consider themselves to be the more progressive element of the advice world.

The two created the much lauded cash-flow modelling tool Truth Financial Planning Software.

No Real Value

Armson’s aim with BACK2Y is to marry up acting in the best interests of clients with acheiving professional nirvana for advisers.

“I wanted to create an event to bring together advisers who also believe that it’s all about the client and helping them get what they want,” Armson said of BACK2Y.

“It’s called BACK2Y because it helps take advisers back to what we should be doing for clients – providing peace of mind, financial security, helping clients live life to the full, helping them get and keep their desired lifestyle.

“That’s what proper financial planning is all about. And that is where the value is. It has nothing to do with this product is better than that product.”

Armson draws his battle lines on these terms; there is “no real value” in providing clients a product or investment based service.

“What clients really want to know is: ‘in return for your fees how are you going to make my life better?'” he said. That is probably a fair assessment of any exchange of hard-earned money for goods and services.

Armson’s point is that financial services has been lacking in this respect.

“The ‘industry’ wants advisers to give clients what it wants – product distribution. It’s time to wake up! Advisers are being paid by the client, so we have to give clients what they want – which isn’t products or investments.

“That’s why there are no product providers at BACK2Y. Just successful practitioners of proper financial planning, some of the best in the UK, if not the world, sharing their experiences, best tips and techniques and – just as important – sharing inspiration to help other advisers get their focus back on what really matters.”

The demise of commission brought on by the RDR shifted the power dynamic from advisers relying on providers for an income, to the other way around.

BACK2Y is a product (pun intended) of that change.

It’s “vibe” might not be to every advisers’ taste, but beneath all that, the fundamental premise of a conference delivered by advisers, for advisers, focused on financial planning, has to be applauded.

If you would like to find out more information about the BACK2Y conference, please visit: http://www.back2y.co.uk/