Why now is the time to shout about your professional membership?

We all know that accountant is not a protected or regulated term, which means that any individual or business can call themselves an “accountant”, but did you know that only 18% of your potential clients know that? Our research has highlighted that despite respondents highlighting “qualified” as the key attribute they expect of their accountant, along with “professionalism” and “trust”, only 18% know that you don’t have to have any kind of formal training to call yourself an accountant.

Now, more than ever, as we all grapple with rapidly changing, complex and somewhat fluid legislation and seek to give our clients legitimate and correct advice, shouting about your membership of a professional accountancy body can really give you an edge. So how can you do it? Here are the top tips from The Institute of Financial Accountants:

  • Remind your clients: most likely, your clients made a decision to use you based on relationship or price, and few will have asked about your qualifications or membership of a professional body. In fact, many may have taken it for granted. When you are giving them a substantial amount of additional advice and guidance, consider reminding them that you are a qualified member of a professional body and therefore that they can be sure both of the quality of your advice and your accountability. It might just be the reassurance that they need right now.
  • Tell potential clients: give prominence to your membership when pitching or quoting for new clients. Tell them what your membership means, how it holds you to account and why it protects them. It will help you justify prices compared with other unqualified accountants (if they are comparing you) and also provides credibility and reassurance. 
  • Add it to your marketing materials & stationery: as well as your designatory letters, make sure your office stationery, marketing materials, website, proposal templates, presentations and any external communications include the logo of your professional body and your registration / membership number too. It might not be the reason they buy from you, but “member of a professional body” was one of the top five reasons our survey respondents selected, so it will definitely be a decision validator.
  • Promote it through local PR: only 18% of our survey respondents know that there is no regulation for setting up as an accountant, so it is safe to assume that the remaining 82% assume the term is protected. That means they may not know to ask if their existing provider is qualified or a member of a professional body, and might just assume that they are. This could be a great angle for you to tell in your local PR, encouraging businesses to check they are getting quality advice. If we were in a period of ‘business as normal’, using an unqualified professional is risky enough, but doing it at a time when legislation is moving at such a pace, businesses could inadvertently be using incorrect or even fraudulent advice to make their decisions, without even knowing it. At best this could mean fines from HMRC, at worst, irreparable damage to their reputation and loss of their business. 

Our research has highlighted that qualifications, professionalism and trust are key factors for making a decision over which accountant to use, but qualifications are often assumed, not validated. Your professional membership on the other hand, demonstrates your qualifications – which have been independently verified – as well as your insurance, experience, continued professional development, and commitment to minimum practice standards. 

The Institute of Financial Accountants CEO, John Edwards comments: “Everyone assumes that to be an accountant, there is a due process an individual must go through to qualify, and that there are stringent controls in place to regulate how these businesses operate.

The sad reality is that this simply isn’t true; “accountant” is not a protected term which means that literally anyone can decide they want to be an “accountant” and start up a business tomorrow. While the number who do this is small, SME businesses are most at risk of hiring an unqualified accountant, and in doing so may be leaving their business vulnerable to incorrect or potentially even fraudulent advice.”

He continues: “This risk has grown over recent months, when even qualified accountants and businesses are grappling with the rapidly changing legislation and business support schemes, let alone those who are unqualified and operating without the support and oversight of a professional body.

“We are concerned that businesses don’t know to check that their accountant is qualified and therefore might have made decisions based on relationship, price or similar, without ever knowing that their “accountant” is not qualified to give good advice.”

He adds: “In normal day-to-day business this is of course a risk, but some operators might know enough to convince their clients they are qualified and expert; now however when legislation is changing at a pace, the gaps in their knowledge will widen and SME businesses could be left dealing with the consequences. At worst, this could mean a business inadvertently committing fraud, resulting in fines or even enforced closure of the business. What an unnecessary risk.”   

It’s not just down to accountants to spread the word either. Professional bodies like The Institute of Financial Accountants are lobbying and pushing for accountant to be a protected term. It is of course slow progress as we seek to quantify the potential damage to the economy and business but we are progressing nonetheless.

This article has been provided by The Institute of Financial Accountants

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