Embracing change

Oct 01, 2018
Amatino’s Barry Kieran shares his thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing small- and medium-sized practices.

What trends do you see in terms of evolving client needs?

Sectoral trends are very important in the current market where nuances can have a significant impact on the bottom line. More than ever before, clients need access to accurate, timely information that takes into account the various internal and external factors that influence their ability to compete and grow their businesses. For some time now, Amatino has noticed a trend where clients – particularly in the SME sector – are demanding more specialised services and advice in areas like finance, funding and working capital facilities. Businesses increasingly want to benchmark their own performance so they are looking for advisors with sectoral expertise.

We see a growing trend of businesses seeking to outsource finance and payroll so that they can focus on their core business activities. Many small businesses have outgrown their existing accounting systems and outsourcing is attractive both from a cost perspective and because it frees up internal resources while helping businesses keep abreast of changing regulatory and legal requirements. Small businesses making the transition up to medium frequently need to rethink their approach and formalise and upgrade their management information system. 

How are you responding?

Priorities for Amatino include being watchful and responsive to clients’ working capital needs, Revenue practices, foreign exchange fluctuations and other sector specific trends. We recruit specialist staff with the industry experience to deliver the sectoral expertise that clients increasingly expect. Keeping pace with technology is vital so we continuously invest in our IT platform and systems. Cloud, scanning, artificial intelligence and client apps help us meet client demands for on-the-go access to live information.

As a border-based practice, what is your sense of preparedness for Brexit?

The sense of preparedness is still poor because businesses have no certainty about what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will look like. Very few businesses have developed a comprehensive plan. SMEs, particularly smaller businesses, lack the time and resources to prepare for different scenarios. Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices are promoting a scenario-based modelling technique covering areas like tariffs, lengthened supply chains, and labour and financial restrictions – but most businesses still need a more comprehensive plan. We are encouraging all clients to talk to us so that we can help them put strategies in place that will see them through the next couple of years, whatever the eventual Brexit outcome.

Is your firm experiencing any pressure points?

In common with most practices, our experience is that finding people with the right training and experience can be difficult in the current market. Clients are experiencing the same recruitment pressures – that is one of the reasons why some clients are choosing to outsource their finance function. We have addressed this through training and the skills we seek in new people.

What is the biggest obstacle facing small- and medium-sized practices?

Talent acquisition would be one of the big obstacles, particularly for smaller firms. Practices can’t afford to stand still, but it can be difficult for smaller firms to secure the expertise and resources they need to thrive in a very competitive marketplace. Also, very few smaller firms seem to prioritise investment in their website, brand and digital services; failing to do so sends a message to clients and potential clients. It’s important to stand out from your competitors and not let yourself down when prospects or future staff check out your online profiles.

What single piece of advice would you give to your fellow practitioners?

If you haven’t done so already, embrace technology. The right type of client appreciates the efficiencies and benefits of a real-time management information system. Understanding the live position of their business enables them to make good decisions that maximise opportunities and minimise risk. This also makes lots of sense to the accountant in practice working with the client. It is also especially important for good real-time and regular communication, and to improve efficiencies. 
 
Barry Kieran FCA is Managing Partner at Amatino, which has offices in Dublin, Cavan, Monaghan and Carrickmacross.