Yesterday I had a great conversation with Roger Williams, tax partner at Wilkins Kennedy. Roger spends his days advising OMBs. The conversation came about because of an article I read in Contractor UK where Roger was quoted as saying:
"Responding to Contractor UK as to whether tax in isolation is a commercial consideration, Wilkins Kennedy said most entrepreneurs would probably agree. In the tax world, where a transaction is entered into purely (or mostly) for a tax advantage, anti-avoidance legislation would say that was 'uncommercial' and ignore it. In the real-world of course, tax is a cost like any other business cost and needs to be minimised."
I interpreted those words as giving HMRC ammunition to attack tax avoidance at a time when it is acting in a particularly aggressive manner. So I sent an email to get clarification and hey presto -a conversation ensued.
It went in a number of directions (sorry if I talked your ear off Roger - I can be a shocking gas bag) and Roger clarified what he wished to convey which is about using well-trodden areas of tax law to assist clients and present alternative scenarios. (see how the mundane can capture attention?)
Roger made a number of interesting points. In summary:
- The firm is looking to offshore basic accounting work as a way of delivering value back to clients. That validates an issue I've argued on a number of occasions. Now, it needs further exploration.
- K-W is not looking to offshore basic tax compliance at the moment. The skills aren't there and doing basic work is, in Roger's opinion, a great training ground for those who have an interest ion the topic. I'd not thought of that.
- At a time of uncertainty - witness the government's about face over SIPPS - giving clients advice demands a different kind of relationship where expectations are much more closely managed and where the firm actively seeks to create solid partnerships with its clients. There's nothi9ng like a bit of adversity to stir the creative juices is there?
- Executing against those principles is tough but leads to highly rewarding and interesting work. Confirming my view that people always excel when doing interesting things. And it alwaysa shows in the client engagements
- K-W newsletters (which I think suck) provide a fallback mechanism for clients who may not be aware of particular provisions that have impact. So they serve a purpose.
None of this gets conveyed through the website. It took an hour of conversation. Which is fine if you can take the time out and have an idea what you want to know. But ultimately, it's ineffecient and transient. This is real and permanent.
Afterwards it struck me the firm's logic is off but representative of a more general view among professionals. If K-W believes the website is a place of record then wouldn't it make sense to open it up?
The section designed to appeal to overseas persons thinking of establishing in the UK illustrates the point well. It has French, Spanish, German alongside UK (sorry lads - not written in Americanese) English versions. This is a massive step forward compared with others. But if I am an overseas person, I'd likely want to engage in a conversation before coming to meet. Most would expect that to be done over email but what would be the impact if I could ask some generic questions and see the answers in public?
That's what many firms are half way to doing in their Q&A sessions. But they don't take the logic that essential one step forward where they engage the comunity. The paradox is that AccountingWEB and community sites like this attract huge audiences of passionate people. So we can have all the public community experience we like but not our clients?
So here's a freebie - did you know there's a small but active Spanish business site? No? It's called El Blog Salmón. I love the fact the Spanish obsession with football doesn't get missed. It provides insights fomr which we can usefullt learn. It has a fast growing readership. One of France's most powerful industrialists - M-E. Leclerc has a site that must be required reading for anyone wanting an insight into French business. This is about seeing the culture through the eyes of those doing business.
What's wrong with email? It only benefits a single potential client. Public conversations and the way they are handled is by far the most effective way of meeting with people you might never have otherwise found. In my limited experience, it leads to far more rewarding work than comes from relying on the same old mates, chums and other mutual back scratchers. And it comes from unexpected places.
The more you involve your community, the more others will want to know about you. That's how you scale your business without spending an arm and a leg on marketing nonsense of the kind I see trotted out by so-called specialists.
What did I learn? A lot about the relative merits of offshoring different parts of the practice. Was there value in the conversation? I hope there was for Roger, for me - 100%.
Thanks Roger and yes I will take you up on your invitation to comment on matters of interest to this community. In the meantime, feel free to tell me how off base my conclusions really are.