I'd be surprised if any accountant would disagree with the fact that client loyalty is the cornerstone of the fees, profits and capital value of their firm.
Also very few firms would disagree or argue with the fact that clients that are loyal to them do so because of the quality of the relationship you have together.
Very few firms, in my experience, actually track and measure either the quantity or the quality of their client interactions - number of meetings, number of zoom meetings, number of calls etc.
In this podcast, you'll hear David Belbin and I lock horns a little bit!
We talk about Arsene Wenger and Mike Tyson, and why this is relevant to you and your firm.
It's relevant, because David brings up a really valuable point I think.
One of his intentions is to build a client scorecard - a way of tracking and measuring the effectiveness of the relationships between him and his clients and also his team and their clients.
Check out what David's got to say about the way he and his 24 person firm builds a human interaction with their clients. How they do it in such a way that they're building the fundamental foundations of great client loyalty and therefore fees, profits and capital value for the future.
"I'm not an Arsenal supporter, but I heard Arsene Wenger having a little chat a few weeks ago on the radio.
And he said "the reason why I love football is, you can put the same 22 people on the pitch and you'll end up with a different result every time and it will be unique."
This put me in mind of us and our clients - those interactions with our clients will be unique."
Connect with David Belbin
TRANSCRIPT - unedited
Paul Shrimpling: Welcome to the humanise the numbers podcast, series leaders, managers, and owners of ambitious accounting firms, sharing insight, successes, and issues that will challenge you and connect you and your firm to the ways and means of transforming your firms results.
[00:00:20] David Belbin: I'm not an arsenal supporter, but I heard Arsene Wenger having a little chat a few weeks ago on the radio as I drove home.
[00:00:26] And he said, The reason why I love football. You said you can go to the theater and you can watch the show, the same show. And it's always going to end when it's meant to end. And it's the story is always the same. He said you can put the same 22 people on the pitch and you'll end up with a different result.
[00:00:52] Every time and it will be unique. Those interactions with our clients will be unique.
[00:01:00] Paul Shrimpling: How do you and your firms secure the future fees, future profits and future capital value of your firm, where the key is secure client loyalty? The big question is how do you do that? Well, the best route to secure and client loyalty is have high quality conversations with those clients every year, several times a year, if you can, but how do you do that?
[00:01:20] Well, In this podcast, David Belbin of Clemens whore comings in I lock horns over the use of, or the need for a formula or a scripting process attached to your client meetings. And David makes a really strong point about the importance of the interaction and the flexibility needed in that interaction with your clients.
[00:01:42] So why not dive into this podcast and see how you can get a blend and a balance of scripting and flexibility that make every client conversation brilliant so that you build client loyalty and therefore build your fees, profits, and capital value. David, before we kick off, can I ask you just to tell us a little bit about your firm to put everything into context for
[00:02:01] David Belbin: us?
[00:02:02] Okay. So Clement hall Cummings, uh, is currently a three director business, um, with 22 other, uh, team members. Uh, we have a separate wealth management subsidiary, um, and we, uh, turnover is just around one and a half million Mark, something like that. Um, we've got about a thousand clients. Um, and it's a general practice.
[00:02:34] We probably do more, not for profits, uh, for our size and, uh, many clients or many practices have a similar type. Uh, we have a good range of, uh, GP sort of doctors, healthcare area. Um, and, but apart from that, it's just a general. Accountancy practice providing account C tax planning, advice for owner managed businesses, um, primarily a few subsidiaries of, uh, foreign owned businesses, uh, where they think they can get some better value for money for audit work.
[00:03:13] Um, and so. That keeps us quite busy. Thank you.
[00:03:18] Paul Shrimpling: It sounds as though it would, if you've got a thousand clients, presumably some of those chunk of those are tax return only clients. Yes.
[00:03:24] David Belbin: A number. Yeah. We've got about 400 tax return, only clients with, um, they'll have some rental income, uh, many of them, uh, some investment income.
[00:03:36] Uh, but, but yeah, that's, that would be about it. It's a good number of. Really just it's it's the tax compliance work, but then you have conversations where we're speaking, we're doing some tax returns for a few clients who, uh, are sort of fairly late with their returns this year. And, um, there's some people with, uh, some planning opportunities come through as a result of just talking about what's on their tax returns.
[00:04:05] Of course, of course.
[00:04:06] Paul Shrimpling: Brilliant. Yeah. When, when I say, uh, we're, we're talking about humanize the numbers, what, what, what does that phrase actually mean for you?
[00:04:15] David Belbin: Well, actually it rings quite nice bells because I say to my team all the time accountancy is about people. It's not about numbers and because we're all unique, every single business is going to be unique because it's.
[00:04:34] There's there's no, you can have your systems for doing how you do stuff, processes, but everything has got to flex providing. It's not nor to those individuals. And it's about understanding that actually the practice is not the practice. It's a bunch of people and we've got to do with our team as individuals.
[00:04:59] So, so humanizing numbers works for me on, on two, three levels.
[00:05:05] Paul Shrimpling: That one's the team. One's the, your customers and clients. Yeah. Yeah. Your clients. Um, is there a third one? Sorry.
[00:05:14] David Belbin: Well, I think it's about the team. It's about the clients and anybody else we interact with, but they're all part of the
[00:05:20] Paul Shrimpling: team. Yeah.
[00:05:21] So there's, sometimes there's some firms that talk about their community. So that might be, you know, you're the introduces that refer clients to, you might be suppliers. It might be, you know, whoever, um, but you can't get away from the fact that we're all interacting with humans all of the time and we're accountants or your accountants talking about numbers all the time.
[00:05:38] So it is a blend and a balance of the two. Um, but, but from what you're saying there, you're giving emphasis to the human bit rather than the numbers bear, and you'd think an accountant would push you, put an emphasis on the numbers bit wouldn't you?
[00:05:53] David Belbin: Well, you would do, but I think, um, the numbers tell the story about what the humans are doing.
[00:06:02] Paul Shrimpling: That's an interesting line. So the numbers tell a story what the humans were doing. So expand on that for me. What do you mean by that?
[00:06:09] David Belbin: Well, if the, uh, if the business owner is, uh, very aggressive in terms of trying to grow his business, um, then those numbers, my, my show, big marketing spends, but also show bigger big sales increases.
[00:06:29] Alternatively, if the client is there for a lifestyle, As accountants can be. Yeah. Then they're going to be cruising along minimal market spend. Marketing spend and the numbers are going to look the same year in, year out. Yeah. No big changes until you get something like COVID hit,
[00:06:49] Paul Shrimpling: then we ever had a bigger curve.
[00:06:52] I'm not sure
[00:06:52] David Belbin: we have.
[00:06:53] Paul Shrimpling: Um, I don't think we have, so, so the numbers tell a story, whether you're a business owner, non accountant, or whether you're an accountant, the numbers are going to tell some of the story, but not the whole story. Is that, is that a fair comment? Yep. That's very fair. All right. So how do you, as a firm go hunting for the full story with client,
[00:07:11] David Belbin: by talking to them, by having a, a bit like you've got an agenda you want to work to, in some ways today, you want to peel some bits out of me.
[00:07:24] We want to pull bits out of, uh, Uh, out of our clients when we're having conversations, just to tease out from them. And again, it's not just about the numbers you want to know about their life story for the last three months, since you last saw them. Or whatever. Yeah. Because if something's happening in their lives, it will impact on the business and it then allows you to look forward and think about inheritance tax planning and all the other ways one can sort of try and populate the future with your client.
[00:07:57] Yeah. Yeah.
[00:07:58] Paul Shrimpling: So who in your firm then? David is, um, Going in pursuit of those client non-no non-numerical stories. Clearly you are, who else in your firm is having conversations with clients about the non accountancy stuff?
[00:08:15] David Belbin: Well, uh, my fellow directors are right because we talk about trying to do that and that's how we try and teach our managers to spot opportunities and try and create openings.
[00:08:27] Paul Shrimpling: Right. So, so how, how many altogether the directors and managers. So how many, how many client facing same? We've got
[00:08:33] David Belbin: 25, um, client facing, well everybody's client facing because our admin support team will be picking up the phone and we have a, we have a director of first impressions called our receptionist.
[00:08:45] Yep. And, um, the, so they're all client facing in different roles. There's nobody that doesn't speak to clients. With one exception. We have a part-time, uh, uh, employee who does some scanning for us. Yeah. So
[00:09:01] Paul Shrimpling: of the 25, uh, how many are actually having those life story conversations, as opposed to accountancy conversations?
[00:09:12] David Belbin: would think seven. Seven, right? Okay. Seven or
[00:09:14] Paul Shrimpling: eight. Yeah. And how do you track the quality of those conversations? David?
[00:09:20] David Belbin: Um, I would say that we are not ping. Well, we're putting records on file after meetings, but is it being done in a structured way? Uh, well, we're, we're trying to bring in a sort of measured scorecard sort of balanced scorecard approach.
[00:09:37] So what service lines that we doing, um, uh, uh, what service lines were available for our clients. So we, we can see. Where we can try and grow some of those areas. Right. Okay. What service lines are we doing across the costs? The top, then who's doing, who's doing a bit, so, so that sort of does sort of help us cause we know that when we're going in to see the clients we'll speak to them.
[00:10:04] Paul Shrimpling: So what, where have you got to with this, uh, client scorecard? That's interesting, really interesting though.
[00:10:09] David Belbin: It's uh, each, each, each. Director's got his, uh, got his portfolio. Yeah. It's far more difficult with the cause we have, uh, for our larger clients is easy because there's a smaller number. Uh, but for our team that works in the owner very well, they're mainly, only managed businesses, but for the very small clients where we were providing some accountancy advice.
[00:10:35] Yeah. Uh, I wouldn't say grubby subbies, cause that's not the right word for them. We have very few sub-contract to clients actually. Yeah. Um, but it's, it's a very
[00:10:45] Paul Shrimpling: small, the micro businesses.
[00:10:46] David Belbin: Yeah. The micro businesses where they deal with a large number they're speaking to the clients. Mm.
[00:10:56] Very few times a year. Really? Yeah. And it's, it's, uh, it's very, definitely a simple compliance type. Engagement that we have. Yeah. They might be on fixed fees. Um, and those for the manager and partner who deal with those, that is a lot of conversations to try and have. Yeah, we try and we try and pass those up to the team that look after clients in a slightly different way.
[00:11:28] Um, uh, so we've got two teams really, um, and they represent. The larger client too, probably represent about 60% of the practice in terms of fees and costs. Yeah. Um, and you know, there's a bit of flattery and where we had, um, we had a partner, um, uh, have to cease work in, in middle of January last year, cause his Parkinson's disease.
[00:12:02] Took a sudden turn for the worse. And so we've had to take on a whole load of clients. Well, I've been working with a senior manager too. This was meant to happen at the start of this year with a handover periods through, through to 2020, where there would have been no physical meetings given COVID, but it would have been nice to have some zoom meetings with the client who, uh, but Paul Martin ended up in a care home.
[00:12:30] So we've, we've, we've not had that. Handover, but if you are working with a client for 30 years, his most in was, um, his population, some of those areas, but there's whole false sways of elements of that portfolio where conversations are now being had that, Oh, Melton never talked to us about that.
[00:12:54] Paul Shrimpling: Right.
[00:12:55] Interesting. Interesting. And is it really interesting? Is it your, is it the personalities that have having those conversations or is it your firm's approach to the scorecard that's driving that which way is I
[00:13:06] David Belbin: think, well, I think it's, it's probably my views that we need to do things differently. Um, and I think, um, Well, without wishing to be, most of them would have a way of doing things, which would generally more compliance based.
[00:13:27] Yeah. He did with the clients move on to the next one, deal with the clients, move on to the next one. Yeah. And I would tend to have a more, well, because I guess, because I'm going in. Essentially to supervise the senior manager. I'm having those conversations at a planning level, senior managers having the compliancing and we're doing some mentoring at the same time, said he understands what I want him to be doing.
[00:13:51] Yeah. And I've released my portfolio, which is. Uh, T w uh, one mile the diet to say, he's looking after those relationships. Cause he's been with them working as my manager previously for a number of years, and we knew that orange was coming. Yeah. It just happened
[00:14:07] Paul Shrimpling: faster than you were expecting.
[00:14:08] David Belbin: Yeah. So, so yeah, th th that's beginning to bear some fruit, some we've Sue that, and some of those conversations, we picked up some interesting work, um, Outsourcing accountancy, uh, the, the bookkeeping.
[00:14:27] As well as payroll, but where there have been changes because we've been talking in a different way. They said, Oh, can you do this? And can you do that? Right. Which Martin was getting as well, but we've, we've managed to grow that side as well, which is good.
[00:14:39] Paul Shrimpling: Right. So, so I guess your answer to the question, is it the scorecard or the personalities
[00:14:45] David Belbin: that's driving the change?
[00:14:45] I think some mixture of both. You need to have a decision. This is what we're going to do, right. And the scorecard probably helps. Right. Focus on that. And
[00:14:53] Paul Shrimpling: so have you got a distinct set of numbers that you're looking to build for every client so you can compare and contrast? Or is it more bespoke than that?
[00:15:03] David Belbin: I think it's more bespoken in is, is not. Yeah. We do we have a formula that says we're going to do this, this and this no way. We're not there yet. I think we could be right. We could easily be. Um, I think that that's the side of the practice. We, we need to change possibly this comp without becoming formulaic.
[00:15:26] Uh, um,
[00:15:27] Paul Shrimpling: yeah, I'm going to challenge that one. Uh, but not yet. Um, without it becoming formulate, we'll get to that. Um, I just want to pick up on a couple of things. First, the first one being, um, There's this, uh, nothing quite as stark, is that in terms of how, um, uh, an existing partner or manager, and then, uh, an existing partner manager picking up on their client bank and, and by definition, just the personality, the nature of the conversation and relationship changes it's bound to it's just inevitable.
[00:15:58] Isn't it? It is. It absolutely is. Um, uh, and that, uh, can be a good thing, um, in terms of the fees and capital value for the firm, um, or it can be a bad thing if it's managed and handled in, in, in the wrong way. And clearly what you were endeavoring to do was to ensure that there was that sort of transition from.
[00:16:19] Uh, old partner to new partner slash manager, which was curtailed because of the, uh, the Martins illness. And, and therefore you were all thrown in the deep end with people really that you don't know clients that you don't know. Um, so that's proper stark contrast. Isn't there, there's a stop and a start.
[00:16:36] There's no transition at
[00:16:37] David Belbin: all. Yeah. The other lesson I think we've learned is that. Those clients, and it is the case across most of the rest of the portfolio of the practice. Most, most clients have two more senior people that they can pick up the phone to. They would know what's happening, uh, and. Most in book, keep his portfolio very much to himself.
[00:17:08] Right. Okay. All right. And, and so, so once, you know, the whole aim is to try and put as many, have as many relationships that nobody is indispensable. Yes. Cause I think, I think it then creates an opportunity for one, two clients to think. Well, if, if. The engagement partner's gone. Um, should I be looking elsewhere or I've got a mate.
[00:17:32] Um, I've been sat with engagement partner for, for, while I'm waiting for him to retire and then I'll move. And there have been one, two conversations like that. Of course, we've retained. We've retained about 90% of that fee basis, which is not too bad.
[00:17:47] Paul Shrimpling: It's not set given what you've had to deal with. That's, that's, uh, that's almost remarkable.
[00:17:52] That is, um, but I think, you know, No one is indispensable. However, the client relationship component yeah. Is, is, is critical. Isn't it is what you're saying. Yeah. And actually, I think it's your approach, which is you've got a primary point of contact for the client and you've got a secondary point of contact with the client.
[00:18:12] So they've always got two people to, um, to relate, to talk to maybe on different things. Um, It has clearly, as far as all the work I've done with firms over the last couple of decades, um, made a huge difference and also facilitates that transition, that handover from one partner to the next as well. Um, or from a partner who's looking to offload certain clients to free them up to go and do other work that, that it's important in that space.
[00:18:37] David Belbin: What we've just done. Yeah. And so, so Lee, who I, um, posted some of those clients to he's a wood. We're making sure that he's got somebody working to him on a consistent basis. So the second relationship gets built up over time though. Those clients can always talk to me if they need to.
[00:18:56] Paul Shrimpling: Fantastic. And I think some, sometimes that gets lost in this, um, preservation of client relationship.
[00:19:03] Oh, that's mine. No, no, no. It's not yours. It's the firms that, that's a very different context. Isn't it? Yeah.
[00:19:09] David Belbin: Apprentice with more than one director cannot work in silos. Oh, the cast
[00:19:14] Paul Shrimpling: David, I'm sorry.
[00:19:17] David Belbin: I see that. I did add a word in. I said sensibly because you, you, if you try and be, uh, if you got strengths, I won't look at solicitors and one of my other directors will do, he won't look at it, not for profits, whereas I will.
[00:19:36] Yes. Um, and, uh, so you play to your strengths don't you did. You did. Um, but then you've gotta be willing to pass stuff across and say, actually, this isn't for me, or on full at this time of the year, can you do that? And then we can grow. Yeah.
[00:19:53] Paul Shrimpling: Yeah. I, I think, um, something that. Isn't necessarily managed as well strategically in firms that could be, and you know, every firm's different and some are stronger than this and others are less strong and some are weak.
[00:20:06] Is this, um, how do you grow your people internally? Well, you have to expose them to the client relationship work, not just the compliance work and, and then over time, if you ex, so they S they watch you doing it. And then at a later state, so he, that might happen in one or two or three meetings, and then.
[00:20:25] They, you encourage them to take part more and take more responsibility for the relationship management part of the meeting. And eventually you can bear out to that meeting. So that might be, you know, five meetings over a year and a half, depending on how close you are with that client and the work you're doing with them.
[00:20:39] But it's, um, you can transition some high quality relationships to someone else. As long as the process is managed well with that two points of contact. Yeah. Um, I think, you know, that approach and, and clearly it's did you in good stead with, um, with Martins, Martins clients. So, uh, in that describing of what's taken place in there, there was the, my question around the scorecard points too.
[00:21:04] Um, and I asked the question around how, how do you track and know that the quality of the conversations are high enough and that's that. Well, that's quite hard to do. And so it does nothing to get done in firms. Whereas the you'd argue that it's easier to track and measure the quantity of client interaction, calls and meetings or zoom meetings.
[00:21:22] If now we're in the remote working. Um, but I've, I see very few firms who actually take seriously the tracking and measuring of the quantity of interaction with clients. What, what are you doing in your firm around that?
[00:21:36] David Belbin: Um, I think for the last year, year and a half, uh, Certainly for the last 12 months, let's say, I think as with many firms are, since we've been firefighting.
[00:21:48] Yeah. I mean, it's been a very, very hard year. Uh, so we aren't doing a return of how many phone calls we've made, how many client meetings we've had. Of course we've just been dealing with stuff as it comes in. Yeah. Um, yeah. Have we ever done that? Well, we started trying to, and frankly, people were having meetings for meeting Sykes and constant appreciate it.
[00:22:11] Um, or we were having, or people were, uh, making up conversations that hadn't happened. We had a, uh, so that that's not a, that's not a good way to do so. No, absolutely. So I'm not going to have. People not telling me the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Yeah. So, so, uh, yeah, or being economic with it. Um, so, so we, uh, yeah.
[00:22:35] Yes, we, we, we are not doing that. Whether we want to change. How we do things. I think, I think our practices is we're working, working to change a few things and that's, that's part of it. I think it just creates a little bit more vigor, but without creating straight jackets, I don't want. A series of DB clowns in the practice.
[00:23:02] That's not going to be good. Yeah. Because
[00:23:04] Paul Shrimpling: th th the personality piece is important. Isn't it? And yeah. You know, there's, there's been one or two of the podcasts and, and, and in those discussions, they're very much pointed to the fact that they've got, you know, a blend and a balance of. Personalities in the practice that lend themselves to, like you said, you know, some lend themselves to working with solicitors on them, themselves to working with not-for-profit Sutherland themselves to high growth businesses.
[00:23:25] Others lend themselves to nice, steady eddies who just want to, um, you know, pay the mortgage off for good holidays and have a lifestyle business there's, you know, um, square, peg, square holes, round pegs, round holes type, um, and discussion. But, uh, I I'm sensing another aspect of you. Uh, what you pointed earlier too, was this don't re uh, you haven't got any faith in running a formula around the score card because every person and every business is unique.
[00:23:53] Have I understood that right?
[00:23:55] David Belbin: Well, I think every person, every business is unique. Yes. Uh, yes, you can. You can, you can formulate your, where you can tabulate that and you can say, okay, well, do they have employees? Are we doing their payroll? Yeah. Do they, are they registered for VAT? Are we doing their VAT returns or who's doing that?
[00:24:14] Ben, is there an outsource function or not? Who's providing those, but then I think you've, you've in many ways. I think that's a, that's a given the, the next bit is to say, well, Do we know what they want out of their business in 10 or 15 years time, what are we doing to help them achieve that? Uh, what are the, what is their planning, you know, um, um, you know, we've, we've touched on, on the bereavement counseling and relate counseling and all the other bits of counseling, what we do in relationship, how does that impact on sort of formal advice that we might be giving?
[00:24:54] Yeah. About how they may want to deal with stuff. Deal was how do I look after my grandchildren now that I've got some money in my, my children haven't been, uh, that sort of thing. Um, uh, I'm not talking about me, I'm talking about my clients. Yeah. Right.
[00:25:13] So, so, so all of those things, um, and, and should we, should we be, um, Cindy on our larger clients. Uh, should we be systematizing that possibly yeah. Uh, building a
[00:25:28] Paul Shrimpling: formula around it. Yeah. I see. I find it really interesting that idea of having a client scorecard, um, because by definition it creates an agenda for a meeting.
[00:25:40] Doesn't it? Um, and, um, I don't think there's anything more powerful than having a well structured, uh, uh, agenda that drives a well-structured meeting that delivers massive value to the client. Now, is there an argument for unstructured meetings and discussions? Yes, of course. There is. But, um, you know, the clients working with you and your firm, because they want to get a value return on investment from the time and money that they, uh, spending with you.
[00:26:07] And, um, and I'm I'm of the thinking that, and, and actually all the evidence I've got is whenever a firm introduces an agenda, which could, and now I'm taking from this call myself, that that agenda could, should be. Mainly or partly driven by a client scorecard process. I like, I really liked the idea. Um, but ultimately it's like, can we drive the agenda, which then drives the discussion, which influences the questions we ask in, which delivers the value in the meeting because in my head and I hope you'll disagree or agree either.
[00:26:43] I'd be interested to hear what you've got to say is isn't the most. Valuable moments in the client relationship each year when you actually get together with them, as opposed to any piece of compliance work that you do with them.
[00:26:53] David Belbin: Or sense that they, um, uh, one of the other speakers, if you like on the circuit, it talks about an iceberg of, um, of work and they see the bit that's above the water, which is the client meeting or the client.
[00:27:08] Interaction. They don't see all the stuff that's going on underneath the surface to particularly. So I think where they have clients have no idea what you're having to do. Yeah. Yes. And
[00:27:19] Paul Shrimpling: Dan appreciate the effort, but actually, or therefore also don't necessarily appreciate the value that they're getting out of it.
[00:27:25] David Belbin: Yeah. Um, the value, I think is where you've asked the question and they've sought about it and they said, ah, okay. And then they want you to do something and you then can deliver. So you've not, they've made the buying decision. You've not done any selling and that's just gloss over it. It
[00:27:50] Paul Shrimpling: is. It's easy to, I agree with you, by the way, I think, um, you know, if you ask the right questions, they'll, um, you know, it, there's nothing almost quite as valuable as going, Oh, that's a good question.
[00:28:00] I've not thought of that before. It's a, you know, you're in a valuable territory once that, you know, if you're in that sort of compensation, um, but can we bring a system or formula of based on a scar scorecard, maybe that drives those conversations with every client throughout the firm. You know, cause often the, um, you know, that, that additional work, um, advisory work, if you will tends to revolve around the leaders of a firm, as opposed to actually it being scaled further into the firm, through the managers and, and, and, and below if, uh, if, if I can use that phrase, um, And so I I'm, I'm challenging a lot of firms that are worked with around this, you know, what are the three primary questions you want to ask every client this year that stimulates a high value conversation that prompts the client to, uh, considered doing some extra work with you.
[00:28:51] For example, now we don't wanna ask the questions so that. It's exclusively about you getting extra work it's you asked the questions, does it engage in a high value conversation with that client for the sake of it? Because then they will appreciate you and you love built client loyalty. They'll stay with you even if they don't buy extra fees.
[00:29:09] Um, So I, I guess I'm just, I guess I'm trying to layer a gauntlet down here, David around. Um, I think your idea of a scorecard is inspired and, um, you know, we're, uh, we're, we're in a recessionary period in the UK, thanks to, uh, everything that's happened in the last 12 months, uh, which is, uh, uh, you know, throwing curve balls into the economic and business system we've never seen before.
[00:29:33] Um, But we're going to come out the other side at some point. And so this year 2021 is going to be about, um, businesses getting ready for growth post recession, because typically what happens after a recession is growth. And, you know, what is it accountants like you do in terms of engaging in clients that helps that your, your clients set up for that growth.
[00:29:53] That's going to come in 22 and 23. And beyond, and I'm just wondering is what are the questions, the form you lay it, questions attached to your client's scorecard that could be, uh, could be asked. I don't know. What do you think of that process? That idea?
[00:30:07] David Belbin: Well, I think it's a very fair one. I think the, um, those questions, I sense for the many, many businesses that have taken out, um, uh, uh, A bounce back loan or taken out C pills.
[00:30:25] Loan. Yeah. The question is what additional cash are you going to generate? That's going to allow those to be replayed over the next seven years. And how are we going to manage those cash lives? Brilliant.
[00:30:37] Paul Shrimpling: I agree. I think that that's a massively valuable conversation that has to be had with every B bills and CBOs business.
[00:30:44] That's taken those. I agree. I think that's a, so QC that's, um, you know, that could be a whole meeting. Couldn't it? That conversation
[00:30:51] David Belbin: one question. It could be from one question. Yeah. And, and it will need some more, cause it, it will need some cash lives. They will have done. They will have needed to do some cash flows around the seatbelts work, but not about the peoples.
[00:31:03] Paul Shrimpling: Uh, and, and they won't necessarily have thought about the repayment process. Um, as well as I, I do wonder David as well, is, are all the businesses using that cash in the right way as well. There's another conversation. And another question to be posed around what are the D what have they done so far and what are they going to do with what's left of their Peebles?
[00:31:19] And Siebel's is another valuable question there.
[00:31:22] David Belbin: Actually, I think it's it, there's, there's the obvious loan, which is C the loan, uh, the bounce back line, but at the same people who took the bounce back loans will probably have deferred their VAT. Um, so it's, it could be a similar number. Yeah, yeah,
[00:31:38] Paul Shrimpling: yeah.
[00:31:38] And so that payback thing becomes even more relevant to important need for cashflow forecasting and more support for more firms or their accountancy firm, um, makes, uh, makes eminent sense. Um, David, did I get the impression that, um, the vast majority of your firm's fees, uh, compliance, oriented fees? Have I, have I understood that, right?
[00:32:05] David Belbin: I would think about 85% to 90% of our work is compliance space. Okay. Um, and, and that's protected us significantly in the last 12 months. Uh, yeah, I think
[00:32:20] Paul Shrimpling: that's a good insight actually.
[00:32:22] David Belbin: Um, I think the, uh, and, and because it's a widespread business with no client of ours is more than 3% of all our practice.
[00:32:33] I'm hoping that it's going to be fairly recession proof. Yeah. Because I think we've got some lucky, uh, working hard times
[00:32:42] Paul Shrimpling: ahead of it. There are some Rocky times, um, which will proceed. I think the takeoff, but when, when that comes, who knows, but we've got some, I agree. There's a Rocky
[00:32:50] David Belbin: road to priceless.
[00:32:52] Yeah. It is, it is Manny compliance, but planning comes out or the planning work, the consultancy work, some bits get phoned in. So we, we get some, we get some work from, uh, because we're doing a bit of work in one place. So I do get some solicitors asking for some capital gains tax advice on divorces. Uh, and that's not compliance work, but more often than not, the other 10% is doing projects for clients, existing clients.
[00:33:22] Paul Shrimpling: one question that occurs to me is in my experience, um, th the, the vast majority of conversations with business owners and I, uh, my, my, you know, that that's the core place that I operate in is how do we help, um, Encourage counts, do more stronger, better work with their business owner. Clients is that the vast majority of the conversations are focused on what's happened in the past.
[00:33:51] You know, the management accounts in the past, the tax returns, referring to stuff in the past, the annual accounts, you first off in the past, where's your firm on this? Is that right? Or should we be having more future focused conversations, which therefore result in more advisory fees now, where are you at with that?
[00:34:08] David Belbin: I'm doing very little driving at the moment button. When I drive 90% of my time is spent looking forwards and I might look in my mirrors, uh, to see what's behind me or around me, but I'll generally get food. And so the conversations that we have with our clients we'll deal with the, um, With the compliance stuff we'll hopefully have, by some, we end up with a set of accounts to talk to our clients.
[00:34:34] We've dealt with all the questions of, so we might have, um, before, so we use where we can. Yes. Yeah. So, uh, so my team will have spoken to the bookkeeper financial controller or whoever it is or the, or the business owner and said, look, can you just fund through the debtors before we have the meeting? So we're not having a conversation about, uh, who's played us and who hasn't paid us.
[00:35:01] We're having a conversation about where the business might go, right. When we're having an and yes, we've done the accounts. This is when we think the tax is going to be payable. We know when the tax is going to be payable, this is what we think it is. Yeah. Is there anything else we need to know? I think more in, on, on the unincorporated businesses.
[00:35:23] If, you know, there's going to be, um, a recession as we are in now, you're having conversations about, can we reduce those payments on account? Well, that, that might be quite an easy conversation. If you've got. The person with the main employment and secondary source of income that has dried up. Yeah.
[00:35:42] Paul Shrimpling: So what of your say 600 business clients are not talking about your 400 touch turn only clients.
[00:35:50] If those 600 clients, how many will you meet? Uh, every year David, across the firm. Actually physically see face
[00:35:58] David Belbin: to face. I think we'll probably probably see about 500 of them radically at different times in the year. Okay. We do, we do see most clients. There's very few clients we don't see. So we've got, I don't like that from money laundering, point of view.
[00:36:11] I'd like to be able to see the clients good.
[00:36:14] Paul Shrimpling: And, um, presumably that's mostly in a post year end. Annual accounts review meeting, is
[00:36:21] David Belbin: it yes. Or sometimes when they bring the stuff in. Right. Okay. Okay. Because yeah, uh, certainly the smaller, smaller end, uh, they'll bring the clients, the clients will bring the, the working.
[00:36:31] And at that point, my team will be saying, is there anything we need to know? Right.
[00:36:36] Paul Shrimpling: Okay. Um, so I've got, I'm going back to this quantity versus quality measurement piece around this, but I'm just wondering of those 500 meetings with clients. How many of them are predominantly a future focus discussion? Do you think the future focus conversation?
[00:36:55] David Belbin: I would think 50% of those clients, those meetings we'll have, have a future. Element to it. Right.
[00:37:03] Paul Shrimpling: And S and so I'm getting a sense, David, that you've actually got a formula you're running. You just don't want to call it a formula
[00:37:11] David Belbin: where we might we've only, but we don't, we don't, it's not a structured thing.
[00:37:16] It's, it's, it's a discussion piece that we've had a director and manager level that we are trying to tease out. We have not systematized this. Yeah. Um, If I systematize it and say, okay, fill this in every time you have a meeting. Yeah. Is that going to make it formulaic? And there's, I think there's a sort of free songs around that.
[00:37:41] If you'd like, it's just, just, uh, just, um, I think it would be really useful from I, uh, marketing, trying to understand. What's exactly happening in the business. And I have that no more about my business if everybody's filling that in. Yeah. But the question is, am I, how often am I going to actually look at that for the time it might take to.
[00:38:10] To write those of course.
[00:38:12] Paul Shrimpling: And actually whether we look at it or not, it's not that isn't the issue, is it it's, how's it going to help you better help clients better grow your team and better build the firm that's management information should do that. Shouldn't it. And if it's just, we're just capturing it for the sake of capturing it, then there's no merit to it.
[00:38:28] No, yeah. It was
[00:38:29] David Belbin: just a waste. What we use it for and correct. And if, if, if people are. If it's part of their DNA yeah. In, within the practice, then maybe you don't need to measure it because we've done the teaching, but anybody coming in we'd need to make sure that they're doing it. Yeah. Yeah. Most of our talent is grown.
[00:38:48] In fact, yeah. I've only got one of my qualified teams, so one of my directors and one of my qualified members of staff did not start at this one.
[00:38:57] Paul Shrimpling: Right. So you've got that, uh, history. Within the firm, but I'd like to, I'm just going to change tack slightly and then come back to this, um, uh, which is your preferred, um, uh, entertainment, media theater, uh, cinema, television box
[00:39:16] David Belbin: sets.
[00:39:17] It would probably be, yeah. Television. Right. Um, and then, uh, I don't do box sets hugely, although we've watched one recently. Um, cool.
[00:39:28] Paul Shrimpling: So, uh, favorite television program?
[00:39:31] David Belbin: Oh, line of duty,
[00:39:34] Paul Shrimpling: probably. And that's sort of, and your favorite actor in line of duty? I couldn't tell you his name. All right. Okay. But you've got an image of, of, of, of what he's like now.
[00:39:43] Um, has he got good DNA acting skills?
[00:39:49] David Belbin: Yeah. Or as he learned them? Yeah. There you go. Who knows?
[00:39:53] Paul Shrimpling: Oh, is it a blend
[00:39:54] David Belbin: of the two? I would expect it's
[00:39:57] Paul Shrimpling: a bit of both blended the team. Great. And so every episode of line of duty, uh, scripted or not scripted, are they winging it or are they Oh, certainly not. No. All right.
[00:40:09] And so Casey is sort of there's, uh, he's done acting skill or he's learned through experience and he's following a script. Uh, which results in you appreciating the program and the, and his scale as an act. In fact, you don't even notice his acting because you absorbed in the, uh, in the discussion, but he is following a script, otherwise known as a formula.
[00:40:34] David Belbin: Yeah. Uh, the other parallel one could draw is the beautiful game. Um, I heard,
[00:40:41] Paul Shrimpling: uh, her day, the game being what? Sorry, just to check on that. No, no, it's real. I'm sorry.
[00:40:48] David Belbin: Okay. Can we just let's talk about football for the, my, uh, I'm not so nice and we'll support her, but I heard Allison VIN finger, um, uh, having a little chat, uh, a few weeks ago on the radio.
[00:40:59] As I drove home, uh, on one of the few days I was actually in my office and. He said, the reason why I love football, you said you can go to the theater and you can watch the show, the same show. And it's always going to end when it's meant to end. And it's the story is always the same. He said you can put the same 22 people on the pitch and you'll end up with a different result every time, every game.
[00:41:34] Yeah. And it will be unique. Yeah. Those interactions with our clients will be unique and yes, you train people to do the certain things. You trained people, uh, not to be doing long passes across the back of the, across the back fall or whatever. Yeah. Uh, when the, when you're under press or whatever you do, they're drill to do certain things when they haven't got the ball.
[00:41:59] What formation did they get into? Yes, but it's always going to be.
[00:42:06] Paul Shrimpling: Because it's, I guess I love the response by the way. Thank you for a challenge to be on it. Um, it's interactive, uh, uh, fit the plot or play or a TV program or a film isn't interactive. It's um, totally scripted
[00:42:20] David Belbin: and redone and redone.
[00:42:22] Absolutely. And rehearse with this podcast. We're not doing, we're not, this is. This isn't no, it's real
[00:42:28] Paul Shrimpling: life could go anywhere. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:42:33] Um, and however, um, every, including us and every football manager and rugby coach and so on, uh, every game is they've got a plan for the game. They're anticipating what the opposition are going to do there. They're working out what they're going to do, and they have a plant now. Um, was it Mike Tyson? Who said, you know, every, everyone's got a plan till they get punched on the nose and then it all goes, you know, to a degree.
[00:42:57] David Belbin: But yeah, the, the armed forces would say no plan survives first
[00:43:01] Paul Shrimpling: contact with the enemy indeed. And yet they're all following a plan. And just the, you know, I think there's an argument for. A formula, which can respond to the interactivity that's taking place in that client conversation. And by the way, I think you're ultimately, it points to what you talked about earlier, which is the ask one or two or three high quality questions that are relevant to that client.
[00:43:26] And you've got a formula or a script that you're using for that client and yes. Yeah. It the, the key part of that, it's gotta be relevant to that client because if you ask questions that aren't relevant, you, you look like an empty that and, and never going to deliver any value. And so I, I w the, the value I've got out of this call, this conversation, David, is that, that the, the idea of the client scorecard that essentially creates, uh, an agenda that you can, you don't have to start at 0.1 and work your way down.
[00:43:53] You can, you know, you can go up and down wherever you want, but ultimately if that, um, score card. Stimulates great questions to the client that are relevant to that client. You will always deliver great value. And if you can train, like we train the actors like we train and coach the football players and all the players, which I don't know whether you agree or not.
[00:44:14] I don't think there's enough training and guidance and instruction and support and coaching going on in firms around how to conduct brilliant client meetings. Uh, no. And there's no, and, and I think partly because we haven't worked out what the formula is for a brilliant client meeting, and by the way, that formula is a series of questions I
[00:44:34] David Belbin: would argue, well, I think it's a series yeah.
[00:44:36] Questions. And the, the ability of the person who's answering the. The followup question or so understanding what the client responses yeah. And dealing with the followup question, because you know, you can script your questions is how you then take off that outer layer and then start. Peeling the onion buddy digging.
[00:45:03] Paul Shrimpling: Yeah, I agree. I agree that in itself is a skill which could be learned. So you ask the opening question, which demands stimulates say. So you might find that, you know, uh, and I'm gonna use Neil Rackham's model here. I don't know if you're familiar with spin situation, problem, implication, and needs payoff questions.
[00:45:19] So there's a formula for you. Eminently successful. Uh, and I could wax lyrical for the next hour and a half on that. But, um, situation, question. Great. You know, how many people do you employ deputy employed 25? How many of them are, um, client facing or there are seven and of the seven that are client facing.
[00:45:36] How many of them are actually engaging in high value, future focused conversations. All right. And how, how well is that paying off for you in cross selling and referrals? Oh, so you're not getting many referrals. What do you put that down to? And it's that whole sequencing of the questions that matter. And we only kick that off with one question.
[00:45:53] And I think, uh, you know, the more effort and energy invested in that will pay off massive dividends. I think in firms who have having, um, and they're looking to waterfall client relationships away from the top table to manage it so that the managers grow and we create capacity for the firm to grow as well.
[00:46:09] I think it's a fundamental component, which isn't given the emphasis, but yeah. Um, that's just my humble opinion, which often doesn't come across as particularly humble. And so forgive me on that one.
[00:46:19] David Belbin: W the idea of cascading, cause as soon as a manager starts asking those, those types of questions to the, uh, to the client that is when the high value relationship starts, they move from being a compliance gofer to being somebody that.
[00:46:42] Client can have relationship with and really value. Accountancy is about
[00:46:46] Paul Shrimpling: relationship circling back to humanize the numbers. It is about people lists and, um, therefore it's about the conversation which you brought up and therefore it's about the quality of the questions. And therefore let's have a.
[00:46:58] Formula of some description, which has got flexibility costs now, um, you know, no plan survives first contact with the enemy, you know, you know, that, that piece, um, brilliant. Um, I'm curious of everything we've talked about. Cause I've loved the conversation. Thank you. Data of everything. We've talked about, say what, what stood out for you what's been of most value or something you want to most reflect on as far as you taking it back into your firm.
[00:47:22] David Belbin: Uh, I've been sat here thinking, well, we've just spattered about some stuff, uh, stuff we've talked about, but actually do I want people to start, uh, completing some, I've talked about that tension of what are we reporting that we've talked about and making sure we get that scorecard? Um, I'm thinking about, um, Also what services we provide them with the time.
[00:47:52] And you, you, um, you, you, you maybe stop and think actually how often are my team saying? Yeah, well, we've got that wealth management subsidiary. Are we pointing enough people often enough or reminding them enough that they're
[00:48:11] Paul Shrimpling: there? Yeah, yeah, yeah. David, this has been brilliant. It's just been an, not some bolts conversation about what really matters in that, uh, humanizing the numbers piece that accountants are responsible for.
[00:48:22] I really enjoyed it. Thank you very, very, very much. So based on the conversation I've just had with David, you might be interested, David, and I'll share this with you direct, but anyone listening to this might want to just tap into the bite-sized business breakthrough on the spin questions, model formula from Neil Rackham's.
[00:48:40] So we'll make that, um, we'll put that in the show notes for this podcast and you can get access to that. That shows you the what and the how of asking really, really savvy questions of your clients.
[00:48:56] You're fine. Valuable discussions with the leaders of ambitious accounting firms at humanized, the numbers.online. You can also sign up to be notified each time a new podcast is made available. This podcast series humanize the numbers has been made possible. Thanks to the support of our sponsors. My work papers, advanced track and VFD pro.
[00:49:22] Visit humanized the numbers.online, click the logo of each sponsor. And you'll hear what our podcast interviewees have to say about the sponsor services. .
Non numerical stories
Client score cards
Formula, or no structure?
Future focussed conversations
TV drama vs. Football
A responsive formula
Click the play button below and use the slider on the audio below to get quickly to the chapters in the podcast.