Professionalism. That’s what small and medium-sized business owners value the most from their accountant in 2019, according to our recent research report which asked what do SMEs want from their accountant?

Competency, expertise, self-regulation, integrity, honesty. These are all attributes people like to see in professionals like doctors, dentists, teachers, and lawyers.

Not only do we expect them to hold formal qualifications but we expect them to act with a high degree of professionalism, too. The same can be said for accountants.

More than anything else, being a professional comes down to how you, as an individual, conduct yourself and your business.

One way to show potential clients that you are a credible accountant with ethical standards is by joining a professional body.

The value to your clients

Being a member of a recognised professional body, such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) or the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), was an important factor to 78% of the SME owners we spoke to. Exactly half believed this was ‘very important’.

This reinforces responses from small business owners we interviewed as part of a smaller-scale project that took place in April 2018. “Chartered status matters, there are cowboys out there,” one respondent told us.

Tim Heyland, owner of Devon-based surfing brand Tiki International, agreed and said that working with firms with professional accreditation gives him peace of mind when it comes to who handles his accounts.

“In today’s digital landscape, we are overwhelmed with information from businesses trying to sell us their products and services,” said Heyland.

“I view firms and individuals that are members of professional institutions as having a hallmark of trust. It’s reassuring to know that they are complying with a set of industry standards.”

According to networking organisation MemberWise, three of the biggest professional bodies in the UK are related to the accountancy profession – the ACCA, the ICAEW, and the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT).

The main reason for this is that you cannot become a chartered accountant in the UK with a university degree alone, you need on-the-job training regulated by a recognised professional body.

What you can gain

There are, however, a number of reasons for continuing to be part of an institution after you’ve gained your chartered accountant status.

Memberships often give you access to industry news, thought leadership, learning resources, events, rewards, recruitment opportunities and a network of like-minded peers.

Speaking exclusively to PracticeWeb, Glenn Collins, head of technical advisory at the ACCA, said: “71% of SMEs surveyed recognised the values of training, qualifications, experience and great business advice and support delivered by professionally-qualified accountants.

“With the ACCA, businesses large and small know that our accountants help them make the most efficient use of their money and help them grow.

“They can rest assured that our accountants are bound by a code of ethics, so businesses have confidence in their ACCA accountant’s professionalism.

“Our accountants are also required to complete continuing professional development each year, which means the support and advice that impacts their clients is up-to-date and that our accountants hold professional indemnity insurance, meaning businesses are protected.”

Being a member of the ACCA indicates that a member is skilled as an accounting professional and, as our survey shows, is highly-valued by employers and businesses.

Download the full research report

A sign of trust and quality

There are also wider societal benefits of being associated with a professional body. A 2015 study by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) found that professional bodies are good for social mobility and productivity.

They increase the capability of the workforce by promoting best practice and sharing the latest industry advancements, while social mobility is improved through the provision of routes to entry for all at any point in their career. They also play a key role in promoting trust in British society.

The survey polled more than 2,000 members of the public and over 150 MPs, with the majority saying they would trust a professional more if they were a member of a professional body, while 61% agree that professional bodies can help guide government on relevant policies.

Adam Williamson, head of professional standards at the AAT, said: “In terms of attracting customers, being part of a professional body is a mark of quality and assurance.

“Regulated accountants are underpinned by ethical standards and codes, so clients can be assured they are getting the highest quality.

“In addition, it is a strong marketing tool to attract clients, given that being an AAT member is a seal of approval from a professional body.

“All the research, including the study that PracticeWeb has recently conducted, shows that most clients – SMEs in particular – prefer to find quality from their accountants.”

With this in mind, is it time you joined or rejoined a professional body?

Or, if you’re already a member of a professional body, why not promote your credentials on your website, in email signatures, or letters, for example.

They may be the decisive factor in converting a potential lead into a new client with potentially lifetime value.

Find out what else SMEs said they wanted from their accountant by downloading the full report we produced.

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