Creative accountant? Yes, please...

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In Miami and London last month we ran workshops for some of the US and UK’s major accountancy players. When mapping out the competitor landscape, an exercise that typically features the ‘usual suspects’, we quickly found focus on the analysis of creative and advertising agency brands. The ‘professions’ are keen to shake off their traditional ‘suited and booted’ persona, see an end to ‘pale, male and stale’ stereotype, and try some more creative attire for size. But care should be taken to put substance before style.

‘Nobody wants a creative accountant’ so the saying goes. Well, now we do…  In the face of automation and A.I. the professions are set on an accelerating journey of transformation. From bread and butter compliance to more diverse and consultative business support services. Business models are changing. New service lines added. New skill sets required. ‘We’re not accountants anymore’ one workshop participant stated conclusively. The Big 4 (and others) have already diversified their models to incorporate or set up parallel businesses in legal, HR, security, technology, data & analytics, marketing and creative services.

“The Canadian science-fiction writer William Gibson could well have been speaking of technology in the professions when he said: ‘the future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Richard Susskind, The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts

In this ‘post-professional society', messaging centred on ‘deep and personal relationships’ and ‘partner-led service’ though still relevant are just not enough. A survey conducted by BDLN network confirmed that while professionals assume that trust and personal relationships rank uppermost in clients’ minds, clients themselves put commercial insight and sector expertise at the top.

So, how should firms position themselves for the future? And how do they bring their existing client base along with them? How do they access the clients of the future and deliver services fit for their needs? This takes creativity. Building firms with resilience, with increased agility, deeper contextual awareness, more data, more specialist insight, elevating the contribution of the ‘human experts’ over soon-to-be automated tasks. Firms with a stronger sense of purpose, more distinctive and active values and a more diverse workforce that experience the freedom to bring their ideas to the table and act on them will prevail. And only with this substance in place, can a brand communicate all this in a way that talks directly to your audiences, with all the character that lives within your business, through all the channels that matter to the people you want to work with.

A shining star in professional services for me is Mishcon de Reya; a London legal firm with a brand that feels distinctly human. Thanks to the appointment of leading advertising agency executive Elliot Moss in a business development director role in 2009, the firm has built a brand that elegantly disrupts its sector. Elliot indicated that doing so takes time and ‘calculated bravery - a real appetite and internal advocacy was needed for bold strategies.’ Elliot talks of ‘doing less but going big’, citing a focus on specific initiatives that delivered a three times return on investment.

As Mishcon de Reya illustrate, creativity and disruption are not always about bright colours, quirky imagery and head-turning headlines. It’s about understanding; who you are and who your marketplace needs you to be, then thinking boldly and innovatively about how you can work with that understanding to achieve new things. So shake off the traditional perceptions, expectations and garb. Be brave, be bold, be calculated and be creative. Embrace the post-professional world and flourish.

Fiona Burnett