Supporting the offering of value-added services to SMEs by professional accountants is of the utmost importance to the profession. Deregulation and rising audit thresholds around the world continue to eat away at the demand for traditional compliance work on which many accountancy practices once relied for their income.
Research commissioned by ACCA suggests that the key to marketing value-added services is being able to link competence and professionalism with personal rapport and trust. Some accountants do well out the combination but substantial barriers remain; as a rule, it is difficult to engage smaller businesses in the supply of value-added services and many take no external advice at all.
Despite the insights it has generated, most of the relevant research is qualitative in and its findings are hard to generalise. Researchers have therefore called for validation of their findings through large, and ideally, international, studies making use of quantitative techniques.
This report is a first attempt to provide such validation. It builds on a 2010 survey of 1,777 businesses, each with fewer than 250 employees, in six countries, which was jointly commissioned by ACCA, CGA-Canada and CNDCEC, the Italian professional body for accountants, and carried out by Forbes Insights.
Its approach builds on a conceptual framework which defines trust and confidence based on a thorough review of the academic literature. We apply factor analysis to SMEs’ choice of advisers, combined with a series of tests derived from the literature, in order to obtain and validate measures of SMEs’ need for trust and confidence, and then use their correlation with SMEs’ use of individual advisers in particular areas to derive measures of the trust and confidence that different sources of advice enjoy among businesses. The result is a profile of the relative strengths and weaknesses of different advisers, as well as a plot of the preferences of the SME population in each country – a complete map of the deeper drivers of demand for business advice.