The vital role of human connection for accountants and advisors in a digital-first world

Gavin Fell, our VP of Partnerships weighed in on the use of AI in the accountancy world, and why he thinks personal relationships are here to stay. 

Versions of artificial intelligence (AI) may have been around from the first computers of the 1940s, but when the advanced chatbot ‘Chat GPT’ went viral in late 2022, the pace of AI development rapidly increased. Since then, the internet has been filled with predictions about how AI will change the workforce for good. Opinions are divided about whether this is positive, necessary progress or whether it marks the beginning of the end for roles in certain industries.

For those working in the accounting industry, there’s an argument that AI, when used well, can decrease the burden of repetitive tasks such as data entry and auditing, allowing you to focus on the advisory side of your roles. Yet still, the fear remains that over-reliance on AI and cloud-based accounting technology will lead to a reduced demand for accountants and advisors.

I don’t claim to be an expert on AI and its impact on the workforce, but what I’m certain of is how important genuine human connections are in this industry, and that this is something no technology can compensate for. While I agree that firms should look for ways to embrace automation to streamline their practice and increase efficiencies, this shouldn’t be done at the expense of the human connections that this industry is built on. In this increasingly digital-first world, the way to future-proof your practice is to prioritise people first, process second.

Over my 20 years of working with hundreds of different accountancy practices, I have built up a fantastic network of business connections who have been crucial to my success as VP of Partnerships at OakNorth. These connections didn’t come about overnight, and they haven’t maintained themselves through digital contact or automated processes, though given the busy lives we all lead, these have of course often helped. They’ve grown because I’ve invested in the relationships with face-to-face meetings, active collaboration and by paying close attention to the details that matter. Accountants and advisors have always been valued for the same type of personalised approach, serving as trusted advisors to clients during crucial moments like launching or expanding a business or undergoing a management buyout (MBO).

So, what makes the personal touch so important?

In this industry trust and loyalty are crucial, and personal interactions foster these like nothing else. Clients are more likely to confide in you when they feel a strong connection, enabling you to offer tailored solutions that align with their goals and aspirations. While in the short-term it might seem quicker and just as effective to fire off an email, nuance can often be lost in written communication. This can lead to misunderstandings, and ultimately cost you time in the long term. In-person communication allows for a deeper understanding of a client’s goals and concerns, enabling you to address their needs more effectively.

It’s also important to keep in mind that being a trusted advisor isn’t just about servicing your clients’ financial needs, it’s about empathising with them. They need to know not just that you can do a great job for them, but that you actively care about the outcome. This is especially crucial when they’re navigating making tough financial decisions or are facing challenging circumstances. Your clients should know that you’re there to support them.

A technique I frequently talk to our accountant and advisor partners about is active listening. So often people will go into client meetings with a set agenda, a tick-box of what they need to cover and an outcome already in their minds. When you instead go into that meeting with a flexible mindset, ask open-ended questions, and actively listen to what your client is saying rather than thinking about what you need to ask next, it can lead to those ‘aha’ moments which can be pivotal in shaping their financial strategies. By doing this, you elevate your role from trusted advisor to genuine partner, someone who is shaping the success of their business.

Increasing face time with your clients might seem like just another task to add to your already-full to-do list, but it is all about balance. Embracing technology in a way that reduces the burden of manual, repetitive tasks will free you up to focus on the advisory element. And in this way, you can use digital tools to complement, rather than replace, personal interactions.

Taking the time to invest in the relationships you have with your clients is an investment in the future of your practice. When viewed in this way, quality client engagement becomes not an ‘extra task’, but a vital part of your role that should have resources allocated against it.

At OakNorth, we take a highly personalised approach to lending, which is what makes us such a valuable partner to accountants and advisors who are looking for the right business loans for their clients. If conversations with your clients lead to a funding need, remember that we’re here to support them with tailored financing from £250,000 up to tens of millions.

By Gavin Fell, VP of Partnerships 

You may also be interested in

Streamline business payments with OakNorth business banking: FPS, CHAPS, and Bacs

Read more

Growth lessons from three iconic UK businesses

Read more

A developer’s guide to Biodiversity Net Gain: Insights from our recent webinar

Read more