While many of us may typically associate accounting with city firms in The Big Four, at the other end of the spectrum there is a much more specialist niche of firms: rural accountants.
Far from the city, these accountants often travel far and wide to visit clients and perform a very different kind of audit. Imagine arriving at a client’s premises to undertake an audit with wellies in the back of your car. Why? Because today you’re at a farm or zoo to complete a stocktake of animals, from cows to meerkats.
This is just normal practice for rural accountants, with agriculture being the main industry providing income to their business.
Developing key client relationships
While no day is the same in such an interactive environment, by visiting many different client sites, accountants can build very close relationships with their clients, in a way that city-based accountants may find more difficult.
For example, rather than simply providing a service, rural accountants are often seen as trusted advisors to farmers who may need help with succession or estate planning. With farms traditionally being family-owned, it can be increasingly difficult to carry this on to future generations, so a clear plan for succession needs to be in place for retiring owners. In a tight knit rural community, keeping the local agriculture industry in good shape is very important to support local businesses as well as the accountants themselves.
Working on their own business succession is also a key challenge for rural accounting firms, as young talent will often migrate towards the city-based firms and selling out to larger firms will only be an option if there is a specific need for a rural office base.
Overcoming challenging environments
While the obstacles that the physical environment present are clear, there are many other factors that leave a rural accountancy firm exposed to risk. Common in smaller communities, rural accountants are very much tied to the growth of the local economy, whereas larger city firms can weather the ups and downs of the national economy.
Disease is another very real concern that can cause a huge economic shock to a local community. Accountants may have to consider disaster recovery if a widespread outbreak occurs, as farms can be closed and livestock destroyed.
Mitigating risk with efficiency
With a ‘hands on’ role, travelling from client to client in areas where fibre optic internet capability is non-existent and broadband coverage is restricted can have a significant impact on how effectively rural accountants work.
While the accounts can be completed, it will often take more valuable time that could be spent looking for new business. Investing in smart-sync technology can help accountants remain competitive by providing offline access to complete work. Such a tool enables audit teams to work on and review local copies of a client file whether they’re online, offline, at a client site or travelling. Progress on accounts can be automatically uploaded to a cloud-based platform back at the office, where an internet connection may be more stable, and ensures that accountants can work anywhere.
All in all, accounting is a diverse profession but regardless of whether your client is a retail tycoon or a local farm or grocery, the right technology is key to ensuring you have happy staff and clients.