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ACL18 Speaker Sessions: Will Farnell

I'm Will Farnell, I'm Founder of Farnell Clarke. I set Farnell Clarke up in 2007 and we were probably the first 100% digital accountancy firm in the UK. We became a 100% cloud practice back in 2009.

How did you get into Accounting?
I fell into Accountancy in the way most people do, kind of almost by accident. I left college and set up a record shop and did lots of fun stuff before deciding I needed to get a proper job, so I became an accountant to become a consultant and set up Farnell Clarke in 2007. Because I didn't go through a structured accountancy training process, it I kind of felt that there was a better way to run accountancy firms, so Farnell Clark was set up and built around a client-centric model without having all those preconceptions about the way an accountancy firm should be run.

What's the biggest mistake you see Accountants make?
I now spend a lot of my time working with Accountancy firms around the country helping them really tackle this whole MTD thing, Making Tax Digital that affects VAT registered businesses from April next year. I think the big challenge that firms have is that the focus is on MTD and actually there's a bigger picture that they need to be focusing on. Just fixing MTD means putting software in that will let people file a VAT return but actually client expectations are shifting and there's lots more that firms have to do.

How can they fix this problem?
In terms of how they fix that problem I think that it's about understanding the interdependencies of the different parts of what I believe a digital firm is, in terms of making sure that firms understand the importance of client experience; they think about their strategy, they think about their culture and the marketing and the way they position their business.

What is your talk about at Accounting Live?
I'm really looking forward to Accounting Live and talking about the 10 Elements of the Digital Firm which is really about just helping firms understand that the digital firm is more than just about software and technology.

What new skills/knowledge can people expect to walk away from your talk with?
 I think what attendees are going to walk away from after my presentation at Accounting Live is really some clarity around what they actually need to do in their firm to make them relevant for the 21st century.

How do you see Accountancy firms evolving in the next few years?
The next few years are going to be really challenging for accounting firms. If we just look at what's happened in the last 10 years, certainly in the time that we've been working as a cloud-based firm, the shift in technology has been massive but that kind of pales into insignificance for what's going to happen over the next two to three years. Firms really need to be focused on delivering real time financial data for their clients and being really conscious of what their clients really want from them as advisors.

Do you think that accountants in practice are embracing their full potential in this modern digital world?
I think accounting firms have got a really long way to go to embrace the whole idea of the digital firm. I have a view of what a digital firm is and if we actually look at the market in the UK, less than 1% of accountancy firms are in that digital firm space, and what's even more interesting is if we look at cloud accounting generally we're probably still only at 20% of the market really getting it and doing something about it. So for all of those firms that think it's too late it's actually not. If you're doing stuff now you're in the top quartile of firms in the UK.

Why should finance professionals attend Accounting Live?
I think conferences like Accounting Live are great for firms to attend. You get a huge amount of value. You get to talk to the tech businesses in the profession, you also get to talk to your peers and there's a huge amount that firms can learn from peers. We're in a space now where we're accountants are generally far more collaborative than they used to be 10 15 years ago so it's really great to get in a room and share your challenges with your peers.