IAB caught up with Martin Bissett, who is speaking at the Digital Accountancy Forum on 17th June, on compliance vs. advisory approaches, the scarcity narrative and what exactly is the problem with post pandemic pricing? Melissa Porter finds out.

Martin Bissett wants accountants everywhere to know two things. Firstly, they are performing life-changing work. Second, they need to charge for it accordingly. The word that comes to mind is, ironically, accountability.

Bissett’s track-record means his comments are worth taking seriously. Featured in Accounting Today’s Top 100 Most Influential People, Martin Bissett has been supporting the accounting profession since 1998, and he’s the founder of The Bissett Group and a handful of subsidiaries designed to help promote high levels of financial literacy in SMEs profession and create sustainable businesses.

But he observes self esteem issues in accountancy which leads to what he refers to as a scarcity mentality, and quite frankly, he’s not having any of it.

“What we’ve done in the pandemic is give services away for free or dropped prices, with accountants figuring they’ll recover profitability later. And here’s the thing: they won’t. Clients are going to be anchored to the price they were given throughout Covid-19, if indeed they were being charged at all. And now you’ve got a profession that talks advisory, advisory, advisory and a marketplace that thinks it comes for free.”

Bissett seeks to empower others to change this mentality. He’s seen firsthand the effects of a lack of financial awareness. “My Dad was a successful business owner and he got out of his depth as the business grew because he wasn’t financially literate,” he recalls. “It was a time we saw so many spiral out of control, especially in the 1980s and early 90s under Margaret Thatcher and then John Major, when interest rates were at 14 percent killing people who borrowed money.”

The effects on his own family were devastating. “In my dad’s case he just lost control and his spending and his budgets weren’t in place,” he says. He didn’t have anything around to teach him financially. We didn’t do business courses. We didn’t do it in the curriculum and accountants at that time were not proactive. And we can trace my father’s demise down to a lack of proactive intervention”.

When Bissett started his own business in 2012 history was on course to repeat itself. “In fact it was my accountant who saved me. He taught me absolute 101 on financial literacy, financial management – financial peace I guess. And I saw the positive impact it had on my business and my own life.”

And that is essentially why the role of accountancy is hard-wired in him. “We can trace my own business thriving back to my accountant’s proactive intervention.

“I see the most noble iteration of the accounting profession is to make proactive interventions in the lives of business owners: to see their professional and personal aspirations come true because accountants have that power.”

Accountants, Bissett says, are in a key position to help small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs). “Business owners don’t talk to their lawyer, they’re on the clock. They don’t talk to bank managers- there are no bank managers anymore and that’s the last person you want to have a true picture of your financial position. Their spouse may not understand and there can be politics with fellow directors. So whom do you talk to? Probably an accountant because they are financially literate.”

His goal is to empower clients to change their own mentality- what he refers to as a scarcity narrative in the accountancy profession that’s fuelled by low self esteem and poor guidance from the professional bodies on pricing. “Accountants are taught to believe in the scarcity mentality. It finds its way throughout the culture of the practice, has done the entire time I’ve been involved in the profession.”

Bissett believes this narrative is as self-defeating as it is flawed. “You can apply it to pricing, proactivity, profitability, you can apply it to anything the accountant is wishing to do and doesn’t do. There are many mechanisms in an accountancy firm to stop things from happening but nothing stops it like someone not believing they’re worth their money.”

But is his approach for everyone?

“82% will reject it. But you play for the 18%. You live for the 18%.” And those onside with Martin Bissett tend to win. He’s worked with over 1800 firms to date, helping them to earn them over £500 million in revenue.

“After 23 years, I hope I can see patterns now, if I can’t, I really need to pack it up and go home. Especially with young practitioners, I can help show them what the future looks like on their current trajectory based on evidential finding. I can say, here’s the fair test or ‘control’ ”, said Bissett.

In his session, he’ll show the behavioural structure that needs to be in place to have any chance of recusing that position, including what successful firms did and why it works. “There are only 3 prices that a firm will ever need for their strategy or matrix. And then a minimum 40% net profitability becomes a reality and you begin to have a different client base of people who really value the work you do. All of this comes from three prices that will serve them throughout their entire career.”

Behavioural change on behalf of an accountant isn’t easy. But Bissett argues that it’s the difference between being in a ‘place of peace or a place of torment’. Though not an accountant himself, he calls the work of accountants ‘life changing and life saving’ and refuses to accept it as standard.

“You and I,” he tells his clients, “are in the business of creating safe and stable homes”. With half a billion in revenue earned for those he serves, this is more of a legacy than a catchphrase, and the trend is good.

Martin Bissett will be presenting ‘The Problem with Post-pandemic Pricing’ at the Digital Accountancy Forum on 17th June. Limited places are available, but you can still register here.

Martin Bissett is the founder of the Bissett Group, which includes a financial consultancy that helps SMEs become financially literate and creates more sustainable business growth, and The Upward Spiral Partnership Ltd., is a UK-based consulting firm that specialises in professional selling and leadership skills for accounting professionals, and co-founder of AddviserPlus, a training and consulting hub for accountants and bookkeepers. He’s helped to grow a new client base for 6 of the UK’s top firms, is the author of 11 books in his industry, and has consulted with firms on 6 continents.