28 Jan 2015 04:03pm

Accountants need to up their game

Accountants are likely to miss out on a “fantastic” opportunity to become preferred adviser to small businesses over the coming year if they don’t up their game on auto enrolment

A major survey from the National Employment Savings Trust, the trust-based pension scheme set up by the government as part of the automatic enrolment reforms, shows that accountants are more popular as a choice of intermediary than payroll professionals or IFAs – 59% of employers overall and 70% of those employing one to four workers said they were likely to ask an accountant for help and guidance.

Yet they are the least prepared. The survey found that  90% of IFAs and 92% of payroll bureaus claimed to know a lot or a fair amount compared to 67% of accountants.

Accountants were the least aware (40%) that employers will need to complete a declaration of compliance with the appropriate government body (v 87% of IFAs). They were also the least likely to know their clients’ staging dates (23%).

“So a picture is emerging where we see that accountants are a key delivery partner in auto enrolment but they are the least engaged of the intermediary groups,” the survey says.

It’s not as if the accountants haven’t had enough warning: the same survey last year found that, as far as building an auto enrolment proposition (a key indicator of readiness) was concerned, accountants (22%) were far behind payroll bureaus (56%) and IFAs (46%).

This year the number of accountants had crept up but 31% either hadn’t started developing plans or had no intention of offering any service.

Of those that are interested in supporting clients on auto enrolment, only 40% had helped employers so far.

Interestingly, most accountants (57%) see offering auto enrolment services as a way of retaining existing business while most payroll bureaus see it as a significant opportunity to acquire new clients.

“Until now, auto enrolment has just not added up for accountants,” said NEST chief executive Tim Jones. “The duties have so far have only fallen on large employers that typically may not have turned to accountants for pensions advice.

“2015 is the year that all changes. Thousands of small and micro employers will enrol their workers in a pension scheme and our research shows that many will look to accountants for help. Our experience with employers so far tells us that the role of intermediaries is critical.

“This is shaping up to be a very busy few years for the sector. Anyone who has done the sums will know that this is a fantastic business opportunity that accountants will not want to miss.”

This year the new rules will apply to around 45,000 small and micro employers and to more than 1m in 2016 and 2017.

Julia Irvine


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