As accountants apply for a licence to grant probate, law firms must catch up if they want to compete.
While the Law Society has condemned the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW’s) application to become the approved licensing body for the grant of probate as ‘flawed’, we can expect the institute to press on until it has accomplished its objective.
The Legal Services Board is set to decide whether to approve the ICAEW’s application by 14 December this year. And the ICAEW website states that ‘we hope to begin authorising and licensing firms early in 2014’.
Setting aside discussion of any professional’s technical ability, and writing as someone who has worked with accountants and solicitors, there are a number of reasons why lawyers will need to step up their marketing, particularly among their wealthier clients.
First, accountants will already be intimately familiar with the financial affairs of their wealthier individuals. Their annual exposure to tax returns and their role in any tax and succession planning will provide plenty of opportunity to discuss inheritance and probate arrangements.
The accountant is likely to have a broader understanding of a client’s business, property and personal finances – whereas these issues may well be dealt with separately within a law firm’s departmental structure.
In many cases, the accountant may have a closer relationship with the client, meeting them at least once per year to discuss their accounts.
Accountants will not bother to re-invent the wheel and insist on creating their own marketing collateral from scratch. They have been buying in their marketing material for many years so that they can focus on face-to-face business development activities. They will not hesitate over the cost of a newsletter to ensure their clients call them first.
Those accountants with their own financial advisory service will be in an even better position to capture clients, and may also sell insurance to cover probate costs.
Given their advantageous and established position, accountants will not intend to (or need to) compete on price.
Accountants embraced a systematic approach to cross-selling many years ago. Interrogating their CRM system to identify those clients with a higher net worth will generally be possible at the click of a button. At the annual client meeting, the accountant will have no hesitation in asking what arrangements have been made and whether they can help - there will be no need for a hard sell or a call centre.
While my accountant asks me if I have a will every year, not one of the many lawyers that I work with over the years has ever asked me whether my legal affairs are in order!
Sue Bramall is managing director of Berners Marketing and advises law firms in the UK and overseas