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According to 85% of accountants and bookkeepers surveyed in a new report, unrecovered off-field work is costing UK businesses an average of £69,957 a year, while a further 33% say their mental health suffers.

New findings from the 2022 State of Client Engagement report from Ignition, the world’s leading customer engagement and commerce platform, shed light on the financial and human cost to accounting and bookkeeping firms when they avoid or delay awkward conversations with customers.

Conducted by YouGov, the study surveyed 470 key decision makers at accounting and bookkeeping firms with 1-50 employees in the UK.

The survey results suggest that ‘awkward’ customer situations are quite common, with 90% of UK accountants and bookkeepers reportedly having experienced an awkward customer situation.

The most awkward conversations were cited as having to chase clients for late payments (62%), telling clients that the work they requested is out of agreed scope (58%) and finding errors in client proposals or engagement letters that were sent manually (45%).

In the UK, 74% of accountants and bookkeepers said they had delayed or avoided having an awkward conversation with a customer, including 54% who said they were trying to improve or maintain the customer relationship.

More surprisingly, he found that a third (33%) of accountants and bookkeepers went so far as to write off all or part of an invoice to avoid having an awkward conversation with a customer. When managing increases in client scope of work, the same percentage admit that they are absorbing the increased time and cost themselves.

On average, accountants and bookkeepers in the UK estimate that off-screen work that has not been fully invoiced costs their business £5,830 per month.

In addition, 85% experience late payments, while 28% of customer invoices are paid after the due date. The average customer invoice would be 32 days late.

Emma Crawford-Falekaono, Managing Director EMEA at Ignition, said: “If you work in professional services, chances are you’ve encountered an embarrassing customer situation. Accountants and bookkeepers put off these awkward conversations because they worry about how their clients will react or their business will lose.