Last week I booked a room at a four-star Kensington hotel at half price through the Internet. I now buy books over the Internet as well. Simple services and goods are easy to deal with. This is what is on offer, with your money back if not completely satisfied.But how do the accountancy practices promote and sell their complex professional services on the Internet? One approach, offered by a practice never known for its humility, was the 'We are wonderful' statement favoured in brochures. But as an Internet user I want fast access to information, not the supplier's self-congratulation. Another approach was the 'We are very knowledgeable - read our surveys and expert reports. Here they are, download whatever you want.' This was very seductive. It demonstrated real understanding of business issues and gave information free to clients and non-clients alike. A mid-tier firm offered relevant news, business commentary, technical bulletins and businesses for sale in an easily accessed, no fuss, no fanfares way. Some of the most interesting sites engaged me in questionnaires about my business and sucked me into the need for services. Most sites were shop windows, not trading centres. Will this change? Increasingly surfers expect free information. Will clients and others be prepared to pay for basic information from accountants? I think not. Might accountants too be forced to offer all their knowledge for free and to become conduits for advertisers? 'Can't remember tax rates? Improve your memory in only one week.' In this age of self-help, accountancy firms could find a market for software products that offer business solutions, rather than treating every client's problem in a bespoke way. If accountants don't create these products, others will. Accountants used to charge clients to add up numbers until machines took over. How soon before software takes over the skill of giving advice? And where better to sell it than on the Internet. The world is moving on from buying wise words by the hour.
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