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The inaugural NAB Professional Services Awards winners were announced on December 12. The awards celebrate the small and mid-sized professional service firms that consistently add value to Australian businesses.
NAB’s decision to sponsor the awards stems from an awareness of the role good professional advice plays in the growth of small- to medium-sized businesses.
Brett Moore, NAB General Manager of Professional Services, Specialised Banking, says the right advice can help a business grow and avoid mistakes. “What stops many small to medium enterprises (SMEs) accessing the professional services they need is not knowing how to find the right provider,” he says.
At the same time, Moore and business research company FirmChecker noticed that many smaller professional services providers were negotiating the digital transformation of their industries without the advantage of the in-depth customer feedback used by corporate players.
“We decided to help both SMEs and smaller professional service providers by sponsoring an award,” Moore says. “The aim is to help SMEs differentiate between provider offerings and, at the same time, help those providers understand and better service their target customers’ needs.”
He adds that NAB is hoping to turn these awards into an annual event: “We want the awards to become the benchmark for the professional services sector.”
The NAB Professional Services Awards are open to all businesses, not just NAB customers, and importantly are based on customer feedback. FirmChecker is the awards owner and independent researcher.
Ben Farrow, FirmChecker Executive Director, explains how the awards are designed to capture a broad range of service areas. “We were careful to identify and segment,” he says. “So, for example, private-client law firms and business firms specialising in intellectual property weren’t lumped together.”
The data did, however, reveal some similarities. “The strongest attribute customers valued was value-for-money,” Farrow says. “Not low fees but, especially in B2B services, customers want the professional service to add value. They expect to come out of the transaction with a business that’s better off.”
To identify the winners in the awards, FirmChecker used the weighted average of several qualitative metrics including issues such as providing ‘value’, the customer’s willingness to recommend a provider, rating the last experience the SME had with the provider, and the number of clients willing to complete the survey.
Farrow notes that the field was highly competitive. “Most were very good performers, with consistency of client service a big deciding factor,” he says, adding: “Poor reviews don’t reflect a lack of expertise but poor management of the customer’s expectations.”
Whether traditional or disruptive business structures, the winners all shared an easy-to-understand and genuine way of communicating and helping clients.
Best Law Firm, Business Clients, Australia, was won by Melbourne start-up Legalite. This small suburban team, who offer fixed-price solutions including the option of online consultations, consistently received rave reviews about their communication. One said they, “explain in detail that is easily understood and [don’t] talk in lawyer terms. If they don’t know something or it’s out of their expertise, they’ll either recommend or investigate the best advice.”
AC Accounting and Business Solutions took out the awards for Best Accounting Firm, Private Clients, Australia, as well as Best Accounting Firm, Business and Private Clients, Victoria. Co-founder and Director Andrew Brewer says the key to their success is quality client service. “We don’t worry about six minutes or a few dollars here or there. We’ve changed the model of the traditional accounting firm.”
Best Bookkeeping Firm, Australia, was won by Healthy Business Finances. Founder Stacey Price says: “Yes, we’re accountants and yes, we’re dealing with numbers that sometimes make people ill just by looking at them. But we try to simplify the technical stuff and speak plain English to our clients. We try and make it fun.” Her clients appreciate the empowerment she gives them, with one commenting: “I have been so totally impressed with Stacey. She understands my needs, is dedicated, highly motivated and has a great way of creating simple video tutorials for me.”
Both FirmChecker and NAB are excited to be offering entrant firms deep insight into their business. Every professional service firm that enters the awards receives a detailed breakdown of their client responses and how they performed against their sector’s benchmarks. Farrow says it provides a type of SWOT service around practice areas and client service delivery, “at a very low price point.”
Moore is in the process of establishing NAB’s specialised Professional Services business banking arm.
“Just like our specialised services for agribusiness and the health sector, NAB wants to provide specialist banking that reflects the unique demands and needs of the wider professional services community,” he says. Accounting, legal, conveyancing and financial planning services will all be included.
Both Farrow and Moore are convinced the 2018 Professional Services Awards will be bigger and better than 2017’s. “There’s definitely an appetite for it,” they say, with Moore adding that, for NAB, “it’s about backing SMEs by enabling them to make better informed decisions using independent and valid insights.”
Award-winner Andrew Brewer agrees, saying that being client-judged is a huge plus. “We thought, ‘there’s no judging panel or individual discretion’ – it’s completely up to the clients and for our work to speak for itself.”
Full list of winners:
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