ACCA practices can diversify by offering additional services such as forensic accounting, probate work and research & development claims.
Here, ACCA members share their personal insights into providing these services.
Shaun Walbridge of Matrix Forensic
As forensic accountants, the majority of our work involves dispute resolution, typically for cases that may end in the courts. We work in the main with solicitors to provide expert witness reports for civil or criminal cases. Civil cases include professional negligence, company valuations, ancillary relief or other financial matters, all of which bring into play the experiences gained from general practice.
We also undertake criminal cases (both prosecution and defence) which are challenging but enjoyable. On occasion, it may be necessary to give evidence in court before a jury.
The role of the expert witness is guided by the procedure rules – civil, criminal and family. You are expected to be independent and to act impartially; your overriding duty is to the court and not to the person paying.
One area that is misunderstood relates to the qualifications to be a forensic accountant - the court requires expert witnesses to be suitably qualified and to have appropriate experience of acting as an expert witness. Training to be an expert witness is through The Academy of Experts (in partnership with ACCA) who are an accrediting body for expert witnesses.
Having been in general practice for years, gaining a wealth of experience assisting clients, executors and solicitors in complex situations relating to probate, I jumped at the chance when the Legal Services Board gave regulatory approval to ACCA to authorise its members to provide non-contentious probate services.
Accountants are ideally placed to provide this service, dealing with figures, liaising with HMRC, shouldering the administrative burden, completing countless forms, providing valuations, calculating tax liabilities, working to deadlines, preparing accounts and looking for ways to reduce the overall inheritance tax liability.
You need to constantly ask questions, be a detective, think outside the box, be methodical and keep good records. Inevitably an answer to one question leads to more questions, and there can be long delays in getting answers from third parties. It is a very different area of work but incredibly rewarding. Accountants are always there to help make life easier for clients, but this work has the added responsibility of providing a caring, professional, efficient service at the sensitive time of the loss of a loved one.
Alex Black, Head of R&D at Ad Valorem
Each day as an R&D specialist varies greatly as the eligibility for the R&D scheme is wide reaching and therefore the client base is diverse. However, at their core they are all innovative and have a common approach in challenging the ‘norm’.
HMRC has criteria for what qualifies as R&D – a company must be seeking a technological or scientific advancement and overcome uncertainties. There is the pure R&D where a new product is created, then there is the R&D that takes a product or process and advances it over the base line. A good example is the iPhone – mobile phones and MP3 devices already existed but Apple integrated them into a smartphone in a significant advance. Engineering firms often find better ways to do things, and IT companies often integrate several pieces of software to allow functionality that was not previously possible.
Unsurprisingly, software is the most common R&D claim area, followed by engineering. But right now, there are quite a few eco-friendly R&D claims – most industries are seeing a drive for all processes, logistics and packaging to be eco-friendly or 100% recyclable.
R&D claim work involves understanding what the client has done to determine whether there is a case for a claim. Projects that succeed after a number of failures are more indicative of R&D so clients need to be encouraged to think about the failures they have had, how the end result is better than the baseline, and the hurdles they have had to overcome. Alex uses this information to produce a technical report to show HMRC that eligibility criteria have been met, and then provides a detailed calculation for the costs being claimed.
Some ACCA practices may be wary of doing R&D claim work but that can leave clients exposed to rogue R&D advisers. If you do not want to do R&D claim work yourself then make sure your clients use qualified professionals for an R&D claim. Ad Valorem provides R&D services to its own clients and also clients of other practices on a non-competing basis.
ACCA UK’s technical advisory website provides information on these areas of service as well as the training required and guidance available. Take a look to see whether these services might benefit your clients.