Downton Abbey and the changing landscape for accountants

Just as Downton Abbey addresses the changing landscape in Britain, there could very well be an Accountants’ Abbey which showcases how the landscape for accountants has changed – and your approach to it as an accountant.

Highclere Castle
Photo: Thomas Dutour © 123RF.COM

As most accountants have come to realise – either with enthusiasm or reluctance – what we know as the traditional accounting model has undergone massive changes.

These changes are such that if your firm is going to survive (much less grow and flourish), you are needing to take a long look at your business model, your clients, your services, your people, and your technology.

(For an excellent read on the power of a good business model, read my review of The Profit Zone.)

But each accountant will face this changing landscape with a different approach.

And to use the Downton Abbey cast, this can range from Carson the Butler, who is extremely resistant to change and will fight to his dying day to keep the systems as they have always been, to Sybil the Lord Grantham’s daughter who is excited and enthusiastic about change, though perhaps somewhat naïve about how this works out in practice.

I would love to develop a persona quiz to help you determine which Downton Abbey character you are in terms of this changing landscape – but in the meantime, here is my summary of the characters.

Have a look and consider which one you are – and whether you’d like to stay this way, or transition to a new one.

Lord Grantham (owner of Downton Abbey): Reluctant Changer

He is traditional, with a great reluctance to the changes which are sweeping across the land and the world.  He is reluctant to the point of resistance and even anger at the start. However, as time goes on, he begins to see that without change, neither he nor his extensive property (or even family) will continue to function – and in small ways he is open to change, to the surprise of his family and especially the butler.

If this is you: Take care, because the longer it takes you to change things in your firm, the greater opportunity there is for someone else to snap up your land and property.

Carson (Butler): Stronghold of Resistance

This is the man who is not only not open to change, he is going to fight and prevent it until his dying day.  He stands like a rock in a sea of crashing waves, and if the waves cover the rock completely, so be it.  He is excellent at his job, takes great pride in the work he does, and either does not or will not see that newer ways of doing business can be more efficient.

If this is you:  It’s best to get out of business now while you can still sell your firm.  The landscape is only going to change more.

Sybil (Lord Grantham’s youngest daughter): Enthusiastic Acceptor

She is thrilled and excited about change. Wants to see it everywhere, is keen and hungry, and is very open to enthusiastic speeches (and persuasive young men).  She is very young, so she’s not sure how or where to make changes for the best results, so her enthusiasm can get ahead of her and cause damage.

If this is you:  Get a coach, a mentor, someone who can direct you and has experience of modern working and the changes affecting accountancy firms and their clients.  You need some direction and guidance, but you’ll get there.

Tom Branson (chauffeur): Passionate Firebrand

He is young and keen, like Sybil, and on fire with principled enthusiasm. He knows what he wants to achieve, and why – and initially he thinks he knows how. But as time goes on, and life changes, and he begins to interact with people (not just principles), he discovers that you need to work with the system to see change implemented. And as he does that, he finds a beauty in both worlds that he didn’t expect to find – and a combined way of doing things that he didn’t originally see.

If this is you:  Be willing to listen to both sides of the debate. Just because cloud accounting, or remote working, are part of the way we do business now doesn’t mean we leave the personal connection behind.  Find a way of bringing together the best of both worlds.

Mrs Patmore (cook):  Sensible Worker

She is the rock who, unlike Carson, is willing to bend somewhat with this changing landscape.  She knows what she does, and does it well, but she doesn’t let changes faze her.  She keeps an even keel, has a great deal of common sense, and learns to delegate to the new generation.

If this is you:  Continue to look for ways to train your team and the ‘young ones’. Share your expertise with them so it’s not lost when you are no longer working there, and share your common sense as well. They have a lot to learn from you, and vice versa.

Daisy (assistant cook):  Fearful Improver

She truly wants to make something of herself, and goes from having no expectation that this will ever happen, to attempting to rush into it with both feet, to settling down a bit and being patient as things change.  She also has a great many fears about her life and the way the world is going, most of which are not realised.

If this is you:  Stay calm. Don’t be so emotional, and make sure to listen to those who have the experience and the know-how (like the Mrs Patmores). Keep building your expertise, and be yourself.

Mary (eldest daughter of Lord Grantham):  Cold Focus

She begins by being unbelievably arrogant and cold, but slowly we see a softer side.  Mary is the one who thinks she knows it all, but (almost reluctantly) discovers that there is value in receiving help from others.  She also takes on the family business, to her own surprise, and does very well at it.  She is not a ‘people person’, and always considers herself before others.

If this is you: Be humble. Listen. Remember that others have a great deal to offer, and the combined efforts have greater power than simply one acting on her own.

I haven’t covered everyone – and as with most persona-type quizzes, you may not fit into any of these categories. But be aware that the landscape is changing, and be willing to change with it.

There is great reward in doing so.