What can accountancy and law teach each other about branding tech and innovation?
Accountancy and law have much in common – and both are being disrupted. The Big 4 play a huge part in this, as do a swarm of tech and alternative service providers. As clients pursue efficiency and cost effectiveness, this will continue.
Previously, clients were reluctant to buy from unknown businesses. Now, disrupters sell legal services to GCs and accountancy services to FDs.
With everyone scrambling to innovate and clients inundated by competing claims, we’ve identified some lessons both accountancy and law can learn about branding tech. Our findings primarily come from our report ‘From Confusion to Clarity: How law firms brand innovation and lawtech’ (top 30 UK law firms), and from reviewing websites of the top 15 UK accountancy firms.
The Big 4 possess resources for harnessing technology that allow them to make choices which set the scene.
However, the legal sector is fighting back and shows clear evolution in brand strategy. As law buzzes with change, especially among the premier set, some firms adopt a sub-branding strategy to create distinction between expertise and how it’s delivered (BCPI Cubed and NRF Transform, for example).
A few develop stand-alone brands. This began in flexible resourcing, with Lawyers on Demand (LOD). Fieldfisher launched low-cost alternative platform Condor, while Linklaters created Nakhoda for technology and AI, and Eversheds Sutherland has Konexo for its new resourcing and technology solutions.
And it’s not just the largest firms using this strategy. Insurance specialist BLM recently branded its suite of digital tools (Foresight, Pathfinder, Forum, Collaborate, Searchlight, Realtime and Smartcase) under its new BLM Innovations platform. Keoghs has introduced Lauri, an AI-driven clams handling tool.
In fast-moving markets, spin-offs and sub-groups often perform better. The Big 4 established EY Canvas and KPMG Ignite, and acquisitions also adopted this approach (Deloitte Propel and EY Riverview Law).
Other accountancy firms don’t have the same tension in costs and resources as the Big 4, and their legal counterparts. There is less pressure currently to develop and brand tech differently. Existing solutions normally form part of Audit, Tax and Outsourcing; and under the umbrella of the main brand. But, as firms develop their tech strategies and solutions, and acquire expertise, it is difficult to see them maintaining this monolithic approach.
Again outside the Big 4, most firms provide factual descriptions of their solutions. Currently, there is no evidence of firms joining up their different solutions, tools and partnerships in a tech narrative, articulating strategically how they combine technology, digitisation, Ai and resourcing to deliver client solutions. This makes it potentially hard for clients to fully grasp the potential of a firm’s tech credentials from competing claims. Makes it hard too for partners when selling tech.
In law, a few of the larger firms use a narrative to articulate how their approach and solutions combine to satisfy client needs; but our research shows at least half do it poorly, either hiding their approach deep within a website (CMS and Hogan Lovells) or not saying anything (DLA Piper). In contrast, Allen & Overy includes Delivery as part of its main navigation, while Clifford Chance backs up its positioning (‘Delivering a world-class experience’) with the claim its client-focused innovation is part of a first-class service. EY uses its purpose (‘Building a better working world’) to tell its technology and innovation story, while globally, Grant Thornton uses ‘Status Go’ in a similar way.
The Big 4’s websites are awash with rich content covering technology and innovation, helping clients eager to learn. Other accountancy firms and law firms, lacking marketing firepower, don’t currently use content to position their credentials strategically. Most law firms, even the bigger ones, default to press releases to inform and engage clients.
Partners must be comfortable discussing key tech issues and capabilities with clients. Allen & Overy has practical tools for partners, including case studies, placemats and tender content. It ran Q&A sessions and created champions to help partners understand its Advanced Delivery platform.
Eversheds Sutherland trains every partner in technology, and other firms train the next generation, embedding technology and innovation in graduate training. The Freshfields Hub assembles lawyers, technologists, legal support staff and process specialists: together they design agile, efficient ways to deliver services.
In accountancy and law, the Big 4 will remain a big influence on the tech and digital scene. Looking over the fence to see what they are doing is not a bad idea. But the legal sector is waking up to tech, innovation and branding, and doing some interesting stuff. Keep an eye out for the lawyers!
In the meantime, here are five ideas to think about:
Download free copy of our report From Confusion to Clarity: How law firms brand innovation and lawtech.