Board Member Q&A

“Role of professional services firms needs to broaden”

DFK International welcomed Marco Vermin as its new EMEA Vice-President in early 2021. Zoya Malik, Group Editor IAB spoke to him about his vision for this new role and his involvement on the board of directors at Alfa Accountants, Netherlands

Zoya Malik: What drove you to take on your new role? How do you see your role going forward and your role on the Board?

Marco Vermin: At Alfa we are very keen to be internationally involved in DFK, actively participating in the Association and sharing our ethos as a future-orientated business in the Netherlands. I always believe that what you give is what you get back. Alfa is always looking to create value for clients, and within DFK we want to add that same value to the Association.

In terms of my role going forward, I see the purpose of the EMEA region as being to create and sustain a community of future-orientated, like-minded professional services firms. My role will be to ensure firms understand the importance of being future-orientated and stress the importance of developing relationships that are built on the importance of giving rather than receiving.

ZM: Tell us a little bit about the core purpose of DFK, your core values, member philosophy and strategic goals.

MV: At Alfa we see the core purpose of DFK as being an association of like-minded business providers who can give our clients the same level of service that we provide them in the Netherlands, internationally. In terms of the EMEA region, its purpose is to act as a community in which member firms with the same core values can help and support each other.

Our main goal is helping and supporting our clients, and it is this philosophy which means that members right across the DFK network are very good at acquiring new clients. Members also understand that it is just as important to bring business referrals to the network as it is to receive them.

Marco Vermin, EMEA Vice-President, DFK International

ZM: 2020 proved to be challenging globally. How has the pandemic affected DFK, and what changes will you make through 2021 for recovery?

MV: Remarkably, especially in the Western orientated countries, the pandemic did not drastically affect accountancy. At Alfa, we recorded our largest revenue to date last year and have a very Covid-proof client portfolio. Within the Association, we saw that accountancy flourished in areas where governments had the assets and capability to sustain local enterprise. Businesses that were most affected were those specialising in those areas most affected by pandemic, such as leisure, travel and hospitality, as well as those based in less profitable economies, where the government was not able to provide the same level of support.

DFK is all about relationships, so we set-up a range of digital conferences and networking sessions to ensure those relationships can be sustained. Going forward, we will continue to focus on relationship building and are looking forward to hosting face-to-face conferences once again, when restrictions allow.

ZM: How has the pandemic affected member firms in EMEA over other regional clusters? What are other econ-political factors?

MV: The pandemic hasn’t affected member firms in the EMEA region over other regional clusters, especially in countries with strong economies. What we have seen is people develop extreme political views which have created strong divides and differences in opinions. In Europe, we have seen wealth divides, divides between ethnicities, political divides resulting in protests against Covid restrictions – all which have seen people become more distant.

ZM: What can be done in EMEA to restore confidence in regulatory and trade relations?

MV: The majority of DFK is made up of accountancy firms, and as accountants we are there to bring trust and confidence to society. We need to be very strong in quality norms and in helping businesses fulfil their compliance work. By doing our work and being honest about it, we can help to restore confidence in regulatory and trade relations.

ZM:  What impact do you think the regulatory changes to audit in the UK will have on global networks?

MV: I believe that we will see audit and advice become more divided and there will be more opportunities to advise clients in a range of different areas.

Audit is becoming more regulated than ever - in the Netherlands we have seen people step away from the profession as a result of these increased regulations and I believe that the UK will also see this trend.

So, although audit work will continue to be spread through the global networks, the changes mean that there will be higher regulatory norms. There may also be restrictions on what work can be undertaken, meaning that the broad range of holistic business advice that we could ordinarily give to the client is limited.

ZM: What are the challenges for member firms across the different jurisdictions across Europe and Middle East? Where can you find good connects between the two?

One of the challenges for firms across different jurisdictions is that the standards are much higher in certain countries compared to others. Those with higher standards must understand that they cannot expect that same level from everyone, as sometimes it is not possible due to the difference in regulations and culture norms.

DFK allows people to share expectations and best practices and gives member firms a good understanding of the level that others are working to internationally. Having built good relationships through the network, member firms can communicate openly and support each other to ensure the work is done to the satisfactory standards.

ZM: What are you planning in terms of tech investment to support member firms realise greater efficiencies, raise standards in auditing and grow fees across practice lines?

MV: DFK member firms have long been at the forefront of technical developments and many of our member firms were early adopters of cloud accounting more than a decade ago. As with associations, investment in particular platforms or vendor solutions is dealt with at individual firm-level. However, we have created forums for sharing best-practice and knowledge, such as our digitisation strategy steering group and individual platform groups such as the DFK Xero Users Group. Another example is our cooperation agreement with Tick-Mark, a software solution developed by our DFK member firm iAudit in Croatia. As one DFK member commented: “Tickmark Audit Software delivers on all its promises! It increased our efficiency through improving our collaboration and accountability, as all team members were able to work on the same project at the same time without losing track of who is responsible for what. In addition to this, the review process is a breeze.”

ZM:  Can you tell us about any new partner initiatives for Learning and Development. How will these be rolled – out?

MV: As well as programmes run by individual firms, DFK international provides learning and development programmes at national and regional levels. Examples include the Leadership symposium run by DFK USA and a recent ‘Route to Partner’ programme run by DFK UK & Ireland. The latter, facilitated by the Openside Group and attended by 20 delegates, involved a series of six online workshops with ‘homework’ between sessions, as well as mentoring.

ZM: How do you see the profession evolving with new tech advances serving the industry?

MV: Professional services firms need to evolve and have a broader role in the information data stream. For instance, from an entrepreneur who has costs or revenue there’s a bill, this bill goes to an accountant who is trusted with that data, the accountant then passes this on to banks, the government for tax purposes and to other stakeholders.

I believe the role of professional services firms needs to broaden. If you remain purely as an accountancy or bookkeeping firm, you are going to lose your place in the industry. You need to have a good relationship with all stakeholders involved as well as with your client, ensuring you are in the middle of the financial data of the company and understanding and evolving this data for the client.

I also believe that there will be a bigger focus on taxation and the environment, as more importance is placed on reducing the carbon footprint of businesses, the pollution they produce and looking at what materials companies use to make their products.