Timothy Munro of ChangeGPS and Karbon’s Stuart McLeod discuss leaving a long-time partnership, the impact of values and phone calls on client relationships, and post-COVID travel plans on episode 18 of the Accounting Leaders Podcast.
When you discover that a client’s values don’t align with your firm’s, it’s a clear sign to let them go. Your team will reflect the values you uphold.
Although text messages and emails are now the norm, Timothy recommends going old-school and picking up the phone to strengthen client relationships.
“You can’t take it with you when you die.”
Versions of this adage have circulated since the invention of currency. And most people who’ve managed to accumulate some amount of wealth seek advice about how to allocate it wisely and balance truly living with saving.
Timothy Munro, founder of compliance and advisory software company ChangeGPS and Change Accountants & Advisors in Brisbane, Australia, wants to make the most of his time on this planet. When he’s not jamming on the drums with his funk and soul band, Timothy is working to ensure that his businesses support his bigger life purpose—and do the same for his clients.
He and the Change team have clearly gotten a lot of things right. In recognition of their efforts to help accountants maintain business continuity throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Xero named ChangeGPS the Practice App of the Year in Australia for the 2022 fiscal year.
Timothy joined Stuart to chat about deciding to leave a 20-year partnership, choosing clients with the same values, and why picking up the phone has been vital to his client relationships.
Right out of university, Timothy partnered with a friend to open a firm in 1990. He was, as Stuart puts it on the podcast, the “ripe old age” of 19.
Fast-forward to 2008, when they started using Xero. It was in its infancy and certainly had limitations, but Timothy was immediately enamored with accounting software and the potential of cloud computing.
His partner wasn’t as excited by the thought of change. Rather than force a massive upheaval of the firm, Timothy decided it would be smarter to make a clean break.
In 2011, he started Change Accountants & Advisors on his own, aiming to use entirely cloud-based solutions. The new firm did well and, in 2016, got the attention of Count Financial. After some thorny negotiations, this partnership birthed a more forward-thinking joint venture: ChangeGPS.
The suite of accounting apps provides compliance advisory and helps firms boost their efficiency.
Suddenly, Timothy was no longer just an accountant; he was a software entrepreneur.
Timothy’s move into the fintech space hasn’t distracted him from his core purpose: guiding people to build and maintain wealth that supports the lifestyle they want.
“We love helping anyone, big or small, who’s got that spark about them—who wants to do something well,” Timothy tells Stuart.
To prioritize this mission, Timothy knew he had to keep his firm on the straight and narrow—and that hasn’t always been easy.
Timothy is willing to go to great lengths to adhere to his founding principles. The proof? Change Accountants recently let go of its highest-paying client.
Things had simply gone too far, with the client pushing for the firm to find further tax deductions, even requesting a review of previous years’ financials to uncover more potential tax savings.
Once the team at Change discovered that the client’s prior accountants had already taken quite an aggressive approach, Timothy confronted him with the truth: There weren’t any additional savings to be found—at least not ethically.
The conversation didn’t go well, but Timothy handled this “defining moment” by sticking to his proverbial guns. He relayed the message that he wouldn’t judge the client for his financial decisions, but he also wouldn’t participate in any business endeavor that didn’t align with his values.
“Too many accountants allow themselves to be bulldozed by their clients.”
With this landmark decision, he set an example for his team. Not only do they feel empowered to respond to difficult clients, but they see the kind of leader they have in Timothy—the kind who’s about more than the bottom line.
Big demonstrations of honor go a long way in fostering team alignment.
Breaking up with clients isn’t the only hard decision Timothy believes accounting firms should make more often.
He sees leaders dragging their feet when it’s time to let go of underperforming staff, too. The courage to drop the hammer will naturally build over time, but the sooner you can stop leaking profits because you want to avoid hurting people’s feelings, the better.
Tough calls are easier if you dig deep into your reason for wanting to run a profitable business. For most of us, that reason is the people we come home to.
“Your family is your number-one client.”
Keep your personal purpose front and center, and you’ll make smart (if difficult) decisions that propel your firm’s growth up and to the right.
No matter how progressive or traditional your firm is, relationships always matter.
Timothy requires that his employees maintain personal communication with clients, especially if there’s an unexpected delay. They cross-check Karbon and emails at the end of each workday, then reach out via phone if there’s something a client needs to know right away—and sometimes, even if there isn’t.
Phone calls aren’t the average accountant’s favorite method of communication, but they’re vital to building close, trusting relationships.
Timothy’s approach is to send a client an email, and then immediately call them and say, “I’ve just sent you this, let me read through it with you.”
Good news or bad, he’s found the effort is appreciated.
Recommended reading: Why communication is the most powerful tool for your accounting firm
Timothy has the same high standards for internal communication, consistently reminding his team to stay connected with remote colleagues and to speak up if something’s not getting done.
Holding himself and his team to these standards has, perhaps ironically, given Timothy a sense of freedom. Because he knows where he stands, and his employees understand the value system by which the firm operates, there’s no threat of uncertainty.
To the folks at Change Accountants and ChangeGPS, wealth management is about helping people invest in the living they’re doing every day, and making it possible for that to continue for loved ones when they’re gone.
For Timothy, the living part means investing in the things he loves: his Ferrari Roma and traveling with his family (next stop: Maui). And, someday soon, meeting up with his friend Stuart over red wine and steak (or a veggie burger).
“You’ve got to spend money now, you’ve got to enjoy life now—and you’ve got to have a plan. And you can do both at once,” he says.