Does MTD’s delay push back the digitisation of clients and, therefore, your practice? Kevin Reed discusses the big questions posed at QuickBooks Connect 2023.

There was an air of expectancy at the grand Old Billingsgate venue for QuickBooks Connect 2023.

Not only were new products and services to be announced by the software giant, the event was a chance for accountants to ‘air their views’ following the latest delay to MTD ITSA – and gauge what that delay meant to their firm and clients.

Firstly, the new tech. QB Practice Management is aiming to become the beating heart of practice’s tech stack. It will enable the centralisation of records, automate recurring tasks, and integrate in with clients’ books, offering accountants the chance to provide more valuable insight.

A new tool, Books to Tax, will help accountants to prepare and file both annual accounts and CT returns to Companies House and HMRC respectively. Bureau Payroll is QuickBooks’ first ever cloud payroll offering, which can link with ‘any’ financial management software.

HMRC criticism

Onto the talks. HMRC’s Mel Hume was on the receiving end of numerous pointed and critical questions regarding the latest MTD delay, during the MTD ITSA session. For example, one attendee asked: “Sending letters to HMRC is like snail mail. You want us to be digital…when are you going to do the same?” Another said their clients had “lost confidence” in HMRC’s digital plans.

Hume accepted the frustrations, and spoke of a new ‘co-creation strategy’: this will aim to give key parties (including software providers and the accountancy profession) more of a say in HMRC’s operational priority list.

Accountant Simon Brook, also on the MTD panel, said that his firm’s time on beta-testing MTD ITSA with clients had brought about value through “efficiency gains”. Frustratingly, only three quarters of filings had been made at this point.

Talking the talk

Perhaps as pertinent as efficiency – Brook spoke of altering his client message from ‘we must change how we do things because of MTD’ to ‘we must change because it will help you build a better business’.  

“My firm isn’t ‘working towards MTD’, we’re working to get our clients keeping records through QuickBooks.”

On communication, QuickBooks UK country manager Jolawn Victor (pictured at the event) said that part of the software provider’s role was to help accountants “understand their value and communicate that on”. “[Practitioners] say ‘help me train my clients to use the tools’.”

Take time to make time

Victor also noted that practitioners will always step in to help their clients fight fires, but she is keen for them to make time to focus on strategy and operations. In doing so, the more automated and systemised practices are, the freer time to better support clients.

Issues vs tech

The themes and messages that come out of an event such as QuickBooks Connect are driven by a number of factors: regulation; the economy; or a technological ‘leap’. AI was mentioned in a few conversations, but there was definitely a focus on how can firms get clients digitised, and keeping good records, without MTD as the ‘stick’.

And so, messaging and communication underpinned everything. There was the ‘time’ factor too – improving workflows and automating data capture should improve the practitioner’s ‘time hygiene’. And those same systems should be putting more valuable and insightful in front of the accountant. The Catch 22 is that, generally, accountants are time poor, because they have so much to do. So, clearing the diary to consider how to future-proof the practice (as pointed out by Victor) is a big ask.

It feels as if the technology is there – the myriad of transactional-focused exhibitors at the event were an illustration of that. It’s now about mindsets (practice and client alike), the messaging, and taking control of your own digital destiny.

Kevin Reed is editor of Financial Accountant and a freelance journalist.

If you’d like to transform your practice, then begin the conversation by clicking here.

AdvanceTrack’s previous article on managing MTD’s postponement is available here.

Practitioners will have to move out of the comfort zone if they wish their firm to be profitable and relevant in the near future. AdvanceTrack founder and MD Vipul Sheth explains why – and what you have to do to be valuable for your clients.

There is a sizeable proportion of practitioners who run ‘lifestyle’ practices. As owner-managers, lines will inevitably be blurred between how you live your life, and how those decisions impact on how your run your practice.

The term ‘lifestyle’, in this context, does admittedly have some negative connotations – of failing to spend the required amount of time or financial investment on the business. The vast majority of practice owners work hard and earn a decent living – but, in a time of great volatility (and competition), a focus on the practice as a business must be paramount.

And a key aspect of that is planning – looking forward. We have a government that is no longer handing out ‘free money’; in fact their current policies are about ‘squeezing’.

And then we have the digitisation of the tax system. While the self-assessment section of MTD has been delayed, there is an inevitability of both more frequent tax reporting and, ultimately, more frequent tax payments.

For businesses used to paying tax in arrears, then there will be a painful period in the not-so-distant future when we move to near-time payments – and that will mean a further cash crunch during the transition.
Digitisation, for the government anyway, is about both reporting transparency and collecting tax much closer to the transaction period.

HMRC will be able to assess situations more quickly – well, that will be its aim.

Time to prepare

So practices have to prepare. Your core compliance offering will become more technology- and process-led, but this doesn’t have to be all for the benefit of the tax authority. The beauty of all that information is, if used in the right way, you can create a more valuable and knowledge-driven service.

Helping clients improve their financial management is an obvious place to start, whether it is credit control or supporting the creation of management accounts. There is an array of services that will be driven by compliance. Growth often requires additional headcount and technology to happen, and such changes are not always easy for practitioners to deal with.

And, if you’re in a ‘comfort zone’ with your practice – it’s ticking along without actually trying to either win new business or expand/evolve its offering – then the future world will be really challenging. The government is ‘changing the rules’ as to what they want an accountant to do.

The development of the tax landscape is being made for the accountants’ benefit. But meeting the new brief does provide a catalyst for running your practice more successfully – and not just fulfilling compliance.

Finally, AdvanceTrack’s conference is aiming to enlighten and inform practitioners about how you approach transforming your practice. You hear from experts about building a vision, and inspiring you to make change happen. If you’d like to find out more, please click here. If you’d like to speak to us about your practice, please click here.

This FAQ looks into the detail behind data security and the UK leaving the EU … what impact has Brexit had?

When Brexit ‘officially happened’ in legal terms, the ‘old’ EU laws switched over into English law – that’s what initially happened (in other words, there was no change to the rules). It’s enacted within the Data Protection Act 2018.

However, there are changes that need be made to contracts to represent the switch. We’re currently transitioning contracts across. The Data Protection Act will be referred to in contracts as opposed to GDPR – will require all of us to revisit our compliance processes and update for that.

There are no major changes at this point in time – but changes will come and contracts, processes and ways of working will need checking and revising.

So, what are the changes for us? Well, for AdvanceTrack to work with EU businesses then it’s ‘a different continent’, even for the Republic of Ireland. The reality is, we would not stray too far from GDPR anyway – it’s not in our interests to go backwards on privacy and security, we will always move forward.

It is worth noting that there are situations where an outsourced team in another country (for us, India), access data in the UK. In that instance the data’s ‘sovereignty’ doesn’t change, but it is still being processed abroad, which must be considered from a legislative perspective.

Alternatively, some outsourcers might say: ‘You log onto our servers but don’t worry about British data law.” Unfortunately that’s not correct. There’s case law that states you can’t avoid GDPR (or UK rules) even if data doesn’t ‘move’. Accountants should be very wary of the permutations when discussing terms and details with outsourcers.

Ultimately we will be compliant with both GDPR and UK data rules – see our multiple standards, which validate and assure this (click here for more).

If you’ve read our articles on GDPR and security, and would like to talk to us in more detail, don’t hesitate to get in touch by clicking here.

In our latest FAQ, we ask how pricing typically works from both an outsourcing and offshoring perspective – and what you should be mindful of when considering these structures.

It’s a great question – particularly as there are distinct aspects between outsourcing and offshoring.
Firstly, outsourcing involves a set amount of work being undertaken by AdvanceTrack within a set timeframe. Whereas offshoring involves our team members being dedicated to an accounting firm full-time.

Pricing is very much around the scalability of the solution. So, you could have ten sets of accounts per month or 100 sets of accounts that need preparing. As an important note, at AdvanceTrack we work hard to use our technology and skillsets to drive forward ambitious accounting firms. We have exited clients who chose to use us ‘very sporadically’, because we found that it becomes difficult to maintain a good working relationship or an optimal quality of work.

The firms we work with all have slightly different processes, ways of doing things – the more we work with them the better we are at understanding and managing those differences.

The pricing model for offshore team members is fairly straightforward. It’s similar to a salary scenario i.e. as a set cost based on the number of hours that our team member works with you – and that’s it.

Agreement will also be made on when that team member is available to work with your practice. The key, therefore, to keep them busy for it to be financially viable and successful.

At AdvanceTrack we always say: the most successful firms are those that treat our team members as part of their team. If you have that mindset and strategy then you’ll share things with them, socialise with them online and integrate them into your team. They become much more than just contingent support.

We’ve had practice clients who have flown their offshore staff over to the UK so that they can become more ingrained in the way the firm works and get to know the people they work with – they learn about each other. A genuine colleague relationship really creates value.

While we’re talking about value, we are finding ‘cheaper’ outsourcing and offshoring options where staff working solely from home (to maintain the outsourcers’ margins). While Covid saw working from home enforced, we would advise practices to carefully consider their potential outsourcer’s data compliance. We have also found that staff retention is higher when people work more closely together.

Read our FAQ on how your practice would begin working with AdvanceTrack by clicking here. If you would like to talk to us about pricing, or any aspect of how we work with practices, then please get in touch by clicking here.

If you turn on the news then you can’t help but be presented with small business owners who are incredibly concerned about their future. New research from Iwoca shows that a quarter of SMEs expect turnover to shrink in the next 12 months, while 43% of owners expect to be personally worse off by the end of the year.

The other big news is that of Making Tax Digital project being kicked into the long grass, and likely to impact fewer sole traders, for its tentative 2026 introduction. Some accountants (and perhaps SME owners) have breathed a sigh of relief – particularly those for whom MTD was a distraction to the ‘business of doing business’ during these tough times.

There’s certainly a question to answer as to whom would receive the most benefits – if any – from MTD. I covered that very question in a blog a few months ago.

But the one thing that its enforcement did was make accountants stop and think: how do we systemise and digitise how we work with clients? And can we get to understand better how our clients work in order to drive that systemisation and perhaps even automation?

While tax matters can vary from client to client – and require a personal touch – there’s no doubting that the vast majority of the process is relatively straightforward and ripe for automation. More importantly, creating a flow of critical financial information between the client and accountant opens up the door for true accountants to grasp what many of their clients want: a good understanding of their financial position and some advice to help them grow (or perhaps survive, in this current climate).

Does MTD delay really ‘help’ accountants and clients?

Does stopping digitisation plans really help the accountants’ clientele? When a quarter of them expect revenues to fall?

There’s no reason to not help clients understand and use readily available apps to collect and send information through to you. they can use their mobile phone to undertake most basic back-office tasks: namely invoicing and capturing expenses.

We know that ‘lumpy’ filing of tax return information pushes many accountants to the limit in January – as I write, some of you will be under pressure. That will increase several times over when quarterly filing of some description becomes mandated.

As a profession we need to do one thing: be proactive and truly support clients to run their business. The most successful members in our profession make that effort.

It’s about having a firm that’s fit for the future. If you’re not able to give an answer to clients about how you’ll help them they will say that they’ve met someone who can – or go to someone that does the basics cheaper. And ultimately you erode the value of your practice.

Being able to provide value to clients inevitability adds value to your practice. It would be sad is small businesses and their practices are left to run into the ground. On the flipside, there are great opportunities for those willing to invest and transform.

Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing.

In the first of a regular series, we chat to AdvanceTrack team member about their work, what makes them tick, and what lies ahead for accountants and AdvanceTrack.

Our inaugural interviewee is AdvanceTrack CTO Ian Gregory.

Current role and responsibilities

As CTO I have a wide range of IT-focused areas to look after. These include: AdvanceTrack’s client portal; any customer-related IT; our support desk; training; and I have a dotted line into our India operation, overseeing their IT. I don’t really have a spare moment!

It’s quite a general role – there’s responsibility too, for business continuity and security. It really is the whole IT spectrum for India and the UK.

How long have you served with AdvanceTrack, and what is your background?

I’ve spent six years at AdvanceTrack. My career began in engineering and academia, before moving into industry and then management consultancy. I served as a freelance IT consultant in various industries including private healthcare where I cut my security teeth. I’d known Vipul for more than 15 years before having the conversation about joining AdvanceTrack.

Why is AdvanceTrack an exciting place to work? How you see its direction of travel?

In the six years that I’ve worked here we’ve gone from a ‘fast-growing business’ to a ‘large and fast growing business’! We’re now at a scale where we have a much larger team, and that brings its own challenges.

The external assurance we receive from the ISO and BSI is also making us think very hard about how we work. It’s much more than just signing up for a certificate – the standards help us think through exactly how we do things and ensure that any gaps are closed; it’s a good discipline and keeps us on our toes. 

AdvanceTrack is moving into new markets, such as North America, Australia and New Zealand. Following the pandemic, we’ve developed new product lines and services, such as dedicated seats and audit – which is very much a new space for the outsourcing sector. This means there is a continual stream of new processes and systems for me to put in place.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to become an electronics engineer. In my teens, I would build electronic circuits (eg. amplifiers, radios, power supplies etc) using mainly the surplus components that my Dad brought back from work.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

I did Physics and Maths to A Level (and Economics) and I was working throughout my A Level studies part-time in an electronics factory.  It brought me into contact with a wide variety of professions and professionals beyond electronic engineers. My undergraduate and post graduate studies, however, were in the Business/Management/Economics/ Accountancy fields. I also qualified as a CIMA accountant, and I have now reached the level of Professor at Lancaster University.

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

I was offered a (rare these days) sponsored undergraduate programme in the broad field of business and, almost by accident, I became attracted increasingly to the accountancy work as I followed the programme. Accountancy took me into many areas of the wider business, and I was encouraged to ‘get involved’.

It was hard work in those early days with only very limited mainframe IT, although I remember with amusement and fondness the arrival of the first IBM PC which was sited on its own ‘altar’ and I could use it only if I booked time on it.

As a graduate, I was awarded certain exemptions from CIMA and because I had amassed significant on the job experience and was fully committed to following an accountancy career, I studied for my CIMA examinations on a full-time basis at Sheffield Hallam University which was a fast track accelerated approach.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

Truthfully, I broadened my career roles well beyond accountancy as soon as I could, and I found that my first (and subsequent) CFO roles drew more from my MBA than from my accountancy pedigree, but I would never have been appointed into those roles without having the accountancy qualification, experience and credibility.

As a person, I behave instinctively as an accountant. For example, I look for evidence, strong and meaningful analysis, logic, ethical standards etc. and this applies to many situations both professionally and personally.

My early efforts and commitment to become an accountant have rewarded me with great opportunities in the private sector, and I have contributed first-hand to the successes of a number of businesses. I moved eventually into a portfolio career which spanned public sector, health, education and charity organisations including non-executive roles. None of this would have been possible without my accountancy pedigree, of which I am very proud.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

The dream was to become a pilot.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

Being red/green colourblind, my commercial pilot career was a non-starter; however, I was able to get my private pilot’s licence so I did get some of the way.

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

After various roles in retail and sales during university, I started my training contract at 21 with BDO. It was my dad’s suggestion and the best bit of advice he gave me when he told me that once qualified you would always be able to earn a living. I gave the same advice to my son who is now in the middle of his training contract.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

The training that you receive as an accountant is one of the broadest available. You develop technical and interpersonal skills in equal measures and what makes a successful business. What other profession allows you to add such value to both people and their businesses? With almost 30 years of experience, I don’t think that there is anything that could surprise me, and I know how to help clients with any issues or at least know where to look.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a dancer. In fact, I trained all the way through until I was 18 but didn’t make it. My biggest claim to fame was being a backing dancer for Boyzone when I was 16 – that’s as far as my dance career went.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

I’d got a place to study drama in Exeter at 18, but something felt off and I didn’t fancy going into debt for a career I wasn’t sure I wanted. So, I deferred my place a year and worked while I considered my options.

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

I’d been working as a runner on films and TV shows for a year and absolutely hated it! Therefore a career based on a drama degree was out. I went to my local careers office and asked for their advice. A bored-looking woman suggested accountancy and it seemed reasonable – so I walked across the road to a hotel and asked if they had any jobs in accounts (I was 19 and very sassy!).

The FD happened to be there and said their purchase ledger clerk had just left; they asked if I could do purchase ledger. I said “probably, and I’m a fast learner” – and that was how I started my career in accountancy! In truth, I had no idea what a purchase ledger was, but I was confident I could figure it out before my first day.

I studied in the evenings and weekends and discovered that I loved how the accounts told the story of the business. I’ve never looked back.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

Although I don’t do any of the day-to-day accounting work for our clients, it’s obviously vital for me as a business owner. I have to present our financials at board meetings every month, as well as make strategic decisions about the business which heavily involve understanding finance.

Through my unconventional route into accountancy, I discovered that my true passion is business, and helping other businesses to thrive. My background in accountancy lets me do that in a very direct way, and it’s really given me purpose.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Fantasy job: Formula 1 driver. Who doesn’t want to travel the world driving fast cars! Real job: graphic designer, as I’m very creative.

Where had that got to during your later studies (or not, as the case may be)?

I was too slow at both driving and drawing! I was an A* art/design student at school but it would take me ages to finish everything and I lost my passion for it. I still do the odd doodle.

When did you move into accountancy; why, and how?

I was always very quick with maths and loved business studies at college, so took an accounting degree. That was so boring – the last thing I wanted to be was an accountant after it! I went into retail management for a few years before heading to the profession after realising retail was much harder work.

How important is accounting in your role – and how has being an accountant helped you develop in your career and as a person?

It’s truly been life-changing. My dad went through some seriously bad financial times years ago that could’ve been avoided with a good accountant. It could’ve saved our house and help us all sleep at night… it’s that big a deal.

The stereotypical accountant is thought of as grey and doesn’t talk to anyone, when nothing could be further from the truth! Accounting is critical in my role, but it’s the way I remove the jargon to give real life accounting advice to those not in finance that’s the key skill. That’s meant improving my listening, communication and general social skills ten-fold since I started.

Catch the full article in the XU Magazine here