It’s safe to say that AdvanceTrack’s 2019 conference was a great success, with the most attendees ever at one of our now annual events

This year’s theme at AdvanceTrack’s 2019 conference was about building a first-class client experience. A range of speakers, including Paul Shrimpling, Iwoca’s Richard Sutton, The Profitable Firm’s Karen Reyburn and My Accountancy Place’s Paul Barnes, spoke at length about how digitising processes and thinking carefully about the interactions you have (or don’t) with your client will have a massive impact on how they value your service.

MD Vipul Sheth gave the introductory speech, talking at depth about the “journey that data takes through your organisation”, in tandem with how you deal with people.

“It’s about creating time and opportunity for you to speak to more people, that’s what AdvanceTrack is here for,” he said.

Sheth added that most firms’ staff, in five years’ time, will be technologically adept, and that bookkeeping services and management is “essential in terms of delivering a regular conversation”.

 

Building an onboarding process

The Profitable Firm’s Karen Reyburn gave an inspiring talk on using simple technology to build an onboarding process. She referred to the importance of “drip-feeding” information back and forth between yourself and the client during the process, and is not to be rushed so as not to overwhelm them.

Paul Barnes, founder of firm My Accountancy Place, spoke at length about how to set a pricing strategy.

Using GoProposal methodology, alongside bundled pricing, Barnes spoke about the importance of discussing the needs of a potential client face-to-face. When their needs are understood, the bundle can then be moulded to meet their needs. If required, the offering can be itemised so they can see exactly how much the range of services cost.

“If they were to hire an accountant in-house, we use that to contextualise our costs,” he explained. “You’re effectively an outsourced finance function.

“We’re iterating our services and pricing almost daily. Value pricing isn’t easy,” he added. “So make sure you charge on factors and outcomes.”

Nikki Adams, of practice Ad Valorem, said the conference “was great” for two reasons: “I was enthralled with some of the sessions where industry-leading specialists were able to paint the picture of the next stage of the cloud accounting transition for practices of all sizes; it also helped to benchmark us against, and network with, other forward-thinking accountants. We came away buzzing with ideas.”

Wood and Disney’s David Rudd said: “The AdvanceTrack conference re-affirmed that we’re on the right track but have more to do to digitise and optimise our processes. [It had] great speakers and [it was] good to catch up with friends old and new.”

Accountants hit conference season with a bang at the start of May, attending both AdvanceTrack’s annual event and Accountex. Kevin Reed covers the main messages coming out of a busy but fascinating three days

On 1-2 May, Europe’s biggest accounting and finance show Accountex saw a record-busting 9,063 attendees – an event in which AdvanceTrack was delighted to take part.

We spoke to some of the key participants to find out what their new products and services are, along with views on the current issues impacting accountants’ working lives. Key topics included: how some accountants and clients have moved down ‘the digital path’ while others still delay; and differing views on the direction of travel set by MTD bridging software.

 

QuickBooks

QuickBooks’ Making Tax Digital Product Suite was being demonstrated at the show, including bridging software. These new tools, and their importance to the marketplace, were a key focus of our discussion with its sales director Nick Williams.

Williams said there had been “lots of work” by accountants to bring themselves and clients towards MTD compliance, and bridging software was a step on that journey for many.

Its pre-Accountex research found that 89% of small businesses were now aware of MTD, with 84% believing they were now compliant.

And for those accountancy firms using MTD as a catalyst for transforming into a cloud-based adviser, there was more good sentiment. QucikBooks also found that 49% of respondents believe MTD will have a positive effect on their business – up from 37% since March.

“The transition to MTD was never going to be without its stumbling blocks for accounting professionals and small businesses, but it is pleasing to see increasing numbers realising the time, efficiency and cost-saving benefits that digitisation can bring,” said Williams.

He believes that the bridging technology, which some industry insiders believe should only sit in place for a year, will continue to be used beyond that period by some advisers and their clients.

“We’ll always see customers in need of support – that will remain with bridging,” he said.

Williams also referenced a number of other innovations, including SmartLook – which enables QuickBooks to work quickly and interactively to resolve any problems users may have via a one-way video feed and screen-sharing; and Online Advanced Payroll – enabling accountants and payroll bureaux to manage multiple businesses with complex payroll needs.

 

IRIS

Accountants are “bridging the digital divide”, believes IRIS chief marketing officer Nick Gregory.

IRIS also released new statistics for the Accountex launch: some 215,000 documents were e-approved between accountants and their clients via its OpenSpace document sharing platform in January 2019 – a 328% increase on January 2018.

“Accountants are recognising that they have to be online,” Gregory told InsideOutsourcing.

Gregory said that IRIS’s customers were “pushing” the technology house to enable them to use a more “open” software stack and access via mobile devices.

“We want to use data to deliver more from a productivity point, and to link with third-party applications,” he said.

A key part of this process will be an online “platform” from which services can be accessed – the first application it will make available is an anti-money laundering solution this summer. “You’ll be able to onboard clients and run all the necessary checks,” said Gregory.

 

MyFirmsApp

“Many accountants are thinking: ‘I’ve got my cloud clients and they’ll be fine with MTD… but what about the great unwashed?’,” said MyFirmsApp head of product management and customer experience Mike Page, when describing how to deal with swathes of clients that still haven’t moved to digital bookkeeping.

Page sees the app as providing a simple solution to get accountants’ clients moving on the digital path. Its new platform will launch in the summer, providing a new user interface for both accountants and their clients. A new version of receipt capture will also be introduced.

MyFirmsApp has also produced “The Definitive Guide to Bridging Software”, after viewing what it described as a “baffling array” of options.

 

CountingUp

Millions of pounds could be flowing into the coffers of CountingUp, with up to £12m sought in the near future to drive more product development and marketing.

The bookkeeping and banking app is “100% on board with accountants”, chief commercial officer Andrew Garvey said, viewing them as “the most important part of our business”.

“With 4.5 million microbusinesses out there we know how hard it is to get them to use accounting tech,” said Garvey.

Accountants still have many clients “not using anything” to manage their bookkeeping and tax data. “We’re trying to make accountants’ life easier,” he concluded.

In the next year Garvey expects to see greater convergence between accounting and banking from a technology perspective.

 

AdvanceTrack

A new way to help you transform your firm has been developed by AdvanceTrack. The AdvanceTrack Growth Academy has been launched to guide practice owners and seniors towards positive change for their practice.

In partnership with well-respected consultant Paul Shrimpling, the academy aims to have a profound impact on how you and your team feel about the core work at your firm, in turn helping your team enjoy the work it undertakes.

The academy is focused on two main areas: accountability and motivation. You’ll be held accountable with regular calls and visits to review the actions you’ve committed to and agree any steps.

AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth said the programme would not only inspire accountants to make change, but provide them with the support to deliver. “It can be very lonely at the top,” he said. “We believe that the academy will provide both a strong support network, accountability and ongoing practical advice to help you take positive action to improve how your firm operates.”

 

What has technology-driven change meant for practitioners at the coalface? We get the detail from four accountants about how their role has evolved as part of creating a fit-for-purpose and modern practice.


Stephen Smallwood is managing director of Herefordshire-based practice Thorne Widgery.

What’s your current role?

As managing director, I try and run the business ‘as a business’. For the running of the business, the fact that I’m an accountant is almost incidental. I do much less client work than I used to.

I’ve always enjoyed tech work more than compliance. I get a great deal of satisfaction from making IT systems work and delivering value, rather than filling in a statutory report.

We’ve been actively involved in moving from a traditional practice to one of the leading proponents of IT systems – not hardware and cables, but systems for how you run your business. We were awarded Small Firms Innovator of the Year at the British Accountancy Awards last year.

How has your role developed, and why?

In the past five to ten years, I’ve moved from being a typical, though progressive, accountant serving clients, to being a director of a business that operates in the professional services sector.

We’re using Xero and its practice management module (XPM) and have converted to the cloud. We love it for our clients, but to my astonishment we’ve also ended up helping other accounting practices get the best out of modern and accessible software by helping them evolve their own back office. Altogether it has completely revolutionised how we go about things.

What has that meant for the running of the practice? Is it part of a broader strategic change?

I’d say that supporting other practices is now 15% of our business, which has developed from ‘Xero’ over the last three years. No accountant is normally allowed to get close and personal with other firms of accountants, but we do because of our knowledge of XPM. The result of that is we get to see some really interesting, good examples of practices, and we learn as well.

Our screens are full of pictures and graphs that allow us to analyse up-to-date information and find trends.

Do you prefer what you’re doing now?

It’s so exciting and so much more fun. Hereford is a small pond for us to fish so it has got us out and about and we’ve become a national practice.


Nathan Lewis is a client relationship manager at Bristol-based d&t Chartered Accountants.

What’s your current role?

As tax senior within the practice, I look at tax compliance and returns – along with some advisory work as well. I help junior members of staff, alongside dealing with HMRC enquiries – my background as someone who worked for the Inland Revenue and then during its merger to become HM Revenue & Customs helps.

How has your role developed, and why?

I see it as an evolution of tasks. The first online tax returns filed at the Revenue were printed off and then manually entered. And then, as I went into practice, tax software meant that boxes of clients’ receipts were no longer required.

Tech has also changed us from being a local company to an international one, where we can communicate over Skype. With Xero and QuickBooks you can even ‘take over’ a client’s desktop to show them how to use the software.

These tech platforms allow us to have much quicker access to client information. This allows us to review it more quickly, and plan for the future, rather than view information retrospectively.

What has it meant for the running of the practice and client service?

The tech enables one-man-band-style accountants to do more; so we have to use information and increase our value to clients – show them the extra things we can do.

The tax landscape is going to continue to change – HMRC wants to reduce the number of returns it receives – so we will look to offer more advisory-focused services and tax planning rather than looking backwards.

Up-to-date information is going to become even more important. Look at IHT for example, having the ability to see a client’s position and plan things such as gifts out of income for the years ahead.


Andrew Perrettis cloud accounting manager at TC Group (formerly Taylorcocks).

What’s your current role?

It covers lots of different things: the main role is to review cloud software and help staff and clients use technology. For clients, I help them with the scoping process to best choose tech solutions, then onto implementation and training.

As there’s only one of me, I’m also training team members so they can offer basic advice around accountancy software and add-ons.

How has your role developed, and why?

The role began officially in January 2018. I’ve been at TC for more than 11 years, qualifying as an accountant and then working with another manager to support a partner with their portfolio of clients.

I was looking after fewer clients than the other manager but my clients required more work: bookkeeping, monthly accounts, management reports. And then we looked at a way of managing my clients more effectively. Between the partner and myself we developed a process to get clients onto Xero using automated invoice capture, through to bookkeeping and reporting. With every client on the same process it made the whole thing much smoother.

Once we had 30 clients onboard, we looked to take it out across our other offices. I became more internally focused during 2017 as this process went on – and so I transitioned over my clients to other staff towards the end of that year.

What has it meant for the running of the practice and client service?

All bookkeeping across offices is done on Xero – we had shied away from the service because it wasn’t profitable. Now we actively go to win that and their whole process.

We do very much report back to clients – adding value through meeting people and discussing their up-to-date information.

Do you prefer what you’re doing now?

It’s exciting: working with staff and seeing our offices; working with clients on projects that provide value to them, teaching them about tech they wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.

My work is less accountancy-focused now, but clearly I retain the fundamentals. I do lots of CPD-accredited training related to my role – so it’s not a problem keeping that up.


David Rudd is senior client manager and business growth accountant at Colchester-based Wood and Disney, an AdvanceTrack client.

What’s your current role?

If a client has any issue I’m there to help them deal with it. Sometimes that can be historic compliance issues, but more recently it’s about ‘where they want to go’, ‘what will be the impact of me doing A, B or C’.

I’ll try and get to the heart of it – to understand what they really want to do; often their direction is not tax-related at all.

How has your role developed?

I’ve been here three years. At first it was similar to what I’d done before: accounts; corporate tax; and returns. Now everything’s in the cloud and in one place it becomes much easier to project forward for our clients – this leads to project work that isn’t about just compliance.

One client had 50% of turnover tied up in debtors – we then became their back office so they could focus on the business. Now they’ve progressed and have their own bookkeeper, and we have moved onto strategic analysis at board level – they have a bigger team and the next set of issues to deal with, but their financial performance has skyrocketed.

I now look at tech and see if it can break… then, if it works, how can we evolve it to make it even better for us? We’ve looked at every process, every single thing we do – can we do it better, find a way to evolve it, or speed it up to get a better result for the client?

What has that meant for the running of the practice?

It means we’re more goals-focused, which leads us to ask clients where they want to get to.

Using AdvanceTrack to take on accounts preparation and bookkeeping has freed us up to do other things.

While this created the opportunity for us to do different things, we then had to structure the team to work suited to them. We created an organisational structure to work out where we needed to head. Then we underwent DISC profiling to understand what people liked and what they should be doing.

If clients need specialist advice we now have strategic alliances in place… nearly every decision they make, they ask us first.

If we solve those problems then the tech will never replace that, because it’s about trust and helping people, that’s how we look at it. Tech’s not enough to solve the complex problems people face.

Have you had to learn new things?

It’s certainly taught me how to better speak to clients, and then I flipped it [onto managing director Peter Disney and operations director Brendon Howlett] and did it to them…

I’d never had or taken a board meeting or ‘taken charge’ of things – so that’s been transformative for me. That’s all from Brendon and Peter pushing me. I’ve also had some soft skills training, which was massively important – to better understand people.

AdvanceTrack is gearing up for a busy time with two big events coming up

It’s events-frenzy for AdvanceTrack, with attendance at Accountex and its own conference just around the corner.

Accountex London is held on 1-2 May at Excel. AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth will once again be at the show with his team, on stand 516 (by the entrance).

Sheth expects Making Tax Digital, which has been in force from 1 April, to be front and centre of conversations across the two days.

“Practices will be talking about MTD and the knock-on effects of the legislation,” says Sheth. “Their clients will be saying ‘we don’t want to do the bookkeeping’… but the accountants can’t really create value out of doing it themselves.”

That is where AdvanceTrack can step in. “Practitioners will ask us whether we can take on this bookkeeping – of course we can,” says Sheth. “We agree with the practice what the technology stack will look like and then get down to the detail.”

  • It’s not all about Accountex, of course. AdvanceTrack’s Client Conference 2019, held on 30 April, is also one of the big dates in the calendar. For those of you that have read our main feature, you will have seen that expert speaker and author Paul Shrimpling is talking at our conference. Other speakers include Ashleigh Lambert, Karen Reyburn and Matt Flanagan.

The ‘client journey’ will be the central theme of this year’s event, which will cover pricing, marketing, onboarding and more. We hope that attendees will learn about taking action and driving change in their practice.

Our next issue will cover some of the highlights of the show.

A year’s a long time…

… In the accounting practice space! Last year’s AdvanceTrack conference saw more than 100 practitioners and tech experts discuss our theme: the business growth accountant. MTD and GDPR – those dreaded acronyms – were front and centre of discussions. In a world of great change and uncertainty, alongside legislative-driven pressure, how can you structure your operations to best serve clients – and at a profit?

Last year’s event illustrated to accountants the importance of building client relationships by having more up-to-date information about them, particularly on the bookkeeping front. While much has moved on in the last 12 months, this thread will continue in our next event.

“I’m driving home the message about our investment in technology to run an efficient and reliable service to our client firms, and an increasing focus on building a scalable bookkeeping service,” said AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth. “What you really need to consider is you have a set of skills that can change clients’ lives. You must understand the finances, their industry and the whole thing put together – that’s really your role.”

The accounting profession is sometimes accused of lacking creativity. But before compliance and process, there comes ideas. Kevin Reed has curated key words of inspiration from some of accountancy’s expert commentators to help set a path towards practice transformation

“Create a life of freedom”

Amanda Watts is a business and marketing coach, founder of The Pioneering Practice Programme and creator of the British Accounting Marketing Awards.

You’re not in accountancy for the sake of it – it’s to give you the life you want and the life your clients want.

I often have accountants and business owners say to me, “I can’t attract the right staff or clients”… Well, as the leader you have to show up to the game – you have to set the culture and direction, then share it.

If you think everything you need to do to promote your business is just about marketing, then you’re missing the point. Create a life of freedom for you, your staff and your clients.

It’s about being true to yourself and creating something that you want. You haven’t set up an accounting practice for the sake of it, you’ve done it because of other goals, such as going sailing or to have a great life with your children.

 

“The next ten years in the accounting profession will bring greater profitability… for the lucky few”

Mark Wickersham is a chartered accountant, public speaker and author – he is well known as a profit improvement expert in the accounting community. His 2011 book, Effective Pricing for Accountants, was a number 1 Amazon best seller.

Accountants work too long hours for too little profit with increasing pressure on price. That has been the case for the last two decades. But things are changing.

The rapid pace of change in technology, cloud adoption and automation is forcing the profession to look to new ways to add value for clients. The future is advisory, not compliance. The future is interpreting the data, not recording the data.

This future lends itself to a different business model, a model of leverage and scale, not billing based on time.

And when we combine that with pricing based on value (not time spent), accountants will find they are earning more than ever before.

I say “for the lucky few” because unfortunately, many in the profession don’t want to change. They cling to the past. They keep their time sheets. They continue to focus on compliance services.

Yes, if you are one of the few ready to grasp change, the future is looking rosy.

 

“Don’t create a strategy without the detailed operational plan to deliver it”

Peter Gillman is the former managing partner and chairman of Price Bailey, leading it through a period of growth and development to become a Top 20 firm.

A practice’s executive board needs a mix of skills: creative; pragmatic/commercial; operational; and people-orientated.

I worked with a brilliant board that combined these attributes. It included inspirational creatives that were sometimes high maintenance, but so important to creating an ambitious and successful business.

Not all colleagues could understand their value and needed me to be an intermediary at times.

The commercial people and the pragmatists would see the ideas that have client/colleague value, or were unlikely to work. The operational people would understand the detailed steps required to deliver the plan. The people-orientated folk would understand the sensitivities and communication needs to enable colleagues to accept change.

As for ‘perspiration’… It is really hard work to operationally deliver change. It’s remorseless – but sensitive management is required to say “this is where we need to get to and this is the timescale that we envisage to get there”.

Accountancy firms, in broad terms, employ above-average intelligence people. That can be positive (they are thoughtful, receptive and understand business needs), and less positive (they have ideas of their own that might work for them but are inconsistent with the strategy/operational needs).

Respect for the executive is key to implementation and that respect is achieved through treating people the right way, aligned to commercial success.

 

“Manage self-belief. Do that and everything else follows”

Paul Shrimpling is the MD of Remarkable Practice. He has advised owners and managers of accounting firms for more than 16 years, and recently wrote The Business Growth Accountant.

I’ve had to take managing partners to one side and say: “Your job is to inspire your people and your clients.”

As a client or staff member, do you want an optimist in the room or a pessimist? Of course you want someone that’s going to help them achieve greater things. They want positive support.

The role of an accountant – either for the client or their team – is as the promoter and arbiter of certainty.

To help clients increase their certainty about the future, you’re someone who can interpret numbers. Part of analysing numbers has been to look at those in the past, but now it’s about looking forwards.

And once you’re interpreting that information and having those conversations, then how do you habituate it? That’s the perspiration bit…

  • Paul will be speaking at the AdvanceTrack Client Conference 2019. For more details, email advice@advancetrack.com.

 

“Accountants will become an unstoppable force for good”

Steve Pipe (pictured right) is a researcher, adviser, business author, speaker, trainer, strategist and FCA. He describes himself as “committed to helping accountants run their practices in ways that serve their clients and the world better”. The following is an edited and abridged extract from his upcoming book, When Good, Then Good.

The ground-breakers have shown how easy, quick, affordable and rewarding it is to help the world achieve the UN Global Goals by making a small change to their business models. The goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

That simple change is to ensure that when something good happens in your business, something good also happens in the world. For example:

  • When something good happens in your business, such as receiving a referral, winning a customer, making a sale, delivering a service, getting paid on time, receiving a testimonial and so on…
  • Something good also happens in the world– because, for example, you give a child access to food, water, sanitation or education.

Because we are numbers people, the profession will soon realise that the cost of being a ‘Business for Good’ is tiny. It will also recognise that the tiny cost (for instance, such as the $1.85 it costs to provide grain seeds that will grow into a year’s worth of food for a child in Africa) of making something good happen in the world can easily be funded out of the much larger amount of money and other benefits generated when good things (such as new clients, sales and on time payments) happen in their businesses.

Some parts of the profession are leading the way in rising to the challenge of the UN Global Goals. Regardless of whether they use the label ‘Business for Good’, they are showing us a better way that is already making life better for us all.

Soon, the rest of the profession will follow them, spearheading a movement that really will change the world. And accountants will become an unstoppable force for good.

With the accounting profession in a constant state of evolution, accountants are always looking for their next source of inspiration. Whether it be a new tool for your team to use, or a new app to trial with your clients, there’s a plethora of support and events out there to launch yourself into.

Accountex is by no means the least on that list. Every year they build on speakers, apps, education and knowledge available at their 2-day event in London. You might go to demo new software, or learn about the trends defining the profession, or you might be there to simply share ideas and grow your network.

But how exactly do you attend such a marathon of a conference without the risk of overwhelm? How can you get best benefit from attending, as opposed to spending two days out of the office, inevitably returning to 123456 emails, and then letting everything you promised to do after the conference drop to the bottom of the list.

For some, the answer lies in this year’s Client Conference, which once again is being hosted the day before Accountex.

Plotting out your client journey

As we’ve already established, the accounting landscape has radically changed in recent years, and as a result of that, client experience has never been more important.

Marketing, onboarding, app stacks, pricing – it’s all connected, and for firms to thrive in this evolving industry, it’s now more crucial than ever to address the fundamental crux of accountancy businesses – serving your clients.

That’s why our annual conference is this year focused on the client journey. We want accountants to recognise the importance of providing a first-class experience to your clients, and as such, we’ve crafted our conference to cover every element of your client’s journey.

If you’re attending the conference, it’s an opportunity for you to start plotting out what your client journey currently looks like. Take a look at how your team operates with clients. Evaluate your pricing model. Sketch out your onboarding process. Determine your app-stack. Craft your MTD offerings.

By doing this before you attend the conference, you’re going into the conference with an open mind-set of what your client journey currently looks like, and how it might be improved once you’ve heard from the speakers of the day.

Take action at Accountex

Hearing from all the speakers at our client conference will no doubt give you a long list of elements to improve in your client journey.

The good news is Accountex is one of the best places to start taking action. You might need to revisit how you price based on the insights from Paul Barnes’ talk, which means connecting with the different pricing apps exhibiting at Accountex would be a great place to start.

Or you might want to adjust the app stack you offer to your clients, which would lead you to many apps available to connect with.

Whatever your actions may be, our approach would be to go to Accountex with a positive mindset for change. Be open-minded, be willing, be ready to try new things. With that approach, you’re in the best possible frame of mind to refresh the client journey in your firm and begin crafting that first-class experience that people are looking.

What does your client journey look like?

With Accountex a few weeks away, now is the time to start plotting out your client journey. Grab the post-it notes, or the whiteboard pens, and start writing down everything that makes up that experience, and your goals for improving it.

We’ll see you at Accountex and the Client Conference!

AdvanceTrack demonstrates its compliance to GDPR by adding the BS 10012 standard to its existing BSI certifications

AdvanceTrack is delighted to announce that it has attained the personal information management system standard BS 10012.

Attaining the standard means it has met BSI’s best practice framework for the collecting, storing, processing, retaining or disposing of personal records relating to individuals.

The framework aligns to the principles of GDPR.

“We went through the process as many firms and their lawyers don’t understand the GDPR legislation,” says Vipul Sheth, AdvanceTrack founder and MD.

“We felt that we wanted the standard in order to demonstrate that our processes were aligned to GDPR compliance processes.”

The audit process undertaken by the BSI concluded that it was satisfied that AdvanceTrack’s processes enable us to deal with GDPR in a professional and systemised manner. The standard places AdvanceTrack at the forefront of compliance, says Sheth.

“In terms of culture, our staff have always taken security very seriously, so it is very much business as usual,” he says. “As a systemised business – while not an easy exercise – it did make the certification process much easier to attain.

“We already had most of the processes in place, but there were some technical changes applied to exceed best practice.”

 

What are the benefits of BS 10012?

BS 10012 provides a best practice framework for a personal information management system that is aligned to the principles of the EU GDPR. It outlines the core requirements organisations need to consider when collecting, storing, processing, retaining or disposing of personal records related to individuals.

Easily integrated with other popular management system standards, BS 10012 brings big benefits to companies of all sizes, including:

  • Helping to identify and manage risks to personal information
  • Supporting regulatory compliance with data protection legislation
  • Inspiring customer trust
  • Protecting your organisation’s reputation
  • Benchmarking your own personal information management practices with recognised best practice.

Other certifications

AdvanceTrack is already certified for both ISO27001:2013 and ISO9001:2015.

The former covers the requirements for establishing, implementing maintaining and continually improving an information security management system.

The latter sets out the requirements for a quality management system when an organisation needs to demonstrate its ability to provide products and services that meet the needs of both the customer and regulatory requirements; and aims for continual improvement.

AdvanceTrack’s webinar series contains lots of insight to help you set out the direction for your practice. We round up a chat with Receipt Bank’s Sam Horner on ‘the future is now’ for accountants, and highlight our other online discussions

AdvanceTrack has a great catalogue of webinars for practitioners. Topics range from how to approach bookkeeping, through to credit control and even marketing advice – in conjunction with some of the UK’s top accountancy experts.

We’ve included an excerpt from a webinar with Receipt Bank’s Sam Horner: The Next Generation of Accounting. This wide-ranging discussion sets the scene for how and why advisers must look at their practice’s operations as part of a strategy to develop value for a modern client.

Sam is joined by AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth in the chat.

 

Starting point

Vipul Sheth:When we talk about the cloud, an indicator of how far a practice has gone down this path is the number of apps and add-ons they use alongside the core bookkeeping product. It’s an indicator of how far you’ve gone down the cloud journey – are you giving clients real-time information?

Sam Horner:The issue we see with early adopters of the cloud is they take on the bookkeeping service and see it as a silver bullet, but the cloud is more powerful when combined with everything – whether that’s apps for accounts, invoicing, chasing debt and so on.

VS:Real efficiencies come from using other add-ons. And optical character reading (OCR) is a key part of data capture.

 

Factors driving change

SH:MTD does have a say in this, but a lot of the change is being driven by clients. It’s about the way millennials and Generation Z communicate and live their life. Conversations I hear where ‘we use our phones for an alarm, go downstairs and listen to Spotify, tell Alexa to change TV channel, get in the car and it tells you how to get to work, then at work everything’s offline’… The tech stops and they don’t engage with cloud apps in the same way as at home, so the drive and shift is coming from how they operate in their personal life.

VS:If accounting practices have a great relationship with long-standing clients, then they must appreciate that their clients’ business will hand over to their kids – and they’ll expect information over their smartphone. They’ll question why financials aren’t available online. So, firms need champions who can at least have conversations about how their firm’s going to develop.

SH:There is a big question about ‘how do I get clients to change’ and educate them? But you might be surprised, there can be preconceptions about established clients – the previous generations.

VS:The real difference we see with working with clients online is that with regular interaction, your firm can spot gaps where things are missing, rather than getting well past year-end and find things are missing. Then you have to make assumptions on behalf of the client.

We see MTD as just another button to press, for those that are on cloud. However, some think that if you’re making processes automated and ‘easier’, the client will actually want fees lowered.

SH:Well, then you have to show the benefits of the technology. If you can give a client their accounts by the third of the month, then to the client it’s as close to real-time as possible and helps them make decisions. One of our practice clients made this move and offered a premium service to their clients: 30% took up the premium service. But, in reality, the partners aren’t really doing anything different but have created more revenue.

And firms are having conversations where, after adopting tech, they put clients onto fixed fees across a period, and the client is happy.

VS:But where it frees the accountant is for other services: R&D reviews, tax planning meetings and so on. These things were hard to do, but now all clients can be seen because you have access to their data in real-time.

This morphs into CFO-style services. Many businesses can’t afford a full-time accounting professional in their firm. But real-time access enables them to have better conversations, almost as their CFO. I know a practitioner who specialises in a sector, and can now benchmark the client base.

 

The next generation of job roles

VS:Lots of firms we’re working with can perform the CFO role; using tech to capture and process information. They then use our team in many instances to do the bits that technology can’t. We call this ‘systemising the unsystemisable’.

SH:At Receipt Bank we say ‘it’s great to have badges and logos on your website of products, but they just enable you – don’t dine out on them’. They just power what you do. The tech is there to make yourself easier.

For the next title: Chief Data Officer or analyst. This role comes as the government is getting tighter and tighter in the risk management side of sharing of data.

VS:This role is about making sure the integration piece is properly run and tested. In smaller firms these roles or ‘hats’ are worn by the same person – you have specific roles when it comes to larger firms.

SH:We’re seeing firms recruit staff without an accounting background: 18+ year-olds with iPads in their hands, employing them because they understand tech. Clearly it’s also about mindset rather than age… but in reality for many there’s that ‘desktop memory’ in your mind, which isn’t there for someone starting fresh. Junior staff are helping with onboarding, for example.

VS:Yes, we’re seeing conversations being pushed down in the firms – not all partner-led… more of a team-based approach. Your age and experience aren’t limiting factors on who you can have conversations with. The person who’s comfortable sitting in a room having conversations will be recruited.

SH:There are other emerging titles: relationship manager, business development and software support for clients. Firms are investing in people and skills. You used to be able to hide behind numbers, but firms are saying: ‘We need to look at how to upskill our team to have conversations.’ There is still a need for technical specialists and software won’t replace them. But there’s going to be more face time, and that’s where we see the shift.

 

How to change your practice

VS:Fundamentally, you need clean data coming in: from OCR, bank feeds and so on.

SH:It’s about having a single process for a single task. If you standardise processes, you’ll reap the rewards – and allow you to scale-up.

VS:The cloud and digitisation allow you to gain an authenticity of data. However, if you don’t standardise processes you will have very stressed staff through MTD.

Summary

VS:Technology is the key to scale and profitability. Standardisation, repeatable processes… the more you can do that, the more you’ll be in great stead.

SH:And make sure you do it for the right reasons. It’s not about MTD. You need to understand the ‘why’ before the ‘how’. Why are you making the change? Get the tech in and let us do the processing. It’s about improving the conversations and then your team becomes much more valuable because they have those client relationships.

To start the new year we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to how you should approach outsourcing, from ‘what can I outsource?’ through to the key questions you should ask of your own practice’s strategy and operations. AdvanceTrack founder and MD Vipul Sheth fields the questions from Kevin Reed.

 

What is the ‘starting point’?

While outsourcing as a concept is well understood, practices can struggle to align that concept with the running of the business. Unless you see outsourcing as a strategic part of delivery for your firm, it won’t work.

For example, do you understand how you’re utilising your current staff and that outsourcing could create great (and positive) change to them?

Ultimately, do you want your people and practice processing data? I think that, instead, you’ll make more money spending time sat in front of clients. Using an outsourced service can help you spend more quality time with clients. You’ll bill much more per hour and it will make you a proactive adviser in the eyes of your clients.

Your staff will be involved in those client-facing conversations and earn more money for you. And as their own value increases, you’ll have more satisfied and better-paid staff. And happier clients.

 

What can a practice outsource? What are the most popular or standard types of outsourcing that take place, and how is that evolving?

In principle, any task where someone is sat at a computer and inputting manually has the potential to be outsourced, from tax work to bookkeeping and accounts production. What’s unlikely to be outsourced is the conversation piece with the client, unless there are some basic forms of administrative-focused communication. What tends to be outsourced early on, with relatively low risk, is year-end accounts – a popular choice. You have nine months to file a set of accounts so there’s ample time to check without the client requiring visibility during that process. The information is not being changed live as it would be with bookkeeping. It sits in its own silo.

As for evolution, well, the biggest change happening is the need for real-time data. As a result of this, areas such as bookkeeping in the cloud are increasingly being demanded by the end-client. So, if they want real-time bookkeeping, how do you deliver that at scale?

And that’s where we come in, helping to systemise in order to scale that service upward.

Once their information is processed consistently and quickly, you’re moving to real-time information. So, the achievement as a result of MTD compliance is you just need to press a button.

 

What types of practice outsource, and why? Do certain types of practice outsource certain types of process?

It’s not really about size, it’s about attitude. Big firms would do it more because of their scale, but because of their size it means a lot of buy-in is required from a range of people. It can be done by them but requires a much more involved process.

When I meet the whole partnership, they’ll have gone through the whole ‘why?’ journey; any change project requires leadership and sponsorship. And it can also fail with small firms, if someone in the chain doesn’t go along with the plan.

How long can it take to get a process or function outsourced? Why does it take that long – or short – a time?

I could ask, “How long’s a piece of string?”, but it can be fairly quick, relatively speaking. Again, it depends on both attitude and the will to harness technology. If a group of people understand tech and are prepared to standardise (which will require change in an organisation), then it will happen.

One of our most successful clients used outsourcing to standardise their working files. Instead of a different approach by client, office or partner, they said “this is how we produce a file to support accounts”. So, when that data comes to us it means that we know exactly how it has to be prepared.

 

How does the arrangement work between outsourcer and practice? What is the process and how secure is it?

For bookkeeping, we can work with cloud tools that are collecting client data and we sort it, then push it into accounting software and make sure it’s fully reconciled. An accounting firm might have someone continue doing this, but instead of looking after ten clients that person can now manage, say, 50 clients. Their work will also change – it won’t be about processing, but their time will be reviewing the outputs (while understanding how it’s put together) and work at greater scale with their end-clients. This also frees them up to speak to clients.

Once the initial work is done, some firms get us involved in undertaking management accounts and reporting on behalf of their clients. It requires skill to understand what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, but it can be systemised as well and enable you to speak to your clients in a consistent manner.

As a firm you can move to a subscription-type service and start having great conversations with clients. You’re not reporting history.

On security, some in our industry believe that just because the outsourcing staff log into a firm’s network, they think there are no other GDPR or data protection requirements; we have lots of protocols required to keep client data secure. You can’t just say, “we’re working on your servers in London”; there is a separate requirement to undertake impact assessments around how that data is being accessed.

Then, beyond that, the protocols must be secure. We can work on a firm’s network, where firms have their own IT staff, to do work to ensure data accessed by our team members is locked down and things can’t be abused.

 

What are the key advantages from a cost and process perspective that outsourcing can bring?

This may sound odd, but even in ‘year one’ of the project (even when factoring in internal time) you’re probably looking at break-even from a pure cost perspective.

But I’d say that, longer-term, what you can achieve is more client-facing time, and as a result they bill more.

They’ve also changed the type of person they recruit, not someone to work in an engine room but instead be comfortable sitting in front of clients, and talking sensibly and confidently about that business. They’re not having to talk to clients’ FDs about deadlines and accessing information. And it’s a totally scalable process.

 

What else should my practice consider?

When I sit down with practitioners I say: “You need to have a standard workflow.” So whatever is sent to us by whomever, it looks pretty much the same every time, while appreciating or understanding where there will be exceptions. Get standardised yourself and then expect that level of process rigour from the outsourcer.

 

 

Key questions to ask outsourcers

  1. What experience do you have in the outsourcing space?What credentials does the outsourcer have in place, and are they interested in how your practice operates? Try and speak to existing clients. This is all crucial as it will impact directly on your working relationship.
  2. Do you also run an accounting firm?It’s not unknown for some outsourcers to also provide their services directly to what would be considered end-clients. Therefore, are they actually competing with you and, if so, are you comfortable with that?
  3. What credentials do you have that give me satisfaction that you’re trustworthy and reliable?Accreditations should be asked of the outsourcer. What are their processes and general approach to security and reliability? Where are their operations based, and can they be visited?

 

Key questions for the practice to ask itself

  1. Do you want to grow your business?Simply hiring more staff is a way to help you grow, but getting staff competent at processing complex accounting and tax data means they’re sought after. It’s also difficult to improve margins. Lastly, will this approach work when attempting to provide data to HMRC more regularly, and will clients start asking for better and more timely services?
  2. Do you want yourself and staff to be more client-facing?If you’re looking evolve your offering, then your staff will be vital in achieving your goal. Freeing them from processing provides an opportunity for them to help your practice evolve.
  3. Do you want to make more money?Improving margins and profitability requires you to improve your processes.

A phrase heard at an accounting conference led Nikki Adams, director at Ad Valorem, and her managing partner to change tack in their approach to running their practice and now, with AdvanceTrack’s help, they’re reaping the rewards

Nikki, tell us about your practice

We were a traditional practice in terms of our offering – although myself and managing partner Nigel Adams came from industry. Our practice did the same as others for the first eight years, but we got fed up – we weren’t making enough money and it was hard.

After attending a national accounting conference, we changed our focus, and our mantra became making the business ‘scaleable and saleable’. We set out to create a £2m practice… clients wanted tax so we looked to build that as a specialism.

Our practice is more advisory-led and includes a strong R&D tax claims service. We also consider ourselves more commercially-focused than many other practices.

 

When did you start using AdvanceTrack, and why?

As a practice we’d struggled getting our head around ‘the cloud’ at the start, and how we’d implement it. We were frustrated and a bit behind the curve. Then we set up a ‘Millennial Club’; under-25s who said what they thought the practice of the future would be – and they’ve led our cloud offering.

In 2016 we started bringing in cloud clients and convert existing clients. We now have ten new clients a month coming in.

The only way to handle this was having the AdvanceTrack offering to manage our rate of growth.

We’re very open with clients as to how and where the work’s done. If clients want advisory, we’d rather them spend money on advice than their bill being simply for putting a set of accounts together.

 

What impact has AdvanceTrack had on the running of your practice?

It has enabled us to allow more junior members of staff to access clients earlier in their career – becoming ‘client managers’ as ‘assistant accountants’. Even a trainee will have a portfolio of clients for whom they’re responsible. Our consistent message is we want to have client contact.

We see our teams as having a client manager, assistant accountant, trainee and then AdvanceTrack supporting them as part of that team.

 

What is the future for your practice? What are you looking to achieve, and how?

We know that offshoring didn’t work for us, so the benefit of AdvanceTrack is that it is up to (AdvanceTrack MD) Vipul to get the right people – we don’t directly have that concern about talent.

We also know that the accounts production side of things is taken care of. We can fill the ‘client hopper’ without worrying about capacity. It then enables us to pay our staff well, which is crucial in a very difficult recruitment market.

We want to get to £10m in revenues seven years from now. We wouldn’t be able to contemplate this without knowing that AdvanceTrack is by our side every step of the way.

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