AdvanceTrack’s most recent webinar was one of its most thought-provoking and interesting.

On the topic of ‘value’, three experts joined AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth to discuss what value means in the context of an accounting practice, its people and clients.

Andrew Van De Beek, founder of Australian accountancy firm Illumin8, kicked off proceedings with an intensely personal and heartfelt presentation. This tone supported his message: work with clients you like, and understand the purpose of their business, before you can deliver value.

Clients are usually sold an expectation of what it will be like to work with another party, and are then disappointed with the reality.

“When I started my firm eight years ago, I’d already worked in a smaller firm and a Big Four firm. I hadn’t really enjoyed what I was doing – ticking boxes. That changed when I realised there were businesses behind my work – it changed my thinking,” he explained.

Van De Beek and his firm undertook soul-searching of who they were as personalities, and who they wanted to work with. “It was a transition from ‘pretending to be an accountant’ to ‘here’s Andrew… who is good at accounting’,” he said.

His official ‘work photo’ was him in a suit and tie. “I asked myself ‘why am I putting this shirt on?’ The branding was this picture while I was really [a guy in a t-shirt drinking whisky],” he said.

“In other words, the branding was the guy in the suit, but when clients interacted with us they got something different.

“If we’re pretending to be someone else, act a certain way, do things a certain way… it won’t hit the mark,” Van De Beek added. Accountants often present themselves in a similar way, providing similar services in the same style – “it just won’t hit the mark”.

Karen Reyburn, founder of accountancy marketing agency PF, carried on the thread. She said accountants feared being themselves, but making such a move towards fully representing yourself in your work normally required “small changes over time”.

However, such a move was important in terms of winning and working with clients. “Your brand is not for you, it’s for clients,” she said. “They will ask, ‘is this real? Are these people for real?’.”

When there’s a mismatch “they will hesitate to work for you”, Reyburn added.

The step towards online communication precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic has seen accountants behave more as they are, particularly where they talk to clients from their home environment.

“I hope that those moving through this see one of the big lessons that ‘me and my firm need to be who we are and show it’,” said Reyburn.

Building that authenticity is an aspect of setting out how to understand what value is in terms of clients, said James Ashford.

“Accountants do amazing [technical] things: balance sheets and P&Ls, but I only care
about what’s going on in my life. I want to be able to pick my kids up from school and my wife be safe, along with a storm-proof business. That’s where accountants can have an impact,” said Ashford.

On pricing, Ashford said you should be “consistent and profitable in what you need
to deliver”.

“And compliance isn’t dead,” he added. “It’s our most profitable work [at the accountancy practice where he is a director] because of how we charge it, manage our efficiencies and deliver.”

View the webinar by clicking here.

Many firms know that AdvanceTrack help drive efficiency into theirs and their client firms’ process. We also help clients move to the cloud. We are a migration partner for Xero as Xero Partner firms want to move their client to Xero at scale.

One of our long-standing clients, MHA Carpenter Box recently approached us as they had two large companies to move from Sage onto Xero. Whilst there are tools that help “standard” clients move to the cloud, these companies were international in their nature.

The biggest challenge that both the end client and MHA Carpenter Box faced, was the need to move a large volume of transactions across multiple years. The most complex part of the migration was dealing with foreign transactions. These were not just bank transactions, but purchases and sales with the exchange differences needing to be allocated correctly in line with the financial statements.

Across the 2 entities that needed moving across, there were 1000’s of transaction lines that needed migrating across and reconciled.

Our Xero trained teams were given access to the data before starting work. They agreed a plan to move the data using technology and their knowledge of using Xero effectively.

Once the data had been moved from Sage into Xero, our teams carefully reviewed the data and ensured that the client data had been transferred effectively and accurately. With trained accountants and bookkeepers overseeing the process, the migration was delivered cost-effectively and accurately.

Clean, quality data which the client and firm will benefit from in the future as the reports will be meaningful with cloud tools that can now be connected using Xero.

Client feedback

There are great tools like MoveMyBooks to move client data to the cloud. Where there are complexities such as Foreign Currency, we’d certainly use AdvanceTrack again to help us transfer the data.

Does your client need help moving data to the Cloud? Get in touch with the AdvanceTrack Cloud team.

tech, Xerocon, outsourcing

In September, we were at Xerocon Brisbane. Whilst we were there, we had the opportunity to catch up with our Australian clients, see some new faces and get the latest updates in tech. 

The biggest move we noticed in Australia is the increasing move into SMSF and bookkeeping for clients by accounting firms.  Clients want a holistic service from their trusted friend – their accountant!

Often the two go hand in hand and firms are increasingly asking us to manage the SMSF record keeping for the individual fund, but more importantly, the business owner wants the accountant to look after the business’ financial records.  This trend, which started a while back is turning into a flood, with businesses recognising that their energies are best spent in driving their business forward. 

Their accountant is now better able to help clients with Cashflow management using tools like Float, Fluidly, Fathom and Futrli for example. They can do this, because they are responsible for the regular production of management accountants, all enabled through technology. This was a very important growth area. 

In 2018 we wrote about the top three issues facing Australian firms

Talking with professionals this year in Brisbane we found that outsourcing is becoming more of an accepted way to deliver work. Some firms also wanted to hear about our dedicated offshore resource. 

But most successful firms among them have truly embraced the fact that their role has changed. 

They’re outsourcing as default, from compliance through to reporting, so that they can have a consistently proactive rather than reactive relationship with their clients. 

What moved them to make this decision?

1. They realised they’re not in the business of accounting

 

What?

A confusing statement for an audience of accountants. 

Our friends at GoProposal wrote a really great blog titled ‘You’re no longer in the Accounting business’.

It’s just as true in Australia as it is in the UK, perhaps even more so. 

When we meet accountants we often find ourselves asking them – what is it that your clients want? Yes, they want to save tax. Yes, they want to know that their affairs are sorted. But what do they really want? What are their goals for the growth of their business, for their family, for their future. 

The successful firms are now in the bigger-picture business. They’re having conversations with their clients about the things that really matter. 

There’s a growing demand for wealth management advice

One of those bigger picture conversations that’s in demand more and more in Australia is wealth management. There’s an increasing need for advice in personal and business wealth strategy, pensions and retirement, and many accountancy firms are filling the gap by moving into wealth advisory services.

As more individuals manage their own pensions with a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF), the work involved is also rapidly growing for those accountants who have moved into the wealth space. This means two things:

  • The firm will be pushed to deliver more compliance work
  • The firm owner needs to free up more time firm-wide to have bigger conversations with clients and offer more value

As these two things happen in tandem, it means more training, stronger systems and consistent processes. This is where the need for outsourcing has become more than just offloading compliance work. At AdvanceTrack, our goal is to help you create the business structure to have the very best conversations with your clients. 

2. They understood they need to create the right environment for today’s staff

 

We partner with firms in the UK and AUS/NZ and we’re seeing that the same issues arise when it comes to staff retention. Once qualified, if not pushed to their potential, staff are leaving smaller practices for the big accountancy firms or migrating to tech companies. 

Australia is further along than the UK in digital development, and the tech space is an attractive option for graduates who are now learning to add value at an earlier stage in their career. 

At the same time, we’re seeing desktop software being discontinued. BGL, Australia’s leading SMSF admin software, has retired its desktop product in December. 

It’s adapt or be overtaken when it comes to transitioning to new technologies and giving clients real-time information. Business owners can access their finances at the click of a button now, meaning that roles have changed whether we like it or not. Cloud integration specialist, Chief Data Officer, Virtual FD – These are the next generation of job titles.

Your staff already don’t want to be stuck delivering low-level work now, and they won’t want to be stuck delivering low-level work in the future. And remember, it’s not why you became an accountant either! 

The firms who are seeing real growth realised early on that their people are working at the wrong level, and they’re outsourcing their core services to make room for more skilled, challenged and satisfied staff. 

Ask yourself these two questions

If you’re stuck in a compliance cycle right now, and you can’t see a way out of the hamster wheel, first ask yourself:

  • What do my clients really want?
  • What do my staff really want?

Then take a look at how you can go about joining the global community of firms on this outsourcing journey, and realise your new potential as an evolved accountant. 

What can I outsource in my firm?

 

Outsourcing is no longer out of the ordinary. The outsourcing journey begins with accepting that.

We all know that the accounting profession has seen some big changes in the last decade – out with the old and in with the new, the more efficient and the most profitable. 

Some small firms with a handful of tax-only clients may be able to coast along for a while doing things the way they always have. But for those looking to grow and thrive, it’s a case of adapt or be replaced. 

That being said, it seems there’s still some lingering misunderstanding about outsourcing, what can be outsourced, and how it can contribute powerfully to the growth of your firm.

As far as we’re concerned, outsourcing isn’t about just getting some help with compliance.

It’s a tool to help you transform the nature of your interactions with your clients. 

 

Are you stuck hoping the dam won’t crumble?

 

When clients come to us, they’re usually overwhelmed in one way or another.

Remember the story about the little Dutch boy and the dam? 

In the popular fable, a little boy notices a crack in a dam. Since much of the Netherlands is below sea level, a leak in the dam could be a fatal disaster. So the little boy plugs the crack in the dam with his finger. The leaking stops. The little boy knows that if he moves, the hole will get bigger and bigger and the town will flood. 

When he is finally found, the boy is hailed the hero of holland! It’s a tale of bravery. The only problem? He is still the only solution for an imminent flood. 

We find many firms in the same position, stuck recruiting anyone and everyone to plug the holes in their own businesses before an imminent flood. Often we find the business owner is doing their own part to plug the dam. At this stage, we find the same issues stopping you from taking your firm to the next level:

  • You just don’t have enough staff or time to find them
  • Your existing staff are doing work at the wrong level 
  • You’re doing, rather than advising as the Business Owner
  • Your team don’t have the skills required for you to scale up
  • You’re unable to retain staff long term
  • Your top talent are recruited by bigger firms with more to offer

Our solution?

 

Build a damn wall

 

Instead of trying to fill the gaps with anyone who is willing, change the structure of the way you do business. Build a wall so that you’re never fighting floods and you can do the work that is going to be the most profitable for you. 

That being said, you don’t have to be in a tax work crisis for outsourcing to work for you. You can outsource at different levels within your business, to allow you to deliver more than just accounts, or find the skill set to break the barrier into advisory work. 

We created the outsourcing journey, to help you identify where you are right now, but most importantly to show you what’s possible. From all of our experience working globally with firms like yours, we’ve identified that this is the route that leads to scalable growth and profitability.

Start – Everything is being done in-house. You’re maintaining, not growing.

Regular User – We combat capacity by starting with one process and nailing it. By outsourcing accounts and/or bookkeeping, you’re scaling up your team’s hours for higher level work.

Strategic user – Getting to strategic level is exciting, because you’re able to revisit your internal roles and really start to level up your team. At this point, you’re outsourcing reporting and the team are reviewing rather than preparing. Your Account Managers are able to step up and have more conversations with the clients. 

Strategic + – At this point, outsourcing is your default method for accounting, bookkeeping and reporting. You now have the ability to increase your billable rates and your departments capability. At this level, your outsourced team are giving prime delivery, allowing your team even more time for advisory work. 

Growth – You have built the wall. You’re growing at a fast rate, with the right structure for having the very best conversations with clients, and the right team skillset to support your client base.

 

It’s not just about freeing up your time, it’s about what you use your time for

 

Ask yourself why you became an accountant. 

You are the most valuable person to your client, which means that you need to focus on what they value the most in order for your own firm to be more successful. If you’re stuck doing work at the wrong level, you’ll eventually become obsolete in the eyes of your clients.

Whether you need to build a wall to allow you time to find the right staff, or get your existing staff in the right seats for scalable growth, or you just want to do more of what you enjoy – outsourcing to a trusted team can help you accomplish your goals.  

Clear on where you are in the journey? Tell us what you need

We don’t really need to tell you that Making Tax Digital is well underway – it’s been at the forefront of most accountant’s minds ever since HMRC first announced their rollout plans two years ago. 

It has been the focus of most accounting events, many many talks, and countless webinars. But so far, there’s been a lot of negative rhetoric around tax going digital:. 

  • It’s coming
  • Better hurry
  • Biggest change to tax system in 20 years
  • If you’re not ready, you’ll face penalties.
  • How to make MTD pain free
  • Are you ready?

As an accountant and adviser there is a big opportunity in Making Tax Digital, and it’s all about how you frame this change to your clients. 

 

The benefit of Making Tax Digital isn’t digital tax

You might be finding it difficult to communicate the benefits of MTD to your clients because you feel like it’s a burden to ask them to step up and do more, more often. 

It may feel like the only benefit you’re getting from MTD is that it’ll keep your clients on their toes. It’s a good excuse to hammer home that they can’t be late submitting records to you, but little else. 

 

Reframe the value

MTD has big business benefits for your clients. That benefit to them isn’t that tax is going digital. They don’t care about the formalities of submissions – that’s your remit. The benefit is the value they’ll get from moving their accounts over to the cloud.

  • It’ll eliminate their fear of costly mistakes
  • They can transform the productivity of their business and better prioritise their time
  • They’ll be able to predict issues before they arise
  • They’ll cut costs and will have more available cash 
  • They’ll have the tools to grow their business
  • They’ll be in complete control of their business as it does grow

Not to mention that moving to cloud software allows your clients to have an upgraded relationship with you. You’ll become more like a strategic business partner than an accountant. 

 

Your confidence transfers to your clients 

For many business owners, Making Tax Digital is a blip on their radar. They’ve got lots of other things to think about to keep their business running day to day. They’ll likely be leaving all the MTD stuff in your hands, and putting their confidence in you, because you’re the tax expert.

That means that you need to have confidence in the value you’re delivering, rather than fearful of the implications of HMRC demanding more. If you’re scared about your ability to deliver, your message will be wrong. 

The thing is – you can deliver it! You likely already are…

Think about your best client – one who’s already moved to cloud software and seen success. Think of how it has transformed their business. You know the value, because you’re seeing it in the work you’re already doing for your clients. 

You just need to look beyond the features of cloud accounting – the apps themselves or the ease of bookkeeping. Instead think about the emotional benefits – less anxiety, more confidence, more time at home, more control, more money, more status. 

Many of you will already know and be using some form of pricing and onboarding software. Whichever platform you use for generating proposals and automating the process, what these products are really offering Accountants is a tool to price consistently, sell more confidently and grow more profitably. 

What are the top three emotional benefits of moving to the cloud, specific to your clients? Create your next conversation around those next time you talk about tax going digital. 

And if you want further accountability in creating those relationships with clients, then talk to us about our Growth Academy, designed to help you move away from deadline driven work and become a master of deep, systematic change.

 

Is outsourcing the same as offshoring?

 

In short, no. 

But we won’t end the blog there, because this is one of the most common hesitations from firms who are new to the idea of outsourcing, or just starting to dip their toes in. There’s a big misunderstanding that outsourcing and offshoring are just two different words for the same thing. 

The compact answer

 

Offshoring = giving work to a third party overseas, or moving functions of your own business function overseas

Outsourcing = giving work to a third party anywhere

 

Offshoring explained

The word ‘offshore’ has some negative connotations to it, especially in the world of finance. Don’t worry – when we talk about offshoring here, it has nothing to do with international banking. Offshoring refers to a business contracting work out to another country, or moving their own business abroad, in order to take advantage of favourable economic conditions.

Offshoring isn’t exclusive to product manufacturing. It is becoming more common for businesses to offshore processes to companies overseas where the cost of labour is lower. It’s all legit and there’s nothing to stop you doing so. 

Outsourcing explained

Outsourcing refers simply to the practice of hiring a third party or individual to carry out work that has historically been carried out in-house. You can outsource to a service provider anywhere, in order to utilisee greater expertise, or free up more time for you to focus on the work you love, that you’re best at. That service provider may be in the same country or even the same local area as you, or they may be overseas. So as you can see, offshoring is in essence outsourcing, but outsourcing isn’t always offshore

 

The decision to outsource should not be driven by the desire for cheap work

Where the confusion between offshoring and outsourcing is most detrimental is the perceived benefit of cheap labour – that the point of either is to simply deliver your existing services or products at a cheaper cost. Saving money is desirable, of course. Who doesn’t love to save money? But you may find that spending less money results in a higher cost to your relationships with clients. 

Our clients don’t outsource to us because they want us to do the more manual work at a cheaper rate. For starters, how would you go about deciding what your ‘cheaper’ work is?

Your compliance function is your core work – the work that needs to be done well and done consistently. It isn’t something you want just anyone to do. You certainly don’t want to compromise your high level reporting and life-changing advice for the sake of cheap rates either. 

Our clients work with us for our expertise in the industry of accounting, for our desire to make them more proactive in delivering value to their clients – but mostly because they have the right mindset. 

 

Outsourcing is driven by a growth mindset

It’s not about saving money, but it’s also not exclusive to the big firms either. We’ve worked with Sole Practitioners, two office practices, multi-partner practices and major international groups. We’ve found it’s not about the size, it’s about the attitude. The firms that see the most success are those who are able to look at their current offering and say “I want to be able to do more”. Those who don’t want to be stuck doing compliance only. Those who don’t want to see staff leave to do higher level work elsewhere. Those who want to be an integral part of their client’s business strategy instead of waiting on a monthly conversation. 

We wrote more about those kind of firms here.

 

Do you want to:

 

  • Do more of the work you love?
  • Improve the client experience by having the time to offer more value?
  • Free up space to train more of the team to deliver your high level work?
  • Have the processes in place to make more profit?

 

 

Ask yourself what it is you want to achieve, and then take a look at outsourcing journey and to see how you can start on the path to achieving it. 

Premium service will come in useful for practices that use outsourcing strategically

“If you commit to AdvanceTrack, we’ll commit to you.” That’s the message from AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth, having launched a premium “Amazon Prime-style” service for its top clients at its annual conference.

“The new service is aimed at clients that use outsourcing strategically, rather than just an overflow capability,” Sheth told the 120 attendees at AdvanceTrack’s annual June event in London.

“We’re saying to firms that if you see outsourcing as a strategic delivery resource, we will support that with a higher level of service.

“What we’ve seen is that the firms that use us regularly and strategically grow faster and deliver higher levels of service. The irregular, overflow users, haven’t fixed their workflow and process problems.”

The use of outsourcing frees up practices’ best people to spend time with clients, rather than entering data. “As a result, they deliver more and better value to the client base,” said Sheth.

AdvanceTrack has made a number of key investments in recent months. The outsourcing specialist has increased the number of
account managers working with its accounting firms, while upgrading its core systems.

“Investment in tech is helping us manage differing levels of service so we can do so consistently and grow headcount to help,” said Sheth.

 

Grow with our Academy

Also announced at AdvanceTrack’s ‘The Client Journey’ conference was its Growth Academy, in partnership with Paul Shrimpling.

It’s about deep, habitual, systemic change to set up your firm for a bright, profitable future, and is for 1-5 partner firms that want profits and the capital value of their firm to change.

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 to agree any next steps.

Not only that, but the academy will have a profound impact on how you and your team feel about the core work at your firm, which will in turn help your team enjoy the work they do.

Firms that have gone through the academy have experienced tremendous results: increased staff retention, improved profits, extra work and higher fees. If those are the results you’re looking for, and you want to make a change to remain competitive, then this is the next step for you.

Understanding the value you provide as an accountant is the key that opens up opportunities to create a robust and clear pricing strategy. A key theme in AdvanceTrack’s recent ‘The Client Journey’ annual conference, Kevin Reed discovers the attitude – and action – required to increase your fees.

“Accountants, as a breed, are intrinsically embarrassed about having to charge and how much they cost,” states former Price Bailey executive chairman Peter Gillman.

It’s quite an opening gambit in the game that is understanding your value as a practitioner and charging appropriately for it.

There has been a bias towards conservative and “slightly introverted” people in the profession. Clients can sense this, and will leap on an accountant apologising for a cost.

Accountants therefore need to turn things around, and think from a client’s point of view as to what value they provide.

For example, bookkeeping has always been viewed as low value: a manual-intensive process that provides out-of-date information for compliance purposes only. The value comes from being able to produce timely and accurate financial information – data which can be interpreted by an expert to help the business make decisions.

“Can you help a client understand why costs are going up disproportionately to turnover? Can you do that? So many accountants merely shove the [basic information] in front of clients,” suggests Gillman.

This type of thinking is exactly what occurred to Paul Barnes, founder and MD of Manchester-based practice MAP.

“One of the first things I did [when MAP was launched] was list all the services I would like as a business owner – it’s about being in the client’s shoes and what solutions can be made available to them,” explains Barnes.

Then, with each line of service, no matter how small, Barnes set about putting a price against it – and considering how to differentiate it based on type/size of client or their requirement.

Barnes sees that accountants are “scared” about upselling services because clients “won’t pay more”. For MAP, there is a simple and clear message for clients: the cost of using MAP’s offerings is far less than hiring an in-house accountant or setting up a nascent finance function.

“One of the strengths and weaknesses for accountants is that there are so many clients, and it’s easy to win them,” says Barnes. “They’re coming in their droves because they have a fear of getting into trouble. So, the accountant has to break out of signing clients on their fear, and spend a bit longer thinking about what they need rather than what they ask for.

“You can then craft a package that helps the client mature as a business, rather than them clinging on with you at the bare minimum. Any firm can win business but going through the motions of selling the same simple stuff is not inspiring or rewarding.”

 

1. Walk before you run: Start with the basics (accounting and so on)

While most accountants are well-versed in the benefits of cloud accounting, the plethora of information and apps can be hard to navigate and make applicable for your own practice – particularly if long-established.

For Trent McLaren, global head of accounting and sales at Practice Ignition, it’s important that firms walk before they run. And the first step is to get a select number of clients onto the cloud – which creates an opportunity to produce monthly bookkeeping and reporting based on up-to-date income and expenses information.

“I’ll tell a lot of firms we chat to that it’s ‘too early’ for them: we can be the catalyst but they need to start with a smaller bucket of clients they want to work with more often and show them the extra things you’ll offer them, business goals support or regular KPI reporting,” says McLaren. “Then, your pricing revolves around that.

“You have to start somewhere and often it’s breaking down the yearly accounting to quarterly or monthly.”

And, as the practice itself is billed monthly to access tech subscriptions, “it forces firms to think differently about their own pricing” and consider regular client billing – not just waiting until a year-end ‘task’ is completed.

“Once you have the monthly reporting or meeting with the client, then other services come into play,” says McLaren.

 

2. Make sure you have a decent proposal tool set up

What is the experience of an established practice looking to think about what constitutes client value, and whether that means changing both what they offer, and how they offer it?

For Wood and Disney, an Essex-based practice, a discussion at AdvanceTrack’s annual conference two years ago was a pivotal moment.

“We had a chat with GoProposal’s James Ashford,” explains Wood and Disney senior client manager David Rudd. GoProposal is a pricing and proposal technology launched by both Ashford and MAP’s Paul Barnes.

“Historically we used a spreadsheet that contained details of three different pricing models based on turnover and different offerings, but we’d got to the stage where it wasn’t working well,” says Rudd.

Wood and Disney started using GoProposal and since then has adapted the pricing to suit its needs.

“For example, we quote on accounts production a year in advance: they tell us what they’re going to provide us in terms of bookkeeping and then we also price dependent on turnover,” says Rudd.

Historically the firm “gave bookkeeping away”, admits Rudd, “without realising its value”.

“It’s actually the most valuable thing we do as it’s fundamental to everything else,” he says.

Building a quote requires face-to-face time with a client, prospective or otherwise, which drives contact and conversation.

A systemised approach also improves governance, with Rudd’s bosses able to check the pricing overview quickly. “We’ve created a system that’s fair to everyone, transparent and we can explain to clients why and how we do the job – they understand what you’re doing,” says Rudd.

The next, logical, step for the firm has been to move away from timesheets. “We’ve binned those off and now have an hourly average rate, which means we can track roughly the amount is coming in and how much time that will take,” he says. “The next step is for us to monitor capacity.

“We now understand we’re doing a job that helps people and we should value it appropriately. And we needed technology to help us do this in a systemised way.”

 

Vipul’s view


AdvanceTrack’s MD and founder gives his take on practices’ value

I’ve said to many practitioners: Don’t sell them bookkeeping…sell the outputs and the conversations.

Of course, in order to do that you will need technology and it helps if you’re doing the bookkeeping.

The moment it’s just about doing the books, then the client will immediately think of someone undertaking it at the kitchen table, rather than what you can offer: well-qualified and professional staff who analyse and interpret information.

You have to be brave and price on value. If you recognise the value you deliver and the client can see that value, it makes it easier to be brave in that conversation.

For AdvanceTrack, it’s about using technology with our skilled team in India to deliver the processing of data, which frees up your skilled people to undertake that analysis and interrogation.

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.”