scaling for growth

It was ‘accountants galore’ on AdvanceTrack’s latest webinar, ‘Scaling for Growth? Building an Advisory Mindset and Firm’, which discussed the cultural and strategic approach towards making a practice invaluable to its clients.

AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth started the conversation by highlighting the key challenges of changing how a practice – or any organisation – operates. These include altering mindsets, successfully adopting new technology and embedding change into the new normal.

“People are fearful of change, and will look to maintain the status quo,” said Sheth. “So leadership is required to change doubters to believers, and champions are needed to keep it all on track.”

Joe David from accountancy firm Nephos said that his background as an accountant in industry gave him a mindset that creating and analysing good data was key in supporting the making of decisions. This led him down the path of creating an advisory- and technology-led practice.

Clarity’s Aynsley Damery said that established firms have to go that bit further when it comes to driving change, particularly if ingrained in providing services based purely on clients’ historical information. “It’s about looking forward as a firm, and looking forward on behalf of your clients,” said Damery. He said that ‘champions’ within the firm, who will help instil that mindset while managing change projects, were vital. “They’re so important in terms of connectivity between management and the team – interpreting the vision and how it will work.”

Practice Ignition’s Trent McLaren said: “You must set out from the top, across the entire firm, the direction and why you’re changing. You also have to let them know about progression, or you’ll inevitably end up with silos of knowledge.”

Click here to access the webinar.

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.

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.

 

What happens with the IT infrastructure when two practices merge? What is the strategic approach? How long should it take to move one party onto the other’s platform? Are there reasons to hold off and maintain disparate systems? Does the merger raise any peculiarities or issues particular to the sector? Read on…

The financial and analytical acumen that practitioners gain in their studies doesn’t always translate into them making the best decisions when it comes to their own business.

And the merger of two practices – generally the acquisition and absorption of one into another – is certainly an area that relies on strong diligence, project management and planning, rather than the detail of FRS 102 or the latest Finance Act.

So, how much does ‘technology’ form the merger or acquisition process? Focus may be on complementary client bases and service lines plus the culture and working practices of staff and partners – does IT get a look-in as a key aspect of dealmaking and integration among practices?

For Keith Underwood, MD of practice advisers Foulger Underwood, undertaking IT due diligence should be a key part of any merger, and to an increasing degree.

“IT has become a key factor in helping generate additional profitability by putting the two practices together onto a single platform,” he says.

“You’d want as much of that to take place on day one as possible to gain rationalisation and a benefit to the bottom line.”

One anonymous practitioner told AdvanceTrack that during an acquisition of a smaller practice the approach was simply “you’re coming onto our system”. But they had failed to gauge the quality of the acquiree’s technology – or the lack of quality in their own system: “Looking back, at the point of merger there should have been a review of the overall systems from a big, small and joint perspective. The due diligence was focused on securing the financial deal, rather than the logistics.”

Mark Taylor, a technical manager in the ICAEW’s IT Faculty, concurs. It can be difficult to set out a stall for knowing how the tech integration will work, he says, but consideration must be made as part of the pre-deal diligence process.

“For some organisations it will come down to who has the ‘newest and shiniest kit’, particularly if one of the parties has been through a recent IT change,” says Taylor.

“A lot of decisions will be made as you approach the merger: the fit seems right on a client and cultural level, and then the IT representatives from each side meet and find out things are similar. The tech will be as much a reason to merge, as cultural, client base or service approach.”

The digitisation of practices is being driven by regulation (Making Tax Digital; complex, continuous tax updates; FRS102; and GDPR), along with the ability of new tech to automate processes that were once manually intensive. The increasing pace of change of technological advances means that many practices have moved quickly to new cloud-based platforms and services. Others are muddling through, making smaller changes or putting in more effort to stay still.

Without wishing to over-generalise, there will be a substantial number of firms whose owners are looking to get out before having to invest in change. For practices that have digitised their offering, the slow-movers can become attractive targets.

“Because one firm is more technically mature than another, the acquirer will say ‘rather than you have to invest, why don’t you merge with us and we’ll save you that pain?’,” explains Taylor.

“It puts you in a position to take over a firm that’s not digital savvy – digital often drives cost savings as well.”

Conversely, Underwood has seen deals “killed” where the acquirer is paper-intensive in its processes, and can’t find a way to embed a digital-only practice into the fold.

Data protection

GDPR is worth mentioning. Data protection and privacy rules have broadened, and punishments increased greatly, under the new European legislation. So, the process of client data transfers in a merger or acquisition require a robust approach.

Consideration must be made that a merger project will likely see changes to systems and access controls during the process. “They’ll need breaking down a bit to allow movement,” suggests Taylor. “So you’ll need a solid change management programme in place”.

Underwood is seeing GDPR become a factor within the due diligence process of a deal. The great risk is that the acquiree practice has failed to purge itself of unnecessary or old client information.

“If a firm hasn’t cleaned their files then work is involved… if you’ve got data on people who are no longer clients, that has to be identified and deleted,” he says.

Another hurdle to clear is data formatting, says Taylor, a process he describes as “extract, transform and load”. Common problems include client dates of birth being in American format, or something other than DD/MM/YY. “It can be different things in different organisations,” he says. Again, time and cost need to be considered for such issues.

Impact on clients

There are two other extremely important considerations. First, the question of client-facing IT must be considered. As Underwood posits, if an acquiree’s client base uses QuickBooks and your practice’s clients use Xero, will you port them across and what impact will that have on retention?

“There will be increasing questions over the retention of clients in relation to the use of different apps or data entry. It is a risk consideration in determining the suitability of a potential target or merger,” says Underwood.

Finally, when considering your practice’s IT requirements post merger/acquisition, it’s vital to maintain flexibility where possible.

For Carl Reader, a co-owner of Swindon-based accountants d&t, a successful integration may set off the spark for further deals.

“If it works, then you’ll probably have found a way to fund the acquisition or merger, and have the appetite for appropriate risk. Once you have that in place, why would you not consider doing it again? So you should think about systems with a growth perspective,” says Reader.

“It’s something I’ve seen other practices do: they get fit for purpose of where they are now, but not where they’re going to be.

“Clients don’t have a ten-year life any more. From that perspective you have to think about acquisition or organic growth, so you need systems that allow the practice to grow.”

Practice viewpoint: Kingston Burrowes

Bruce Burrowes is a CIMA-qualified member in practice, running a three-office firm in Surbiton, Kingston and Wimbledon.

His small but burgeoning practice has taken on a number of client lists, and also brought across staff from acquired practices.

For him, he “keeps an eye on the tech” but it’s not a key influencer in the deal. “My starting point is that their clients will end up on my systems,” says Burrowes. “The reason is that we like to think that what we’re doing is pretty good.”

He does, however, “take a peek” at the acquiree’s tech choices and processes, “to learn”. “You talk to the seller about their tech, what they use, why they like it and how they use it,” Burrowes explains.

For his firm, part of the process of bringing acquired staff on board is to get them involved from day one on helping port across and manage their previous client list into the new system. “They’re an expert on the client, but not your systems,” he says. During that process they work with existing staff and is the first step in them becoming part of the team.

Crucially, he calls on an acquiree to produce a “control list” database. This contains details about how clients are linked together. For example, the name of the client, how they’re referred to in documentation, what businesses they own and what names they trade as. It will also contain information about what services they currently receive and what they’ve been billed.

For Burrowes this is a crucial reference document to help manage situations and double-check details when the previous practice owner has gone.

“Clients may be linked by family, it’s important to know that information,” he says.

Ultimately, Burrowes tries to manage IT risk by operating a single platform that provides a full suite of products. While expensive and no product is perfect, he knows the software covers “every eventuality” and simplifies the integration process.

“I remove risk by getting one product to do the lot,” he concludes.

Vipul’s view

AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth takes the IT infrastructure issues out of the merger equation, and focuses on helping the key personnel work together

You might think that, with our main feature covering the topic of IT in practice mergers and acquisitions, I would also speak at length about the issues covered? Well, no – I think our commentators have done so extremely well, and you don’t need more from me.

I find the non-IT issues around mergers are fascinating but also extremely important. For example, considering the culture of the two organisations in a merger. More narrowly, can the senior leaders of the practices work together if both sets are staying on?

There is then lots of work to understand the skillsets of both firms’ staff, along with setting a clear idea of what post-merger financial and responsibilities will look like.

As you’ll see below, we can help take much of the IT integration weight off your back, particularly when you have so many other considerations to take into account.

The fully managed service can help firms make the transition to the cloud – let AdvanceTrack do it for you

The challenge for many firms is having the internal resource to migrate clients at scale to the cloud – an issue covered in our main feature spread. And this puzzle could be both for Making Tax Digital or moving clients from things such as spreadsheets. In these instances, AdvanceTrack has trained teams at hand to help manage your resource needs to deliver that service efficiently.

The fully fledged, fully managed service is available now. “It’s a service offering that’s growing rapidly for us,” says MD Vipul Sheth.

Once you’ve identified which clients need to move across, our trained teams help you set the format and move the data to its required destination.

“We’ve helped firms big and small make the transition,” explains Sheth. “We can transfer all clients from one practice to another onto a new platform, or more discrete datasets. We’ve helped in instances like this regularly – the service is a big part of our offering.”

Use your internal resources more effectively – we’re the experts at moving data. Get in touch with your porting requirements and we can move quickly on your behalf.

 

With technology-driven change accelerating, Kevin Reed looks past the acronyms to set out the state of play on key tech topics of interest at the moment – and what you need to know to keep up

Accountants know that getting a handle on the latest tech acronyms is just the start of the learning process. These strangely-titled pieces of legislation or ‘next new thing’ will impact on their clients – or how they serve them. We take a look at four of the key topics.

Making Tax Digital (MTD)

Many of you will be weary of the sight of the acronym ‘MTD’, but it’s worth keeping track of key dates and developments. VAT-registered businesses over the VAT threshold will file quarterly returns from April 2019, while it is likely that those with income over £85,000 will need to file under the regime from April 2020. Effectively, HM Revenue & Customs is looking to digitise the filing system and gain access to information on a more regular basis.

Understanding which clients fall into which ‘box’, as far as MTD is concerned, is a priority for accountants. Setting a plan for moving away from using HMRC’s systems and taking on a commercial solution is another crucial step, as the taxman phases out its own delivery platform. Educating clients to this change, and through the process, must also be carefully considered.

There is concern about whether HMRC’s £2.1bn transformation plan (to become a digital provider of public services, while reducing costs) is feasible, fears that have again been raised following the publication of a report by the Public Accounts Committee.

Brexit is likely to see a 15% increase in projects undertaken by the taxman – on top of 250 outlined as part of its transformation plan. HMRC is now ‘re-prioritising’ its workload and will reveal more by the end of 2017/18 as to the likely impact.

However, as the committee is putting pressure on HMRC to manage the so-called SME ‘tax gap’, it seems unlikely that MTD will disappear off the radar – but it does raise the risk that a shift in focus away from digital transformation onto other projects will adversely affect any technology-focused changes. And a cautionary note: HMRC told the committee that it expects to work with tax advisers to encourage their clients’ compliance.

Accounting app ‘ecosystems’

Perhaps the most intriguing technology development in recent times has been that of the ‘app’, and associated ‘app market’. Think Apple Store or Google Play Store, and the multitude of tools and games that has been borne or reincarnated through these platforms.

Now we have accounting technology providers enabling accessibility and integration in the cloud. Xero, Quickbooks and Sage have followed the ‘app’ approach in the small business space, and extended it out into practice management. Their online app stores offer a multitude of add-ons. For accountants in practice, this development opens up lots of opportunities – and issues to be resolved.

First, is it worth making the leap from your current technology platform? Some practitioners will work with ‘best-of-breed’ software and go through the painful process of extracting data from one tool to another. Others will used integrated suites of products – but some parts of the suite may not be the best tool for that particular practice. Again, this may require extra software purchases and fiddly data transfers.

Carl Reader, director at Bristol accountants d&t, says the ‘platform and apps’ approach is tempting in comparison to the alternatives. “Traditional integrated accounting platforms are quite clunky, particularly as there’s no such thing as the ‘stereotypical accounting practice’ anymore,” he explains.

It is worth noting that the new cloud-based platforms are also expanding their remit, and offering deeper functionality. However, unlike the traditional integrated platforms, you have more flexibility to opt out and instead use another bolt-on app if you prefer – without a painful manual integration. A major concern, in a world where the app market is expanding rapidly, is knowing which of the add-on apps are right for your practice. “The options seem to increase on a daily basis and it is almost impossible to keep on top of what is happening,” according to Blick Rothenberg partner Bobby Lane. The practice has worked with a consultant who helps constantly monitor the latest developments in the accounting and business app space. But, as previously mentioned, the platform providers are developing their service further, which Lane believes will remove much of the need for picking and choosing add-ons.

“There seemed to be an add-on developed for every area and businesses believed that they had to have everything,” he says. “The reality is that when you break down the actual requirements of the business, most of what they need can be carried out with the basic platforms. These will continue to develop and replace the need to add on.”

PSD2 (aka Open Banking)

This is the acronym that has probably had the least traction in the media.

It sounds like a droid from the new Star Wars movie – it actually stands for Second Payment Services Directive. While neither the acronym or the full title will mean that much to anyone, you may have heard reference to its alternative moniker: Open Banking.

Put simply, banks will have to make available, upon your request, direct feeds of account information to third parties. These third parties will provide a range of financial and corporate services based on you allowing them access to your data.

Clearly, some of these products and services won’t just be for the consumer – corporate and business-focused offerings will also become available. Tim Fouracre, founder of Clear Books, has launched Countingup. This app will enable small businesses to open a current account via their smartphone, while undertaking your accounting. It will be able to submit VAT returns, generate a P&L, create invoices and do the bookkeeping. He says it’s no surprise that the banks are “dragging their heels” on being ready for Open Banking (it’s believed five of the nine big banks missed the 13 January kick-off date).

“It’s no surprise HSBC et al are dragging their heels into Open Banking. It’s going to kill them,” he says. “We already know their point of contact with customers is on the decline as the branch network erodes away. But as the banks move to a predominantly online model, Open Banking is about to remove their point of contact with customers in the digital world too.”

Blick Rothenberg partner Bobby Lane urges patience – as far as practitioners are concerned. He believes the new regime “will not make a huge difference” to dealings with clients in the short term. He does predict new services to arise around the lending decision-making process for SMEs, which may influence how practices work with clients in finance-raising. Accountants serving clients in the fintech space must also be aware of the opportunities presented by Open Banking.

“At the current time, the role of the accountant will be more education-based, letting clients know what is happening and what this will mean for them,” says Lane.

GDPR

Like MTD, GDPR is an acronym that – by casting an eye over it – will automatically make you feel weary, anxious, or both.

We broached the thorny topic in our April 2017 issue of InsideOutsourcing – but it’s still well worthy of a reprise.

The UK’s Data Protection Act 1998 will be superseded by the EU-driven legislation. The new law intends to bring up to date provisions to deal with the explosion of personal and business data – along with how it is used, stored and deleted (or not). GDPR is enforceable from 25 May.

Personal data will require stronger consent from the individual for that information’s use and storage, the ‘right to be forgotten’. Some organisations will have to appoint a ‘data protection officer’ in certain circumstances. Encryption of personal data is expected to be undertaken. Accounting practices hold much sensitive personal and corporate data. The misuse, or lack of robust measures to protect that data will see much larger fines issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office than previously.

It is interesting to observe the changes in the profession as a result of technology. As a technologically advanced accountancy outsourcer, we understand the changes and are driving the biggest changes in the profession. Cloud accounting is transformational.

What is surprising is that there are a significant proportion of firms who have yet to develop an integrated approach to cloud accounting and bookkeeping.

Receipt Bank contribute their thoughts on making bookkeeping pay for the professional firm. This is available to read on our website.

Many accounting firms have steered away from bookkeeping in the past due to the relatively low value and the large volume of paperwork. Consider how much work you passed to local bookkeepers in the past? Consider how inconsistent the quality of these bookkeepers has been over that time.

So what are your options today?

No change (The Do nothing strategy)

That is a strategy of sorts. The long-term impact of such a strategy is to reduce the long-term value of your practice, as few new entrepreneurs will buy your firm’s services if you don’t demonstrate cloud capability.

Half-baked cloud strategy (Partial cloud strategy)

There are many firms that fit this profile. Consider how many of you have clients that use Sage, Xero or QBO (and many others) and because your client has introduced you to them, you do support them, but it is almost accidental?

In this instance, you support anything as long as you win the client.

Full cloud strategy

This is where the firm has a clear strategy as to which products it will support and how they will transition appropriate clients to their chosen software products and how they will attract new clients using their expertise in the chosen products.

A truly professional outsourcer like AdvanceTrack® can deliver cost-effective and efficient delivery of bookkeeping and other compliance services. This strategy can also help deliver a cloud strategy faster than in-house staff.

Outsourcing should help you focus on what you do best – deliver better service and advice to your clients.

AdvanceTrack® is run by UK based ICAEW Chartered Accountants and are certified by BSI in the UK for ISO9001:2015 (Quality Management) and ISO27001:2013 (Information Security Management) and operating since 2003.

Call us today to arrange a meeting to help you develop and deliver your cloud strategy on +44 (0)24 7601 6308

“It is interesting to observe the changes in the profession as a result of technology. As a technologically advanced accountancy outsourcer, we understand the changes and are driving the biggest changes in the profession.”