take time make time

Being able to fight clients’ fires, or support their growth plans, are key steps in increasing your practice’s value to them. We cover how you can build this capacity within your accounting firm

The most successful accounting practices are those that have the capacity to either react, or be proactive, with clients. Ultimately this enables a firm to deliver a higher level of client service. If AdvanceTrack looked at our top clients, they have some 15% of spare capacity to deal with issues or broach things with their client.

But how do you achieve this? Well, first you have to take a step back and consider how your firm currently works and your attitude to technology.

 

Practice drivers and technological advancement

There are a range of drivers of change in an accounting practice, and these will vary in value dependent on the varying challenges it faces. However, there are key areas of which one or more will be on your radar most times. These are:

  • Number of staff/utilisation
  • Timing of service delivery
  • Use of offshoring/outsourcing in the practice
  • The pricing model used (fixed or variable)
  • How work is delivered to your clients
  • Frequency of invoicing

All these drivers can be impacted by the adoption of technology. But firms adopt technology at different rates, even in different parts of a single practice. Martec’s Law sets out pace of technological development versus change in an organisation. Most organisations are held back by the speed at which the technology is introduced into the business, and later have to ‘reset’ – in other words, effectively to start again. This ‘reset’ might mean reorganising a department or function – for some practices it might mean their natural end.

Consider within your own practice how quickly some teams or individuals have adopted change or new processes and technology. A prime example is a client using cloud accounting such as Xero, but the year-end process is an annual one that is completed months after the financial year end. If that feels like how your firm engages with clients, then neither party is benefitting from the technology improvements that software companies are introducing.

So, what are firms – namely you – going to do to respond? There are varying approaches, but it’s probably best to adopt and utilise the technology that will have the biggest, most positive, impact on the practice.

 

Help your teams, or the practice as a whole, build capacity

Press the reset button intermittently across the organisation. Consider where there is a wholesale change in the systems and/or process as a way of speeding up change.

The image (on page 3) shows the typical difference in perception of cost/value between an accounting practice and the client. Accounts processing and ‘being compliant’ for audit are allocated a lot of value by the firm, but the client attaches little or no value to them. The most valuable part of the service from the clients’ perspective is your meetings with them, and implementation of advisory services – plus the follow-up meeting.

So, if the compliance part of the business is perceived to have the least value, shouldn’t this be delivered at the lowest cost and in the fastest possible time?

As the MD of an offshoring/outsourcing business, I’d put the case that all firms need to look at the capacity required to not only deliver the service, but leverage any change to grow the firm. Our most successful accounting clients have ‘spare capacity’, which they achieve through a mixture of technology and strategic use of our outsourcing/offshoring solutions.

The question you should ask yourself, then, is: “How much capacity can I free up?”

 

Calculate your capacity plan

Using a ‘top-down’ approach, consider:

  • Predicted client billings
  • Write off allowances (plan should be zero)
  • Special work

Using a ‘bottom-up’ approach, consider:

  • Available hours of staff
  • Expected productivity of staff
  • Budgeted rates of staff

Any difference will be a surplus, or shortfall, of capacity.

 

Improving processes will increase the capacity of your firm

There are a number of tasks that need to take place to improve your processes, which will in turn help you build capacity.

First, you must identify your internal ‘champion’ to lead the process change, who must build a framework for change. Identify key leaders and their role in the review of this process, ensuring that non-compliance with the process won’t be tolerated.

Then you can build detail around the new process, once compliance has been signed off and key leaders have agreed on the changes. You’ll never make everyone happy, so consider the majority view. Also consider key risks and impact on clients.

 

Building an efficient team

Next you must make sure your team is fit for purpose. Training is the key to this, and this is done by building a training culture. The main areas to consider are:

  • Process training
  • IT training
  • Personal skills training (e.g. negotiation or presentation)
  • Product training (e.g. Xero, etc)
  • Share your training plan with a wider group (internal/external stakeholders)

 

Delegation skills

Build a delegation plan. Consider the skills needs in your business and ensure the team have the training to do the job. They must focus on solutions and ensure you hire and keep the best talent.

By having the right team balance with appropriate skills and experience you minimise rework, minimise errors and write-offs, particularly if work is otherwise delivered by senior managers and partners. Finally, if senior staff are freed up, they can be more client-facing, delivering more to the clients and bringing in new business.

Based on your client behaviour, it’s then key to try and smooth your workflow over the year. How do you do this? Well, build faster turnaround times within your production teams. AdvanceTrack has been building this for firms using their offshore outsourcing capabilities. And then ensure that there’s free capacity across the year, not just certain months, allowing the firm to grow and deliver based on client demands.

 

What are you measuring within the firm?

I know from personal experience when working in larger firms that KPIs are given to staff they have little or no control of. As a result, if you measure them against these, it is demoralising as seen as unfair. So, ensure you measure people on things they have the power to manage. You must also give honest and regular feedback.

Team members should be encouraged to advise management if job budgets can’t be met. An earlier conversation may reduce the write-off through open conversation with the client and team. Finally, ensure each team member has a job budget and delivery deadline.

Bear in mind that feedback from staff and clients will be critical. Review successes and make improvements where necessary. Can you recommend any advice to the clients based on the information your team has reviewed? Consider if that advice is billable, and whether a fee discussion is required.

If a client has poor bookkeeping or other issues, these must be communicated. If these are not communicated, they believe they provide good books. Firms across the industry are guilty of correcting the errors without communicating this to the client.

Make the client accountable for their actions around timeliness, accuracy of information provided, query resolution and payment terms. Consider the purpose of an engagement letter and ensure it focuses on the client relationship and not legals, which can be dealt with separately.

 

Clients

You’ve built your capacity plan. You’ve trained your teams and most importantly, you’ve adopted technology and have a plan to take the most benefit from this, so you are closer to the technology line in your improvement process.

You then consider how outsourcing/offshoring can help deliver more. Like all things, you need to consider the people in your business and ensure that they buy into the vision you paint of the firm and this will be driven by the type of person and possibly age profile of the team members.

 

Ready to start growing your firm? CLICK HERE

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.

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. 

At AdvanceTrack, we offer both offshoring and outsourcing, and the model that works best for you depends on the stage you’re at as a firm, and how your processes work. 

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

It is becoming more common for businesses to offshore processes to companies overseas

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. 

The benefits of our offshoring model compared to others:

  • You can scale with confidence: Build a team knowing that you can scale it, without the day to day IT and Training challenges
  • It’s secure & quality is assured: It is managed and controlled by international Quality and Security Standards audited by BSI. 
  • You have holiday and sickness cover: You can save yourself time and HR hassles and never lose a day of production.

You can find out more about why we outsource to India here.

You can outsource to a service provider anywhere, in order to utilise greater expertise

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 utilise 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. 

The benefits of outsourcing:

  • Years of expertise – without having to take on a new employee and train them up to the level you require, you can give the work to a specialist with years of experience under their belt. 
  • You have more time to focus on more important areas – you won’t have to spend all your time and energy on the process you’re outsourcing, freeing you up to focus on the areas that need your attention. 
  • You can save on tech – you can rest assured your expert has the tech they need to do the job. If you’re not having to provide the infrastructure to support the work in-house, you can save on technology expenses. 
  • A difference in time zone may be advantageous – you may find outsourcing outside of your time zone works better. You can go to sleep and wake up to completed work!

You can read more about why we suggest outsourcing here

Saving money is desirable, but 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. 

The most successful 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 types of firms here.

Choose the engagement model that works best for you

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?

Great! All you need is a little help figuring out which model suits you best. 

Scalable Delivery Model (Outsourcing)

  • You have a standardised process
  • You have fluctuating demand across the year
  • You understand deadlines and will work with our teams to get the process right
  • You understand that a team supports you

Dedicated Offshore Delivery (Offshoring)

  • You don’t have a standardised approach
  • You have steady workloads across the year
  • Your service is quite bespoke to your clients
  • You want to speak to the same team members every day

Ask yourself where your business is right now, and what you want to achieve. Then let us help you figure out which option is best for you. Take this short questionnaire to tell us about your outsourcing needs. It only takes a few minutes. 

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.

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.

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.

AdvanceTrack makes an impression as attendees want to know more

 

Xerocon 2018, held in London’s ExCeL, was another important date for the AdvanceTrack team. With several thousand people in attendance at the continually growing show, we were kept very busy – fortunately we had a couple of existing clients on hand to help talk through what we do to attendees curious to know more about us.

Xero director Damon Anderson spoke about its big news: the acquisitions of accounts prep and tax filing provider Instafile, and financial document ‘fetcher’ system HubDoc. “These acquisitions place compliance at the core of Xero,” he said.

But what does such technology mean? Does it mean outsourcing won’t be for you, with it easier kept in-house? For AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth, any technology that enables accounting practitioners to have access to client data more accurately and quickly is a boon.

“Once practitioners understand how technology improves efficiency, and the data is in the cloud, it becomes so collaborative between us,”
said Sheth. “Previously a client had to do work to package it up; now they just provide us with a login. Firms can give us so much more information and utilise us as a resource – we know that resource is finite in the UK. So our proposition becomes more valuable and compelling.”

Anderson also addressed the issue of potentially ‘treading on their app partners’ toes’.

“There’s no sign of our ecosystem slowing down; there are huge opportunities,” said Anderson. “We work with lots of providers – we complement them and don’t compete. They are specialists.”

Brendan Woods, CEO and founder of invoice and receipt capture provider AutoEntry, said the “market is as vibrant as ever”.

“Cloud was the top priority, but it’s now about trying to remove manual process and transforming processes (see main feature on pages 2-3). There’s no end to the success stories – but the key is making a commitment to change,” he said.

“Very often it’s the clients putting their toe into the water… are you going to walk away from a client? Either you help them or you don’t – so practices get dragged forward,” Woods concluded.