Kinder Pocock

Q: How have things been for your practice?

A: It’s been tough going. We’ve done so much for clients and lost a lot of chargeable time – but some are grumpy because we’re either looking to charge for support or they think we’ve not been in contact enough. We’ve done good things but it’s been forgotten by some. We have all clients on a monthly package and we did a lot of work for them to get through this year. We then charged for furloughing in July and perhaps we should have communicated the value in that service better. Some team members have found it easy working from home and others haven’t. And while we trust our people we’ve improved monitoring of workflow, using Karbon, to be better organised.

Q: How do you see the next few months, particularly lockdown/SA filing season and more government initiatives?

A: We’ve had everyone coming in for Monday planning meetings – these go on for a long time because of dealing with all the issues and the week ahead. Afternoons have been more for training sessions – this has involved grading clients and allocating them to our two new senior team members. Obviously, with new lockdowns and tiers it’s been difficult to get to know them and integrate as quickly as we would have liked.

Q: Longer term, how easy is it for you to plan? Where do you see the firm in the planning cycle, both long term and next 12 months? What is in your thoughts?

A: We have new offices, new people and new processes. I know what the team structure will look like and what our ideal client will look like – and it will involve us providing much more advisory; certainly with two seniors we can build deeper relationships.

On the tech front, it’s making sure you get the best out of it. We’ve been using Xavier every day; there’s competition for who has the highest Xavier score and then we build that into our analytics – but there’s so much more we can do. Take VAT returns; we can now do a pre-VAT check that picks up that clients’ bookkeeping is up to date – either they can sort it or we can do it for them with a charge.

Karbon’s my favourite thing. It sends out notifications, automates tasks and is helping with workflow for enquiries as well – we can even send a potential client a task list of what they need to do and have before they sign up. Practice Ignition sorts out the proposal and Karbon sends it.

Building a new normal way

We last spoke to Bruce in August 2020.

Q: How have things been since we last caught up?

A: We’ve had someone leave our firm, and I’ve reorganised the work around our existing team – that was a tough decision but it has worked well. It’s an upshot of the circumstances of recent months where I realised we needed to make changes. We’re now at two offices, Surbiton and Cheam (we had Kingston), having at one point been at four during the initial lockdown. The Cheam office is new, larger and gives us room to grow.

Q: How do you see the next few months, particularly lockdown/SA filing season and more government initiatives?

A: With fewer local offices it’s important that we up our online presence, so that’s a task to be dealt with quickly. There’s been much furloughing and insolvencies are increasing, so I think it’s going to be a tough winter. For my own practice, I’m trying to get a better handle on how we work and the metrics that flow from our operations.

As a management accountant in a growing business I’m always looking to improve the how to tweak and change things based on reliable information – but I am also a business owner and that can make it difficult to see the wood for the trees I recognise our monthly numbers, and the work people are doing, but from a system/process point of view we need better connection.

I’m managing cash and revenue separately. It’s against my rules of being a management accountant – instead I’m being an entrepreneur… I have a CIMA colleague coming into the firm to help connect the two.

Q: Longer term, how easy is it for you to plan? Where do you see the firm in the planning cycle, both long term and next 12 months? What is in your thoughts?

A: Fine-tuning the organisation is a big priority because it will help redefine the work people are doing and then manage from there. It will help me understand what work is going to be undertaken day-to-day and by whom. I’ve applied for a government grant to help me on that journey.

For the client, we’re looking to outline the path that a client will take and document it. From there it will mean that whoever is working with that client will know what they require in their lifecycle.

Wood & Disney

We last spoke to Brendon in August 2020.

Q: How have things been since we last caught up?

A: It’s been pretty much ‘business as usual’ the last few months – we’ve been fully open without any furloughing of our staff. Trading has been good, clawing back some of the fees that dropped off in April and May. Some project work has been coming in, and this has come from us being proactive with our client base. Lots of ‘looking after’ has led to advisory work. For example, some restructuring of property portfolios for tax planning purposes. Bringing clients’ bookkeeping up to date brings about other opportunities.

Q: How do you see the next few months, particularly lockdown/SA filing season and more government initiatives?

A: With the experience of what happened earlier in the year, we took the initiative of talking to our clients as regularly as possible. Key will be maintaining that communication – it has involved an awful lot of work but has stood us in good stead. There’s still uncertainty ahead for many sectors so we’ll still be deciphering what comes out of the government. We’ve got systems in place, including our outsourcing with AdvanceTrack, and so we know at a base level work is being done.

Sitting above that we use Senta’s tasks and deadlines capability to monitor the work. Part of what we capture in our customer relationship management (CRM) system is to check against what clients’ goals are – we can drill down into the information to check whether clients are on target. For example, letting them know that margins have decreased.

Q: Longer term, how easy is it for you to plan? Where do you see the firm in the planning cycle, both long term and next 12 months? What is in your thoughts?

A: I think that online will be more professional, perhaps using microphones and lighting. There is also phasing a return to the office – we all work across clients so communication is key. Longer term, we will keep an office.

Accountex Summit UK 2020

The recent online Accountex UK Summit saw AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth lead a 45-minute session giving a really concise and useful roundup of what goes on in the outsourcing industry, and how firms can make outsourcing work for them.

In ‘The good, bad and ugly of offshoring and outsourcing’, Vipul started with ‘the ugly’. There are lots of horror stories told by accountants who have had bad experiences with outsourcing.

“One of the things we often hear is: it doesn’t work. In many cases that can be true,” said Sheth. “One reason is a lack of tech. A lot of people in the industry don’t have the tech to manage outsourcing effectively – whether that’s the firm, or sometimes the outsourcer or offshorer. Without tech it can’t be managed successfully, or at scale.”

The ‘real horror’ is the lack of security protocols in place. “We do hear of outsourcers with little regard to these,” he added. When it comes to ‘the bad’, poor communication between the outsourcer and accountant is at the fore. “We’ve improved over the years,” said Sheth.

Secondly, outsourcing can be seen as a short-term solution to a workflow ‘problem’. “However, this means it’s not usually managed and put together effectively. Outsourcing is not a magic wand to ‘wave’; there needs to be thought.”

For ‘the good’, Sheth said that “we want accountants to go and help their clients more”. “What can you use your extra time created by outsourcing to do? Clients really want your help – and if you can demonstrate value then they will rarely question their fee.

The firms we serve have increased revenues through the pandemic. “They have capacity to drive growth, and offer new services. We’re seeing them offer bookkeeping in the cloud; lots of virtual FD/FC services – getting under the bonnet of client data and feeding back analysis to clients. It gives them a place in clients’ ‘boardroom’,” he concluded.

• Visit https://summit-uk.accountex.co.uk to access this archived recording, along with all the other sessions

AdvanceTrack is proud of its latest ISO certification for business continuity – but what does it all really mean and why is it so important for clients?

Kevin Reed steps into the shoes of existing and potential clients to ask Vipul Sheth, MD, to explain why they should be comforted by this ‘badge of business resilience’

What is the ISO and this particular ‘standard’?

It’s an international measurement tool of competence and excellence in a particular area to demonstrate the use of best practice across a range of areas…we also have ISO 27001:2013 Information Security Management, ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management and British Standard BS10012 Personal Information Management System. It’s great to have an external body review what you as a business are doing in a particular area.

This one is about business continuity and the ability of our business, with very clear direction, to continue to manage the business where events occur that are out of the normal day-to-day business. You just have to take the pandemic as an obvious example – six months ago, we would have thought something like that wouldn’t affect us but now we’re all more cautious about who we do business with and how. We want to give customers the confidence that we are a resilient business.

 

Why do you think it is important to AdvanceTrack and why now?

It’s important to us as a business because it hit home to our full team that they have a clearer direction of what to do, should certain scenarios present themselves. One of the scenarios we thought about was me dying. I hope to be around a long time, but something like that could be detrimental to the business. If I’m not here, someone has to have my thoughts on how things then move forward. What’s important is that the business continues to operate without me.

The pandemic, rather than applying for the standard, had got us thinking in more depth about what sort of things might happen and to be better prepared to deal with them.

With the pandemic we had a good bunch of people in our team who managed our migration to working from home successfully. If that is to happen again, it’s now enshrined with our formal disaster recovery and business planning processes.

The last few months showed us it is even more important that we demonstrate our ability to cope in incredibly challenging circumstances.

 

Why is it something that should be of interest to AdvanceTrack’s existing and former clients?

Our existing customers will know about this direction of travel. After our first client comms around the pandemic, one of them said: “We knew you’d have it under control.”

Existing clients see what we do every day, but for someone that doesn’t know us, gaining this certification gives them additional comfort. In very trying circumstances you will know that we have a robust business process to continue to be supported, and that it’s not something being made up as we go along. Gaining the standard means we faced a rigorous stress-testing of processes – of how we operate now and what we might face in the future.

 

What has been the process of audit and achieving the standard?

It followed the way most of these standards work. There is initially an overview and analysis taken by the standard’s auditors that you have the basis for commencing the certification process. That’s effectively ‘day one’ – auditors come in and look at documentation to support attaining the standard.

Then you also have to have an internal audit process, where you look to identify improvements to address before the ‘actual’ audit. However,
we also used an external body to undertake the internal audit – we didn’t want that stage too ‘friendly’… we went for rigour.

Then in the external process they’re seeking evidence that what we say we can do is actually something that is beyond the documentation. Such as demonstrating how we’d handle our servers going down for example, or one of our buildings suddenly didn’t exist – however unlikely these scenarios may be. It’s then a case of showing how long we could operate without impacting service.

 

How does it align or complement with other standards you’ve achieved?

We’ve always tried to demonstrate excellence – which is why we already have core standards. Allied to that it’s about showing consistency of delivery – that we’re ‘continuous’. What this has been about has been exactly that, even in trying circumstances.

Before we decided to go with this standard my phone ‘crashed’ and the backup didn’t work. I lost a lot of contact numbers. I told our CTO that this stressed me, and made me think about the business. As a result we ramped up the availability and resilience of our servers, shortly after this event, so we would lose very little data even if there was a huge problem.

 

How does the standard set you apart from competitors?

There’s a reason why accounting practices work with us and stay for the long term. It’s our consistent approach and high standards from a delivery point of view but also security and infrastructure. Ultimately, I sincerely believe in the abilities of AdvanceTrack’s senior management – that they’re better than our competitors.

 

What’s the future for AdvanceTrack in context of other certifications and standards? What are your next improvements?

We’re not ruling out other certifications – but these current ones are absolutely at the I’m sure as we evolve then other certifications will become important to us. It’s important to note that we don’t ‘chase’ certifications to puff up what we do. We strive for the best, as I’ve already outlined, in terms of service, security and resilience – these certifications are the upshot of what we do and try to achieve on a daily basis.

 

What ISO 22301 means for business continuity.

The ISO, in its own words, is an “independent, non-governmental international organisation with a membership of 165 national standards bodies. It uses this vast network to build international standards that are ‘consensus-based’ and
‘market-relevant’.”

ISO 22301:2019, of which AdvanceTrack has completed certification, focuses on security and resilience. Namely, requirements for robust business continuity management systems.

The certification requires rigour in a number of key areas:

  • Organisational context – an understanding of how the organisation works, for whom, and what that means for the scope of its business continuity requirements
  • Leadership – How the business continuity policy has been formed, and its communication  to interested parties; alongside set roles and responsibilities
  • Planning – The determination of risks and opportunities, alongside addressing them; and establishing and determining business continuity objectives
  • Support – Documentation and resources relating to the plan
  • Operations – Impact analysis; continuity strategies and solutions; implementation of solutions; recovery plans
  • Performance evaluation – Monitoring and assessment by internal audit and management of performance against business continuity metrics
  • Improvement – Corrective actions and continual improvement

Source: ISO (iso.org)

 

Growing practices need support to drive efficiencies, improve processes and create value. AdvanceTrack has been integral in helping firms achieve their goals for nearly 20 years. Here’s our story, and where we (and you) are heading.

 

While technology is integral to what we do, outsourcing on behalf of accounting practices requires so much more than that. It requires a commitment to collaborative working, absolute prudence and rigour in terms of IT security, and a focus on client service. These criteria are borne of a mindset that comes from our own experiences working as part of – and with – the accounting profession.

 

MD Vipul Sheth: About myself, AdvanceTrack and Inside Outsourcing

AdvanceTrack provides critical outsourced accounting and bookkeeping services to many UK accounting practices. Working with the accounting technology you know so well, we offer the best combination of IT and qualified people to free practices up to provide a better and more valuable service to clients.

As for me? Well, I trained with a great firm as an auditor and business adviser, and understand the challenges and rewards of being an accountant.

I eventually ended up in what is now EY. I remember thinking that, with my smaller firm training, it would be difficult to cope in a ‘big firm’ environment. However, I quickly discovered that my work to date prepared me better than I could imagine. I already knew how to deal with everything from a technical perspective, but now I focused on the value-added service of tax.

 

Understanding the ‘process deficiency’ in accounting practices

Going back to practices and workflow. My biggest lesson was realising that EY didn’t have 400 ways to produce a file (I’m guessing the numbers of partners in the firm then), but just one way.

This was the lightbulb moment in understanding what differentiated the firm I trained with and the Big Four firm where I now sat. And when I left, I then realised that a client is transitioned very quickly from yourself to another very capable colleague with almost no difference in client service.

A few years later I put this learning into what we all now know as AdvanceTrack.

Finally, Inside Outsourcing is AdvanceTrack’s monthly publication where we share insights on practice management, usually with a tech focus, and highlight the work we’re undertaking. A print version is available or you can view it online at www.AdvanceTrack.com.

 

AdvanceTrack and founder Vipul Sheth – the journey so far

2002 I left practice with the ambition to start up an outsourcing business. I spent several weeks in India meeting people and concluded that it could be done, and successfully. Having met people in the accounting industry, I knew the technical capability was there – but I wondered if the technology was as well.

 

2003 Formally set the company up and sought to build an online platform immediately. Being someone who used IT rather than creating it taught me many lessons. Most importantly, it taught me that staff need careful management, and I needed to build the technology to run the business.

 

2005/2006 I found some developers who demonstrated incredible focus and enthusiasm for the project. I told them what I wanted was to build something accessible on the internet (they hadn’t called it ‘cloud’ at that point).

 

2013 Security and quality accreditations were achieved. This was without making any material change to any of our processes. The security accreditation just demonstrated how the whole process was designed to deliver higher quality in a secure way.

 

2016/2017 Despite many improvements over the years, we ripped up the platform we had spent over a decade building and refining. It’s hard to do, to take something that has helped deliver great service and growth for the business and consign it to history. We bit the bullet and put a team together to deliver a brand new platform for the business.

 

2018 There were good reasons to rebuild the platform, particularly the need to comply with new and exacting data protection legislation (GDPR) that was brought in across Europe. Our early planning helped ensure that with plenty of time to spare, the platform was ready for GDPR and the challenges that would be undoubtedly coming, particularly as technology in the industry was changing so quickly. We can be sure that we’ll need to continue making changes.

 

2020 While other outsourcers are beginning their cloud journey, we’re proud that we started our journey more than 15 years ago. We’ve reimagined it time and again but sticking to our core values. With the pace of change increasing in the sector, we know we have to constantly re-invent ourselves to keep relevant to the customers we work with.

 

Beyond 2020 We won’t be making big announcements until they have happened. We don’t make our commercial strategy a public manifesto. It’s fair to say though that we’ll drive technological advancements faster and more thoughtfully than ever. Our clients expect us to help them lead the change.

 

The ACCA’s new report delves into the key roles that accounting professionals are now expected to fill, and what that means for your organisation’s future, writes Kevin Reed.

Technological change in the workplace, and our daily lives, is a constant. That the pace of change is seemingly increasing means it’s not so clear what this means for practices, their clients and the roles that accounting professionals will be expected to play.

With this as the backdrop, the ACCA has produced a report – three years in the making – that seeks to make sense of the social, corporate and employment environment.

Future ready: accountancy careers in the 2020s contains five key ‘career zones’ that could provide opportunities for accountants in the future. Some are more relevant to finance functions than practices, but they could all still apply to specific roles with a professional services organisation or otherwise. These are:

  • The assurance advocate: these roles will focus on trust and integrity in an organisation. This may include risk-focused tasks, or understanding emerging issues that could impact on business performance. Control and stewardship are also under their remit.
  • The business transformer: From a practice perspective, individuals will need to lead organisational change to cope with growing regulatory demands and evolving client needs.
  • The data navigator: From a finance perspective, they will focus on expanding the organisation’s use of data – finding tools that will analyse information to provide business critical insight. Accounting practices are beginning to understand the importance of strong data control and analysis, alongside managing its flow between them, their client and statutory bodies such as HM Revenue & Customs.
  • The digital playmaker: Described by the ACCA as an ‘evangelist’ for technology, we see practices looking to allocate a champion within their firm to help track the latest apps and software. They will also play an important role in its implementation.
  • The sustainability trailblazer: What does sustainability mean for an organisation? And how do you measure it? Producing broader information about business performance will certainly fall under the remit of a finance function – perhaps a path for practices to provide assurance, auditing and consultancy?

 

Considerations for the practice team

For those looking ahead at their own career, what does this mean? Transforming and evolving should be active and iterative. You can’t change who you are and what you do overnight. It will need to be in context of your chosen path. Are you a sole practitioner, running a bigger practice, holding an operational role or client-facing?

But the ACCA has picked out ten aspects for you to consider. For those in career mode, being flexible will be key in staying relevant as business models and customer requirements change. Understanding the impact of digitisation on the practice landscape is really a must – and should be integral to your development.

Because of these two factors, job roles will appear that are lesser-known or new, but might help you broaden and develop your CV. “With career paths less certain, thinking laterally about future job roles is critical,” the ACCA states. In essence, continuous learning and showing a hunger to improve “future-proofs capabilities and ensures enduring competence”, it adds. Building an online brand and being aware of the benefits and drawbacks of things you post on social media are also critical. “Online career visibility is vital in the digital age,” states the report.

Making sure that CVs represent your skills will be more important than previous job titles, it believes. “’Competence’ is king,” states the ACCA.

Collaboration, an issue for many silo-centric accounting practices, will be vital. Teamworking, particularly cross-function, service line or discipline, will provide the best service to either internal or external clients.

While the term ‘data scientist’ has been bandied around for many months in the profession, making better use of data and building an ability to better analyse different formats and types of information will be “a cornerstone” of accounting and finance roles.

But don’t forget to look all around you. As the ACCA states, we are moving to a point where several generations will sit in the workforce. For those developing their career they must not be blinded by the future, but take heed of lessons learned by others over the decades. “With different entry and exit points into the profession, the diversity of talents across all ages is enriched,” it states.

 

Considerations for practice employers

If you employ people within your practice, how do you as an employer respond to the opportunities and challenges ahead?

The ACCA’s first point is probably more focused on corporates, but could still apply to smaller and more collegiate professional services firms as well. Does your practice demonstrate a purpose and contribute positively to society? Practices, in their support of clients, tend to do this by definition – but not many spell it out clearly. “Employers that can frame and articulate their broader purpose successfully are more likely to be attractive to potential employees in the future,” states the report.

Succession planning is an ongoing problem for the practice community. And the ACCA highlights that career paths must be open and visible – this becomes even more crucial if roles are changing: “Do they support building a pipeline of retained talent for the future?”

As in the employee-focused suggestions, the ACCA flags up the responsibility of employers to build collaboration within their organisation. Team-based projects and encouraging people to move out of ‘silos’ is recommended.

As employees must make a big effort to continue their development, so practice owners must support their team in doing so. Digital learning is becoming a popular way to enable such development.

Technology-driven change can create apprehension in many practitioners. It’s not that the tools aren’t helpful, but the pace of change and increasing choice means that workarounds and organic change seem easier and more manageable than revolutionising how a practice is run and structured. Such fear is also heard by team members, who fear that efficiencies and automation will see them out of a job. Taking the opportunity to develop a practice using technology must be grasped, but careful consideration of how to redeploy staff must be considered – along with communicating that change.

Finally, evolving your practice will mean new skills and inevitably new people coming on board. Creating a diverse workforce will have a positive impact. “This isn’t just a moral obligation,” states the ACCA. “Workforces that are more diverse in a range of different aspects, for example gender or ethnicity or culture, are seen to be more innovative, and various studies continue to identify correlations between different diversity measures and improved organisational performance.”

The ACCA report can be found by clicking here.

 

With webinars aplenty, another conference on the horizon and a return to Accountex, there’s no letting up for the AdvanceTrack team

It is busy but exciting times for AdvanceTrack. First, we have two webinars around the corner.

  • 9 May: ‘How to actually get marketing done in your firm’
  • 21 May: We discuss ‘How technology can help you deliver a cost-effective bookkeeping service’ with Tom Port from Auto Entry

We are making a big push to provide accounting firms with interesting and informative online video shows. Our previous webinar was the provocatively-titled ‘Do you have the balls to be a business advisor?’. Held on 18 April, our MD Vipul Sheth and Spotlight Reporting’s Debbie Spooner discussed whether accountants have the ‘courage’ to be a true business adviser.

Our previous recording saw Vipul and BlueHub’s Matt Flanagan discuss how to align the process and technology steps to deliver more advisory work. We are also preparing for our second client conference. Following last year’s successful show, AdvanceTrack is back for more.

There will be an important session covering AdvanceTrack’s GDPR journey which, hopefully, you will have picked up some useful information from in our main feature this month. Popular accountancy consultant Paul Shrimpling will talk about being a ‘value-added’ practice – and why getting to grips with clients’ bookkeeping is a vital step in that journey.

Other sessions will cover marketing; and how to access client data quickly online. BlueHub and Receipt Bank will also be in attendance to provide insight. We’re delighted to be back again at the biggest accounting technology event in the UK: Accountex. It will, as ever, bring together more than 200 exhibitors while running an extensive programme of speakers and sessions. Whether a current client, or just interested to find out more about AdvanceTrack, pop along to our stand for a chat.

More information

To register for our upcoming webinars, and to view our previous shows, visit www.advancetrack.com/webinars.

For more details about our client conference, visit www.advancetrack.com/events or e-mail us at advice@advancetrack.com. Come and visit us at Accountex across 23-24 May; attendee details can be found at www.accountex.co.uk.

This year is going to be a very busy, but very exciting, time for AdvanceTrack – and we’d like you to join us

While companies that provide technology-driven solutions have a reputation for not always engaging with their customers, we put customer service and understanding your requirements as top priority.

We’re delighted, therefore, to be able to announce two opportunities for you to meet with us and discuss where you’re heading, and hopefully how we can help you on that journey.

First off, we have the Quickbooks Connect show, held across 27 and 28 February in London’s Printworks.

This year’s agenda covers the most relevant issues facing practices: from marketing (harnessing social media and building a digital brand) through to moving your practice and clients to the cloud.

“We’re taking part to meet with forward-thinking practices, many of whom will already be clients of ours and hopefully some new faces as well,” says Vipul Sheth, founder and MD of AdvanceTrack. Sheth expects conversations to revolve around Making Tax Digital (see this month’s feature spread for more). He foresees many practices wanting a ‘solution’ to MTD, and a big part of that will involve the use of efficient cloud-based bookkeeping among other things.

More importantly, making this transition will put client information into practices’ hands that they can leverage to provide a better service. “The truth is that we speak about this a lot,” says Sheth. “If practices see this as ‘stopping clients getting tax penalties’ then it’s a client/adviser conversation about price. But good conversations with clients is about helping them run their business. Then clients look at the price and say ‘this is what I pay my accountant for’.”

Next we have AdvanceTrack’s own conference, following on from last year’s successful inaugural event at America Square with 70 people in attendance. The invitation-only event will see respected consultant Paul Shrimpling set out the process by which you deliver higher-value services to clients. The conference will then follow workshop-style sessions that provide more detail and insight into making that transition.

The conference will take place a few days after GDPR comes into effect – and AdvanceTrack will outline what we’ve done to make sure we are a compliant organisation.