If outsourcing works so well, shouldn’t my practice just set up its own unit?

 

The outsourcing and offshoring market has grown markedly in recent years. There are many reasons why that’s the case, but the key one is a difficulty among practices to keep up with increasing workloads – they just can’t employ enough people to undertake the work.

Coupled with the take-up or remote working during the pandemic; utilising technically competent people from other parts of the world has become more better understood and attractive.

Many practices have struck out on their own, employing staff abroad. Therefore, it is understandable that some practitioners will ask us the rhetorical question: Why wouldn’t we set up remote working abroad ourselves?

Time, money, expertise

What AdvanceTrack and its people bring to the table is years of experience of running an outsourcing and offshoring operation. Our people are our most vital resource, but they are underpinned by a huge investment in the best and most secure technology, supplemented by robust processes and workflows.

Increasing your resource, particularly in other countries, is much more than a ‘recruitment’ challenge. We have seen practices employ individuals abroad only to see them left to work from home, often sitting in different time zones to the UK practice – that’s a tough working environment, and sub-optimal.

We employ hundreds of accounting professionals, who work for our partner practices but also share a common bond, operating from one of our centres. They are in fact a community on their own behalf. And that’s without going into all the detail of the physical and digital security and processes that we adhere to (details on those can be found in other blogs).

Our managers can work with the teams to deal with issues, often without having to disrupt the partner practice. The team we have built is vastly experienced, has its own ecosystem and career pathways – again, this saves our partner practices from time-consuming day-to-day management and oversight.

It’s worth reiterating that our business is now more than 20 years’ old, and our people work alongside successful and award-winning practices. Rather than go out on a limb, we would suggest that working with us is a better way of investing in resource.

 

Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

If you’d like to talk to us about resource management and our people, get in touch by clicking here

What’s around the corner? Vipul Sheth predicts the direction of travel for some of the big issues impacting accountancy – and the wider world – in the coming months.

Accountancy consolidators

You only have to take a look at the Accountancy Age list of top firms to see the consolidators – generally those backed by private equity – are shooting up the charts. Growing revenue inorganically though is not necessarily a measure of success; the first wave of consolidators during the noughties all failed to develop synergies, economies of scale, or use their mass to win bigger or more valuable clients.

New practices can grow quickly but then hit scaling issues, as clients demand more time and more complex servicing. Larger practices are built on years of client and people development – but consolidation can be disruptive. I expect to see some of the private equity houses look to sell on and make a good return… how easy that will be is very much up for debate.

Election

We will have an election in the UK this year, and it’s by no means certain that the current incumbents will stay in power. Whatever the case may be, I hope for greater stability and planning in its thinking to encourage growth.

A bugbear of mine has been this government’s lack of planning to encourage entrepreneurs and investors to stay here and invest. There are EU countries ready to snap up the best people through a combination of their tax treatment and both residence- and investment-friendly policies. Can whoever forms the next government drive the economy forwards?

AI

We couldn’t have a ‘2024’ list without mentioning AI. The ‘warm glow’ created by ChatGPT still exists, but now time will tell whether AI can revolutionise how we as citizens live and work.

Certainly, there’s been concern among corporates (and governments) about making information freely available to be absorbed and interpreted into large language models. The next step could be AI platforms placed in ‘data bubbles’, with organisations then linking the platform with their own systems and information to help inform decision-making (as well as automating tasks).

Conversely, software providers are also adapting and embedding AI into their solutions.

Whether these private data bubbles will be effective or not, when information into them is constricted, remains to be seen – but it will be fascinating to find out the next level of AI utilisation in the real world.

Shared services and outsourcing

You can see in AdvanceTrack’s own growth that firms know they need resource and the recruitment market is difficult and costly. They are looking for someone they can entrust with supporting their practice. Some firms have looked to maintain control by setting up centres abroad – to varying degrees of success.

Expect to see more and more practices look to grasp the resources nettle – which will mean the outsourcing/offshoring offering will become more popular. I hope that, as firms transition towards models that involve greater automation and external resourcing, they stay laser-guided on developing their existing people while keeping a keen eye on what their clients want from them.

It is by no means easy to undertake that task, but resourcing is a means to an end. Without understanding what you want your firm and its people to provide (and to whom), then everything undertaken is done without foundation.

I wish you all the best during what is likely to be another busy and exciting year.

Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing

If you’d like to chat about developing your accountancy practice, please get in touch by clicking here

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.

 

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

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

“Create a life of freedom”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Accountants will become an unstoppable force for good”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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