Some the most popular and well-known advisers and experts have been speaking to AdvanceTrack and accountants about how to lead through the crisis, while reconfiguring your services – and people – in a locked-down world.

 

While physical conferences and get-togethers are currently off limits, that hasn’t stopped AdvanceTrack from running a “mini conference” online via Zoom.

On 28 April, we ran a “Beyond the Pandemic – The Customers Journey”, a 90-minute online seminar, in which experts provided insight about how best to structure your approach to support clients through the crisis, and beyond.

Innovate and communicate

Kicking off the session was AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth. He said that accountants are in a unique position to provide real value to the people they work for – above and beyond a basic and narrow ‘service’.

But they must not rest on their laurels. “The wow of today is the normal of tomorrow,” said Sheth.

Citing the exponential improvements in Amazon’s service provision and constant innovation, he explained that day-to-day consumer experiences influence what people expect from professional services organisations – and they must step up.

“Don’t compare yourself with what other accountants do – consumers and clients are driven by other experiences they have – that represents their expectation,” he said. “So why do you do what you do? You have to deliver value.”

While the coronavirus crisis has proved incredibly disruptive, it has forced accountants and clients to communicate more – albeit via digital online platforms.

“The importance of relationships never goes away,” said Sheth. “And now we see our people increasingly moving up the value chain – with clients and in our business. If you weren’t using Zoom or Teams a month ago, you are now – and these tools are helping you have conversations.”

You might have had two or three client meetings in a day; now you can have ten or 15 – hopefully all incredibly valuable to you and clients, explained Sheth: “Being digital allows you to do that. You’re doing things a lot quicker, communicating more – so take the digital journey.”

Invest in relationships

Karen Reyburn, founder of The Profitable Firm, gave an inspirational talk focusing on the relationship-building you will inevitably be doing at the moment. And that, while billing and charging is a difficult and thorny task at the moment, you are investing in potentially keeping clients for a lifetime.

“Some things have changed in the crisis, some things haven’t,” she said. “Relationships… it’s always important to invest in client relationships.”

Putting yourself ‘out there’ will also engender positive sentiment towards you and your firm from potential clients and other working partners.

“So many of you are already spending time on the things that build relationships – sharing information, blogs, videos… just get it out there! You will get enquiries if you’re doing those things. You are on the front line of saving businesses,” Reyburn added.

Some firms are fearful of giving too much valuable information away in the public domain, via their website or on social media. However, Reyburn’s approach is very simple: “Give information away, charge for implementation.”

If people think that undertaking a task will be exhausting or difficult, they will come to you, whether you’ve given them the basic information or not, she suggested.

“The more you share, the more they’ll want to work with you,” she said. “Use content to build assets. What can I build so that when they have problems, this is the tool they use? This is why video is so powerful: you’re connecting with them faster – the number of accountants who are realising that it doesn’t have to be perfect, but doing so builds relationships faster.”

Efficiency and trust

As founder of presentation training business Speaking Ambition, and MD of Blue Arrow Accounting, Alexandra Bond Burnett is well placed o talk about how you build trust with existing and potential clients.

“How do you give someone the green flag that you’re the best person to choose to help them?” asked Bond Burnett.

Breaking down the elements that are required to create trust was a key part of bond Bond Burnett’s presentation.

The trust equation is: credibility; reliability; and intimacy.

  • Credibility – “Demonstrating your experience, be that talking about things you know and understand, having conversations with people and presenting your qualifications.”
  • Reliability – “This is about ‘showing up’. Doing what you said you were going to do. To be there so your clients don’t need to worry.”
  • Intimacy – “You can be credible and reliable, but you have to build that level of rapport. People make logical decisions but with a dollop of emotion. How do you make someone feel? Safe, challenged, that they can do anything?”

Bond Burnett pulls this together by discussing ‘self orientation’. “It is a funny phrase – but essentially we’re considering who do you think about when you’re communicating?” she said. “It’s more than likely that it’s ‘what will someone think of me?’ Don’t focus on yourself – turn it around and think about the client.

“How can they be helped right now, and then next week and then the week after that… then start communicating that to them. The hero is the client; make them the centre of the story.”

Service clarity

“How do things get done?” asks Trent McLaren, global head of accounting and sales at Practice Ignition. Accountants need to be clear about understanding the work entailed both internally for your practice, and what you do for your clients.

For McLaren, this ultimately means you are looking for a balance between the work your people undertake, the technology used as a tool and the processes put in place to make the work flow.

“When the customer and employee experiences work well, then you as a practice gain a competitive advantage,” he said.

“It means you’re completing work faster, with fewer resources, improving quality and hopefully improving customer satisfaction.”

Another key task is to ‘map’ the customer journey. Do you understand the path a client takes, and the touchpoints they have with you, as you work together? From them becoming a lead/prospect to becoming your client and beyond, think about how you communicate with them and the services you provide.

By doing this you create a ‘blueprint’. McLaren referenced an article by the Nielsen Norman Group on this very topic, which can be found 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.

 

AdvanceTrack is gearing up for a busy time with two big events coming up

It’s events-frenzy for AdvanceTrack, with attendance at Accountex and its own conference just around the corner.

Accountex London is held on 1-2 May at Excel. AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth will once again be at the show with his team, on stand 516 (by the entrance).

Sheth expects Making Tax Digital, which has been in force from 1 April, to be front and centre of conversations across the two days.

“Practices will be talking about MTD and the knock-on effects of the legislation,” says Sheth. “Their clients will be saying ‘we don’t want to do the bookkeeping’… but the accountants can’t really create value out of doing it themselves.”

That is where AdvanceTrack can step in. “Practitioners will ask us whether we can take on this bookkeeping – of course we can,” says Sheth. “We agree with the practice what the technology stack will look like and then get down to the detail.”

  • It’s not all about Accountex, of course. AdvanceTrack’s Client Conference 2019, held on 30 April, is also one of the big dates in the calendar. For those of you that have read our main feature, you will have seen that expert speaker and author Paul Shrimpling is talking at our conference. Other speakers include Ashleigh Lambert, Karen Reyburn and Matt Flanagan.

The ‘client journey’ will be the central theme of this year’s event, which will cover pricing, marketing, onboarding and more. We hope that attendees will learn about taking action and driving change in their practice.

Our next issue will cover some of the highlights of the show.

A year’s a long time…

… In the accounting practice space! Last year’s AdvanceTrack conference saw more than 100 practitioners and tech experts discuss our theme: the business growth accountant. MTD and GDPR – those dreaded acronyms – were front and centre of discussions. In a world of great change and uncertainty, alongside legislative-driven pressure, how can you structure your operations to best serve clients – and at a profit?

Last year’s event illustrated to accountants the importance of building client relationships by having more up-to-date information about them, particularly on the bookkeeping front. While much has moved on in the last 12 months, this thread will continue in our next event.

“I’m driving home the message about our investment in technology to run an efficient and reliable service to our client firms, and an increasing focus on building a scalable bookkeeping service,” said AdvanceTrack MD and founder Vipul Sheth. “What you really need to consider is you have a set of skills that can change clients’ lives. You must understand the finances, their industry and the whole thing put together – that’s really your role.”

With the accounting profession in a constant state of evolution, accountants are always looking for their next source of inspiration. Whether it be a new tool for your team to use, or a new app to trial with your clients, there’s a plethora of support and events out there to launch yourself into.

Accountex is by no means the least on that list. Every year they build on speakers, apps, education and knowledge available at their 2-day event in London. You might go to demo new software, or learn about the trends defining the profession, or you might be there to simply share ideas and grow your network.

But how exactly do you attend such a marathon of a conference without the risk of overwhelm? How can you get best benefit from attending, as opposed to spending two days out of the office, inevitably returning to 123456 emails, and then letting everything you promised to do after the conference drop to the bottom of the list.

For some, the answer lies in this year’s Client Conference, which once again is being hosted the day before Accountex.

Plotting out your client journey

As we’ve already established, the accounting landscape has radically changed in recent years, and as a result of that, client experience has never been more important.

Marketing, onboarding, app stacks, pricing – it’s all connected, and for firms to thrive in this evolving industry, it’s now more crucial than ever to address the fundamental crux of accountancy businesses – serving your clients.

That’s why our annual conference is this year focused on the client journey. We want accountants to recognise the importance of providing a first-class experience to your clients, and as such, we’ve crafted our conference to cover every element of your client’s journey.

If you’re attending the conference, it’s an opportunity for you to start plotting out what your client journey currently looks like. Take a look at how your team operates with clients. Evaluate your pricing model. Sketch out your onboarding process. Determine your app-stack. Craft your MTD offerings.

By doing this before you attend the conference, you’re going into the conference with an open mind-set of what your client journey currently looks like, and how it might be improved once you’ve heard from the speakers of the day.

Take action at Accountex

Hearing from all the speakers at our client conference will no doubt give you a long list of elements to improve in your client journey.

The good news is Accountex is one of the best places to start taking action. You might need to revisit how you price based on the insights from Paul Barnes’ talk, which means connecting with the different pricing apps exhibiting at Accountex would be a great place to start.

Or you might want to adjust the app stack you offer to your clients, which would lead you to many apps available to connect with.

Whatever your actions may be, our approach would be to go to Accountex with a positive mindset for change. Be open-minded, be willing, be ready to try new things. With that approach, you’re in the best possible frame of mind to refresh the client journey in your firm and begin crafting that first-class experience that people are looking.

What does your client journey look like?

With Accountex a few weeks away, now is the time to start plotting out your client journey. Grab the post-it notes, or the whiteboard pens, and start writing down everything that makes up that experience, and your goals for improving it.

We’ll see you at Accountex and the Client Conference!

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.

AdvanceTrack’s webinar series contains lots of insight to help you set out the direction for your practice. We round up a chat with Receipt Bank’s Sam Horner on ‘the future is now’ for accountants, and highlight our other online discussions

AdvanceTrack has a great catalogue of webinars for practitioners. Topics range from how to approach bookkeeping, through to credit control and even marketing advice – in conjunction with some of the UK’s top accountancy experts.

We’ve included an excerpt from a webinar with Receipt Bank’s Sam Horner: The Next Generation of Accounting. This wide-ranging discussion sets the scene for how and why advisers must look at their practice’s operations as part of a strategy to develop value for a modern client.

Sam is joined by AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth in the chat.

 

Starting point

Vipul Sheth:When we talk about the cloud, an indicator of how far a practice has gone down this path is the number of apps and add-ons they use alongside the core bookkeeping product. It’s an indicator of how far you’ve gone down the cloud journey – are you giving clients real-time information?

Sam Horner:The issue we see with early adopters of the cloud is they take on the bookkeeping service and see it as a silver bullet, but the cloud is more powerful when combined with everything – whether that’s apps for accounts, invoicing, chasing debt and so on.

VS:Real efficiencies come from using other add-ons. And optical character reading (OCR) is a key part of data capture.

 

Factors driving change

SH:MTD does have a say in this, but a lot of the change is being driven by clients. It’s about the way millennials and Generation Z communicate and live their life. Conversations I hear where ‘we use our phones for an alarm, go downstairs and listen to Spotify, tell Alexa to change TV channel, get in the car and it tells you how to get to work, then at work everything’s offline’… The tech stops and they don’t engage with cloud apps in the same way as at home, so the drive and shift is coming from how they operate in their personal life.

VS:If accounting practices have a great relationship with long-standing clients, then they must appreciate that their clients’ business will hand over to their kids – and they’ll expect information over their smartphone. They’ll question why financials aren’t available online. So, firms need champions who can at least have conversations about how their firm’s going to develop.

SH:There is a big question about ‘how do I get clients to change’ and educate them? But you might be surprised, there can be preconceptions about established clients – the previous generations.

VS:The real difference we see with working with clients online is that with regular interaction, your firm can spot gaps where things are missing, rather than getting well past year-end and find things are missing. Then you have to make assumptions on behalf of the client.

We see MTD as just another button to press, for those that are on cloud. However, some think that if you’re making processes automated and ‘easier’, the client will actually want fees lowered.

SH:Well, then you have to show the benefits of the technology. If you can give a client their accounts by the third of the month, then to the client it’s as close to real-time as possible and helps them make decisions. One of our practice clients made this move and offered a premium service to their clients: 30% took up the premium service. But, in reality, the partners aren’t really doing anything different but have created more revenue.

And firms are having conversations where, after adopting tech, they put clients onto fixed fees across a period, and the client is happy.

VS:But where it frees the accountant is for other services: R&D reviews, tax planning meetings and so on. These things were hard to do, but now all clients can be seen because you have access to their data in real-time.

This morphs into CFO-style services. Many businesses can’t afford a full-time accounting professional in their firm. But real-time access enables them to have better conversations, almost as their CFO. I know a practitioner who specialises in a sector, and can now benchmark the client base.

 

The next generation of job roles

VS:Lots of firms we’re working with can perform the CFO role; using tech to capture and process information. They then use our team in many instances to do the bits that technology can’t. We call this ‘systemising the unsystemisable’.

SH:At Receipt Bank we say ‘it’s great to have badges and logos on your website of products, but they just enable you – don’t dine out on them’. They just power what you do. The tech is there to make yourself easier.

For the next title: Chief Data Officer or analyst. This role comes as the government is getting tighter and tighter in the risk management side of sharing of data.

VS:This role is about making sure the integration piece is properly run and tested. In smaller firms these roles or ‘hats’ are worn by the same person – you have specific roles when it comes to larger firms.

SH:We’re seeing firms recruit staff without an accounting background: 18+ year-olds with iPads in their hands, employing them because they understand tech. Clearly it’s also about mindset rather than age… but in reality for many there’s that ‘desktop memory’ in your mind, which isn’t there for someone starting fresh. Junior staff are helping with onboarding, for example.

VS:Yes, we’re seeing conversations being pushed down in the firms – not all partner-led… more of a team-based approach. Your age and experience aren’t limiting factors on who you can have conversations with. The person who’s comfortable sitting in a room having conversations will be recruited.

SH:There are other emerging titles: relationship manager, business development and software support for clients. Firms are investing in people and skills. You used to be able to hide behind numbers, but firms are saying: ‘We need to look at how to upskill our team to have conversations.’ There is still a need for technical specialists and software won’t replace them. But there’s going to be more face time, and that’s where we see the shift.

 

How to change your practice

VS:Fundamentally, you need clean data coming in: from OCR, bank feeds and so on.

SH:It’s about having a single process for a single task. If you standardise processes, you’ll reap the rewards – and allow you to scale-up.

VS:The cloud and digitisation allow you to gain an authenticity of data. However, if you don’t standardise processes you will have very stressed staff through MTD.

Summary

VS:Technology is the key to scale and profitability. Standardisation, repeatable processes… the more you can do that, the more you’ll be in great stead.

SH:And make sure you do it for the right reasons. It’s not about MTD. You need to understand the ‘why’ before the ‘how’. Why are you making the change? Get the tech in and let us do the processing. It’s about improving the conversations and then your team becomes much more valuable because they have those client relationships.

Like its clients, AdvanceTrack has enjoyed another busy month.

For starters, we held our second annual AdvanceTrack Conference. The event, held in central London, brought together more than 100 practitioners and technology specialists to discuss key issues and opportunities for the profession.

We covered the ‘business growth accountant’ in a lively session with Paul Shrimpling, while Martin King-Turner took us through the latest developments on that dreaded topic: GDPR.

The Profitable Firm’s Karen Reyburn talked about the four ‘make or break’ areas for accountancy marketing, while BlueHub’s Matt Flanagan pointed firms to where they should currently be on their MTD journey.

Vipul Sheth, AdvanceTrack MD, said the event illustrated to accountants the importance of building client relationships by having more up-to-date information about them, particularly on the bookkeeping front.

“I’m driving home the message about our investment in technology to run an efficient and reliable service to our client firms, and an increasing focus on building a scalable bookkeeping service,” said Sheth.

“Remember, with Making Tax Digital accountants are going to need reliable financials and do it for hundreds of thousands of clients.”

Sheth added: “What you really need to consider is you have a set of skills that can change clients’ lives. You must understand the finances, their industry, and the whole thing put together – that’s really your role. If you understand that then we can help you do more of that, and you’ll become more profitable and go home earlier.”

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.