AdvanceTrack makes its third visit to speak to accounting practices about managing their clients and team in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. While lockdown has eased, it certainly isn’t business as usual – with our practitioners formulating plans for the immediate future, and longer-term.

 

Bruce Burrowes, founder, Kingston Burrowes

It has been four months since lockdown, and a lot has changed since then. How has your firm been since we spoke a few weeks ago?

There has been lots of communication, particularly where clients have needed funding. For ourselves, we moved from four offices into three – which involved consolidating two of them. It’s been a really busy time.

The main focus of the last few weeks is getting compliance work undertaken that might have been put off during the first few weeks of lockdown, alongside bedding the new office in. Clearly that has meant encouraging people back ‘into’ the office – one they’ve not been in before.

Thankfully, the new office space is
more than big enough to accommodate
six staff and practice safe social distancing. A team member has managed the day-to-day issues.

The main problem we have had is typical teething problems of being in a new office – we had to wait for new monitors to arrive.

A key part of our ongoing dialogue with team members has been: ‘It’s OK to tell colleagues if they’re too close or make you uncomfortable.’ Where an office had to hot-desk to allow for social distancing, little things such as assigning everyone their own wireless keyboard has helped make a difference.

Clients have been grateful for us keeping up communication lines with them – even if it’s been to say ‘we’re really busy and we’ll speak tomorrow’.

One person moved during this time, which has meant reallocating work, but that’s opened my eyes to some of the existing team members’ efforts and technical ability.

 

What about the agenda going forward?

We know that some people want to come in and physically see us to discuss their personal tax return. But as a management accountant by qualification I think I can lead my team to demonstrate support – and communicate – online if need be. We can’t discount online communications because we can’t have a trail of people coming into our offices. So we need to make that work.

 

And what about the medium to longer term?

My firm didn’t charge clients for furloughing support, up until June. We’ve then had conversations that begin with: ‘Well, we’ve helped you out for quite a while…’ Clients have realised what a proper relationship is with an accountant. Well, I’m not going to go crazy with pushing remote working, that’s for sure. Our trainees require – and will continue to require – close contact with more experienced team members to learn and grow. That learning osmosis won’t happen with remote working. For example, I saw one small issue that took four hours to deal with over email.

We’re seeing the split now between businesses that are getting back on their feet and looking to push on, and those that are still pushed back and furloughing. There’s still plenty of support required for them over the coming months.

 

 

Nikki Adams, CEO, Ad Valorem

It has been four months since lockdown when we last spoke, and a lot has changed since then. How has your firm and its clients been?

We didn’t furlough anyone. It was a conscious decision that we didn’t want to and we didn’t need to do that. We were in a good position before it happened so there was no compelling financial need to do so. The biggest operational challenge for us was furloughing coming into play – the speed that everything was changing. It was a case of getting to grips with things… The team are used to being the ones that know everything and confident in what they say – but we had no time, so it was stressful. Thankfully we have a big enough team to provide support where required; in this instance, to support payroll.

It really paid off for us, because we used people for different things as it progressed. Our admin team helped with client comms. We charged for furloughing support where they wanted us to do it on their behalf. For us it was beyond basic payroll support.

We’re now back in the office with half the team rotating with the other. There’s also a skeleton staff in all the time and a few people not in at all. We’ve actually recruited six people during lockdown – they were primarily very good accountants and technicians who had found themselves furloughed and weren’t happy about it. They’re experts in tax, R&D and digital.

 

What about the agenda going forward?

 There’s been no noticeable dip in enquiries; in fact, we’ve won some big accounts – where their accountant doesn’t have a digital focus. Some accountants have been hard to get hold of or have even shut down – it is difficult for the smallest practitioners without resource.

Our workplace has become almost like a clubhouse where you come specifically to collaborate or train. Most people want 50/50 between working from home and the office. We’re outcomes-focused so that helps provide flexibility.

 

 

And what about the medium to longer term?

We’d taken on extra office space. There’s an argument about needing it, but we feel it will be our flagship – a central focus that has energy and buzz and where we can exchange ideas. And what about the medium to longer term?

The medium term is not so great though, without face-to-face. It makes training really difficult.

We’ve also placed 130 clients from a previous acquisition onto our systems, so that’s exciting.

We’ve certainly noticed that the value piece has come back. Clients understanding what we can do for them. Some wanted to ease back because things were tough, and they’ve realised how important we are in getting them back on their feet so have changed their mind.

Finally: people. We want more – good ones.

 

 

Brendon Howlett, operations director, Wood and Disney

It has been four months since lockdown, and we’ve previously caught up twice. How has your firm been since we spoke a few weeks ago?

 It’s been much more settled. Businesses are releasing people from furlough, and for others the shutters have been coming down. We’re also seeing business trying to do different things to diversify. We’ve had tax and furloughing – the waters have been a bit muddied there with July payments in terms of how and who we bill, but we expect clients to pay if they can afford it.

From our perspective we still have everyone in at full capacity – and we’re still using the team at AdvanceTrack to undertake tasks for us. We are behind compared to the budget at the start of the year but our heads are above water.

Communication has started to change. We’re moving away from the shock of what happened four months ago and people are going back to work. There had been so much info and assistance – it has been really good for new business and new clients, so we decided to continue a high level of communication as much as possible. We’re still using Zoom, but have to balance that out with getting on with general workload as we had fallen behind.

I personally thought that a lot of our routine work would fall off, but our team have been able to hammer home self-assessment returns. I think that the typical late filers have had time on their hands and got this off their back. It’s also enabled us to have conversation about their general finances.

 

What about the agenda going forward?

Discussions about understanding cashflow and accounts are leading to financing conversations. And then there’s improving ongoing financial reporting. Where there’s uncertainty then we have to help clients plan –
it’s on us as advisers to make that happen.

 

And what about the medium to longer term?

Most of our A-list clients like the regular dialogue… even if they say we’re fine let’s speak soon, checking in on them helps. So…linked to this communication piece, we’re thinking about how we present this pro-active support – supporting the client journey is fine but how we market that is a big thing going forward. And what about the medium to longer term?

Part of that will be reinforcing to clients that
we can communicate with them quickly so they can act quickly. We’ve also got to keep showing our human side in that process to maintain and build trust.

We understand that it is difficult to make a decision to outsource. There are many reasons that firms may choose to outsource, but there are usually more reasons not to.

The key reasons accountancy firms outsource are:

  1. Lack of good local staff to carry out work.
  2. Reducing overall cost of delivering services.
  3. Expanding the range of services available to clients e.g. providing a bookkeeping service that may not be cost-effective using
    local personnel.
  4. Obtaining access to best practice.
  5. Moving the firm to a systems-based delivery method.

Key considerations when reviewing your outsourcing provider professional

Consider the professional background of the key personnel in the outsourcing organisation.

Are they professionally qualified accountants?

Is the outsourcing provider subject to external regulation by a professional organisation?

AdvanceTrack® is an ICAEW Member firm run and owned by UK Chartered Accountants.

Quality

Before outsourcing to an external provider, quality is always a major concern, particularly if a firm has either never tried outsourcing before or had a bad experience before.

As a business run by UK Chartered Accountants, Quality has always been at the core of the offering from AdvanceTrack®. The Quality systems employed within AdvanceTrack® manage a more consistent level of quality. These are then subject to external audit by BSI. AdvanceTrack® upgraded to the latest version of the ISO9001:2015 Quality standard in January 2016, within a few months of its release.

Security

Whilst Quality is clearly a concern, the one area that causes greatest anxiety to any professional firm is how the data is safeguarded in the new era of organised cybercrime.

There are a lot of risks of handing confidential data. Responsibility under the Data Protection Act always remains with the client rm. It is therefore extremely important that any outsourcing provider deploys strong protocols in managing confidential information.

We discuss systems later on, but these are critical for external independent review. Having an internationally recognised International Security Standard provides firms with greater confidence that there are strong protocols in place that reduce the possibility of data loss. The certification provides impartial evidence that AdvanceTrack® is following and exceeding industry best practices as part of a corporate governance program and has implemented a robust management framework regarding information security and quality.

AdvanceTrack® are certified to the latest Information Security Standard ISO27001:2013. They are the only major UK Accountancy Outsourcer holding the two latest International Quality and Security Standards.

Systems

We help analyse the process to migrate work, simplifying the process to keep your senior management input to a minimum. Supported by our UK office with ICAEW Chartered Accountants as part of your client management team, we reduce the costs of delivering a scalable outsourcing solution.

Our processes put qualified accountants at the centre of process migration, allied using robust secure technology providing a fully scalable solution to firms of all sizes.

Systems have always been centre stage at AdvanceTrack®, with such systems delivering job tracking as far back as 2006. AdvanceTrack® have constantly enhanced systems throughout. In 2017, AdvanceTrack® introduced enhanced systems fit for 2017 and beyond by rebuilding their platform.

These enhanced systems deliver seamless management of cloud bookkeeping and the full range of accounting and tax compliance services managed from any internet enabled device.

If you want to work with a forward thinking professional outsourcer who leads change, choose AdvanceTrack®.

 

I have had the good fortune to work for some great professional firms and people in my professional career.

In building the AdvanceTrack® business, I have taken the good things that I have learnt from these firms (and learnt from some that are not so good!). My early professional career, especially my training firm showed me the need to document the work performed, so that, whatever happened afterwards, there was an audit trail showing any person how we arrived at the numbers.

The biggest lesson that I learnt, especially in my career with two of the Big Four firms that I worked with, was the need to systemise the business. I used to recall how often, the partners in such firms were rarely at the “coalface”, yet the delivery to clients happened apace with the many good people in the rms. The key thing, however was that, in many ways, it didn’t matter which individual it was. It mattered more that the people in the organisation knew what they were required to do.

There were many times when colleagues left the firm and the team left behind thought it would be difficult to replace them. The team however, continued the good work, so it was very rare that clients moved firms following a key departure. This was solely down to a very robust process throughout the organisation.

So how do firms achieve this?

Whilst there are many things we could discuss, I will discuss 3 key elements:

Induction and Training

It cannot be stressed how important this is in your own office or a 3rd party provider like AdvanceTrack® to ensuring that the final outputs are more consistent. We have all experienced in various arenas, how improved training delivers better results. Our profession is no different, so it is extremely important.

Strong Management Protocol

If you consider the most successful business models around the world, whether in professional services, such as the Big Four in Accountancy, the Magic Circle in Law, or even McDonalds, the key to them all is their consistency of process, wherever they are in the world.

AdvanceTrack® for example, whilst not reaching the size of the above businesses really see consistency of process as being a key differentiator, allied with technology. Using robust processes that are subject to external review by BSI, such as achieving the ISO9001:2015 for Quality and ISO27001:2013 for Information Security allows AdvanceTrack® to manage work in a clear consistent manner.

Technology

All of the businesses above have used technology to drive efficiency and consistency through their businesses across the world. Technology is a great enabler and cloud technology is making it easier for businesses in many sectors to operate in the same way as global businesses, such as Big Four accountancy firms or Fast Food Chains. Technology is also a challenge to the traditional role of the accountant.

Accountancy firms have traditionally finished the bookkeeping when preparing the year end accounts. By clients using technology better, the value clients will place on putting together that final set of accounts is likely to be that much lower. As a result, you can see how more technologically agile firms (such as the Big Four) have moved up the advisory chain for many years. That capability moved into the high street, brings greater challenges to the high street accountancy rm. The key going forwards for accountancy firms will be to embrace the technology and to offer a more inclusive service.

What does that mean in practice?

  1. Firms need to offer a cloud based solution to clients.
  2. Offer a full bookkeeping service.
  3. Offering the full bookkeeping service enables firms to sell the additional consulting services that regular insight from the bookkeeping provides.
  4. Having access to this data will place the accountant into that trusted advisor space, yet also more able to fulfil the Making Tax Digital obligations that will come.

How can AdvanceTrack® help Accountancy firms deliver the service to clients:

  1. AdvanceTrack® are a technologically advanced outsourcing business, so they can help firms use their systems to deliver an efficient cost-effective bookkeeping service. AdvanceTrack® refer to this as their #seamlessbookkeeping service.
  2. This same technology will enable firms to keep their clients compliant with the Making Tax Digital regime when it is brought in.
  3. As a result of using AdvanceTrack® services, firms will be more streamlined in the way that they capture and process financial information.
  4. All of these are delivered at lower cost using technology and offshore delivery centres.

If your firm wants to lead the way in which it delivers a cost-effective pro-active service to clients, then it needs to review what services it offers and how it delivers them. If you see growth opportunities going forwards and are questioning how to meet them, the AdvanceTrack® team would love to talk to you.