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How to make the digital transition work for your firm

A few years ago, Xero released its Digital or Die report. It showed that digital firms were growing four times faster than the industry average. And while this is clearly something that many practices would jump at, making that transition is clearly easier said than done.

  • Contributed by Luis Sanchez
  • July 19, 2019
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Why now is the time 

In today’s digital age, going digital is no longer an option. It’s a necessity.

According to Xero research, 45 per cent of advisers believe practices need to go digital to survive, yet 18 per cent of firm-based accountants still work on paper ledgers. More than three-quarters of firm-based accountants still sometimes use spreadsheets. Clearly something has to change.

The first step is recognising what digital really means for your clients in 2019. It doesn’t just require moving online. You need to go mobile.

In 2018, a report by comScore found that mobile represents 65 per cent of digital media time, while the desktop is fast becoming a ‘secondary touchpoint’. Eight in 10 email users access their email accounts from their mobile devices, and more than 50 per cent of people immediately pick up and start using their smartphones upon waking up each morning.

This ‘always-on’ culture means that many business owners are working on their commutes and in the back of Ubers from their mobiles, sending emails, sending Slack messages to the team, accessing sales data, networking through LinkedIn or even analysing their sales forecasts. Our expectations for instant connection and entertainment extends to business, and a demand for easily accessible, digital data.

Even if your clients use more traditional methods of communication, digitisation provides the freedom to be nomadic and the benefits of real-time bookkeeping data. We no longer need to be chained to a fixed work desk or sort through paperwork for information. Everything can now be accessed online.

As an accounting or bookkeeping firm, you are in a unique position to provide your clients with real-time bookkeeping and analytics.

Moving your numbers online

Providing a good service is about making your clients’ numbers work for them. If you’re going digital, those numbers need to be brought into the now. How do you get the data from your clients’ receipts and get it online?

During a recent webinar, we asked our attendees how they collected their source documents - whether that was:

  • In-person, for example driving to the office to pick up shoeboxes of receipts;
  • Via email; or
  • Through a portal or through an online document storage like DropBox.

Seventy-one per cent responded with all of the above.

That means many accountants and bookkeepers are still spending hours collecting documents from their clients, then sorting through shoe-boxes of paperwork. That’s not to mention the inefficiency of having multiple methods of data capture, having to juggle managing your inbox, checking your online document storage and waiting for clients to deliver paperwork.

While it might seem like good customer service to provide a number of options, the reality is a slower service. Our research shows an average of 20 days pass after a client first receives a bill to when they send it to their bookkeeper for processing.

That’s where using a mobile app can help. Our research shows that a client with an expense capture app on their smartphone reduces this delay of 20 days to just five.

Your clients can snap photos of their receipts after work lunches and send it to you in real time. They no longer need to stuff it in their glove compartment and forget to send it to you, only to offer a bag of torn and faded receipts at the end of the year.

So, where does the data go next?

Embracing the tech stack

A tech stack sounds complicated but it’s really just putting everything in one application. These applications talk to each other in real-time, eliminating data entry and the chances for duplications.

Once thought a ‘nice-to-have’, a tech stack is now an essential foundation to automate your repetitive tasks, augment your team and enhance your existing resources.

Designing a tech stack isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Imagine putting together a cake. You’re at the kitchen table, and you have each component - the sponge, filling, icing and some decorations - on hand. Designing a tech stack is the technical equivalent: a standardised process to produce the same result every time.

Start with the essentials -  general ledger software, the sponge - then you can combine software products, the filling or icing, to work together in unison. When you design the stack thoughtfully, it can work as hard for you as another staff member.

So, let’s imagine you’re at your workspace ready to build your tech stack. Where do you start?

What technology functions do you need?

First, start with what you as a firm do day-in, day-out. Draw up a list of your current functions as an organisation. For instance, do you do the following?

  • Processing invoices and receipts;
  • Timekeeping and/or managing payroll;
  • Managing workflows; or
  • Reporting and analytics.

Match each of your functions with an application that will make your day-to-day life easier, adding in efficiencies on the way.

How to onboard your clients

Once you design your stack, put it through its paces with a few weeks of internal testing. The cloud-based accounting apps are designed to integrate with one another seamlessly. If you get stuck or find inconsistencies in your data, you can always talk to a dedicated support team for help.

Once you’re ready to roll it out with your clients, it’s time to explain its benefits. This need is even greater if your clients are hesitant about new technology.

By starting with the direct benefits for your client, such as the increase in efficiency, visibility of data and security, you will be making their life easier. If your client still pushes back, it might be time to evaluate their potential impact on your efficiency.

Our research shows that the most successful firms are not afraid of turning away clients if they continuously resist new technology. Nor are they shy of making their technology a part of their value offering. By embracing cloud accounting, you can stand out from your competitors.

What this means for you and your clients

How can you talk about your new value to new or existing clients?

  1. Easier expenses

As many as 22 per cent of small businesses underestimate their expenses, resulting in over-reporting profits and potentially even overpaying taxes. By offering tools like an expenses app to capture receipts straight away, you are helping to record all of their expenses, minimise their tax liability and ultimately make their lives easier.

  1. Audit-proof and disaster-proof your businesses

Do you have a disaster recovery plan for you and your clients? Seven out of 10 businesses that experience a significant data loss will go out of business within a year. You owe it to your clients to ensure their businesses are protected from theft and physical damage.

By digitising your business, your clients’ documents are securely stored and managed in a cloud-based system. This can be accessed by you and your clients remotely at any time, giving you both more visibility should anything go wrong.

  1. Level up your meetings

Embracing automation and its time-saving benefits gives you the opportunity to spend more time face-to-face with your clients, talking about the bigger picture and helping them grow their business in a more rewarding, stress-free way.

So, listen to your clients. Digitise, design a tech stack that suits your firm, then spend less time on manual data entry and more time adding value to your firm.

Luis Sanchez, general manager Australia, Receipt Bank

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