Dutch accounting software developer Exact launched a comprehensive practice management module at a user event in Utrecht this week.
Exact Practice Management is being presented as a “cloud-based 360-degree platform” that brings together time and fees, CRM, document management and workflow tools that integrate with the core Exact Online bookkeeping system.
The kind of firm for which Exact designed the system would have around 20 employees and perhaps 300 clients. The software modules have been designed to cater both for principals and partners who want an overview of what’s happening within the firm and managers who need to track their own client groups.
“We know the mind of an accountant is to always look on the bad side. So we designed the system to show them what’s going wrong, and how bad it is,” said Exact’s product strategist Martin van Vliet.
The first enhancements after this autumn’s release will be around workflow management, he added. “We know the workflow in accountancy firms sucks. You can definitely improve your organisation with better workflow.”
New ways of working
At Exact Live, the company laid out a far-reaching agenda to support new ways of working. These planned innovations included demonstrations of an “accountancy cockpit” prototype where the practitioner could drag and drop key performance widgets on to an interactive display screen to create bespoke dashboards for different client groups.
Like every other cloud accounting developer in 2016, Exact is talking up its efforts to build an artificial intelligence-powered “virtual assistant” that will prod accountants and clients with timely reminders of tasks they need to complete.
The company is also working on a LinkedIn-like new business referral network called Exact Connect and has further innovations in the pipeline around blockchain and community knowledge-sharing.
It’s for more sophisticated accountants, not the simple bookkeeping”
Exact now claims to be the world’s third biggest cloud accounting software supplier, with 300,000 user companies mainly in northern Europe. In the UK practice market, however, Exact faces powerful incumbents in the shape of IRIS, Sage, CCH and Thomson Reuters.
Video: Erik van de Meijden speaking at Accountex earlier this year
Exact’s connected, collaborative approach to practice arrives at a time when British accountants are deeply concerned about how to manage the migration of their clients and their systems to the proposed quarterly online tax compliance process.
Exact’s own research among 2,500 European professionals found that only 16% of UK client businesses enter their data online. UK practitioners also have a poor track record when it comes to adopting practice management tools. In the current circumstances, many of them may not be ready for Exact’s connected, collaborative model of accountancy practice.
A soft launch for the UK
Both Exact’s CEO and UK country manager Gavin Fell acknowledged that challenge. While boasting that Exact had a more mature and capable cloud suite than its UK rivals, they are planning a relatively soft introduction for the Practice Management module in this country.
“It’s for more sophisticated accountants, not the simple bookkeeping,” said van der Meijden. “It’s the accountant who wants to offer whole suite of services to small businesses. They need to do all the planning, VAT filing and everything. That’s where the whole accountancy practice should be managed to support the process.
“The best way to break a new frontier like this is to get a few accountants to do it and pave the way. You come in and present it as a challenge. Show that it can be done a different way. Then accountants will wake up.”