One of the gains of working with cloud applications is driving efficiencies in basic bookkeeping and accounting relationships, says Richard Sergeant of Principle Point.
Specialists in the contractor market have been at the forefront of dealing with clients in volume, remotely and in a highly processed way for some time - and unsurprisingly have readily adopted cloud as a way of enhancing these efficiencies further.
“Dealing with volume is critical. That’s why working with cloud is at the centre and specifically why we are trying to put as many on FreeAgent as possible”, said Chris James, head of accounting operations at JSA. FreeAgent comes up a lot when talking to this type of firm, as does the use of complex spreadsheets although this is in decline.
“Using spreadsheets was no longer a modern approach, and there are always complications around checking for errors and passing data back and forth”, commented Alan Broome of Broome Affinity. “We pretty much moved all our clients over in early 2015 and it’s been a very positive decision” he continued.
Cloud suits this market well
The ease of adoption seems to underline the fact that the cloud seems to naturally suit their audience:
“Our clients are generally very computer literate. They moved to the cloud on the basis of our say so and I can’t say there has been much resistance.” said James. “The finance and IT guys were already more technically inclined and used to using these kinds of systems so it was much easier” agreed Broome.
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So dealing with a mobile, project based culture, where their affairs are quite straightforward means that the cloud’s strengths can be well realised. The benefits are there for the firm too.
“It’s great for us as ideally clients have to have data in a format that suits you - and that’s what we get. If it’s all coming in the right way you can build efficient systems off the back of it”, said James.
The opportunity to build client experience
So cloud is essential to service, but contact is just as important, especially as very little is face-to-face.
“Around this is phoning and emailing through to the account managers. What we’re aiming for is a very good client experience for what is a limited period of time”, said James, and Broome concurred “It has to be above what is expected of us. Everyone gets a named client manager, practically 24/7 service, and we have a publicised SLA. Working with the cloud allows us to save time on compliance and concentrate on adding value”.
Adding value in different areas
The theme of adding value comes up a lot. And in what is arguably a more commoditised market, it is an important way of keeping clients and the referral machine working.
It has other positive benefits as well, “Spending more time on helping clients, has had the effect of staff feeling more valued too - they are able to have more interesting and useful conversations with clients. I probably didn’t realise just how important this was” observed Broome.
Still further to go on the technical journey
James sees potential for even more to be cloud enabled: “Having cloud being a start to finish product would be ideal. In fullness of time it will be end to end through to final submissions. This might happen by more parts being plugged in together via APIs”.
Broome reflected on managing clients and workflow, “cloud is failing us badly - we now use a remote desktop solution but generally the practice side is poorly serviced”.
And what about the future?
“The more we can analyse and view the data, and get it talking to other systems the greater the choices. We have that trusted relationship and we should be able to upsell or cross sell, for example financial products”, said James.
“As communication, integration and service offerings in the cloud gets better we expect the added value services to increase. Key for us is to continue on this road of advising clients rather than just compliance” explained Broome.
The cloud is a fundamental part of their service offering - and increasingly the norm in this part of the market. There are some interesting lessons around generating scale and efficiencies in a way that helps to carve out client value, and the possibility for even more services in the future that many firms could look at to help shape their own approach.
In the next article we look at some of the different approaches medium-sized practices are taking, and the impact on clients and culture.
Richard Sergeant is the managing director of Principle Point.