Can technology actually make us more human?

23rd Apr 2021
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Accountancy Manager
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You might be surprised to hear that accountancy and bookkeeping are well ahead of many other industries in terms of technology adoption. So, as a pioneer of the digital age (yes, you), you’re among the first to experience the benefits - and the barriers - of things like automation. One of the biggest concerns, of course, is technology replacing the personal touch.

James Byrne, AccountancyManager’s CEO, is a big fan of both tech and humans. He is a former accountant and now heads up a software company, so has insight from both worlds.

Once upon a time, a young accountant wanted more billable hours...

In his late teens, James joined his father’s accounting firm. Once he’d taken on a number of his own clients, James became increasingly frustrated with inefficiencies across the business.

Being accountants, we’re always thinking about increasing billable time and reducing non billable time. That's why I built AccountancyManager.”

“I didn’t have time to do much beyond onboarding, invoicing or dealing with admin. I wanted to expand the firm, have more billable hours and actually talk to clients. And, if at all possible, see my young children too!”

Building AccountancyManager within a busy practice

James recruited the help of a developer, Alex Hawke. “Alex actually sat inside the practice with me. As problems arose, he’d build a solution. It's probably why we’ve had the success that we’ve had because AM very much works in the way that an accountant would expect it to.”

Out with jargon. In with informality

Far from creating AccountancyManager to replace conversations, James is all for having a chat with clients - especially if jargon is left at the door. AM simply removes the functional parts of your relationship, so you can spend more time advising or getting to know your clients better.

“The accountant/client relationship is very different now in comparison with say, the 60s. Gone are the days when clients would put a suit on to go and see their accountant and we no longer impress clients with our broad understanding of the English language.”

“Rather, we adopt a less formal, more conversational type of communication that clients feel comfortable with. I still get calls from old clients asking me to explain something, so that built some really solid relationships.”

Automation: Enhancing, not replacing, your personal service

To maximise this ‘quality time with your clients, James recommends minimising your more functional, repetitive interactions - such as asking your clients for their records. He and Alex designed AM to automatically send these record requests and reminders, controlled by your clients Companies House accounting dates.

Improving client relationships by using technology is what this is all about.” 

“Being able to do some of the repetitive jobs automatically also means your clients are going to get a better service. We constantly hear how grateful people are to get regular reminders.” 

“Sometimes people adopt AM, then don’t turn on the automation. There’s fear around, ‘How’s that going to look to our clients? That we don't care about them? But you can customise those emails and texts in hundreds of different ways - not just the name - and make them personable in the way you write them. You can also pause any emails before they go out and check them over until you’re happy to relinquish that control.”

‘...we did tell you to pay your tax - 6 months ago’ 

“Tax payment reminders are a massive one,” remembers James. “The amount of times we'd tell clients what the tax was and when it needed to be paid, then six months later they'd miss their tax payment and get a penalty. And you're like, 'well, I told you six months ago’. Trying to get that across to the client is really tricky. That's why we introduced the tax payment reminders, where the email goes out a few days before. Improving client relationships by using technology is what this is all about.”

Accountants texting their clients? Whatever next? 

This comes back to the informality James mentioned earlier and exemplifies accountants as digital pioneers - facing and embracing change. “Five years ago, maybe ten, we would NOT have been texting our clients! But people will always buy from people and things like texting just presents you on a more human level. We introduced SMS to AccountancyManager to have that less formal means of communication. We look at our phones a ridiculous number of times a day, so you're going to get faster responses and clients will feel more connected with you.”

Cloud: 24/7 access to everything - for your team and clients

You didn’t go into accountancy to be the gatekeeper to all your clients’ stuff - any more than chasing them for records. 

Give clients visibility of their documents, details and deadlines

“That was another time waster for me,” says James. “Clients calling and asking ‘What’s my UTR number? When's this due, when's that due?' AccountancyManager is all about solving those real-life problems. Now clients can just log into their portal and they can see all of their documents, details and deadlines in one place. It’s GDPR-compliant, has an e-signing facility and there’s the option to rebrand it too.”

That time adds up so quickly, if you've got 100 clients, it's a lot of time. But if you've got 1000 clients, it's incredible how much time you're saving.”

Give your team efficient internal organisation 

The quality time vs functional time concept applies to your team’s filing systems and communication methods too. Minimise the time they spend on functional actions, like finding documents and keeping track of conversations in different places, so they can spend quality time with clients - or collaborating with colleagues in more productive ways.

“It’s all about having a consistent process of saving documents in one place. I cannot tell you the nightmares we had over this at the firm. The way we did it with AccountancyManager is to have a document storage file on every client name. You can break it down into different folders and either share those folders with the client - via their portal - or keep them private to your practice. So it’s like an internal filing system for your practice.” 

Keep a digital audit trail of communication - for every client

When you pick up the phone to call a client, there’s always that flash of ‘I hope someone else at the firm hasn’t already called or emailed them about this, it wouldn’t look very professional.’

“In AM, you've got an audit trail of communication, be it incoming or outgoing emails, texts or calls. That's really helpful - whenever anyone at the practice is communicating with your clients, it’s all going into one place. And it starts being helpful right when someone is a prospective client, you can make sure you’re staying in contact and keeping the lead warm.”

The Client Timeline timestamps all interactions between you and your clients, records when an email is opened and captures anything the client adds, changes or signs in their portal.

Virtual Post-it notes 

“I remember the days when I used to walk around the office with Post-it notes because I didn't like to clog up the inbox by forwarding emails to everybody all the time,” reminisces James. “With AM, everyone knows when they’re doing because of the Task List, emails are automatically listed under the relevant client and every assigned staff member gets a notification. But you can also attach notes to any task or update the progress. Finally, you can send notifications directly to colleagues, so it works like instant messaging with the added benefit of being in the same place as everything else.”

“I still love the smell of Post-it notes though.”

Digital transformation is all about people and their mindsets

We’ve all formed new digital habits, whether it’s using GoogleMaps, Netflix or Zoom calls. Using systems like AccountancyManager is the same - but crucially, everyone across the firm needs to adopt the technology to see the optimal benefits. 

“You do get used to doing things a certain way, but it's about breaking old habits to stay relevant - especially with how fast technology has moved the last 20 years. It's insane the way things have changed. With the younger generations of clients - and talent - coming through, it’s about adopting technology they would expect.”

“There's no doubt in anybody's mind that technology today is essential. You simply can't compete with your competitors if they're doing everything three times as fast as you're able to and providing the advisory services that increasing numbers of clients are looking for.”

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