Tech Talk: Freddie Faure from CooperFaure Limited
Welcome to Tech Talk, a monthly catch-up with an accountant in practice to find out more about their experience with technology and the effect that technological changes have had on the industry over the years.
Today we are joined by Freddie Faure of CooperFaure Limited, a practice in Teddington, South West London who reveals the tech set up within the practice, the four things she considers when choosing software, and how the firm increased their client base by over 30% in a year.
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How has the technology you use in your firm changed since you started out?
When we started CooperFaure twelve years ago, we used desktop-based software and upgraded to an internal network when we moved into the Teddington office. However, we were quick to see the benefit of cloud-based technology, both to enable our team to work remotely and to meet the changing regulatory landscape. Technology needs to adapt to these changes that the government puts in place and I think that technology is under a lot of pressure to respond very quickly, which can mean that it’s not as user-friendly as it could be.
For us, it’s a huge investment to acquire new technology and the learning curve is quite steep. We are fortunate to have embraced technology and to be 100% cloud-based. Making Tax Digital is still on the horizon and I don’t know what’s going to happen for accounting practices who are still working with Excel formats because technology carries a significant cost.
So the technology is advancing, but I don’t think it’s being adapted and adopted quickly enough for the changes that are coming.
Can you tell us more about the tech set up within your practice?
I think we have been forward-looking in becoming a cloud-based business. I am one of the directors of the company but don’t live in the UK, so we needed systems that enabled me to work collectively with the team. As a result, three years ago, we moved to Xero for payroll and bookkeeping, Digita for accounts production, corporation tax returns and company secretarial and Dropbox as a shared document repository.
Communication-wise, along with emails we also use Slack and have GoToMeeting, both for internal and client meetings. Our onboarding process is also cloud-based with documents e-signed by our customers. Our aim is to be paperless. We’re not there yet but have made huge strides forward whilst keeping a comprehensive audit trail.
What three considerations did you make when choosing the technology for your practice?
Firstly, the questions I ask myself are “do we need it?” and “why do we need it?”. For instance, my primary requirement with Xero was that it had to allow me to work remotely from anywhere in the world.
The second consideration is to evaluate whether it’s the best technology in the market at the right price, because software can be very expensive for a small business. I invest a lot of time testing the technology that we are potentially going to use. We actually evaluate a lot of technology, to the point that we are also part of the beta testing when new products are being developed, because we are very aware that what we choose has to have a positive impact on the business and for our clients.
The third consideration is to compare the efficiencies that the technology will drive to the business versus its cost. I’m conscious that there’s a danger of having too much technology and have a fourth consideration which is how to optimise the amount of technology that we have. For instance, do we need Slack? Or can we have an integrated communication system within another software that we already have? You can end up paying for ten different systems and realising that it doesn’t make financial sense anymore. GDPR has caused us to look at streamlining our systems and processes.
What are your favourite technology products at work and at home and why?
I’d say that the technology that’s been most successful in our firm has been Xero both in terms of the efficiency of the team and in adding value to our clients by not just offering bookkeeping and compliance but also advisory and forward-looking services.
I’m not that interested in technology at home (laughs). But I do marvel at the Internet of Things. My mobile phone now manages as many devices in the house as possible!
Are there any everyday accountancy problems you think could be solved with a technology in the future?
I think a lot of the everyday accounting problems are already being solved with technology. I think the real concern is whether technology will kill the accountancy industry. Although I said that my favourite product is Xero, I am also very aware that Xero is a huge competitor to every small accountancy firm. It already uses machine learning and they are developing artificial intelligence which ultimately would remove the need for a bookkeeper, the accounting junior or payroll.
If technology can do that, many people with valuable experience will be out of a job, so I’m not really keen on technology to continue to solve more problems. I think there’ss a limit to what’s acceptable and that we’re reaching that limit.
Can you tell me about a recent project or process that you made better, faster, smarter or more efficient?
Yes, we built our own online modular quoting system as part of the onboarding process. So instead of offering a flat price to prospective customers, we decided to differentiate ourselves and be quite niche in our pricing.
Essentially, we enable people to pick and choose services that they want at the volume that they want. Someone with a budget in their mind can look at our services and decide what is really of value to them.
This means that customers with a limited budget are not priced out of our services. Rather, they can be selective about which services are truly necessary. This approach actually increased our client base by 30-40% in a year because people were more engaged with the services that they really needed.
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