Tech Talk: Swaran Sohal from Sandwell Accountancy Services
Welcome to Tech Talk, a monthly catch-up with an accountant in practice to find out the effect that technological changes have had on the industry over the years.
Today we are joined by Swaran Sohal, director of Sandwell Accountancy Services, a practice based in the Black Country and working with clients across the West Midlands.
Swaran has been running the practice in his own name since December 1990, when he moved from a paper-based accountancy practice to a more technology-based practice.
Swaran, how has the technology you use in your firm changed since you started out?
We primarily started as an Excel practice. We could mimic the paper-based system in Excel and computers can add up, subtract, divide and multiply faster than humans and get it right more often. At the time, we had a paper-based system of internal admin and record keeping.
We still do that for our smaller clients to produce end of year accounts and tax returns, but now we use computer software to produce the records we submit to both HMRC and Companies House. We also have a document management system to keep our records and a practice management software solution.
Can you tell us about the technology set up within your practice?
We use Microsoft Office, accounting software and a number of Digita products for Personal Tax, Corporation Tax, Accounts Production, Company Secretarial and file cabinet for document management. These items came along as the need arose and as the requirements changed for the practice.
What three considerations did you make when choosing the technology for your practice?
The cost (not just of the software but training people to use it) and benefit received. The third consideration was whether it solved a problem without creating a new one.
What are your favourite technology products at work and at home and why?
My current favourite is my Surface Book as it is invaluable at work. At home, I like my hybrid car.
Do you think using technology will form an increasing part of your role in the next 10 years?
I believe I have to keep my practice up to date with technology as I regard it as a member of staff who assists the practice. I believe tech will do more and help to improve the productivity of my real members of staff.
Some everyday tasks such as bookkeeping, audit or business plan creation may become fully automated by technology in the next ten years. Do you see this as positive or negative?
Anything that helps is good, but it will need to be checked by real people as computers and artificial intelligence cannot cope with the unusual or out of the ordinary.
Can you tell us about a recent project or process that you made better, faster, smarter or more efficient?
The last project I have undertaken had to do with Making Tax Digital and accounts. I was informed by the previous owner of this practice to look two years ahead and see if there were any problems or issues because most practices take time between seeing an issue and finding a solution that suits them. The first solution may not work but it gives you time to test, evaluate and revise.
So, two years before the implementation of MTD I was thinking of the best way for my practice to tackle this issue. I looked at the market to see if a cloud solution was available for a legacy practice like mine.
I found a cloud solution from my existing software pool and tested it with some clients. I started informing clients and formed a band of the willing for quarterly accounts, so I could ensure my firms’ internal systems would work and also to test the clients’ systems.
I put it to my clients as a way of trying a first solution and leaving space for falling over and trying something else if that didn’t work without worrying about fines and penalties.
If you liked this piece, take a look at what Jeri Williams has to say about the tech set up within J Williams & Co, a practice shortlisted for New Firm of the Year at the Accounting Excellence Awards 2018.