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Secrets of excellence: Practice techby
Accounting Excellence Award winners share their secrets of implementing new technology within their firms.
Throughout the past year, the accountancy profession has experienced an immense technological shift into home-working.
Indeed, the profession was already moving in that direction. Last year, for example, 89% of Accounting Excellence entrants mentioned that they were supporting clients on cloud accounting systems, up from 84% the year before.
The firms that prioritised tech have undoubtedly emerged as some of the most resilient amid the turmoil of the pandemic. We spoke to some of our 2020 Accounting Excellence Award winners to find out how technology helped them to maintain and enhance their success and deliver the best support they can to their clients.
Pamela Phillips, co-founder and managing director of de Jong Phillips - Accounting Excellence Small Firm of the Year 2020 winner
Tech is fundamental. If we didn’t have good tech, we wouldn't be able to do what we do. We have to be really close to client’s businesses and it’s tech that lets us do that.
It helps us from an efficiency point of view. We can spend more time doing what clients really value. We're strict about what tech we and our clients use. I’m so glad I made the choice a couple of years ago to be really specific about that. There's some core bits of software that clients have to be on, and then there's other bits that are a bonus which we’re less strict about.
Before we made that decision, we thought clients might be apprehensive. But they actually aren’t. Most of them are happy to go with what we suggest. It makes it more seamless with our team, it's much easier to train, and it's much easier to work if you're all on a system that you use everyday.
The pandemic just reinforced that we are doing the right thing. Other businesses have had to catch up - they weren't quite there with the tech and the flexible working. It's proving that we've made the right call.
Jaye Snell, founder of Exe Bookkeeping and Payroll Services - Accounting Excellence Bookkeeping Firm of the Year 2020 winner
Our onboarding process is digital. We try to retain a little bit of flexibility because we know that some clients haven’t quite got to grips with that technical side, but where we can we try to get everybody using some digital format and have a standardised process in place with gaining access to records.
We use a cloud-based system and receipt extraction software, for internal benefit but for clients too. It means they don’t have to worry about having piles of paper stored up for the year-end. Everything is online so that the team and our clients can access it everywhere.
I'm always looking at different software to see how it can improve. With an increase in younger entrepreneurs who have grown up with that tech, you have to be able to keep up with the processes that they’re used to. When I was growing up we would use pen and paper for a lot of our processes. People who are coming up now probably won't ever pick up a pen and paper; everything's done on a laptop. We need to be able to keep up to speed to be able to service those clients.
Sian Kelly, managing director of Inform Accounting - Accounting Excellence Client Service Award 2020 winner, Digital and Innovative Firm of the Year 2020 winner
We're always looking at what new tech is out there. We do continuous process improvement, because the technology is always changing. There's always a better way or new things coming out.
We've grown up as cloud-based with all the cloud applications; for example, we put our first client on Xero 10 years ago. We massively focus on the whole systems and communications side with the clients, and we've got dedicated roles focusing on that.
We also put Xavier in last May, which massively helps manage the bookkeeping control side of things. We’ve got one member of staff who does all our systems improvements and internal reviewing systems and process efficiencies. We've got everything documented as to how we operate, and that's continually getting reviewed.
We also continually review everything. If something isn't working as smoothly or there's a manual process, we’ll spot it when we get round to reviewing that particular process.
Sarah Sallis, director of The Accountancy Office - Accounting Excellence Sole Practitioner of the Year 2020 winner
Tech is absolutely essential, because that's ultimately the groundwork of everything that we do. We are purely a 100% online firm - that's what helps us work as efficiently and productively as we possibly can. That often translates into better results for our clients: the quicker we can get information to them, the more likely we are to be able to help them.
We’ve got the knowledge and the information and we need to be able to utilise that. Tech is what puts us in the strongest possible position to do that.
We're always looking at different software products and new things which come on the market. Quite often, we’ll have a trial and play around to see whether they will work. We make sure to keep up to date on emerging tech that we think will work well for our clients, so we can make recommendations accordingly.
Because we've always sort of built our services around the technology, it’s grown with us. We haven't had to implement any huge changes, because we've always had the basis of technology there. We’ve only been able to grow because of that software we started with and invested into early on.
Ria-Jaine Lincoln, director of The Beauty Accountant - Accounting Excellence Covid-19 Hero Award: Individual 2020 winner
My most recent tech investment was into advisory strategies involving training. It gives extra tools to offer advice at a different level to clients about their personal and business goals.
When I first started out, not a lot of people had to switch all their clients to cloud-based bookkeeping solutions, but the pandemic changed that massively. From when I set up, the first thing I did was set up the technology. When the pandemic hit, I didn’t change my approach at all because I was already using all of the technology.
I had already been using Zoom, and Calendly to book all of my calls and manage my diary. All my clients had bookkeeping software and receipt capture tools. The only thing that changed was investing in cashflow software, as opposed to using spreadsheets, because I needed to have quick answers and solutions.
Warren Munson, founder and managing director of Inspire - Accounting Excellence Medium Firm of the Year 2020 winner
We wouldn’t have survived the pandemic if all of our systems hadn’t been cloud-based pre-Covid. It’s vital to where we are and where we’re going.
One of the things that we set as an objective for the next 12 months is to really define where we’re going as a firm with technology. We were definitely one step ahead, which got us through the pandemic. But what do we need to do next? What are some of the leading firms - the firms that we admire out there - doing in terms of technology? What can we learn from them?
Technology is definitely one of those areas where you just can’t take your eye off the ball, because if you do, you fall very quickly two steps behind the curve. The world we live in is seeing commoditisation of some of the services that practices offer. That’s a really challenging place to be. We’ve got to keep our eyes wide open to what is happening next, and that is one of the key objectives we’ve got for the next 12 months.