Innovation is a new category introduced for the 2014 Practice Excellence Awards and brings together entrants from firms of all sizes.
The Innovation award is designed to identify ideas and open practitioners' eyes to new ways they could be serving their clients that could benefit the wider profession. Technology has a huge role to play in this area - but is partially covered by a separate award category for tech champions.
Instead, the judges Gary Turner (representing our award sponsor, Xero) and Mark Lee (AccountingWEB's associate practice editor) looked for how tools were applied within practices and the imagination that firms brought to their client service.
Several contenders put forward the tools they had developed themselves which did open the door to new, more efficient ways of working, but these entries tended to focus more on the software as the innovation. Remember, these are the PRACTICE Excellence Awards. The four nominees in this category all demonstrated imaginative ways of enhancing the service they provide as accountancy practitioners.
The Tax Guys
A small firm representative in this category, The Tax Guys are one of those thriving practices that applies technology to “enhance clients’ lives and make their businesses less taxing to run”. As well as embracing hosted practice software, cloud accounting, CRM and online portals with electronic authorisation, The Tax Guys are pushing into video brochures and even fee proposals to make things more convenient for clients and prospects.
The firm’s philosophy isn’t to pursue technology for its own sake, but for what it can help them deliver: Systems that have given team members more time to focus profit improvement and rewarding work.
Case studies attest to the results: At one client, ProfitSense advisory software helped the practice to identify an additional £11,000 in profits, while online “bookkeeping without tears” and profit improvement helped another double their turnover in 15 months. Using IRIS OpenBooks saves the client three days a month grappling with spreadsheets that she can devote to marketing her business. “With the real time access to her figures, the firm was able to provide proactive support and suggest ways to improve her figures,” the firm added. The client has since referred three other businesses to the firm.
The Wow Company
It’s getting harder to differentiate accountancy firms merely by embracing cloud technology to enhance client service, but The Wow Company has taken this approach further than most. For example, Zendesk installed helpdesk software to track all client communications in an online portal that lets clients see where and how their questions are being dealt with.
The firm doesn’t just encourage clients to embrace cloud systems, it has moved all of its own back-office functions online, using Google Drive for document storage; Yammer, Gmail and Hangouts for communication; and Xero Workpapers and Practice Manager for getting the work done.
All of this automation frees staff from mundane administrative tasks to spend more time helping clients. The effects can be measured in areas such as client query times (sub 24-hour response times can be monitored in Zendesk; reduced turnaround times, for example year end accounts finalised within 30 days; and no increase in administrative staff for three years, in which the form more than doubled its fee income.
The Wow Company also surveys both staff and clients, achieving scores of nine out of 10 form 72% of clients and 82% of staff in its most recent results.
To stay ahead of the curve Tayabali Tomlin looks beyond the confines of the accountancy profession for ideas that can benefit the firm.
Customer advisory boards are a notable innovation that the firm says, “gives us a deep understanding of our clients and their requirements and what entrepreneurs are really looking for.
It also looks inward for ideas, conducting annual strategic reviews with its staff and adopting the same tools it uses with clients (e.g. Business Model Canvas software) to drive innovation and refine its proposition, delivery channels and client relationships.
Many firms now use social media and cloud/mobile tools - but Taybali Tomlin was able to track a very hefty chunk of new business to these outreach methods. It claims to be one of the first firms to create our own app, and rather than viewing it as a mobile brochure, it is integrating it with a collection of functional tools including Receipt Bank and CrunchBoards.
The firm’s Genius Bar-inspired coffee bar/entrepreneurial hub also caught the judges’ eye as evidence of the firm’s imaginative approach. Like Apple too, Tayabali Tomlin has managed to establish a premium profile for innovation and service for which customers are willing to pay extra.
CheapAccounting.co.uk claims to be one of the first “pure play” cloud accountancy firms. The firm recognised online software's potential to ease collaboration between client and accountant. A lot of firms have latched on to that now, but what continues to set Cheapaccounting apart is its disruptive guerilla marketing model.
The firm explained: “As typical accountancy marketing efforts showed diminishing returns as everyone chased the same target, we took a very different route. Our reputation and credibility has been established entirely through the use of content marketing.”
With no extra budget save for the time and effort of Elaine Clark and her team, CheapAccounting has built up a client base and brand that no accountancy firm can ignore.
The CheapAccounting model is not just about blogging and thought leadership. The firm deliberately pitched its pricing at a level that start-up companies could afford, and its franchisees follow through with quality client service. As one client attested: “When I started my company I thought that having an Accountant was going to cost me an arm and a leg, Toni from CheapAccounting proved me wrong! She is also a goldmine of information on tax issues and is always very helpful when I call her.”
Find out who will win by attending the Practice Excellence Conference in London on 6 November. Get your tickets here.
The 2014 Practice Excellence Awards are sponsored by SAP: “We know exactly how important accountants are to helping businesses grow and we want to do all we can to support that. That’s our business too and we’re focussed on developing technology innovations that not only help businesses run like never before, but also improve the lives of people everywhere.”
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Contributions from the AccountingWEB.co.uk editorial team.