The third ACCA/AccountingWEB video previewing Practice Excellence Week in October examines how forward-looking accounting firms are building new kinds of services around cloud accounting.
As someone who spends a lot of time in the field with practitioners, ACCA head of advisory Glenn Collins is keen to remind the more evangelical wing of the cloud tendency that we are still talking about bookkeeping systems.
“Isn’t cloud just another way of getting closer to the client?” he asked at the start of the video.
For Practice Excellence firms, cloud accounting went mainstream around the beginning of 2016, but there are distinct differences between those who treat them as basic accounting tools, and the early adopters who are pushing ahead with new services and innovations.
Because cloud accounting is now in the mainstream, and will accelerate with the arrival of Making Tax Digital, it’s no longer good enough to just say, “We’re a cloud-based practitioner.”
The challenge Collins posed was what are firms actually doing with those tools to enhance the clients’ experience and quality of service?
The 10min discussion that followed offers some answers to that question based on what Practice Excellence entrants told us they were doing:
The first wave of accountancy’s cloud adopters quickly realised its potential for working collaboratively with clients. From the patterns seen in the awards since 2013-4, they are moving fastest towards trusted advisor model that everyone’s talking about.
The clearest expression of this approach is the outsourced finance or “virtual FD” package. Firms including Lamont Pridmore, Woods Squared and Gerrard Financial Consulting are putting together service bundles - often tailored for specific sectors - that include management accounts, regular client meetings, strategic advice, KPI dashboards, forecasting services and other decision-support aids.
Cloud accounting doesn’t have to be all about the trusted advisor/virtual FD model. Contractor specialist inniAccounts, for example, focuses on the “94% of other businesses” that do not want or need strategic growth advice. The inniAccounts service model is built around a self-service web portal that includes guidance to help clients answer their own tax queries, and online apps to streamline their accounting processes.
A springboard for innovation
Technology is an enabler, said ACCA’s Glenn Collins. Firms can splice it into what they currently do, or they can explore and experiment with new tools to make their services better for clients. For many practitioners the “virtual FD” model is pretty much the role they have played for their clients for many years. But perhaps they’re giving away for free some of the most valuable elements of their service.
Introducing cloud systems - and the extra possibilities they can deliver - can be an opportunity to review relationships and introduce premium support services as Gerrard and Woods have done.
As a Practice Excellence judge, John Stokdyk looks for evidence that firms have implemented new innovations to make things better for clients and in recent years, many of these initiatives have involved cloud systems.
But there are more general patterns that can apply to almost any activity within the firm. And innovators don’t stand still. At a lot of the firms that make it through to the award shortlists, the partners spend a lot of time collecting and using feedback from clients to identify weak spots or opportunities.
Many also involve their teams in these innovation efforts. At inniAccounts, for example, CEO James Poyser hosts fortnightly change/improve “stand up” meetings. As Poyser explains, “Innovation is a game of inches, based on everyday improvements.”
If you want to learn more about what other firms are doing to improve their client services, see the other videos in this Secrets of Practice Excellence series and visit the Practice Excellence Week website to find out how you can participate.