Consultant at Journey One and Mental Health Advocate
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Finance tech stack
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An accountant’s guide to tech stack mastery

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In response to the tech stack conundrum recently raised in Any Answers, Sammie Johannes sets out to tackle the beast that is the tech stack. She outlines her personal approach alongside integral elements and trusty favourites.

12th Aug 2021
Consultant at Journey One and Mental Health Advocate
Columnist
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Picking your app stack for your practice can involve some trial and error, as you need to find what apps work for you and your team. What works for one practice, might not work for you. 

To determine what apps are best for your practice, there are a few different approaches you can take: 

  1. Testing different apps and using trial and error to determine what works

  2. Chatting with other accountants and bookkeepers in your area to understand the apps they are using in their stack to help you make an informed decision. 

  3. Getting demos of the different apps from the vendors and comparing them to each other. 

You should be looking to fill gaps that are causing lags in efficiency by your team – so if there is software that enables you to prefill a return instead of manually keying it in, it is worth investing in that product. 

I would recommend assessing your tech stack each year, and work out whether there were apps that were redundant, or ones that you should add to improve your team's efficiency and client’s businesses. I would only invest in new technology if I could see that it was filling a gap for me or my clients, as there will be a financial investment in bringing on a new app to your stack, including the training of not only staff, but also clients if your client needs to use it too. 

Technology stacks solve the problem of efficiency loss in an accounting practice. It enables your team to provide more value to your clients in other areas such as advisory, instead of being bogged down in the day to day accounting administration. My personal approach to building my tech stack is to test and see what works for you and your team. I have a positive attitude towards accounting tech, and will pick apps that improve efficiency, but also remain software agnostic for client apps as not each app will work for each client. 

What’s your platform?

The key thing to decide when starting your business is what platform you want to use for the day to day operations of your business, specifically emails, communications and document preparation. 

The two main players in this space are GSuite (Google) and Office 365 (Microsoft). Having used both GSuite and Office 365 during my career, I can comfortably say that I much prefer the functionality of Office, especially with the collaborative functionality available in Teams. 

A small side by side of G Suite vs Office 365, and my pick for the different options they both have available. 

Type

G Suite

Office 365

My Pick

Email

Gmail

Outlook

Outlook – more functionality

Calendar

Google Calendar

Calendar

Google Calendar – better accessibility on mobile. 

Meetings 

Google Meet 

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams – easier to collaborate when working 

Note taking

Google Keep

OneNote

OneNote – easy to use and organise.

Document Collaboration

Google Docs, Sheets, Slides

Word, Excel, PowerPoint

Office – a lot more functionality, especially in Excel

Online storage

Google Drive

OneDrive

OneDrive

 

Practice platform: Accounting, bookkeeping and practice management

When I was in practice, my go-to tech stack for my tax and accounting work was based around the Xero platform and ecosystem. It consisted of Xero, Xero Tax and Report Templates, and Xero Workpapers. The firm I was with also used Hubdoc and Receipt Bank (now Dext) for Receipt Management. Practice Ignition enabled our firm to handle engagement letters and collecting payments from clients, with the majority of our clients being on fixed-fee engagements (simplifying our billing process). These apps all integrate into Xero’s core accounting solution, improving efficiency for your firm. For example – Practice Ignition, Hubdoc, Receipt Bank, Xero Tax and Report Templates and Xero Workpapers all integrate with Xero.

To manage our workflow and track our time (even though we were on fixed-fee, we needed to ensure we tracked how profitable we were on each job), we used Salesforce Mission Control. This enabled us to get an overall view of our time and see a high level picture of our workflow in a Kanban board. 

App

Pros 

Cons

Xero

Cloud-based

Easy to use 

Live bank feeds.

Bank feeds can drop out. 

Xero Tax

Cloud-based 

Can pull the trial balance from the ledger into the tax return (Australian edition)

If the internet goes down, you cannot continue preparing returns. 

Xero Report Templates

Ability to customise Special Purpose Financial Statements and other reports. 

Can be difficult to customise the reports. 

Xero Workpapers

Ability to retrieve live data into the Workpapers to aid in compliance. 

Need to resync every time you update something in Xero. 

Hubdoc

Ability to store receipts directly against transactions

OCR is not as advanced as other apps. 

Can be clunky to use. 

Receipt Bank (Dext)

Ability to store receipts directly against transactions. 

Expensive

Can be clunky to use. 

Practice Ignition

Ability to get signatures from clients on engagement letters.

Ability to collect payment details from clients when they accept their engagement letter. 

Can sometimes take a number of days to clear into your business account. 

Xero’s practice platform was a game changer in improving the way in which the practice I worked at operated. We went from using one computer with tax software and only one person being able to prepare a tax return at a time, to being able to have multiple people preparing tax returns simultaneously. 

If I was still in Practice, I would have been considering implementing the following apps for my stack:

  • AccountKit as it allows you to automate time-sucking tasks and minimising the risk of errors caused by manual data entry. They have a number of tools that greatly improve an accounting firms efficiency. 

  • FYI Docs as it bends email, document management, phone calls and file notes into a central database, improving efficiency for your firm. 

Employee engagement

As mentioned in my article on Bridging the gap between Mental Health and Technology, to measure employee engagement, Officevibe is a fantastic option. Officevibe enabled the organisations to have more detailed conversations with the team to provide the right level of support. 

I have also seen how effective using a simple form, with two questions to answer each quarter to check in and see how our journey is progressing, can be utilised to check on employee engagement. It is so important to understand your team and what makes them tick, and using software to do this can make a huge difference in employee satisfaction. 

 

Option

Pros

Cons

Officevibe

Can collect a lot of data from employees around how they are feeling in relation to their job and other areas such as mental health.

Can choose the frequency to which you circulate the questionnaires with your team. 

Ability to analyse the data in an easy to consume fashion.

Cost 

Need a login to be able to access the app. 

Forms

Can ask specific questions.

Easy to distribute via email as staff do not need a login to be able to respond.

Need to manually manipulate the data to create useful reports. 

Mental health apps

Mental health is something that has come to the forefront of everyone’s mind over the last 18 months, and implementing apps that assist in managing this area, can greatly improve not only your own mental health, but your employees. These apps don’t form part of your practice app stack necessarily, but your personal app stack that you use for everyday life. 

My current mental health app stack includes: 

  • Perspectives (iOS only)

  • Breathe (iOS only – Apple Watch)

  • Smiling Mind

Perspectives is a journal app that is focused on mental health. I have found that using Perspectives every day has been instrumental in helping me to maintain good mental health. It prompts me to think about what’s happened that day, and can ask me questions if I’m not sure of what to write. 

Breathe is a mindfulness app on Apple Watch that prompts you to breathe at different times throughout the day. I find it is great when my heart rate jumps with an anxiety spike as it’ll then prompt me to spend a minute focusing on breathing and guide me through to slow my breathing down and help drop my heart rate.

Smiling Mind is a guided meditation app that has different meditation tracks depending on what you personally prefer. I use it during times of high stress to ground myself as it enables me to focus on the present moment. 

Marketing and social media

In my personal opinion, from a marketing perspective, apps that will assist in this area are Facebook and Instagram. 

They both allow you to engage with your audience, and really show the personality of your business to your current clients and potential customers. 

I also highly recommend having a website as a lot of businesses are still found via a quick Google search and, in line with this, setting up Google Ad Words to help drive more traffic to your website. 

Trusty favourites

My favourite piece of technology at the moment is actually Microsoft Office 365 suite. The functionality that it has far surpassed Google. The ability to collaborate with colleagues in real-time, with all of the functionality enabled, has ensured that efficiency is gained, and that working remotely doesn’t impact your productivity. 

From an app perspective, the one app I couldn’t go without is Perspectives. As I mentioned above, it has been instrumental in helping me to maintain good mental health and to reflect on each day and what went well, and what didn’t.

Replies (10)

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David Ross
By davidross
12th Aug 2021 10:22

Interesting that the person chosen to write this "personal approach" does not mention FreeAgent or Accountancy Manager, which I reckon must be pretty popular amongst viewers of this site.

But of course "mental health" is featured. I'm just surprised at no mention of 'inspiration'

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By Hugo Fair
12th Aug 2021 12:11

Fascinating (intellectually), but really more as an excellent example of tail-wagging-the-dog syndrome (pragmatically).

Who has got the time to even consider "Testing different apps and using trial and error to determine what works", or "Getting demos of the different apps from the vendors and comparing them to each other" ... especially with this quantity of suppliers (many of whom may have a life expectancy that is only long if compared to a mayfly).

And, as David comments above, this is based on the somewhat 'simplified' range of products chosen to illustrate the article ... which omits many of the most appreciated and prevalent options currently out there.

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Routemaster image
By tom123
12th Aug 2021 13:33

Being 50 in October I am feeling my age..

I have never knowingly used the phrase "Tech Stack" before..

I will try to start.

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Replying to tom123:
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By AdamMurphy
13th Aug 2021 09:21

50 in November and know exactly what you mean

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Replying to tom123:
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By leicsred
13th Aug 2021 10:52

50 in October too - a fine vintage!

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By amco
12th Aug 2021 17:34

Heavily biased towards xero .....I mainly use QBO...how about an article biased towards QBO???

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Replying to amco:
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By AdamMurphy
13th Aug 2021 09:21

What else do you expect for this site……….

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By Winnie Wiggleroom
16th Aug 2021 06:50

you need an App to remind you when to breathe? dear oh dear what a world

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By AndrewV12
16th Aug 2021 11:48

Tech stack, App stack , their stack, your stack .................... and on it goes.

Never heard of any of them, but I don't always like or get on with technology.

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joantucker
By joantucker
19th Sep 2021 09:38

It is an excellent guide. I think that a lot of novice accountants will learn a lot of interesting things from it. If you want to learn more about bookkeeping software, you can enter playlouder.com. There you can find a lot of information about the most popular accounting software. For example, you can start learning more about Quickbooks, one of the most popular bookkeeping software. You can use it whether you’re a sole operator or a large corporation, and it will grow as your company expands, so it is good for a novice.
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https://www.playlouder.com/quickbooks-vs-freshbooks-vs-xero-vs-quicken/

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