Top 10 accountant Mazars has joined the stampede of big firms towards packaging online accounting services for small businesses.
The firm chose World Entrepreneur Day (21 August) to introduce its new baby, which it is calling elev8 by Mazars and characterises as a bespoke solution for SMEs combining a full range of advisory and business support services.
To be more precise, elev8 is a structured menu of tax and accounting compliance, payroll, company secretarial, financial outsourcing, receivables management and business support services that customers can select to suit their current circumstances.
Mazars partner Margaret Laidlaw explained that the initiative grew out of the firm’s strong SME customer base. “Our motivation was to bring together all those great client relationships and cloud solutions under one, UK-wide roof,” she said.
This cloud-based, nationwide approach would make it possible to offer specialist services currently operating in specific areas to all Mazars small business clients. “Only those specialised services are delivered nationally. All the core accouting and outsourcing work are still delivered locally,” Laidlaw said.
The firm’s existing outsourcing service team forms the core of the new elev8 service and while all the processing takes place in the cloud, individual businesses will be looked after by dedicated relationship managers.
“What came out of our research among clients and staff was that they saw us as part of their team,” said Laidlaw. “The ethos behind elev8 was to bring that together and continue to offer a balance of support and challenge.”
The research also influenced the way the elev8 packages are structured to support companies at different stages in their lifecycle, from start-up to growth, maturity and finally exit.
“It was crucial we delivered the services to clients based on what stage of business they were at,” she continued.
The main service driver at the start-up phase is dealing with all the compliance issues that distract entrepreneurs from what they’re good at. “Everything is done efficiently – how can we make it as simple as possible for them to get what they need,” Laidlaw said.
When companies mature, she continued, they often have boards of directors and more sophisticated infrastructures. So they will be looking for a different set of service options around building shareholder value and looking to what their next step might be. The elev8 services for these companies revolve more around advisory work, where high level partners challenge clients to step back from the business and do strategic reassessments. Mazars also offers outsourced finance, technology and HR services if clients want them.
The elev8 People package includes payroll and “self-service” online HR systems that allow employees to book holiday and log sickness absences. In an additional twist, Mazars has created a specific set of solutions for temp recruitment businesses, where the accountant takes on responsibility for paying workers and billing customers.
This niche approach opens the door to the wider world of cloud apps and add-ons for specific segments. As a Xero partner, Mazars already has a track record with more than 30 different apps and when the circumstances are right, its elev8 team will suggest a set of Xero-based tools to meet their needs.
But elev8 is definitely not a one-size-fits-all environment, Laidlaw emphasises: “For some clients there are other requirements depending on their size and sector and they might need to look at other options.”
A lot of large accounting firms including KPMG, PwC, Deloitte and BDO have moved into packaging online accounting services for the SME market, and have set some fixed comparison points including KPMG’s £150 monthly small business accounting charge. Lower down the scale, numerous small firms are able to offer the convenience of cloud accounting with personal service levels for less than that.
How is Mazars going to make a dent in such a crowded, competitive market? Its prices are fixed, but on the “how long is a piece of string?” basis are only quoted to clients when the accountant knows the full scope of their requirements.
“There are solutions out there that are fixed price, but this is a personal service to help you grow your SME business,” said Laidlaw. “What people are looking for are tailored solutions with personal service. Elev8 by Mazars is very tailored to that individual client. This isn’t a solution that is remote. The important thing is the feeling that we are part of the client’s team.”