My Tech Stack: Pam Phillips, de Jong Phillipsby
The Small Firm of the Year award winner from 2020 shares the accounting tech line-up that helps her team manage all the financial needs of the firm’s digital agency clients.
How would you describe your firm and client base?
We’re a tech-focused firm specialising in providing the finance function for agency clients. We don’t have a huge client base, but are deeply embedded within the clients we do have.
What is your attitude to accounting tech?
My dad set up in practice when I was a child and he was really into tech, but it wasn’t there yet to do all the things we wanted. As soon as the tech started to appear, it was really exciting to see how we could use it to support our clients.
I came to accounting from investment banking, where my focus was business and decision support. I could see what really big organisations expected from their finance departments – sophisticated things that smaller businesses didn’t get. But I could see that technology has enabled it. The biggest change in the outsourced finance function space was cloud accounting. We were looking for something like that for a long time. We started off using e-conomic (now Reviso), which came on the market around the same time as Xero.
Even little things were harder before cloud accounting. If the client had a database we wanted to see, we received a cut of their data, which meant there were two sets of data out in the world that were out of sync. By the time you and your client had the same data, time had passed. Now that’s a thing of the past. Now we can look at the same numbers and we can access it whenever and wherever we want. We can see what clients are doing, fix the data and interpret it. That’s the biggest thing. Because we’ve got easy access to their accounting systems, we can do bookkeeping remotely in a way we can systemise. We can do cash flow forecasts with Float, credit control with Chaser, access funding with Capitalise and help them assess credit risks by connecting Satago to Xero. There’s not much we can’t do.
What’s your favourite work app?
Xero is so fundamental, it’s the core of everything – it would have to be that. But I also like Syft because it does something that other management reporting tools don’t do. It allows you to access granular data in Xero. You can do deeper client analysis, such as which customers have you sold to this year versus vs last year or last month. Also you can analyse things like customer retention or what suppliers you spend money with. The other reporting apps don’t go to that level, so if you’ve made loads of sales, you don’t necessarily know who you sold to. It saves us so much time, both external reporting for clients, but also internal for ourselves.
Are there any gaps in your stack that you’re looking to fill next?
We’ve got quite a few clients who face challenges managing purchase orders. ApprovalMax is on the list as a collaborative tool for the client-facing side of that. Internally, we want to get a really good CRM or improve how we use MailChimp and secondly how we capture data in the CRM. There are better ways than we are doing now. We use Google forms that feed into GoProposal. That whole data capture process could be more efficient and improve AML checking. We’re not in a big hurry, because GoProposal is moving into that space.
What’s been the biggest challenge in building your accounting tech stack?
It’s not been hugely challenging, because we’ve done it bit by bit, based on what we need to do most. It’s evolved in a natural way. It’s quite a small tech stack, because it was designed that way, and our business was designed that way. It’s way easier to manage teams and automate if we’re really tight in what we do.
While we don’t want to swap and change all the time, we appreciate that some bits of software will change. When choosing, we put a lot of time and effort into identifying what we want. As the team gets bigger, we’re not as agile as we were, so it’s more difficult to change. When we commit to a system, it’s a big deal if we change later. So we have to be a lot more thorough than when there were just a couple of us and we could choose tech on a whim. Now it’s more of a commitment – doing the research across the apps to see what’s going to be right for us and our clients. There are always pros and cons – for example we did a lot of work to compare Syft and Fathom when we wanted to improve our reporting. Getting it all connected so it’s all talking together rather than creating lots of the same data in different places can be tricky.
What advice would you pass on to other accountants who want to go down this path?
Getting the right engine for you and your clients first. One that has all the capabilities and tools that you’re going to need. That’s why we chose Xero from the outset, because it was the front runner. And start with the tools that you can roll out to the largest portion of your client base. You’re not going to get the return or add value to clients if you only give it to a couple of them. Start with Dext, because you can apply to every client and then move on to cashflow and management reporting, because they’re generic and every client can use that.
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AccountingWEB’s Editor at large has been with the site since 1999, rising from news editor to editor in chief, global editor and head of insight. As a roving editor, he continues to investigate the profession's use of technology around the world. He devotes his spare time to technology history and an oddball collection of stringed instruments...