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Accounting Excellence: Silverfin on innovation

Belgian developer Silverfin is on a mission to turn accountancy into a data-driven profession. Co-founder Joris Van Der Gucht tells John Stokdyk what makes the 2019 Software Innovation of the Year winner tick.

22nd Jan 2020
Editor in Chief (interim) AccountingWEB
In association with
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Silverfin - Accounting Excellence Software Innovation winner 2019
Silverfin_Accounting Excellence 2019
Silverfin UK lead Cameron John collects 2019 innovation award

“Five years ago I was a Belgian accountant. Everyone wanted to be an adviser, but all our revenue was from compliance billable hours,” Joris Van Der Gucht remembered about his time with BDO in the Netherlands.

Inspired by the arrival of cloud accounting tools such as Exact Online and Xero, Van Der Gucht and his co-founders had the vision of a unified environment that would let them access, analyse and report on financial data.

“Initially Silverfin was a simple to use reporting operation, like CrunchBoards [now Futrli],” he continued. “The thing that was crucial was that we always wanted to be the gatekeeper of good firm data on all your client base.”

The project required Silverfin to build application programming interfaces (APIs) to a range of different bookkeeping and operational systems. As their data net widened, Van Der Gucht and co-founder Tim Vandecasteele started to wonder, “What would you need to do to deliver quality data on client base in near real time?”

For this second stage, he explained, “We needed to bring data together in one hub to get that perspective."

Five years down the line and that vision of an accounting data hub is beginning to take shape. The Silverfin platform is now in use among a number of top 500 accounting firms in the UK and Europe and is based on four distinct layers:

  1. A base layer that aggregates financial data from external systems and shares it with the other Silverfin layers
  2. A working paper, reconciliation and finalisation layer, where the user can tidy up the data collect
  3. A reporting layer where management accounts, financial statements and tax returns are prepared; and
  4. An insight and analytics layer that lets the accountant dive more deeply into the underlying data warehouse.

Silverfin connects directly to underlying bookkeeping and ERP ranging from Xero, QuickBooks and Sage up to Oracle and SAP. The system is designed around layer 2 templates that set the data up for period closes, accounts production or tax computations.

The templates link on to accounts production and corporation tax programs to automate these processes as well as monthly management accounts across the firm’s entire business client base. “Using standardised templates gives uniformity, efficiency and best practice meaning that preparation and review are highly efficient and accurate,” the company explained in its innovation award entry.

Beyond reporting

As the Silverfin platform evolved, so did the founders’ ambition. Having collected the data to automate reporting, it made sense to tackle a broader range of tasks including compliance and analysis.

“It still starts with having all the data from all bookkeeping applications,” Van Der Gucht said. “If we can get structured data across the client portfolio, then we can automate more complex workflows. Firms are using Silverfin to construct all-new services – we’re helping them to differentiate by giving them standard ways of working they can track for their clients.”

The evolution has also taken Silverfin from its small firm roots into larger firms, who are particularly keen on the benefits of standardisation. “We went up market as the technology evolved,” said Van Der Gucht

Humberside practice Smailes Goldie is one of Silverfin’s pioneering UK users, using the software platform to create standardised working papers based on the Mercia methodology to support accounts production and management reporting. The initiative has cut the time taken to reconcile and review each client file and made a substantial contribution to profitability. 

Innovative drive

Technology is a fundamental ingredient in the company’s innovation formula, but the Smailes Goldie example illustrates how “user experience can play such a big role”, according to Van Der Gucht.

Having a single client data hub opens other doors, including artificial intelligence. The company talked about creating a data ecosystem that other companies can tap into – for example by aggregating and comparing client cashflows, or working with financial institutions to track client loan covenants and optimise financing opportunities.

Silverfin is also working with the machine learning team at Ghent University to map charts of accounts automatically and automate compliance workflows. The project is now achieving 95% accuracy, Van Der Gucht said.

“That will be very welcome for customers, who will never need to struggle with mapping charts of accounts again,” he said. “We believe we are the company that will automate post-accounting compliance.”

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