For Nathan Keeley, a partner at Carpenter Box, cloud has been a differentiator.
At this year’s Accountex, Keeley will speak at ‘Living in the cloud – 3 accounting firms tell their story’. He heads up Carpenter Box’s cloud team, which has achieved major success, culminating in a UK accounting partner of the year award from Xero. “In terms of credibility it has been a great three months”, said Keeley.
Implementing cloud at Carpenter Box wasn’t completely straightforward. The firm has 140 people using a variety of legacy products, so just getting rid of them wasn’t an option. “That’s a lot of down time and retraining”, explained Keeley.
“So”, said Keeley, “I’ve used cloud as a differentiator.”
“When we started, just mentioning a product like Xero was the differentiator, but now you’ve got to mention what I call ‘Xero plus’”. Xero plus refers to the cloud giant’s ever-burgeoning add-on stable. The surge in add-ons can be overwhelming, but Keeley keeps it simple.
To counter potential add-on overload Keeley has curated a core group of add-ons for his clients. “Xero, Receipt Bank, Chaser, CrunchBoards – that is my four. That’s automated bookkeeping, automated credit control and automated KPI forecasting tools”.
From there, Carpenter Box considers the client’s vertical needs. “If a client is in retail, you may want to put a Vend on there, e-commerce might be Rocket Spark, agriculture might use FarmFlo.
“It’s much more compelling than the traditional ‘we’ll do your accounts for you and it’ll cost you X’. With the bundle of packages the fee is the same, but the client feels like they get a lot more. The price of those core products you bundle in with the fees. It’s the vertical add-ons they’d pay for direct, and that price point can vary considerably.”
According to Keeley, the vertical add-ons are hard to monetise. But these add-ons cater for it by being helpful with training clients. “They take away some of the burden of helping a client make the best of a product. We need a lot of help from them, and they give it to us.”
Loyalty to software
Keeley has noticed a change in the last ten years. “It used to be loyalty to the accountant, now its loyalty to the software”, he said. For him, offering the right services and helping clients with their software needs has been lucrative. And clients specifically approach him because they want to work in a certain way.
Another shift is the amount of contact with clients. “With cloud, the touch points with the client are increased by a factor of 10.” Keeley feels that it has helped him with client retention. “We speak to every client three or four times a month, whether it’s about VAT or payroll etc.”
According to Keeley Carpenter Box is still a “traditional firm”. Despite only being one part of the firm, Keeley’s team has made great strides. He recently handed over £250,000 worth of fees to help someone get started, and he’s already nearly replaced that fee loss. For Keeley, the cloud community has been a vital source of business. “You get leads from existing clients, leads from the add-ons themselves, from the Xero website,” he said. “And just from being a name people know in the sector.”