Speaking at the recent IRIS World event, the CEO of IRIS accountancy division Sion Lewis outlined how accountants can seize the opportunities the digital world presents.
The software house knows the challenge that besets a number of digitally unprepared accountants. As Lewis puts it, "You've got to go digital. You've got no other option."
Shortly after delivering the keynote, Lewis along with Nick Gregory, the chief product and marketing officer, and Steve Cox, chief evangelist, hosted a press briefing where topics discussed included how the company is advancing with its MTD plans, and why customer service remains high on their agenda.
Making Tax digital still on the agenda
Although the government has taken a circumspect approach towards Making Tax Digital, IRIS used its keynote to reinforce its commitment to digitalisation. Considering IRIS’s compliance heritage, Gregory explained why getting ahead on MTD has become a weekly topic in-house.
“I don't think our competitors took the plunge that early on FRS and struggled with that. The earlier you get stuck into that, the earlier you can actually work through the issues and get the solution for the customers."
Perhaps the most significant new addition to the company’s MTD arsenal is the release of IRIS Snap. The Kashflow receipt capturing tool debuted at the event, and the trio heralded this relatively simple app as easing client’s burden in a post-MTD world.
Gregory said: “IRIS Snap liberates the real pain point that accountants have: customers turn up with bags of receipts and are forced to make the bookkeeping and that paralyses the bandwidth to be able to do the higher value activity.”
Continuing its MTD trajectory regardless of the government scoping back MTD, IRIS invited customers to join the voluntary beta. The recent IRIS voice of accountant survey found that there is an appetite amongst a section of accountants to embrace MTD early on with 42% of respondents believing the MTD legislation will help grow their practice.
Compliance is king
Lewis proclaimed in his keynote that “compliance is king” and this explains why IRIS is still embracing MTD. “You got to get compliance right. You get it productive and efficient and right, you can do all the other lovely things that your SMEs want you to do - get it wrong and you're in trouble.”
The software house’s attempts to stay compliant were almost thwarted earlier this year thanks to HMRC’s incorrect tax computations. “We spotted a fair few of them and informed HMRC,” Gregory explained. “They had to verify them, fix them and put them back.”
Lewis added: “We take this compliance thing super seriously because we are not the cheapest product on the market. If we don't get compliance right, we're doomed.”
Also high on the software companies’ agenda is customer satisfaction. Lewis labelled the current wait times as unacceptable. To rectify this IRIS has enlisted 20% more support staff.
Lewis knows that the customers that call the IRIS support centre or pay for training are more successful. But only 1% of the customer base was improving their skills on the software. That’s why Lewis felt it was important to no longer charge for training.
Explaining the issue, Cox said: “People who have come from another practice that has used IRIS before, think they know how to use it. They go out, either start on their own or go to another firm and say they know IRIS. So they're doing the internal training. The problem is that person is not keeping up with all the changes that we've made over time.”
In another way to improve customer’s IRIS knowledge, Lewis has instructed the support team to introduce a new aspect of the software to anyone calling the support line before they hang up.
Lewis also raised the idea of a certification programme to plug customer's knowledge gap.
Acquisitions in action
Over the previous year, IRIS has actively bolstered its portfolio, with the acquisitions of forecasting tool Gearshift (now known as IRIS insights) and the education software PS Financials.
IRIS Insights was showcased at the event as a way accountants could recoup fees because compliance is not valued. Lewis has seen accountants use this tool to gauge other statistics other than forecasting, such as working out which clients they should work with. "We thought you'd use it to advise your SME on how to grow, not actually use it to whether I should bother to talk to them.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the acquisitions was how IRIS is utilising the technology that underpins the tools. PS Financials, for instance, is using big data analytics to compare schools and academies to others nearby. This technology will be repurposed for accountants as early as next year.
Explaining the software house’s approach to acquisitions, Lewis said: “Why create a forecasting tool for Kashflow when we could buy one that is already in the market? We needed to use our time and energy on MTD and getting our core compliance product right.”
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.