The Collaborative Accountant

In an increasingly competitive market accountants cannot compete on price alone; improved client collaboration and proactive delivery of added value services such as business planning and cash flow management are becoming a critical component of the accountancy portfolio.

However, without real-time access to transactional level client information it is impossible to achieve the levels of efficiency and automation required in a lower cost marketplace or access the in-depth insight demanded to deliver innovative, revenue generating services. Tight integration between cloud-based bookkeeping software and on premise accounts production systems is set to change the way accountants and clients work together.

Commercial reality

With fees facing a continuing price squeeze, accountancy practices are looking for new opportunities to retain profit and build growth. In recent years many practices have exploited a number of new technologies in a bid to gain efficiency advantages and improve client services.

Many have switched from the annual fee and client meeting to a monthly service that includes business information and services as well as standard compliance activity. The use of secure access to clients’ online bank accounts has enabled accountants to track cash flow and offer advice; while the ability to integrate on premise bookkeeping and accounts production software has streamlined some processes.

However, neither of these solutions provides the real-time access to transaction level data required to drive the really innovative collaborative services demanded by the new market. Accountants are still reliant on incremental provision of summary level data by clients – typically an emailed CSV file, on a monthly or quarterly basis.

While the ability to automatically pull this data into the accounts production system has reduced some of the basic tasks, without transaction data it is impossible to resolve the day to day queries without time consuming queries to the client.

As a result, resolving standard queries such as the underlying costs that created the expenses figure, or whether an item of clothing is a justifiable expense, demands repeated emails/phone calls between the accountant and client; time that could be better spent by both organisations.

Transaction level insight

So how can the accountant gain access to that critical transaction level data? How can the practice minimise basic queries and exploit in-depth insight to deliver better, more relevant services to clients? The answer is in the cloud. By enabling clients to post all bookkeeping information into a cloud-based system that is tightly integrated with the accountant’s existing on-premise accounts production system, the entire process can be fundamentally transformed.

With direct integration, the accountant can automatically synchronise hundreds of new entries in seconds, automating a raft of processes. While summary level data is brought across to the accounts production system for compliance purposes, the practice can drill down to transaction level information to resolve key issues and queries in real-time. The synchronisation works both ways, with accountants also able to update journal entries in the client’s bookkeeping solution.

Competitive benefits

Creating a single, consolidated end-to-end process in this way fundamentally transforms every aspect of the accountant/client working relationship. The direct integration drives out paper, streamlines processes and minimises direct client queries, creating a far more efficient and cost effective accounts production process.

With real-time access to information there are no delays in accounts production, ensuring deadlines are well managed. With direct iXBRL filing to Companies House, accountancy practices can exploit additional efficiencies, while tax filing for individuals and businesses can also be streamlined.

The result is a more efficient operation that can support the lower cost model without denting profitability and, critically, freeing up staff time to work more collaboratively with clients. And this is key: with a totally integrated solution, information is available to the practice as soon as it has been entered by clients into the online system. This enables accountants and clients to work together on the accounts, improving the speed of decision making.

A key benefit of this process is the accountant’s ability to check that clients are correctly posting data to the right codes and using the software correctly, enabling early intervention should a problem arise, avoiding the risk of costly and time consuming mistakes.

Critically, by improving the visibility and depth of information available, accountants now have the chance to proactively offer clients a number of additional revenue generating services – from cash flow management to business planning, forecasting and benchmarking.

Indeed, with a single source of all client information, accountants have the chance to analyse clients by vertical market, turnover or geographical area, assess the services most relevant to each group and proactively deliver relevant information to deliver specific business advice.

Conclusion

It is this proactive, collaborative approach that will be key to retaining client business in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Every accountant accepts the need to become more proactive and offer a range of innovative, chargeable services. But this cannot be achieved with summary level data.

Accountants need real-time access to transactional data not only to streamline processes and support the new cost model but to underpin the added value services that are fast becoming the key market differentiator. It is this integration of cloud-based bookkeeping software with on-premise accounts production to create a single, end-to-end process that is set to transform the entire client relationship and build a new, highly collaborative business model.

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Wendy Rowe has more than 25 years’ experience in tax and accountancy. She joined Ernst & Young as a tax junior in trust accounting and moved progressively to become a tax senior having a portfolio of high net worth clients, processing personal, partnership, trust tax as well as capital gains tax. Wendy moved into software in 1990 where she worked in a variety of roles. She is now head of product management for CCH Software, a Wolters Kluwer business, responsible for setting and driving the CCH product strategy. She is qualified in tax (ATT and CTA) and has an MBA from Henley Management College.