Tax & Accounting20 September, 2019

Building a future-fit practice: Don't be a practice couch potato

Digitalisation is disrupting the status quo with automated tools taking on compliance work that was, until now, the mainstay of many practices. Practices will need to consider expanding their services to remain profitable and relevant. In short, they will need to consider how they will become future-fit.

Change is not a challenge for accountants. Adapting to that change is the real challenge, and the new changes that digitalisation has breathed into the industry will be no different. Future-fit practices are already seeing the return in time savings by automating key tasks like digital workflows.

Two of these practices, Kreston Reeves and Switchfoot Accounting, shared their digital journey with the Managing Director of Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting UK, Matt Crook, in the recent AccountingWEB webcast. For both these Wolters Kluwer customers, it is about acting fast to move ahead of the pack to change daily habits and embrace digitalisation and taking their clients on that journey with them.

Investing time and resources upfront

For many, Making Tax Digital (MTD) has been a catalyst for a change in pace in practices looking to embrace digitalisation and boost efficiency through digital technology.

Emma Chesson, Head of Online Services at Kreston Reeves, says MTD put her in a position to get staff as well as clients to buy in to the idea of digital processes. From there they have been able to add more digital processes or apps.

“Since MTD we have been having different conversations with people internally that we would not have had before. They want to be looking more forward and be future-focussed with their clients,” says Chesson.

Digitalisation will be key for this futuristic thinking.

For future-fit practices, staying ahead of the curve meant scanning the market to find software that can meet their needs as well as their clients’. Standardising and automating processes is the first step practices are taking.

“As a firm, because we are so large, we try to standardise processes as much as possible. Part of that has been about incorporating online software. It is so important for us to collaborate with our clients and online systems enable us to do that easily,” says Chesson.

For Switchfoot Accounting Director and Founder, Rebecca Trudgett, digitalisation is how she has been able to build a flexible and scalable practice where she is not bound to her desk. According to Rebecca, “paper is just not an option anymore.”

Chesson shared the same sense of urgency, adding that if practices are not utilising technology, now is the time. Digitalisation is not going away.

Taking your clients along with you

While there is a large proportion of businesses hungry to accept digital processes, practices often must work harder to convince clients, who are reluctant to take on the change, to invest in technology.

As a smaller practice, Trudgett says that she has been able to work with clients who accept her practice processes, adding that it has set her practice apart from the rest.

“I figured out, from the start, how I would like to do things and then it was about first finding clients that fit that model as opposed to trying to convert them.”

Like Trudgett, Chesson agreed that training and demonstrating value is key to getting clients on board with digitalisation. Clients who are reluctant to change will cause scope creep down the line, so it is important to invest the time in training early on. Once they buy into the vision, helping them further embrace digitalisation services like portal communication will be easier.

Why you need to invest in digital workflows

Research has shown that digital workflows are increasingly coming into play in practices as time-savers.

“We are seeing every scale of practices investing the time in developing a robust digital workflow and they get paid tenfold in the time saved,” says Crook.

The result is time saved on day-to-day compliance work, enabling practices to spend more time with clients and develop new services.

Chesson says clients don’t value compliance anymore as most software packages can complete that work for them. Practices like Kreston Reeves have already begun thinking about an advisory model to replace lost revenue from compliance work. They have seen first-hand the financial and professional rewards for their practices and their clients, as well as improved client and employee retention.

Chesson says they have been able to offer new services, offering growth-planning strategies and ongoing KPI management to their clients.

“We have been able to save time on the compliance side to free up time to learn a whole new IP that complements what we do as accountants. It is out of our comfort zone, but we are seeing a huge appetite from clients for it because they want more visibility of their numbers.”

Building a future-fit team

Not only is it important to operate with a shared vision, with a team who have bought into a digital process, but to build a team that’s fit for the future. It is no longer acceptable to just hire accountants – it’s now tech-savvy accountants who can collaborate with clients that are needed.

Both Chesson and Trudgett also agree that you need to invest in a digital team or champion to take time out from the frontline and find innovation in newly evolving technologies.

“The firms that value and put an ROI on those roles are standing out in the market place – those who are slow to adopt this are going to be left behind,” says Crook.

As AccountingWEB’s John Stokdyk puts it, “don’t be a practice couch potato”. The time to ensure your practice is fit for the future is now.

If you want to watch the full webcast, click here to register for the on-demand webcast or email [email protected].

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