Shifting Gear – Technology Automation to Advisory
Accounting and advisory firms are struggling with meeting clients’ needs as it becomes increasingly hard to recruit and retain the people they need. Technology is a critical part of the solution as automating manual tasks frees up time; but by itself it is not enough. Steve Heathcote, CEO PrimeGlobal offers examples of how member firms are using data to grow clients’ businesses
range of software is available to help automate many services which are the life blood of accounting firms. These efficiencies are vital to provide scale and drive profitability. However, it is hygiene and everyone must automate to survive. If a firm focuses on selling cloud-based services, they are just one of many other service providers. And over time why is the firm needed at all? Clients can go straight to the software provider to provide the service and cut them out. Software providers are realising this – one set of adverts recently asked companies ‘Is it time to ditch your accountant?’ The future for firms could be bleak. It is not surprising many smaller practices see the writing on the wall and are looking to sell.
This does not need to be the future of firms. Software captures data which can be analysed to provide insight and advice which is highly valued by clients. Firms who drive efficiencies and move gear to focus on providing client insights have huge opportunities ahead.
Here are some highlighted examples from several PrimeGlobal firms to help demonstrate the shift:
Steve Heathcote, CEO PrimeGlobal
Collect data and deliver insights
The Netherlands based firm Visser and Visser, invested early in software services ensuring client data was captured in a data warehouse. This enables a 360-degree view of their clients as they understand what is driving the demand for services including tax, accounting, and advisory work. With these insights they do some amazing things. On budget day, the team record the changes and the impact on clients and individuals that is automatically identified based on their data – for example, changes to car and property tax relevant to the client. Within 24 hours clients receive customised insights on how the budget specifically impacts them.
Data also helps them understand their client’s business. Visser and Visser helped one manufacturer assess the relationship between weather and the sale of clothes. On cold days, sales go up so using the weather forecast helped predict production and inventory requirements. Eric Klop, partner at the firm, comments, “By pulling all data together, we are able to detect and point out potential risks as well as advising about opportunities. Data-driven advice is an opportunity that the accounting market can explore much more extensively.”
Erik Klop, Partner, PrimeGlobal member firm Visser and Visser
Visser and Visser made a significant investment to build their data warehouse; however, software is developing fast with this type of data pooling increasingly being offered within packages.
The US firm Sikich LLP is known for its technology advice and solutions. They use technology to focus their attention on exceptions in processes which may create challenges for their clients, for example around customer requests and inventory issues. Readily available platforms like Microsoft Power BI support this. The more data they have, the more that can help anticipate challenges; for example, QR codes on inventory allow them to track processes from order to distribution. They scan all the data to identify pain points that slow down the process. By taking a complete view they provide more meaningful insight to clients. For example, going beyond order to payment to order to profitability, identifying if supplier rebates are used and how quickly they are paid. These insights are highly valued by clients. However, to be trusted advisors, they also recognise that they must be seen as qualified to give advice. This goes beyond technology software to developing a firm’s brand.
Known for your advice – not your software
Lee House partner at Sikich says, “If we go to a client saying we have the best tech services we need to remember everyone is saying that. To a client it’s like selling burgers – all they hear is we have the worlds greatest burger. That won’t make you stand out. You need to show you understand their hopes and pains. To do that you have to have real expertise in the sector you are selling to. It is business first not product”.
UK based firm Hurst focus on building their brand to demonstrate business expertise to their target market rather than leading on their data analytic services. They listen to what their clients are talking about and then develop thought leadership, webinars, hold discussion groups and speak about relevant topics such as doing business in Australia, employee wellbeing and business beyond covid. They use targeted social media and marketing to demonstrate that they are leading in areas which matter to their target clients. It's clearly working as they grew by 20% last year.
Automation as a platform to Advisory
Reducing costs and driving efficiencies through technology is a must. The challenge is to use this as a basis for meaningful advice – shifting between both gears. China and South East Asia firm S.J. Grand demonstrate how this can be achieved in a market where there is significant cost pressure.
The firm has developed kwikdroid a cloud-based service which is referred to as a half human/half robot companion for clients. Operations such as accounting services, expenses and timesheets are fully automated and dashboards provide a real time overview of the client. Transactions and trends are reviewed by the firm’s skilled staff who raise any insights with clients. Clients can also reach out to their advisor when needed.
S.J. Grand managing partner Stephane Grand says, “Kwikdroid demonstrates how automation drives cost efficiency whilst at the same time enabling us to provide insights, raise concerns, highlight opportunities and be available for valued advice when clients need us. It is the best of both worlds – a complete solution.”
Being able to move between gears helps build client loyalty. Other service providers will not have the ability to provide such meaningful insights. The risk of clients moving around for purely cost reasons is therefore significantly reduced.
Managing Partner, PrimeGlobal member firm S.J. Grand
Move to the next gear
Being stuck in first gear focusing solely on automation and efficiencies can create a vicious circle. Time saving is used to do more compliance work, with pressure on margins and increasing staff retention risk. Spending time to consider how to move up a gear helps create a virtuous circle. Data is used to generate insights which clients value, staff develop new skills, staff retention improves and increased client trust and understating leads to higher value opportunities. As a profession there is a real opportunity for us to shift gear so clients will be asking – ‘is it time to talk more with my trusted advisor?’ A much brighter future that we can all look forward to – if we take the right steps to achieve it.