Changing the way accounting firms operate

Posted: 1 July 2020
By: Neota Logic

Neota logic’s Mark Tyndall VP, Markets & Growth for the Asia-Pacific region, discusses two enduring legacies from the forced changes to the way accounting firms operate in CommBank’s Accounting Market Pulse Report. Originally posted here.

Coronavirus has heavily hit many people – and their families – in the accounting sector. But it has also forced widespread adoption of the technologies that enable virtual and flexible ways of working. And looking forward, the tougher economic environment will see accounting firms automate many parts of their operations as they seek to remain competitive amid changing client needs and expectations.

Pre-pandemic there was broad take up of technologies like CRM and ERP platforms. Platforms such as MYOB and Xero had also quite naturally migrated to the cloud, and firms had been making use of powerful integration capabilities with those systems. The next steps that really excite us are automation and regtech. But to successfully adopt these
types of platforms, firms must step back and redesign their services. Only after clarifying their core service offering, can firms decide which technologies will have the biggest impact through saving time and money, reducing human error and improving service delivery.

More than ever, firms struggle to recover fees on work that clients expect as part and parcel of the relationship with their accounting firm. But today firms have access to no-code development options that enable them to rapidly build and deploy app-based solutions without sophisticated in-house IT capabilities and with minimal outlay. So, rather than trying to charge for a 15-minute phone call, it makes sense to scale that advice to clients and prospective clients through technology. One firm we work with went to market in two weeks with a fantastic app about eligibility and applying for the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program. It boosted productivity immensely while delighting clients.

Document automation can produce a set of documents tailored to a client’s business with just a few clicks. Increasingly, this is the expectation of clients, rather than receiving a bill showing that your associate spent hours completing precedent documents.

Other inefficient work processes that might have been billable before the pandemic, won’t cut it going forward. There is also client onboarding, engagement letters, triaging requests, handovers to other teams and billing, which become cheaper and less prone to error with workflow automation. It also provides a much better client experience.

Then there’s expertise automation. This includes taking a set of facts about an issue, often through a web-based application or interface, and applying business rules and logic to provide the client with a tailored outcome. This could be a recommendation on what, or what not, to do, or calculating updated financial information or a risk-weighted score for the business activity in question. Expertise automation – taking data and applying a firm’s logic and expertise to generate a client outcome – is almost infinitely scalable.

A range of technology ecosystems have grown up around the fact that accounting is extremely data driven. The power of regtech, for example, is that accounting firms can now pick and choose from a range of existing and very powerful component technologies, such as ASIC’s ABN look-up or digital identity verification tools. Those component parts can be integrated using an automation platform, to deliver impressive services that thrill clients by solving their burning problems. Back to the here and now, one enduring legacy of coronavirus will be the widespread embrace of new ways of working. Leaders of firms who previously resisted video-conferencing and online collaboration tools now understand these are not gimmicks but necessities. Views among many firm leaders and clients about productivity, efficiency and service delivery when working virtually or flexibly have turned 180 degrees in a few short weeks.

Firms will really benefit from the diversity that flows from the more inclusive workforces that flexible working enables. The experience has proven that certain types of flexibility make firms more productive, better places to work and improve service delivery to clients.

Equally importantly, the current environment has demonstrated that investment in R&D and technology can quickly translate into valuable service improvements, such as the sophisticated solutions firms have developed around commercial rent relief. Automation is helping firms win and retain clients on service and price, even during a pandemic. Such is the power of digitisation.

But remembering my starting point, to maximise returns from technology investment, firms must first reinvent their services. This may include jettisoning some lower-value work that will no longer be billable. Ultimately, moving people into higher-margin work and exceeding client expectations through technology and data-based solutions will lift firms’ profitability

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