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Should CPAs Mirror the Working Lifestyle of Their Small Business Clients?

Sep 29th 2017
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As an accounting professional, you may think your small business clients are sunning themselves on the beach or cozying up to the pool bar while they’re on vacation. But a recent survey from Xero reveals that even though they are technically “on holiday,” chances are they’re still very much plugged in to the day-to-day operations of their business.

The online accounting software provider’s survey of more than 550 small business owners found that mobile technology, as well as the continuing momentum of the gig economy, is changing the way small business owners take vacation.

According to the Xero survey, only 14 percent of respondents say they can completely check out while on vacation, as compared to 54 percent of American workers. With more of the U.S. workforce picking up sporadic jobs (up to 30 percent are estimated to be participating in the gig economy) and the ubiquitous nature of technology, small business owners are more likely to work while they’re away.

Mobile business apps, in particular, are keeping small business owners plugged in, providing them the ability to run a business from anywhere, at anytime, even a beachside cabana. Xero’s survey found that 85 percent of small businesses owners admit to working while on vacation, with 60 percent checking in proactively at least daily. Breaking the survey down by generation, Xero says that millennials are far more likely to stay plugged in, reinforcing their status as digital natives.

“Technology affords business owners more flexibility to stay connected while away, but it also keeps people on the job when they’re supposed to be off,” said Keri Gohman, president of  Xero Americas. “As an industry, we have an opportunity to develop products that can help protect small business owners’ mental health and wellness as they try to keep up at a rapid pace.”

Taking into account this survey, what does the work lifestyle of small business owners mean for the accountants who serve them? If small business owners are increasingly checking in even when they’re supposed to be off — not just during vacations, but on weekends, late nights, and traditional holidays — should accountants be on call?

If your small business clients are “always on” what level of availability and service do you now need to provide to meet your client’s heightened needs?

Ryan Himmel, head of Financial Partnerships at Xero Americas, says that even though many small business owners now work around the clock, it doesn’t necessarily mean their accountants need to mirror that behavior to provide great service.

“Every client is different, and some may need more access than others, which is why it’s important for accountants to set the right expectations with clients from the get-go,” Himmel said. “With cloud accounting software, small business owners will have the answers to most questions about their business simply by accessing the platform — reducing the amount of time needed for accountants to explain basic reporting and code transactions for their clients. This gives small business owners the information they need, at any given time.”

Today, cloud accounting platforms are constantly improving their offerings to provide insights faster than ever before, Himmel says. The cloud enables accountants and small business owners to have ongoing conversations from a holistic perspective rather than having transactional meetings, and empowers them to better serve their clients.

“While it’s important for accountants to have regularly scheduled meetings with their clients to discuss the health of the business, it’s also good to reiterate that the cloud enables clients to get the updates and insights they need whenever they want,” Himmel said. “It’s a huge opportunity for both parties to be on the same page all the time. Combine this with staying up-to-date on regulations and laws pertinent to their clients and industry, accountants can ensure they’re always providing the most timely and relevant advice.”

When it comes to selecting the type of accounting software solution that is ideal for small business accountants, a cloud-based accounting solution is a given, Himmel says, but accountants also need to ensure that the platform they choose constantly upgrades and aligns with the latest trends.

Himmel lists general features to consider when choosing a cloud accounting software platform:

  • Automation. The platform should streamline processes by automating manual tasks, giving more time for accountants to focus on larger business objectives for their clients.
  • Partner Ecosystem. Small businesses want their tools to work hand-in-hand with each other. Choose an accounting platform that can easily integrate with other solutions to streamline core functions relevant to their industry.
  • Bank Integrations. Bank feeds automatically import account transactions into the platform from a bank or financial institution, allowing clients and accountants to have a more real-time and reliable snapshot of their finances.

In general, platforms like are a boon to accountants because they not only meet the small business owners “anywhere, anytime” need for information, but also eliminate the amount of time accountants used to spend on manual tasks.

Some software solutions can also streamline communication by allowing small business owners to automatically loop their accountant in on important financial documents.

Ultimately, Himmel says, small business accountants who adapt to cloud accounting solutions only stand to gain. Software evolutions allow them to streamline practice management and client engagement and improve advisor margins — with the ability to focus on higher value consultative work. And they can use the technology to become more empowered advisors with deeper knowledge and insights relevant to their clients’ industries from a both business and technological perspective.

Perhaps most importantly, Himmel says, in a world where mobile technology has permanently blurred the line between “on” and “off” the clock, the immediacy and omnipresence of cloud solutions allows accountants to give their small business clients what they truly want.

“Most small business owners want to spend their time growing their business, not managing finances. They want business technologies and finances to come together and work seamlessly,” Himmel says. “Cloud technology is the transformational technology that allows accountants to help small business do that, and it makes that process easy by unlocking the potential for business management tools, finances, accounting, and banking to work together automatically in one place.”

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