What a Global Firm of the Future Looks Like

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It’s a term that Intuit has been using for several years now and even decided to throw a financial award behind it, but what exactly does being a Firm of the Future mean or look like? At this year’s QB Connect event in San Jose, the latest winner, Ontario, Canada’s AIS Solutions offers a peek at what it takes to be one.

This is the third year Intuit has held the Firm of the Future contest and the first year there is a global winner with finalists coming in from Canada, the U.S., Australia and the U.K. The finalists and winner were announced on the first full day of the conference, which was dedicated solely to accountants.

“When we looked at all of the entrants, 65 percent were from outside US. It shows this truly is a global profession,” said Rich Preece, Global Accountant Segment Leader at Intuit, who announced the award winner during his keynote speech at QB Connect. He noted that there are three “pillars” for being a Firm of the Future: embracing online technologies; regular use of value pricing; and leveraging digital marketing.

“What impressed me most was the way AIS specifically embraced digital marketing, when 87 percent of their new leads come through digital marketing that is second to none,” he said. “Another standout overall was that all four finalists were headed by women. When we look at trends we find that 54% of accounting grads are women.”

Other finalists were: Business Works, UK; All That Counts, New South Wales, Australia; and Business Cents, Spokane, Wash.

AIS Solutions started out as Aurora International Services in 2000 by founder Juliet Aurora. She now works with her husband Steve Loates, VP business development, and a full staff. They have grown into a fully cloud-centric bookkeeping service, as well as education network strictly for bookkeepers called Kninja, which they launched last year. AccountingWEB was able to chat with Juliet and Steve about their growth, their challenges and what stands out most about what they do and why they do it.

AW: How did you get started in the Firm of the Future process?

Juliet: We thought we were doing something new or different and didn’t really think we would get as far as we did, but we’re obviously excited with how things turned out.

Steve: Were on a bit of a roll (with recent awards) and thought we had something different. In 2016 we were voted Canadian Bookkeeping firm of the Year and won the Small Business Excellence award by our local Chamber of Commerce, so we decided to go for [Firm of the Future] this year.

AW: In summary, what would you say makes your firm different?

Juliet: We are fully in the cloud, we’re tech friendly and savvy but a big part of who we are is education; for our team and our clients. When my team is up to date they get more value out of the numbers. Also for the industry as a whole, we want other firms to learn from us. This is why we have Kninja.

AW: What would you say has changed the most about your firm?

Juliet: In 2010 when we made move to be in cloud and discontinued on-site services. We provided remote desktop services through a platform we hosted then everyone connected to it. That’s when it all started. Our focus from compliance to a financial ecosystem has changed most. We now do real-time bookkeeping.

Steve: The kind of value and information we can now provide small business owners that we weren’t able to do a few years ago. Also, we have less clients than we used to, but they are comparatively larger clients. This was a conscious effort on our part because we can deliver a lot of value to them. It’s easier than having to jump around as much.

AW: What would you say has challenged your firm the most?

Steve: Two areas. One is finding, hiring and training new team members. Sometimes we feel our growth has been stunted a bit. Then, two years ago we started an apprentice program to find senior level bookkeepers who could work with younger professionals. We also wanted to find more junior bookkeepers to grow with us. We’re always trying to find the right clients that fit with us too.

AW: What would you say is the “right” client for you?

Juilet: There are two criteria. One is the mindset of the owner, if they are looking for a bookkeeping firm to manage compliance they are not the right fit. They need to value the information we provide. Second is they also need to be cloud savvy and connected in their own right. If you want to grow as a firm you need to be more selective of the clients you take on. Yes you turn business away and let clients go.

AW: So what’s next in 2018 for you?

Juliet: If someone said what will your business look like in five years, five years ago I would not imagine this. Our focus will remain keeping up to date on technology, machine learning and finding better solutions and ecosystems for our clients.

Steve: We’ve always been early adopters of technology and as newer technology becomes more available we will look to how to use this. Also, we launched Kninja only a year ago, learned a lot and we will be launching version 2.0 in 2018. We are always making sure we are learning and growing and training so we can provide better education for our clients.

About Seth Fineberg

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Nov 17th 2017 20:30

In 2003, Paul Dunne and Ron Baker release a book called The Firm of the Future in which they argue that being a Firm of the Future has little to do with technology, but rather with a change to the business model.

The old model is "we sell time." The new model is "we sell knowledge." Anyone who keeps or even espouses the use of timesheets is anything but a firm of the future by this definition.

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Nov 19th 2017 17:13

Great interview, Seth! It's always cool to get an inside look at a small firm that's getting it right. Lots of accounting innovation coming from Canada these days... FreshBooks, Hubdoc, LiveCA, AIS... I wonder what they're doing up there.

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