CPAs Can Have a Tech State of Mind
With competition in the accounting profession successfully positioning itself for today’s remote or remote-leaning firms, you have to not only catch up, but get ahead of the curve. The good news is that you can turn to technology for that!
Like all innovation, technical innovation is typically forced by competition, legislation/regulation or technology. Since March of 2020, we’ve seen these forces collide. There were regulations that forced you and your staff to work from home, requiring firms implement existing technology to make that possible.
Historically, the industry has resisted technology because of:
1. Assumptions. There’s a long held position that tech will cost money and firms will see their bottom line go down because it takes time to implement technology and to change processes. Not true! What firms do not realize is that if they make the investment in new technology and improve their processes, they will boost their bottom line significantly by improving the efficiency and the accuracy of their team.
2. Technophobia. CPAs are trained to make sure checks and balances are always in order, that there’s always a backup plan in place and that everything’s been done meticulously and methodically. Change and tech upset the method. There’s a fear that tinkering with client financial data and databases could lead to mistakes and alterations that cannot be undone. The fear paralysis is real, but unnecessary. The wonderful thing about software is that once the data is there, it’s never lost or forgotten.
3. Investment cost. The investment of both time and money is off putting and feels like unnecessary risk. This is prevalent for those accountants who are getting ready to retire and can’t see the value add of technology as greater than the energy lost and cost. But, if you are nearing retirement, selling your book of business is a priority. The more modernized your firm is, the more likely you are to be acquired and the more money you’ll get.
Sheer necessity this year has removed the resistance for firms to go to cloud-based solutions. Necessity is what will drive you to overcome these issues as they relate to future technological advancements, as well.
Find the Right Tech Leader
The goal of any accounting software you are considering is to help your firm grow and scale into your goals. Having a proactive, tech-invested person take ownership of software increases the growth potential for that team and for the firm.
Start by having a digital native or a tech-savvy accountant in your firm as your software lead. This is the person who does the research, embraces the right solutions, learns the platforms and keeps everyone in your firm updated on enhancements. If this person is less excited about change and incorporating software into your firm, the process and outcome can be cumbersome.
Technology adoption often starts with one excited staff accountant who gets six or seven of her clients on track to try the software. She can then demonstrate to senior management how well it works for those clients and how much time it freed up to do more creative work. Those initial onboarded clients are proof as to the great opportunity technology is and can energize people to embrace software platforms across the firm.
Teams fearful of being made redundant by technology soon realize that tech will not replace them but can arm them with greater efficiency, organization and accuracy. By adopting technological advancement, you’re helping your accountants become a better version of themselves.
The opportunity to digitize the accounting process is right in front of you. You can add value through technology to your firm, and adopting it demonstrates a forward-looking attitude and a desire to remain competitive in a digital age.
Software gives your firm an edge at attracting and retaining top young talent who expect technology to be part of their work life. Technology also equips your firm with what younger business owners, likely to become a majority of your client base over the next 10 to 15 years, demand as they and their businesses grow and mature.
What a Tech Upgrade Looks like
In old-school firms, a staff accountant knows you will be meeting with a specific client, say Client XY, next week. The week before the meeting, the staff accountant makes sure to get all Client XY’s data updated.
He adds it to the general ledger file and verifies all the client’s information is caught up before the meeting. He doesn’t follow any workflow or standard set of processes, and there is little accountability. He likely has a checklist, but the checklist isn’t electronic nor accessible for collaboration between Client XY, the accountant and the firm.
In this scenario, outside sources such as clients and firm team members who behave erratically, drive the workflow. And there is no accountability. How often have you been waiting for the staff accountant or client to send you information? Many firms experience this wasted time, which wreaks havoc when your firm is completing tax returns or trying to get through the month-end for all its clients.
Technology is a game changer. For example, accounting software can help your firm by:
- Maintaining a standard of accountability for monthly tasks
- Automating and scheduling tasks that require bank authentication, so you don’t have to rely on clients to get login information
- Providing safety and security to your clients’ confidential information using bank grade encryption, integration and storage
- Keeping you from falling behind in data collection
- Reminding you of specific tasks and procedures that need to be completed in hierarchical fashion
- Standardizing processes, data and files across the firm
It’s this combination of increased productivity, the ability to offer additional high-value services and properly staffing your team in terms of both numbers and responsibilities that will help you compete at higher levels while increasing your profit margin.
Determining Which Tech Solutions Your Firm Needs
The key to moving into a software supported environment is being specific. Which solutions will best support your firm’s objectives? Does your firm value scaling over service development? Which daily tasks suffer the most acutely from human error? Which activities are readily automated with the least amount of effort?
As you begin this evaluation, you’ll want to:
1. Identify what tech can do for your firm
Sit down by yourself and then with your team and look at the processes you have in place. You’ll want to consider those things that take a ton of time, but deliver little value to your firm or your clients.
Some of the common areas firms identify include billing, stuffing envelopes and printing checks. There are a number of basic housekeeping chores that match these criteria, so you have a lot of options to consider. That list becomes your plan of action for improving your firm. Here’s how it could play out.
Let’s consider that printing checks as part of your accounts payable process that takes about 10 hours a week. There is an application that will automate that so you don't have to buy envelopes or check stock, and you’ll get all those hours back. That’s the impact you’re looking for.
2. Look to your clients
In what ways have they automated, or how have others in their field automated. The efficiencies you’ll find through tech will also benefit your clients, but you cannot preach technological evolution if your firm isn’t doing the same!
If you want your clients to switch to an app for accounts payable, you should be upgrading as well. You may find that upgrading your technical prowess can actually help your clients and give them an edge and, at the very least, it will cut down on busy work.
3. Advise on what you’ve learned
Every industry is in need of help on the tech upgrade and workflow front. As your firm makes strides, you can then offer your expertise and fetch a pretty high price for this service offering.
By taking the time to consider where your firm is right now and where you need to be to reach your goals, you will have a better understanding of the tech stack you need. And the tech-savvy folks who can get you up and running are most likely right there under your nose.
You need to tap the young talent who are native to relying on automatable technology and watch how far a little empowerment goes to getting your teams inspired and growth oriented. The technical innovation is in full speed. Be sure you’re reaping its advantages as you build a leaner, stronger firm.