Why Build a Tech-Enabled Practice?

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Wes Wilkins
Vice President of Marketing
Circulus
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We have, without a doubt, entered the age of tech-enabled accounting where you can now be an advisor of cutting-edge solutions and a strategic partner for business-building initiatives. Are you there? Are you on your way?

The SMB and accounting tech ecosystems are booming, to say the least. Even experts in the field struggle to keep up at times, so it’s not surprising that small business owners lack the time to take into account all of the solutions out there, much less to put them into place.

Given that you’re a trusted advisor entrenched in the financial well-being of your clients, it’s a logical conclusion that this responsibility would fall into your hands.

There’s a long-held perception (or stereotype, perhaps) about the accounting industry – one that involves massive physical ledgers, stacks and stacks of paper, calculators, filing cabinets, a sea of manual data entry, and constant questions about how to code charges on a company credit card. While some of these are still in play, the profession as a whole finds itself in a unique position.

It’s evolving, and in a big way. The days of stoic bean counting alone are on the way out and have been replaced with heightened expectations and more opportunity within engagements.

That’s cool. That’s sexy. For some it may be a challenge to connect the dots between tech solutions and practice growth, but the relationship is very real and quite direct.

If you fall into the above camp, step back and ask yourself if you can find internal and external opportunities to:

  • Integrate software solutions.
  • Streamline and centralize processes (e.g., bill payments).
  • Decrease turnaround times.
  • Increase internal efficiencies.
  • Increase data accuracy.
  • Migrate to cloud solutions.
  • Enhance data security and integrity.
  • Train your staff or clients on the tools they already use.
  • Improve client satisfaction and retention.
  • Shift away from billable hour pricing models.
  • Migrate to high-value services.

Chances are you checked one of these items off, but how does technology come into play? Moreover, is this something that your clients actually want?

Client Expectations

You’re an accountant. You do accounting, or bookeeping, or tax returns, or all of them, right? Not so fast. SMBs are becoming increasingly reliant on technology to manage and grow their own businesses, and their expectations of you follow suit. In fact, 60 percent of small businesses attribute increased revenue to technology, and another 60 percent feel that technology allows them to compete with larger companies.

Sure, you’ll still find yourself doing the accounting essentials for your clients – tax returns, audits, payroll, etc. But businesses are increasingly looking for their accountant to extend their services into the realm of tech.

Not only does it benefit you to take advantage of this opportunity, but it also may not be a choice in the future. Young accountants and current accounting students are pushing the industry in this direction, and will bring with them the skills of digital natives. This means that your firm will need to up its game to remain competitive and relevant.

University curricula are adopting technology as a core educational competency, and with the arrival of credentials, such as the CITP, not only do current practitioners need to be mindful of the upcoming professionals, but also shift focus to attracting such talent to their firms.

If you’re still skeptical, you may be surprised to learn that according to an Accounting.org study, information technology accountant has the third-highest median salary in the accounting industry, behind only corporate controllers and accounting professors. You can bet that those studying accounting and who have a knack for technology will flock to such lucrative sub-disciplines.

The Business Reality

Small businesses are experiencing firsthand the benefits of technology. They see the opportunities for streamlining operations and extending their reach, but they also see technology as an equalizer. Large companies used to have the advantage of technology and tools unavailable to the SMB market, but with the advent and proliferation of affordable SaaS solutions, these benefits are increasingly slipping away.

Within this new reality, what are companies actually looking for in an accountant? According to the Sleeter Group, of clients already utilizing accounting services:

  • 70 percent believe their accountant is current or behind the technology curve.
  • 45 percent require or prefer an accountant proactive in planning and implementing tech changes.
  • 76 percent said their accountant isn’t proactive in helping plan and implement technology changes.
  • 55 percent want technology recommendations from their accountant.

SMBs are taking note of the capabilities of technology, and for those lacking in tech-savvy, you’re the ideal person to help bring their business into this century. For those already ahead of the curve on adoption, their expectation would be that you meet or exceed their expertise in order to guide them into the new ecosystem of emerging technologies and business models.

The Win-Win Ecosystem

One of the awesome byproducts of the tech solutions available is the mutually beneficial nature between client and practice. The primary crux of most tools available is the digitization and automation of previously manual processes.

Not only were the old processes cumbersome, but they were packed with inaccurate data, walking approvals, bottlenecks, duplicate payments, vendor phone calls, and other time-consuming chores.

Once you find ways to remove these inefficiencies, what’s left? It frees up your employees and clients to focus on more valuable initiatives. And what’s even better is the fact that your service level isn’t just maintained via technology, it’s enhanced.

This migration from physical to digital is one of what Dr. Geoffrey Moore refers to as “microtrends,” which categorize the three primary components of accountant cloud migration. For more detail, you can find a fantastic presentation of this idea in the Accounting Services: Harness the Power ofthe Cloud whitepaper.

Going Beyond QuickBooks and Excel

Accounting software is important. Excel is important. Email is important. These aren’t going away, but the definition of tech-savvy extends far beyond these tools. If you haven’t looked around lately, the growth of fintech and SMB software has exploded – it’s a massive ecosystem that is actually becoming a daunting and intimidating beast.

As you can imagine, for a busy business owner or manager, finding the right tools to help their businesses can be the proverbial needle in a haystack. The difference is, these days the haystack keeps getting bigger.

Now imagine being able to tell your clients that you know the precise tools they need to solve their pain points and you can also implement the tool and/or migrate their data accordingly. That’s a solid service.

Most businesses aren’t averse to transforming their company for the better, but rather it’s the objections, fears, and roadblocks to the process that keep them from doing so.

Kick Your Tech-Savvy Up A Notch

The current state of the fintech and small business software environment is staggering in scale with a combination of product suites and hyper-focused offerings alike. Accounts payable, e-commerce, payroll, sales tax, point of sale, estimating – you name the function and chances are there’s a handful of apps designed to solve your needs.

There are dozens (more like hundreds) of app repositories out there. Some, like apps.com, are niche in that their marketplace is specific to the Intuit partner ecosystem, while others are more inclusive, covering off both business and consumer tools.

If this is all a bit new to you, you’ll inevitably come across some terminologies or frequently used terms associated with technologies. Some are more of a marketing/positioning play, while others carry significant weight in their impact to both you and your clients.

Yes, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by not just gaining software expertise, but finding out how to monetize it within your practice. Like anything else, approach it in phases and follow a plan. Even if you implement one or two new software integrations a year, the internal and client-facing results could be substantial.

Even for expert users, the challenge of keeping up-to-date with the latest and greatest is very real. Rather than get intimidated by that reality, just know that there’s an enormous amount of tools online to help get you up and running. Some offer subscription pricing models, others are charged per course, and some are free. And oh yeah, YouTube is an excellent resource as well.

Conclusion

The face of accounting is changing, not just in terms of technology but also expectations. Short-lived are the days remaining for the simple commoditized service so many practices have offered over the years. While there may be learning curves and growing pains along the way, the good news is that there are countless resources available to help take your practice to the next level.

The benefits inherent to this shift open up new efficiencies and capabilities within your firm, not to mention the ability to allocate your time better to truly providing your clients with valuable service. Collectively, accounting professionals adopting and embracing these new frontiers will serve to advance the profession itself and emphasize the importance of the accounting function well into the future.

This is an excerpt from a larger guide on how to truly build The Value-Added Practice, which you can download here for free.

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Dec 15th 2016 16:12

Wow, this is a dynamite article by Wes Wilkins. There are so many tech and workflow changes happening right now, and you've done a great job of tying them all together into a coherent picture (not easy to do!). Obviously, I'm going to take a look at XTBills (and I hope you're working on a Xero integration). Thanks again for the terrific article.

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to WillKeller
Jan 27th 2017 17:58

Thanks for the kind words, Will - I'm glad you appreciated the article.

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Jul 6th 2017 17:18

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ACE Hardware Locations near me> the beginning and the end. Try to stay away from cutesy or clever opening lines and instead, try to answer
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