Good accounting software has many advantages – it can save time and money, reduce mistakes, provide an holistic overview of a client’s finances, and help you serve your customers better.
It also needs to be future-proofed and able to respond to changes in legislation and best practice. Is it built in the cloud? What are the security features? Can it connect to other software products you use?
Making software work for you
First of all, though, the key to any good accounting software product is simplicity, says Dean Shepherd, Senior Product Manager TAA, Wolters Kluwer UK.
“Like any software product, the easier it is to use, the more likely you are to use it,” he says. “It should be flexible, and it should be scalable. You do not want to be changing software every time your business takes a big step forward.”
As routine tasks become increasingly automated, accountants can provide real value through collaboration with their clients, says Darren Upson, VP Small business at Soldo.
“The best accounting software is designed with the end user in mind,” he says. “It needs to meet statutory reporting requirements, have a simple interface and save the user time by automating the processing of manual tasks. It should also enable the business owner to work collaboratively with their accountant.”
Support for a business as it grows
As a business grows, so too does the number and complexity of financial transactions that need to be captured and processed. Software should be able to cope with the increased workload.
“A growing business does not want to be stifled by an inability to scale key financial tasks,” Dean Shepherd says. “The more automation that can be built in, the more resource you will have to utilise the main purpose of accounting software – as a primary source of information for decision making.”
As a business grows, accounting needs will change, sometimes very rapidly, says Darren Upson.
“The best accounting products for growing businesses tend to be the ones that can grow with and adapt with the business as it evolves,” he says. “Products that are simple to use when a business starts, and at a low enough price point to be viable, should also have the features, functionality and relevant complexity to support the business as it grows.”
Being responsive to clients’ needs
With organisations constantly evolving and the proliferation of tech, accountants seem to be faced with a unique combination of challenges when it comes to keeping up with demands, says Valerie Phakeovilay, Software Alliance Manager for PFU EMEA.
“Many still have to deal with customers bringing in boxes of paper receipts. This paper-based system can create bottlenecks within the organisation with huge amounts of documents and invoices which need to be processed in a short period of time, which can result in more human error,” she says.
“On the other hand, new customers like start-ups might work with fully digitised processes, sending over invoices via photos, emails or messaging apps.”
This means it becomes important that accountants are able to juggle between digital and paper, all while managing workloads and meeting deadlines.
Darren Upson says a good accounting platform can help you provide a better service to clients.
“By automating manual tasks and processes, an accountant can spend more of their time providing advisory services and adding more value to their clients’ business,” he says.
Automation can help reduce human error by picking up even the smallest mistakes in text
Ensuring data integrity
One of the benefits of using a cloud accounting system is that both the adviser and client can access the same live data.
“Gone are the days of emailing backup files to and from the client and ensuring you have multiple versions of the same software installed on your machine,” says Dean Shepherd.
“I once boasted fourteen different versions of a popular bookkeeping product on my PC, thankfully all now uninstalled and consigned to the history books. Of course, with 24/7 access to live data comes an expectation that you are monitoring that data 100% of the time.”
Meeting your clients’ heightened expectations requires careful selection of the right technology to deliver the service your clients are looking for and differentiate you from your competitors, he says.
Automation can save time and money
It’s obvious why accountants might want to move towards a streamlined management system, says Valerie Phakeovilay.
“Automation can help reduce human error by picking up even the smallest mistakes in text, such a misplaced comma,” she says. With software being more reliable than humans, employees have more time to focus on other vital tasks such as onboarding new customers or upselling payroll.
“This can also allow businesses to avoid predictable bottlenecks that would normally slow things down, such as tax season, year-end or quarter end.”
Secondly, streamlining can help build a collaborative approach with customers, which helps accountants be viewed more as a resource rather than an ‘admin figure’.
“This helps customers gain real-time insight into their business, allowing them to make educated decisions on what to invest in or what the available cash flows are,” she says.
Johan Harrysson, CEO at Palette Software says human resource is a key cost for most businesses – and ensuring that it remains manageable is vital.
“To achieve this when you want to grow your business, it is very important that your internal processes are scalable.”
There are already examples of manual account posting processes being replaced by Artificial Intelligence, and the next step could be an AI engine that also makes suggestions for decision making, he says.
“All finance departments are under pressure to get more efficient. With the help of a good automation solution, staff can devote more time to analysis and value adding initiatives.”
Responding quickly to changes in legislation
Accountants should not underestimate the extent to which business owners rely on them for support, and that includes advice about compliance, tax and other legislation.
“The ability to navigate through the minefield of legislation that exists today is a key reason why accountants are seen as the most trusted of professional advisers,” says Dean Shepherd.
“Business owners like stability and with change, comes risk. Being able to adapt quickly to change is an opportunity to strengthen relationships with clients and choosing a technology provider that can react to change as quickly as you can, is key.”
Darren Upson says that if rules change and the accounting software isn’t ready for that change it can create a huge headache for the business and the accountant. “Non-compliance isn’t an option,” he says.
Digitally capturing data can also help with compliance and regulation, says Valerie Phakeovilay.
“Sharing data collaboratively and securely appeals to customers,” she says. “The process will keep track of all documents, meaning losses or misfilings are eradicated and managers have insight and access to information in case it’s needed.”
With more and more companies opting for strictly digital processes, accountancy businesses need to be able to offer this facility. It can also help increase efficiency, visibility and avoid errors, she says.
Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.