By Marianne Curphey Members Why accountants are looking to integrate management systems 27 Feb 2019 There are a number of reasons why accountancy firms and practitioners might want to combine and streamline their management systems. Among the potential benefits are: having a single set of standards for the entire business, increased efficiency, potential cost savings, a higher level of security and a reduction in duplication and bureaucracy. Another advantage of integrating management systems is that essential but repetitive tasks can be automated, freeing staff to add value to their interactions with clients and reduce human error. It can also enable real time data sharing to improve decision making, which is important for accountants who are advising clients about the overall financial health of their clients’ businesses. If you are an SME or sole practitioner, and you want to increase the size of your business, a well-integrated management system can also help you scale up. It can also help with Making Tax Digital and provide a better customer service. Adding value to your business “Technology is increasingly enabling traditional, time-consuming tasks to be streamlined and automated, and we are seeing the accountancy profession transitioning towards strategic financial consulting for businesses,” says Will Farnell, Founder of Farnell Clarke and Consultant at Soldo. “Larger and more specialist accountancy firms with enterprise-level clients will have already incorporated this sort of consultancy into their service offerings,” he says. “However, with the right use of technology and the right ‘digital’ mindset, smaller firms can now do this too.” Not only does this benefit clients – who get more out of their relationships with accountants – but it also supports the business growth aspirations of these accountancy firms. “It enables these firms to build and retain loyal customer relationships, as well aspire towards winning larger clients, and therefore stimulate increased revenue.” Reducing human error “Humans aren’t infallible,” says Darren Cran, COO of AccountsIQ. “Previous processes with non-integrated systems would have seen the manual movement of data from one system to another and potential rekeying errors.” Integrating management systems enables accountants to reduce errors, gives them greater insight and visibility of performance and enables them to make decisions based on factual information. “Through the Cloud and API technology it is now possible to integrate all systems (CRM, HR, Finance, Payroll) and have all the information in one place, to be able to interpret key financial information about the organisation,” he says. Improving customer service Many sources of information can be collated and can provide really useful, accurate and real-time business intelligence and financial information to a client, say Darren Cran. “A lot of the routine work that accountants are used to doing will phase out over time as more and more automation comes in,” he says. “Then it will become more about advisory-based work. Accountants will need to fully embrace digital technology as that is what the new generation of businesses and people are used to.” Will Farnell says integrating apps with core management systems will allow accountants to deliver live, meaningful financial data to clients from across a broad range of key areas. “When you can compare and contrast data from a number of different sources, hidden issues are easier to uncover – and it’s often the case that the data itself can point to possible solutions,” he says. “Of course, this isn’t to say that the accountant plays no part; rather, the accountant becomes responsible for translating this data into meaningful actions that will benefit the client.” Darren Cran says larger accountancy practices are moving with the times and are now setting up portals to enable their customers to view their real time financial position and underlying data. Making your business more competitive Automated and integrated systems can save time and money, says Darren Upson, VP Small Business Europe, Soldo. If you are charging by the hour, you can make your services more competitive if much of the administrative work is done automatically. “The efficiency gains that a firm can make as a result of building a tightly integrated technology stack can’t be understated,” he says. “Many accounting actions completed manually can take twice as long as those completed using automation. Time-sapping tasks can be a huge issue, especially as many accountants work on either a time-based or fixed-fee billing system. Why spend time on these tasks, when time could be spent on more valuable (and potentially more profitable) advisory work?” Darren Cran says system alerts will help ensure any compliance deadlines are met, which are particularly important for accountancy practices in delivering great customer service, as well as being able to provide enhanced information about their own or their clients’ business. Building a more consultative service The interpretation of this wealth of data is something that humans can do, which machines and artificial intelligence cannot. That is where business relationships can be enhanced by technology. “This is the approach accountants will need to take to build better client relationships and continue to add value,” says Will Farnell. “This consultative element of the profession isn’t necessarily new – but it is something that accountancy firms will now have more time to develop and today’s clients are demanding more of.” Darren Upson of Soldo, says apps and systems can perform data management tasks more effectively, but they can’t (at least not yet) offer the deep level of analysis and strategic thinking that a human can. “Understanding this difference is central to understanding the best way for accountants to work in tandem with technology,” he says. “A more efficient use of automation will also help accountants to counter the inevitable downward pressure in compliance fees.” The next steps “Becoming a ‘digital’, data-driven firm isn’t a quick and easy process,” says Will Farnell. “The integration of different accounting systems and apps can’t be done off the cuff – it needs to be planned very carefully, with input from all key stakeholders.” This not only means seeking input from staff within the firm, but also from your existing clients and prospects. Accountants need to take the time gather this information and then use it to determine which individual apps and systems will complement and work best with each other – with the overarching aim of painting a better picture of financial health. Future-proofing your career With the rise of digitisation, technology has become of vital importance for accountants, says Marc Trup, Founder and CEO of Arthur Online. Being proficient with business accounting software is a critical part of an accountant’s skill set, he says. “Using software to manage their clients’ accounts can potentially benefit an accountant’s credibility and help expand their reach,” he says. Both Xero and QuickBooks offer a marketplace area with a variety of integrated software designed to serve different purposes, giving accountants access to a wide range of apps that suit their business types. “It’s more expensive and time-consuming to bring on board a new client than it is to retain an existing client,” he says. “So being able to offer your clients useful services and solutions they can’t get elsewhere will be a real benefit.” 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.