Much has already been written about the benefits of the cloud for businesses. Putting MTD aside for a minute, what are the real benefits of cloud accounting for accountants? And how can you get those benefits? That was the question which came up recently in a group accountability call in The Accountants’ Growth Club. These are the answers that club members gave.
Benefits of cloud accounting for accountants
We all know the benefits of cloud accounting for accountants AND businesses are numerous. But the question is how do accountants actually realise those benefits properly? For example, it’s one thing to be able to see your client’s accounts in real time as they update them. It’s completely another thing to be able to make some commercial value from this for you and your firm.
Becoming the trusted business partner
Much is written about how the cloud helps you, the accountant, become a trusted business partner. Just because you can now see the client’s data in real time rather than at month or year-end doesn’t make you a trusted business partner. You and your team need to do something different to the old traditional ways.
Start a regular dialogue between you and your clients.
Our club members suggested that one of the best ways to gain the benefits of cloud accounting for accountants is to start to open up a regular dialogue through the use of health checks on your clients’ accounts. Ideally, this should be a 'charged for' service which comes as part of your normal package to clients. When you are doing a health check you are looking at some or all of the following:
- Accounts are up to date within the last 2-4 weeks
- There are no transactions to be reconciled older than 30 days
- Bank feeds are working
- The accounts are reconciled where possible
- High director loan or expense accounts
Once your member of staff has completed a health check, this will then prompt them to get in contact by email, if there is nothing out of order, or they will pick up the phone if there is something to discuss. Doing something as simple as a monthly health check on your clients’ cloud accounts is a very simple step to starting the process to become the proactive accountants and advisor that your clients want you to be. This is a great way to be able to find opportunities to help clients with their bookkeeping.
Train up your clients to use tools such as Receipt Bank or AutoEntry
Much of the literature that has been written about the benefits of cloud accounting for accountants fails to touch on the fact that your clients need to be able to use their cloud accounting platform and the great time-saving tools which integrate with them. Therefore if you are going to realise these benefits of cloud accounting for your practice you need to spend time training your clients on how to use Xero, Quickbooks, Sage Business Cloud, FreeAgent etc. You could, like Paul Miller, of Cornish Accounting, run regular training sessions for your clients. Or you could decide to do it on a more 1:2:1 basis. Our AGC members have the luxury of borrowing Paul’s training sessions on Xero for clients to implement in their own practice.
But most of the cloud software vendors have extensive video-based training materials which you can share with your clients to get them up-to-speed. Remember, you won't get any of the time-saving efficiencies of the cloud if you are spending all your time helping your clients use their new piece of cloud accounting software, or spending time correcting their mistakes!
Set up standard reports for clients
I can’t comment on other cloud accounting platforms, but Xero has a great reporting module. Most of your small clients don’t need all the bells and whistles which come from buying into a management accounting piece of software such as Futrli or Spotlight Reporting. Setting them up with a few reports that help them keep an idea on the sales, debtors or cash position may be exactly all they need to have better control of their business.
Get your clients into ‘right-time accounting’
When I was on a panel at Accountex with Paul Bulpitt, head of The Wow Company and head of accounting UK for Xero, he talked about right-time rather than real-time accounting. The difference being, it is virtually impossible to have real-time accounting. There will always be an element of a time lag in the bookkeeping and accounting process. Not every invoice and receipt will be able to be automatically entered into your bookkeeping software at the time in which you request or take the service. For some businesses, keeping their bookkeeping daily is right. Whereas with others, once a month is more practical and realistic. It all depends on the business, where it is at in its lifecycle and also the type of business. This is why accountants need to help their clients move to right-time accounting, not real-time accounting.
The thing is, if you move your clients onto the cloud and they work the way they always have (by saving up all their receipts to give to their accountant once a year?) you as a firm will fail to realise the benefits of cloud accounting. You can’t produce meaningful insight for your clients unless the data you are looking at is accurate and up-to-date. Therefore, part of your role in helping your clients migrate to the cloud is to help them move to ‘right-time’ accounting & educate them on the benefits. This is likely to involve helping them streamline how they get their invoices and receipts onto their bookkeeping software.
Look again at the ways you work in your practice
It’s very easy to just work the same way that you always have done in your practice. I hear of so many practices moving their clients onto the cloud, and then sucking the clients' data out of their cloud accounting package and uploading it onto the practice’s preferred solution, normally Sage. Then getting the trial balance agreed in Sage before putting the journals through on the cloud accounting package to get everything to agree. How is this getting the benefits out of cloud accounting for accountants? Surely, the whole point of cloud accounting is that you AND your clients see the same data?
Or another one I saw recently where a bookkeeping team was still religiously recording the description of the receipt on their bookkeeping software, even though they had a scan of the actual receipt?
Therefore, with your team, take a long hard look at how you produce your year-end accounts, do your bookkeeping and see if you as a firm can do it differently and take full advantage of your clients now being on the cloud.