Significant disruption and innovation have occurred and are occuring at an increasing rate in the accounting profession. This article addresses how these disruptions have been positive to CPAs and their clients, both personally and professionally. It is impossible to list all of the disruptors and innovators, so I will focus on five areas:
- Aggregation of data;
- Expense reporting and electronic signatures; and,
- Accounting software.
The disruption became more apparent with the introduction of the iPhone and iPad. App development has occurred at an increasing rate, while the cost of apps has dropped substantially due to the size of the consumer market. Let’s review each of the categories and see how they are positively impacting the accounting profession and individuals.
AGGREGATION OF DATA
Back in 1998, I started using Yodlee to track frequent flyer miles and hotel programs. It is still successful and the basis for many of the popular financial aggregation programs.
One of the two more popular aggregation programs is Mint.com from Intuit. Mint will aggregate all of your financial accounts, credit cards and loans into one application, so at a quick glance you can see a balance sheet and current transactions.
The other application that I currently use is Personal Capital. In my opinion it focuses on the more sophisticated and larger investor with more analytic tools, a dashboard and money management options. Personal Capital was No. 18 on the 2015 CNBC Disruptor Companies list.
Why you should care: Much of the time accountants charge for is the aggregation, organization and reporting on data. This should motivate firms to review their processes for value, implement digital systems for content and knowledge management, and move to a higher level in the value chain.
Travel is a broad category that continues to evolve, offering significant savings in time and money, along with convenience. I use Kayak and Google Flights primarily for domestic travel. I must admit that I still use American Express for international travel. Hotel.com has become a standby for locating the best deal on hotels.
The real disruptor and story is Uber, which ranks No. 4 on this year’s CNBC disruptive companies list. They have had significant legal battles as they disrupt the local taxi companies, politicians and limo services. In most cases, they offer nicer cars, better and more courteous drivers, excellent service, and superbly improved technology over the incumbent service providers.
If you don’t like to travel, consider a desktop video conferencing alternative. Systems like Microsoft Lync, Google Hangouts and Citrix’s GoToWebinar are affordable (in some cases free), effective and easy to use.
Why you should care: These applications reduce time and increase production by offering the user self-service options. Having a personal assistant doing all of these tasks is expensive, and often inefficient. Next time you need a taxi, try Uber. Rather than traveling to a client’s office, try video conferencing.
This is another category that has been around for several years, but one where the leaders have become stronger and the applications more relevant and advantageous to CPAs and their firms. I started with OneNote, part of the Microsoft Office Suite, but switched to Evernote when the iPad arrived and have not looked back. Both are great for personal notes, as well as client information. What makes them strong is their ability to search and share information.
The accessibility at any time on any device is also important. I use Evernote on my
iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, iMac and Microsoft Surface Pro. It is also a great tool for personal document management. You can scan directly from a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner into Evernote and organize documents into different notebooks, both personal and business.
If you still prefer pen and paper, the LiveScribe pen is the answer. It will upload into Evernote, as well as instantly showing on your iPad and projector/flat panel if you connect your iPad with Apple TV.
Why you should care: Increased convenience, searchability, collaboration and access, plus the reduction of redundant data stored in multiple locations. When linked to a content management system, it can provide version control. Just do it! Make a choice, then go to YouTube for a quick tutorial. It will save you time.
EXPENSES AND E-SIGS
I don’t know anyone who likes expense reporting and waiting to be reimbursed. Over the years I have gone from paper, to spreadsheets, to Expensable, and now to Expensify and Tallie. The evolution has been remarkable and the time savings and accuracy have been a 10X experience.
My two recommendations are Expensify and Tallie. Our objective was to integrate and reduce the steps in our workflow. Today I simply take a picture of my receipts on my iPhone or have them e-mailed to me and forwarded to the application. My assistant prepares the report by accumulating all receipts, examining credit card transactions, adding mileage if necessary, and sending the report to ensure accuracy and proper coding. It is then approved by a third party, integrated into accounts payable for approval and payment. Each Monday, expense reports are approved and I am notified of approval. On Wednesday the bank notifies me of the deposit. Transactions automatically flow into the proper expense account in QBO or are billed to clients for reimbursement. The entire process takes me minutes, rather than several hours. It is accurate, well-documented and all employees receive their reimbursement rapidly. No checks, only ACH payments, resulting in reduced time and expense. Tallie is also working on integrations with practice management systems like Practice Engine.
Closely tied to expense reporting is electronic signatures. Steve Dusablon has disrupted the traditional signature and document workflow process with Safe Sign and Safe Send. This saves days with internal documents requiring multiple signatures as well as engagement letters, IRS documents and any documents requiring security and authentication. Another 10 X experience that generally occurs during the busiest of times.
Why you should care: Most accountants are spending too much time on necessary but “no value-added” tasks. The implementation of these affordable workflow tools will improve processes and save time. Download an app and get started.
Having been a longtime user of desktop accounting software, I was somewhat sceptical of online accounting regarding all of the features, functions and specifically the reporting. In 2011, I made the trip to New Zealand to conduct due diligence on Xero. There I experienced strong support from the leading accounting firms and witnessed how they were improving client service, providing relevant information on a timely basis, and reducing data entry and errors to extremely low numbers.
Xero had expanded into Australia and the United Kingdom and was disrupting desktop software. In my opinion Xero has done
two important things since coming to the United States:
- Provided a wake-up call to Intuit, which is now investing heavily in online software and embracing the accounting profession as business partners.
- Positioned itself to be the No. 2 provider to small businesses and not-for-profits in the U.S. market.
Both Xero and Intuit continually improve their platform and the related ecosystem. New features like global search and find and recode to correctly code transactions and improve reporting and analytics are just a few of the features that make online accounting the solution of choice for many small businesses and their CPAs.
Most accounting firms are small businesses and should learn from these experiences by moving their own accounting systems to the cloud as quickly as possible in order to ensure better integration, less redundant data entry, and real time reporting.
Why you should care: Accounting is the engine of small business around which CPAs can retain the role of most trusted business advisor, rather than just a technical advisor. The ecosystem around accounting can elevate the value of your advisory services and have a 10X impact of fees per client.
There are more disruptors in the accounting profession than ever. Accounting firms are extremely profitable, yet owners are rightfully concerned over the availability of talent and succession. Change is difficult, especially when profits and partner earnings are high. If you don’t feel disrupted, disrupt yourself! Things are changing rapidly and if you don’t change, it will become increasingly difficult to remain successful and relevant to your client base and next-generation prospects.
L. Gary Boomer, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is CEO of Boomer Consulting Inc. in Manhattan, Kan.
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