Case study: Acuity maintains client collaboration through bill pay

Cash flow management is a priority service for the hundreds of firms in the U.S. serving small to midsized business clients. Acuity, based in Atlanta, is one of those firms. Acuity provides CFO services on top of bookkeeping and accounting for its clients, but is also a firm of accounting professionals who share a strong tech ethos and who want to bring cloud accounting to the fore.

In a recent survey of accountant users of QuickBooks conducted by Accounting Today, Bill.com emerged as the favorite app for accounts payable, billing and invoicing. Bill.com is Acuity’s cash management software of choice that it provides its clients. Here is their experience.

Product: Bill.com

Firm: Acuity

On record: Matthew May, co-founder

Matthew May Acuity 2

Selection: “We had a grand plan for taking cloud accounting to the world, bit by bit,” Matthew May said of his and co-founder Kenji Kuramoto’s vision for their firm, Acuity. “Over the last five years we’ve tried to productize every function within the accounting department into some bite-sized service — bookkeeping, bill pay, payroll — so we partner with the best tech in each space.”

Acuity found Bill.com to be the best product for billing, invoicing and receiving payments, so Acuity selected it to provide those capabilities to clients through its outsourced CFO services.

“When you’re a smaller firm helping someone do bill pay, you’re doing it yourself so there’s a low risk of you doing something wrong,” May said. “We were finding that people would just give us bank access. We then realized that at scale, we would need some technology between the bank and bill pay.”

According to May, one of the biggest problems working with small business owners is that if they hand over complete accounting control, they can lose touch with the financials of their business. However, if they give up administrative control but still keep control of the cash, where, for instance, they see the checks being cut and received, they don’t go down a psychological “rabbit hole” of being blind to the business cash flow. May said Acuity was aligned with what Bill.com was trying to do: “Let the business owner maintain control of their cash, but in the easiest way possible.”

Implementation: When Acuity first started using Bill.com, the most difficult challenge was figuring out how to price the service offering for its clients. Physical implementation, like connecting bank accounts and setting up the software, was easy, according to May.

“You have to set it up right to get all its benefits,” May said of the software. “And 90 percent of our job improved when we did that.”

Challenges: May noted that Acuity does have clients who need to make or receive international payments, and Bill.com does not provide this capability yet. Acuity has to use a separate solution for international payments, but the firm is currently in a few beta programs for international payments with Bill.com.

“We’re excited about international payments,” May said. “If it’s as great as the domestic capability, it will help out the 10 percent of clients who need that.”

Editor's note: Since this conversation, Bill.com began offering international payments.

More recently, May has noticed some clients leaving Bill.com because they started dealing in cryptocurrency.

“As customers grow and have more diverse investments, they may want to move away from Bill.com,” May said. He added that he met with Bill.com’s chief technology officer and chief engineer to discuss how to meet these challenges. “They listen to me, because we’re early adopters of technology.”

The cryptocurrency issue is not unique to Bill.com. “This is not unusual in the space,” said May. “Everyone who has any kind of scale is risk averse.”

Cryptocurrency is still seen as a risky, unpredictable asset and is not yet established enough on any financial market to be deemed a blue chip investment.

Highlights: One of Acuity’s purposes is to minimize opportunity for fraud. Bill.com helps Acuity work toward that goal but set up a collaborative, yet efficient, system for cash management. May recalled the fraud triangle concept, conceived by criminologist Donald Cressey, describing the three key elements needed for fraud to be committed: pressure, opportunity and rationalization.

“We try to take out as many legs of that stool as possible,” May said. “We’re trying to build a scalable business dependent on people, and we don’t want our people to be put in that position. If an employee’s spouse loses a job, is suddenly cash crunched, and that system changes the situation in their house, people do a lot of things out of desperation no matter how good they are. We try to take out opportunity, and the other stuff doesn’t happen.”

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