Tech and the trusted advisor

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In the 2018 Accounting Insights Survey, Accounting Today identified the top five traits small business owners look for in their accountant — all of which were deemed “very important” by at least 69 percent of respondents. They were (in order):

  1. Being a trusted advisor;
  2. Responding quickly;
  3. Understanding the client’s business or industry;
  4. Being affordable; and
  5. Communicating clearly with non-accountants.

Any business would be lucky to hire an accountant who possesses all these traits, but there may not be enough time in the day for most accountants to be everything at once. How can you have your finger on the pulse of all your clients at the same time — especially when it’s not tax time? How can you be quick to respond to every client and have the time to keep your communication crystal clear? And how do you provide attentive, proactive advice without driving costs up?

In addition to delivering great service affordably, being a trusted advisor may also mean answering questions or recommending services that are outside the scope of your normal accounting practice. When it comes to things like collections, HR or retirement planning, the occasional CPE webinar probably won’t give you enough expertise to expand your practice into all the areas your clients want help with.

So how do you take on a trusted advisor role?

What you ultimately need is a way to put more hours into the day. And while technology hasn’t invented a time machine quite yet, there is an increasingly interconnected set of software services that can save you time, increase transparency between you and your clients and help you keep everything organized and ready for thoughtful action.

Your clients don’t expect you to be a tech wizard, but developing a strong understanding of what options are available — and especially which software integrates well with your preferred accounting solutions — will put you on the right path. For example, do some payroll software providers do a better job of turning a client’s payroll expenses into journal entries that you can work with? And how much work do you have to do to migrate that data into your accounting app?

Finding the right answer to questions like these will make you look good, and it could potentially save your firm hundreds of hours over the course of a year.

Are you up to speed on new technology?

Only 25 percent of accounting firms describe “keeping up with new technology” as a challenge, but 65 percent of small businesses think their accountant is at or behind the technological curve.

For example, a quick stroll around the QuickBooks and Xero marketplaces reveals over 400 integrated apps that your clients could be using to get all their finances, HR and operations into one place. Whether you work with startups or more traditional businesses, there’s probably some kind of cloud-based integration that could be saving you and your clients a lot of time and money.

You may be using one or two of them, but there are integrations that touch almost every facet of your clients’ businesses. For a quick overview, here’s a brief list of the types of apps that integrate seamlessly with popular accounting software:

  • Quoting and invoicing tools;
  • Loan and cash flow solutions;
  • Payment providers;
  • Customer management software;
  • Human resources platforms;
  • Project management tools;
  • Analytics and business intelligence software;
  • Tax prep apps;
  • Payments receivable;
  • Payroll outsourcing;
  • Data warehouses;
  • Expense tracking;
  • Inventory management;
  • Scheduling and time tracking; and
  • Employee benefits and workers’ comp.

The real opportunity

In addition to helping clients take technological shortcuts here and there, having an informed opinion about the cloud-based software and services they’re likely to need can instantly turn you into a lifesaver. Simply by knowing what’s out there and whether you think it functions well, you can help them offer new employee benefits, save thousands on payroll or automate expense tracking. A good software recommendation can mean that invoicing and collections become an afterthought, that expenses no longer need to be manually classified and that a line of credit is only a click away.

Taking the time to understand what’s available may benefit you, too. Many providers offer discounts and revenue-sharing opportunities to accountant partners.

Be a super-accountant

The number one complaint business owners have about their accountant is that he or she isn’t proactive enough. To be fair, it can be hard to anticipate client issues when you don’t have all their financials in front of you. But it’s possible to get a better view without devoting too much face time to the cause. Cloud-based integrations with your accounting software will give you the transparency you need to foresee potential issues and provide more informed advice when called upon.

Instead of asking clients to dig through their receipts, you’ll be able to say “let me look into it.” And your year-end client questionnaire could even become a thing of the past — or at least it could arrive pre-filled — making tax time much smoother for you and your team.

So study up on your software options! Building out your tech stack and getting your clients on board may just give you the time and information you need to be the trusted advisor your clients want. And it can make you and your team a lot more productive.

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