Accountants looking for another reason to justify technology investments in their firms should consider this: The firm’s next business clients are likely to require accounting services that are all or mostly digital. Moreover, younger business owners, in particular, expect accounting services that are in the cloud and accessible on mobile devices.
Those are among the findings of a recent survey of 1,000 business owners by business payments network Bill.com. It found that all age groups of business owners—but particularly those younger than age 55—prefer their accountants to handle all or most of their accounting work paperlessly. Millennial business owners (which for this survey included owners younger than 39) overwhelmingly preferred paper-free accounting, at 78 percent. A solid share of owners 56 and older (45 percent) also favored the no-paper approach.
This makes sense, given the benefits of being able to access important financial information when you need it and the ease of searching and sharing documents online, the survey sponsor said. Many people are trying to cut back on filing and storing paper, and business owners are often looking to reduce the complexity of running a business.
Furthermore, the survey found, younger business owners are inclined to use accounting firms that utilize and offer modern technology. The top technology tools millennial owners desire were cloud-based technologies, online invoicing and digital payments, Bill.com said. Mobile access was also important to 25 percent of the younger business owners. Some owners actually require these leading technologies; one in four of the millennial owners surveyed said it is “critically important” that their accounting firm utilize mobile and cloud technologies.
In addition to helping accountants meet the technology-related needs of younger business clients, many types of technology tools can help keep clients satisfied on other, more quality-of-service needs.
For example, 42 percent of millennials said a critical trait for their accounting firm is “translates complex financial concepts into terminology and reporting I can understand.” In fact, this trait was cited nearly three times as often as “provides the least expensive service available.” Accountants who use financial analysis solutions that benchmark businesses against peers, identify which cash-flow drivers to improve and provide straightforward narrative reports on financials are able to meet this important need and deepen client relationships at the same time.
Other traits that millennial business owners ranked as most important included:
• Responds to my communication in a timely manner;
• Provides strategic insight and guidance for my business;
• Is versatile and able to provide a wide range of accounting, tax and financial services;
• Has in-depth knowledge of my specific industry.
Technology can assist in all of these areas. In addition to making it easier for accountants to provide personalized insight for specific industries, technology can generate time savings by automating basic, repetitive tasks. This leaves accountants with more capacity to respond in a timely manner and provide customized service.
Less-valued traits, based on the survey responses, were having the least expensive pricing, being part of the local business community and having the ability to meet face-to-face with short notice.
“The fact that millennial business owners show a preference for cloud-based technologies, online invoicing and digital payments suggests that they are receptive to the virtual accounting firm model,” the survey noted. “Since these technologies enable accounting services with only a device (laptop, tablet, smartphone) and an internet connection, the need to have an accounting firm nearby or in the same region diminishes.”
Another finding of the survey was that millennial business owners, more so than older business owners, prefer monthly flat rates or fixed fees when paying for accounting services, as opposed to fluctuating bills based on an hourly rate. Millennial business owners have grown up with Netflix, Spotify and other subscription-based services, so it’s not entirely surprising they are comfortable with these less common methods of billing for accounting services, also known as value billing.