Cloud based accounting is changing the landscape of accounting firms the world over.
The unsightly metal filing cabinets, jam-packed with manilla folders and often illegible working papers are disappearing.
The number of clients arriving at their accountant’s office clutching shoeboxes full of faded receipts is dwindling.
“Every time we get rid of a filing cabinet we shout a beer and pizza night,” Andrea Cunniffe, Practice Manager at Leslie & O’Donnell Chartered Accountants told Xero.
“With Workpapers and Xero General Ledger, there’s less paper. The year-end tax files are now compact as all the documentation is scanned and filed online with the workpapers. One day we may be paperless, but for now, I am happy with less paper.”
For many accountants, moving their practice to the cloud is a daunting process. Change isn’t easy. It can be a tedious, costly and time-consuming process.
Change isn’t just about deciding on a system and flipping a switch. You’ve got to get everyone on board, the whole team needs to come along for the journey.
Leslie & O’Donnell Ltd has been proactive in switching to the cloud. The firm’s 1,100 clients are looked after by a team of two directors and 12 staff. The business is growing steadily with recruitment underway for a new team member focused on customer service and implementing client software solutions.
The move to working in real-time, on a single cloud-based ledger has seen a lot of the manual work accountants previously dealt with fall away. Instead, for many, it is being replaced by an increase in business advisory requests, Cunniffe said.
Located in New Zealand’s Marlborough region, known for its Sauvignon Blanc and farming industry, Cunniffe told Xero most of the practice’s clients are either vineyards, winemakers, or businesses that service the industry. Understanding the local business needs has enabled the firm to focus on the software solutions and specialised advisory that matter to their clients. It means they can work in lockstep with a small business owner to help improve the financials of their business.
“Instead of just doing the year-to-date or historic figures, we should be looking at the business going forward,” Cunniffe said.
“We have to know about the wine industry and what’s affecting them both regionally and internationally. We have a grasp on everything from supply and demand, profit and loss, to weather patterns.
“We have the skills to do that sort of work, and with the systems getting quicker, the compliance work is taking up less time so we can do the fun stuff, helping clients grow their businesses.
“We specialise in getting to know our clients and meeting their needs, whatever they are.”
Clouding the future
Moving to the cloud is one way Cunniffe is dealing with succession planning and talent acquisition.
“Technology is changing so fast and we’ve got to go with it,” she said.
“The average tenure of my team is 14 years. We need to future proof. We’re hiring more millennials who can learn from our existing staff. But it’s not just about staffing, it’s also about the systems and technology that we use.
“There’s always new features coming up in Xero so our staff are learning new skills all the time. They’re sharing their learnings with each other.”
When the team looked at various General Ledger options they chose Xero because it was built in the cloud and brought accountants closer to their clients.
“We didn’t change workpapers right away because we thought it would be too much change for the staff. Once we were comfortable with working on the General Ledger it made sense to go across to Xero Workpapers,” Cunniffe said.
“In the change, you’re dealing with different personalities. Some people wanted to jump in and try it, others were warier.
“It helped to identify those who loved the change at the start. Those people become your problem solvers and keep it pushing forward. Maintaining the momentum and business stability required clear and regular communication with the team. We have regular sharing sessions and have built internal Xero champions to help deal with that change.
“There’s always pain in change. The staff are learning, it takes time to set up the reports and clients for the first time. We’ve done a pretty good job managing the transition. It’s definitely changed the way we work with clients. Being on the same system means we can change things in real-time. Gone are the days where I have to jump in the car for every little issue. For the clients we’re working with day-to-day, it’s a huge benefit.
“We’ve been through the pain and the efficiency gains are going to come going forward.”
But it’s not just the way these cloud-accounting firms are working that’s changed, it’s also the type of work that they’re doing.
“It’s all about self-sufficient clients. If you’ve got clients who can look after their GST and do that well. We’d rather do the business advisory work. We see that as the future of accounting.”