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Cloud adoption: Single platform or multiple accounting software?

When it comes to offering an effective cloud accounting service, there’s a choice to be made.

Should your firm have:

  1. A single cloud accounting platform that’s mandatory for all clients.
  2. Multiple accounting software packages that offer clients a choice of platform.

We’ve spoken to some leading UK accountants to understand the pros and cons of each option, and the things that might influence your firm’s decision.

Cloud approach 1: the single, mandatory platform

In our survey, 85% of firms said they don't make it mandatory for clients to use their preferred software, despite the potential benefits and efficiencies of using a cloud platform.

So is sticking to a preferred choice of cloud accounting software (and making it compulsory) the way to go?

For FD Works clients, Xero is mandatory. Commercial Director, Stuart Budd explains:

“With multiple platforms it would require one or two people in the firm becoming experts. Whereas, for us at FD Works, everyone in the team understands Xero, everyone can learn their own specialist parts of Xero and we can share that knowledge across the wider team.

Being on the one platform is more efficient and the client gets a better service. And from a cost perspective, we benefit as a firm from having everyone on the one platform – and can price that cost through the business and pass it on to our clients.”

The single platform approach works well for smaller firms that can target a niche audience and make their preferred software an attractive platform to work from. Finding clients that share this desire to use your preferred software is key, as Sharon Pocock from Kinder Pocock highlighted in our Accountex panel session:

“If potential clients aren’t using Xero, or aren’t willing to be put on Xero, then we’re not the right accountants for them. So we will recommend someone else in those scenarios, because we know they wouldn’t get our best service – that’s been a conscious decision.”

Cloud approach 2: multiple accounting software platforms

For larger, established accounting firms with a broader client base the single platform approach can be too limiting – potentially reducing the appeal of a firm.

Offering a variety of different cloud accounting software options gives bigger firms more flexibility as an adviser. But as Richard Suswain, cloud partner at established firm Tyrrell & Company, explains, there’s also an element of clients wanting you to steer them towards the most practical platform for the job – providing the software answer for them:

“If new clients come to us, we’ll always point them in the direction of Xero because that’s our accounting tool of choice. But we also wouldn’t turn a client away that uses another means of doing their accounts, if we can see they’re going to be a profitable client and a good fit for our business."

For larger and mid-tier firms that want to appeal to wide range of business clients, offering multiple accounting software options, with a selection of core integrated cross-platform apps, gives them the options needed to win and service their clients. Simon Woodhams from Wilkins Kennedy explains:

“We have to scope upwards from something like FreeAgent, through Xero and QuickBooks and up to Sage 200 for bigger clients. We have that whole range of products, and we have to cover all of them – our clients could be a sole trader carpenter or a multinational company.”

As Nathan Keeley, partner at Carpenter Box, explained in our Accountex panel session, it’s about putting the client’s business needs first and guiding them towards their ideal solution:

“As the firm gets to a certain size, it becomes very difficult to force clients to make a choice on software. We tend to take the view that we’ll discuss the software with the clients and the client will decide on what they like – and we should be able to support them in that choice as a firm.”

5 key ways to encourage cloud adoption

Whether you offer a single mandatory platform, or multiple software options there are things you can do to encourage your clients to make the all important switch to cloud:

  1. Make the switch easy – make the process of switching from legacy software (or incumbent accountants) as simple and as fast as possible. Walk them through each stage of the process, point them to resources that can help them to prepare (blog post, webinars, guides etc), and be ready to offer support throughout the process.
  2. Include cloud training in your client onboarding – train clients in how to use your preferred (or their choice) of online accounting software to ensure their set up is as efficient as possible.
  3. Underline the value of automation – refine your app stack to automate as many manual processes as you can, both for your people and for the client’s finance team – saving hours of manual input and improving efficiency.
  4. Get clients the numbers they need, fast! – with cloud accounting you can deliver real-time information, and provide important numbers quickly. Communicate this benefit clearly, and sell the benefits of KPI reporting.
  5. Deliver top-notch advice and client service – with the low-level financial processes automated, spend more face time with clients – delivering personal support that underlines your value as a cloud adviser.
How are other firms approaching cloud adoption?
View the report