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5 ways to increase automation and efficiency with technology

A quarter of UK accounting firms identified increasing their use of technology and automation as a key priority for the year ahead, in our recent Accounting Benchmarking Survey. And this drive for improved efficiency through technology underpins many of the key themes we’ve seen coming out of this year’s Accountex conference.

In this blog, we outline 5 key ways your firm can increase the use of automation and improve efficiency through greater adoption of online technology.

1. Build a custom app stack around your accounting platform

The key to achieving the ideal level of tech and automation efficiency is to build a truly customised practice system – with your choice of accounting software at the heart, and the most relevant selection of plug-in apps and cloud solutions integrated with this core platform.

This is something that Sharon Pocock at Kinder Pocock has focused on heavily:

“We say to clients that we’ll automate their businesses and free their time up – and the software’s a big part of that. We’ve got all these really good software apps, like Xero, Receipt Bank, GoCardless, Chaser and Spotlight, that help us add more value for clients.”

As well as creating a set of ‘core apps’ that work across your client base, it’s also important to advise clients on the best possible cloud solutions for their specific business needs, as Richard Suswain at Tyrrell & Company highlights:

“It can become difficult if you give clients too much choice. The client wants business software that is easy to use, is in the cloud and available to them anywhere. If you offer them too many similar products, a business owner won’t necessarily know which one is the best for them – they come to you for that guidance.”

2. Automate your manual finance processes

The average UK small business spends 120 hours every year on admin – and this is as much of an issue for your practice as it is for your clients.

Sharon Pocock has seen automation not only improve the productivity of her team at Kinder Pocock, but also create more time for more value-add work with clients:

“Automating things definitely frees up time, so we can do a lot more with less staff. We’re definitely doing more hands-on stuff with clients, whether it’s fixing their previous Xero numbers, working on specific projects or doing advisory and growth support.”

When you streamline and automate those low-level financial processes, you add to the firm’s overall efficiency, and let the tech do the hard work.

Key ways to remove the manual financial admin processes include:

  • Automate your bookkeeping with smart scanning – Apps like Receipt Bank, AutoEntry or Datamolino automate the manual input of receipts and invoices. Receipt Bank estimates that using optical character recognition (OCR) and automated bookkeeping saves firms 1 hour per client per week, improving productivity and allowing you to potentially increase the number of clients that each team member can service.
  • Automate your cash collection with GoCardless – 42% of the firms in our survey use Direct Debit to collect client fees. Using GoCardless automates your cash collection, cutting down your manual processes, providing a regular income from fees and boosting cash flow – and that provides ready cash for additional investment in the business.
  • Automate your credit control with Chaser – Average debtor days were over 29+ days, according to our survey. Using Chaser’s credit control app helps you improve your debtor tracking and automate the process of sending out chaser emails to late-paying clients. By automating the credit control process, you’ll save the average 1-2 hours a week spent chasing debt.

3. Enhance and automate your digital marketing

Digital marketing is a vital tool when promoting your firm – whether your aim is lead generation, or long-term brand awareness.

Digital marketing solutions, like Hootsuite, BOMA or HubSpot, make it easy to send out campaigns through all of your digital and social media channels – and that keeps your brand high in search rankings and front of mind with prospects, as Stuart Budd at FD Works explains:

“Within the market we obviously promote the fact that we’re a Xero partner and use that single platform – that’s central to our content marketing. So when people search online for us, they’ll find FD Works by searching for ‘Xero specialist’ or ‘Xero accountant’.”

Having an effective website, and plugging away with the digital marketing, is something Richard Suswain at Tyrrell & Company sees as vital in raising confidence around your brand:

“If a client recommends you then you can guarantee that the business owner will look you up on the internet. People want to know what your team look like, what your brand is about and what other people are saying about the firm.”

4. Improve your client communications and add value

There are many key advantages of working with clients’ numbers in the cloud, but one of the central benefits of this online approach is the flexibility it gives to your client communication.

Many accounting platforms and workflow tools now offer real-time numbers, reporting and analytics, as well as ‘in-app communication’. Receipt Bank has instant messaging to speed up the query process, and Silverfin’s practice workflow solution lets you flag queries and interact with clients directly from within their platform.

That ability to dive into the data, talk to your clients and solve their key pain points is something that Anoop Rehal at BDO UK LLP see as a critical benefit of the digital approach:

“Cloud is almost like a hygiene factor now. Clients are asking for more and want to know where these digital platforms can really help. You can have more of a conversation around their business, identifying their problems and coming up with solutions by using the tech that’s around you. So if you’re not using the cloud now, clients tend to not come to you.”

5. Onboard your clients in how to use your software and apps

Whether your firm is using a single platform, or multiple packages, it’s vital to get clients up to speed with the tech and set clear expectations around how to utilise their chosen software. Not only does this increase your own efficiency as a practice, it also saves time, improves understanding and adds significant value for the effectiveness of the client’s business.

That desire to get clients up and running with their cloud tools is something that Nathan Keeley at Carpenter Box sees as central to their onboarding and cloud proposition:

“Maybe a month into the engagement with new clients, when they have their own transactions, bank statements and invoices, we’ll set up a screen-sharing session with them to train them using their own transactions that mean something to them. It feels more ‘cloud’ doing it that way.”

How does your firm measure up against competition?
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