How accountancy businesses can navigate the digital landscape

In today’s fast-paced business world, it really can be sink or swim for businesses, both large and small. It’s therefore never been more important for all organisations to be as efficient as possible; taking every opportunity they have to add value to the company and its services.

The accountancy sector is a perfect example of this, where firms live or die on the services they provide for their clients. With the complexities in place within the industry, from the regulations imposed by the HMRC to the evolving expectations of clients in the digital age, driving efficiency is a must. This doesn’t mean the entire firm needs to be transformed however, the smallest of changes can play a pivotal role in driving accountancy efficiencies.

This article will investigate exactly where accountancy firms can expect to experience marginal gains and how these will drive efficiency, improve client-facing services, and facilitate business growth. Below are the three areas all accountants and businesses should consider:

Operational efficiency

By nature, an accountancy practice has highly repetitive tasks; creating final accounts, tax returns, gaining document approval, just to name just a few. Small inefficiencies and inconveniences therefore add up to massive waste when multiplied by high frequency. Having to enter the same client data on multiple platforms wastes time and creates opportunity for errors. Correcting these errors results in additional time spent on tasks, which equates to valuable time which could and should be spent adding value to clients, being wasted.

It’s therefore vital firms are asking exactly how they can make changes to the way they work to eradicate the inefficiencies which plague the industry. Ensuring small but time-consuming tasks, such as document approvals or updating client records, are automated on a fully integrated system can have a huge impact on service levels. New information would only have to be inputted once, while updated documents ready for approval can be instantly sent to the client on a collaborative platform, rather than chasing on the phone or by email. Growth is then facilitated simultaneously, as firms can take on more work without the need to increase staff levels.

Compliance

Keeping up with the ever changing tax regulations and interpreting what those changes mean to clients. It takes a long time to train new staff to the point where they are self-sufficient and mistake free. Regardless of how careful firms are, inevitably deadlines are missed and errors are made that could have been avoided. The resulting fines, reduced fees, and potential lost customers will all hurt the firm’s profitability and its reputation. Of course, once the reputation of a firm has been tarnished, it can be very difficult to change the preconceptions businesses have and growth becomes increasingly unlikely.

Accountants should therefore take advantage of the technology available to them to remove the ever increasing burden of compliance. Manually ensuring compliance can feel like a constant firefight, yet software can make sure accounts are compliant with the latest HMRC regulations without additional time needing to be spent. Removing the avoidable mistakes compliance work brings, while cutting the time spent on this activity, will directly support accountancy growth – time can be put into adding further value to clients, while spending less time than traditionally set aside for such activity.

Strengthening the brand

Firms are facing ever increasing competition, as there are new practices opening continuously while more businesses are hiring internal finance experts to oversee the tasks which traditionally would have been completed by accountants. As a result, there is pricing pressure from every angle; from lower cost firms or individual practices to top four firms. Clients also have access to improved alternative platforms which let them do more accounting in-house. In order to keep their business, accountants need to interact with clients online to add the value which showcases exactly why they are a pivotal element of the business.

By offering this kind of service, accountancy firms can position themselves as a virtual CFO – a key member of the business which adds value and offers critical support in the same way an in-house CFO would. It is this which creates an environment in which the accountancy firm is an irreplaceable element within the business, rather than a necessary expense. Once practices have positioned themselves in this light by using the technology available to them to streamline accountancy wherever possible, they can take on increased workloads and therefore, push ahead with their growth plans.

It’s clear it is down to the accountancy firms to ensure they are working as efficiently as possible, but their clients should also stop accepting inefficient service. Businesses should want their accountancy firm to add value at all possible junctures while working as proficiently as possible, while the practices should be aiming to hit these highs for each and every client. Only then will accountancy firms be facilitating growth, for both themselves and their clients, increasing marginal gains at every opportunity.

Steve Cox, product director at IRIS Software