Process + People +Technology + Educated Clients = Performance and Profitability
Featured firm: Aintree Group
Staff: 7.6 FTE’s (sole practitioner)
Location: Melbourne suburbs
Revenue: $1.5M – $4M
Aintree Group is a sole practitioner firm in the suburbs of Melbourne, and one of Australia’s most efficient accounting firms as revealed in the Good Bad Ugly accountants’ benchmarking reports.
This award is based on the Business Fitness ‘Efficiency Factor’ which is a one-number performance summary that brings together profitability, productivity and financial management efficiency to paint an overall picture of the performance of your firm across multiple management fronts. The Efficiency Factor is analysed by applying your ranking compared to other participating firms with a weighting then applied to the 12 key performance indicators.
Here, Shane McKenna (director of Aintree Group) dishes out some insight as to how the firm maintain their incredible efficiency levels.
Shane describes the firm as being a premium boutique firm focussed on providing clients with a great experience and advice, which consequently builds confidence and trust. By the way, rarely will you see the term ‘accountant’ used at Aintree Group, specifically on street signage. This is a branding decision focussing on their target market of high net worth clients rather than small individual tax returns.
A major reason behind the successful performance of Aintree Group are the processes they have in place. In addition, there is a mindset or culture within the firm to always ask “how can we continuously work smarter and improve how we do things”?
When you review the processes in place, you will find the firm delegate many tasks. For example, administration staff create jobs by logging them, then collecting all the relevant data from clients prior to bookkeepers taking the job to trial balance. This means the accountants in the firm are more involved with high end work such as tax planning and SMSF, which allows Shane the ability to focus on business advisory and asset protection services when meeting with clients.
With the detail being in the process, this has facilitated efficiency and productivity improvements that Shane measures on a regular basis.
A key area of the business that is systemised and monitored very carefully is work in progress (WIP). With fixed fee arrangements in place with 95% of clients, many clients demand their work completed in the first three months of the year. This means carry large WIP early in the year. Shane is considering introducing an upfront fee option, which has seemed to work in the past when trialled with a handful of clients.
Traditionally April to June are their busiest months, particularly for services such as tax planning, advisory and other ASIC related services. A substantial amount of revenue is generated during this time, which takes organisation and management to meet their strict client service standards.
Throughout the 12 months, the focus always comes back to, “what jobs are going to be finalised and out the door, THIS WEEK?”
You can feel the positive culture when you walk through the front door at Aintree Group.
Shane believes wholeheartedly in looking after his team as key to the success of his firm. To maintain great people, Aintree Group provide flexible hours, ensure staff take holidays and generally have a relaxed and friendly culture – this is what leads to great results. Shane couldn’t praise his team highly enough with the 110% effort they give but also for the ‘family’ atmosphere that exists in their workplace.
Aintree Group certainly remunerate their team well. According to numerous salary surveys, they currently pay above market value (of which their team members are aware) and in return they find their team embrace the added responsibility.
Shane understands that firms gain fantastic efficiency with the same staff working on the same clients each year, thus, minimising staff turnover is a focus. They certainly do not shy away from dealing team members who do not meet the Aintree Group standard, so they hire slowly and terminate quickly. Considerable effort is made to create stability amongst the team, having them involved with all areas of clients’ businesses, therefore providing continuity with clients.
Managing more than ten team members per partner has proven to be difficult in the past and therefore this may be a limiting factor to the growth of the firm. The reason for this seems to be the bigger the firm, the less efficient it becomes as more people become involved in the process.
In terms of accountability, team members are given a dollar target to achieve each month in fees, but productivity in hours is also monitored.
With great staff and processes in place, Shane believes outsourcing is not an area his firm will pursue right now. Also, discussing the topic with a number of his ‘good clients’ has produced a negative response towards offshore labour.
Shane freely admits to being somewhat of a tech head. Aintree Group has the view that technology should be used to free capacity and see many firms not fully taking advantage of available technology and resorting back to old systems or ways of doing things.
The efficiency equation at Aintree Group is:
Technology + Process + Training = Efficiency = Performance
One of the most significant pieces of technology implemented in the past 12 months, gaining huge efficiency improvements, was DocuSign. Not only does the business save on printing and stationery, but turn-around of documents being signed by clients is very impressive. Some clients have signed and returned within five minutes, where previously it could have taken more than a week to have the signed accounts returned.
More importantly, clients are loving this service. It shows clients they are a progressive, modern and dynamic accounting firm who are embracing technology. In many instances, Shane is consulting to clients on technology issues.
Shane admits it has been the team who has driven the implementation of DocuSign in the firm. Evidently, processes have been put in place to manage it, such as internal tracking systems, which are providing fantastic internal efficiencies.
Other technology that has allowed the firm to improve efficiency include HowNow by Business Fitness, iFirm by CCH and GoToMeeting for remote video conferencing.
The firm make a point of educating all clients through the same standardised process and a regular and scheduled client contact program.
With 95% of clients on a fixed fee monthly payment arrangement, an initial fee proposal is provided at the commencement of each financial year (the team are currently using Quotent to manage this), which is again managed by the administration team.
Client meetings are held either quarterly or bi-annually, which is incorporated in the fixed fee arrangement. The firm avoids fee negotiations because of the following:
1. A process to attract and engage clients who are not price sensitive
2. A process to position pricing upfront with clients, communicating that their firm don’t offer the cheapest prices in town
3. Educating clients that the price is not negotiable
4. Regularly communicating with clients when additional work is outside the scope of the fixed fee arrangement
5. A focus on delivering a great client experience and advice which in turn gives clients confidence and trust
The value provided to the clients comes with face-to-face relationships and effective communication – an area that a limited number of accountants excel in.
Aintree Group currently does not undertake any marketing activities other than having a website. Their growth model is to improve the quality of the clients they have through providing additional services. Therefore, focus is on a fewer number of clients with a higher average client fee.
The majority of new clients being referred to the firm comes via existing clients; “when you do a good job for your existing clients, they just seem to talk about you”. Aintree Group are solely focused on servicing their clients well, which is essentially the firm’s marketing.