Gill McKerrow: Tech, Tools & Tips
This technology-loving Brisbane firm has their mind set on growth and efficiency – and it’s all coming through the screen. That’s not to say that the firm are hiding behind that screen. Their technological ventures have always been focused on improving efficiency to allow more time to spend on relationships and therefore drive growth for the firm.
Technology – what they’re using
The adoption of Xero in early 2011 was the catalyst for a technology revolution at Gill McKerrow. Partner Jeremy Harris claims “Xero reinvigorated my career.” Now, technology is a constant evolution, with the firm being early adopters of many products and selectively getting involved with startups in their early phases.
For practice management, the firm have been using WorkflowMax (Xero Practice Manager) for 15 months now, having worked with both MYOB and CCH iFirm for several years and realising that Xero Practice Manager would integrate much better with their other systems. The only downside has been the regression in CRM and reporting and efficiency compared to iFirm.
The Xero add-ons they use for client work involve Fathom, Cash Flow Story (not actually a Xero add-on but a similar concept to Fathom), safeguardmy for backing up Xero files, Sharesight and Receipt Bank (hands-on for clients), and Spotlight Dashboard for helping families to track their personal finances. Other daily-use applications are HipChat for internal messaging, Evernote (personal preference for some team members), GoToMeeting and another online conferencing app they’re considering called Zoom, and Formstack for automating and making consistent some of their new client data due to Xero Practice Manager’s weakness in this area.
The firm uses LastPass, a password vault, which has made an enormous difference to their efficiency throughout the day.
For their screen-based procedures, the firm are working on creating an online manual for all team members to access, which they have been building with the help of Snagit, ScreenCast, Screen Tools and ScreenSteps Live. Though it’s quite an investment of time to properly set up and then keep it maintained, such a manual will be invaluable for quicker training and induction for staff.
Having tried just about everything from the MYP suite in the last 12-18 months, the firm have now customised the MYP hub to become their home page, with links to the main applications they use on a regular basis, enabling a single screen from which they can access each application.
Technology and clients
The firm have been using Secure Returns as a client portal for a long time, and sending client returns through the portal is their next step in client communication. At the moment, they mainly use it as document management for their clients and to receive files (mostly MYOB files) from clients, but it’s not their main communication tool.
Rolling out Xero one by one to clients has been quite a long process but, the firm believes, will ensure positive outcomes in the long run. Initially, the firm focused on advertising Xero to their more cloud-savvy clients, and coupled it with fee certainty. As just about every one of their Xero clients is on a monthly agreed fee, the firm sold it on the basis that the accounting fee would not be any more or less, but it would be stable. Currently, the firm only has half the clients on Xero that they would like; 90% is their end goal. However, in another sense, the firm is 100% Xero-based, as even if a client sends in an MYOB file, the firm rekeys it into Xero ledgers so that everything is coming out of the one system, whether the client is actively using the system or not.
The firm presents monthly educational webinars for their Xero clients, having learned from moving many of their clients to MYOB fourteen years ago (due to the introduction of GST), and experiencing a lot of write-offs due to technical support. Fortunately, the webinars also serve to keep their internal team up to date.
The firm is experiencing less resistance from clients dealing with accounting software as the cloud becomes more accepted – and as the firm gets better at selling the cloud and cloud accounting to their clients. The way Jeremy (managing partner) sees it, the benefit of moving clients to Xero is twofold: it improves the firm’s internal efficiency (annual accounting and tax work is much quicker once familiar with the system), and provides them with valuable data to incite conversations with clients and lead to the on-selling of advisory services. Now, a fee that was previously worth $10k can become up to $30k with some monthly advice.
Using technology for advisory
Technology has impacted the firm’s advisory services in two ways: by freeing more time for staff to focus on this aspect of accounting, and by actively assisting the advisory process. Under the mantra of “systemise the science and leave room for the art” (MYP Managing Director Steven Eager), which maintains that 80% of what we do every day is repeated and can therefore be systemised for efficiency, the firm have begun to systemise the 80% and humanise the remaining 20% – their advisory services. Though, Harris notes, even 80% of their advisory services can be systemised, so the efficiency gains are limitless.
As the concept of many MYP apps centres around systemising advisory services, the firm are using several tools from MYP, especially: Estate Planning for Life, ReGen (business succession planning and the advisory around it), and eScope (quoting and scoping) – the latter being the firm’s own concept which was taken to MYP to partner in its development, and for which Gill McKerrow was awarded second place in the Accountants in Practice Technology Innovation Awards as part of ATSA 2014. With the firm’s focus on estate planning, they believe it can be relevant for any kind of client, and have identified 50% of clients as prospects for the estate planning services using the lead tracker in Xero Practice Manager.
The firm initially began using social media to learn more about the industry, through following people posting useful content in niche areas they were considering venturing into. From a marketing perspective for the firm, it’s just another avenue for delivering their content.
They are primarily active on Twitter and LinkedIn, and even use Facebook, Google Pages and Pinterest. Though they haven’t necessarily seen any direct or quantifiable benefits from their social media activity, they consider it as more of a content delivery mechanism than a method of winning clients. Its main purpose is to channel traffic to their newly rewritten website (which contains regular blog posts and which they constantly perform SEO analyses), as this is where Harris expects new business to come from.
Technology advice for other firms
In advising firms on choosing and using technology, Harris warns that it’s very easy for the small monthly payments charged by the millions of applications out there to add up very quickly – without you realising. He explains that these applications (and any new systems or technology) must deliver an efficiency and that the firm must make use of this efficiency – otherwise it’s just another expense. Another trap to be wary of is duplicating costs through using only parts of several applications that actually do many of the same things. Though no one tool will do everything, it’s important to figure out the best, most cost-effective combination. Applications and devices are attractive, shiny new tools, but one must make clear use of them and convert them into a return if they are to be of any value.
When it comes to setting goals (in any area), the firm have been guilty of having too many goals and not achieving any of them. This year, in an effort to obtain more focus on their goals, they are using a methodology called 4DX. The methodology is centred on having limited goals, and comes with an application that enables the firm to track their goals and create a dashboard visible to the entire team.
Gill McKerrow’s approach to technology embodies their future-driven outlook and their willingness to experiment in the name of progress. If we’ve learned one thing from this firm, it’s that technology – and improvement – is never over.
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