While accounting firms around the country are cowering in fear of what lies before us, Wise Accounting is powering ahead, led by sole practitioner Tyler Wise. Their advice? Keep it simple.
Cloud and paperless
Working in the cloud without paper has been Wise’s approach to portability since day one. The firm has no server; everything is cloud-based. The office has a mixture of desktops and laptops, allowing employees to work from home whenever they wish to.
The benefit of working in a paperless and cloud-based system, according to Wise, is the ability to work on any job anywhere, at any time. This is something that, as accountants, we all realise, yet few of us have truly experienced. Wise attribute their portability to CCH iFirm, their paperless document management to HowNow, and their frictionless data exchange with clients to Xero, Saasu and MYOB LiveAccounts.
Using a stylus and tablet for electronic signing, team members can now lodge returns and sign declarations, all while out of the office.
Dealing with clients who aren’t paperless posed a few difficulties, but none that Wise has not easily overcome. The firm still has clients who email files or even bring in paper files. In fact, less than 5% of their clients are “sophisticated” enough to provide the firm with everything they need electronically. In these instances, the paper files are all scanned upon arriving at the office (unless the file is very large) and embedded into the firm’s standardised workpapers from Business Fitness. Otherwise, if it’s a particularly large job, nothing is scanned until the end of the job when it becomes clearer what is really needed, and then the scanned files are electronically referenced.
Delivering tax returns and sensitive documents to clients, the firm has experimented with a range of methods, and currently employs loading the files onto a branded USB, and / or sending them in password-protected PDF form (and texting the password to the client’s phone). Though not all these methods employ the latest technology, they’re simple, efficient, and have proven themselves to be the best methods for this firm.
Their advice to other firms moving to the cloud and a paperless way of working? Firstly, explains Wise, it’s a lot easier than most people think, because you can approach it in stages.
Begin at the bottom, working out your procedures and policies first. Once those internal workings are sorted, you’ll have the confidence to expand to other areas, as well as the reassurance that the change is easier than you had expected.
Noting that accountants typically aren’t the biggest risk-takers, Wise still encourage them to “jump in with both feet”, explaining that firms won’t realise just how capable today’s technology is until they can really test it and make it accountable. It’s all too easy to fall back on tried and tested methods for reasons of comfort – such as the slowly diminishing servers whose physical presence is still a (false) reassurance to many firms.
Wise’s last piece of technology advice is to not demand that everything be perfect before trialling it. Small issues like not being able to lodge trust and partnership tax returns in iFirm would cause many accountants to disregard the software altogether until it’s a “complete product”, however, as Wise explains, nothing is ever “complete” in the world of technology and cloud accounting. The goalposts are always moving and nothing will ever work perfectly, but this is merely a symptom of moving forwards. Many accountants using static desktop and server-based products and receiving limited updates are under the impression that nothing is “going wrong”, but in reality, they’re just caught in the past.
With a continual focus on working with the latest technology and the most up-to-date systems available, 50% of the firm’s business worth comes down to the extremely efficient way in which things are done in the firm. The time saved through their use of technology has allowed the firm to take on clients they wouldn’t otherwise have had the capacity to take on. The ability to work remotely with their cloud-based systems has meant that the team can complete jobs that would normally take several times longer to finish, such as being able to respond to a client query in 20 minutes from home (for example) as opposed to having to go into the office for a couple of hours the next morning to resolve the matter.
Though it’s difficult to determine exactly how much time and money is saved by their efforts in efficiency, it undeniably gives staff the time to spend time at home with their families while maintaining their productivity. “They can finish a job at home without sacrificing a single thing.”
Wise are diligent in searching for new ways to improve efficiency (“efficiency hacks” as they refer to them). A recent example is their discovery that returning emails was taking up a significant amount of time from their day – approximately five minutes per email. With this in mind, the firm invested in new voice-to-text software for their email communications, which means each reply is reduced to about 30 seconds. Though it can seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, it’s these small details that add up to sizeable efficiency gains. It’s about acknowledging what takes up your time and attempting to do something about it, and Wise claim they don’t hesitate to invest in anything that will save them time and add value to their clients.
Wise encourage a 3-day weekend for their employees, believing that with the technology and efficiencies they have in place, they can complete five days’ work in four. “That’s the end game we’re pushing towards,” explains Wise, “to do more with less”.
Though they’re miles ahead of the average firm, Wise are continually looking to the future. Recognising that reliance on compliance from accountants is dying out around the country and that clients are much more comfortable lodging tax returns online (indeed, they’re a lot more comfortable online in general), Wise are looking at ways to provide value added services.
Building the firm around these no longer ‘supplementary’ services, Wise is preparing for the time when their income and tax clients will “drop away”, planning for the unpredictable future and making sure they’re at the front of the line when circumstances do change.
In regards to outsourcing, the firm is less comfortable in these waters. Instead, they try to find efficiency solutions that don’t involve outsourcing. Though they recognise they will soon be unable to compete on price with other firms who are outsourcing, their mission is to provide services that people are happy to pay for – those that can’t be outsourced.
The firm warns that as technology becomes more sophisticated and intelligent, we are at risk of become careless as more and more processes become automated. Wise explains that we will in fact need to be more organised to ensure all the different technology we employ is “doing its job properly”. Vigilant care still needs to be taken otherwise issues can slip through the cracks – as accountants, you have a (rather important) responsibility to your clients to ensure that “nothing slips through the cracks”.
When it comes to marketing – a dreaded term for accountants – Wise Accounting follows the same principle. All their advertising is free and they have no print advertising other than a contribution to a local charity publication, with the intention of contributing to charity, not attracting clients.
Being web-based, all their marketing efforts are trackable (by clicks, etc.), unlike traditional advertising methods such as newspaper advertisements. This allows them to continually monitor what is and isn’t working, and make changes with this in mind.
Wise aren’t blinded by the glamour of social media – they participate in the global phenomenon while understanding its limits. They produce original content such as educational podcasts and videos for their website, which are then shared on social media. Though the firm claims their social media efforts have only brought in half a dozen clients, it gives them an opportunity to publicise what exactly it is that they do, and as they note, you never know who might come across it and what may come of it. Finding people with problems and offering them solutions or guidance through your content is a way to build trust and spread your content further, as it is a rare occasion that clients or prospects will visit an accounting firm’s website for educational material. Being genuinely helpful and not too ‘salesy’ is the key to a respected online reputation.
Admitting that accountants often suffer from the ‘boring’ stereotype, the firm tries to make things a little more fun while still keeping things professional. The reputation that you can create for yourself and your brand, as well as the potentially high-profile people you can reach through these social media channels can be extremely valuable – you just need to focus on maintaining an online presence in the long-term, not just short bursts when time permits. The purpose of these activities is to build relationships – so don’t place too large a focus on monetising the results.
Through it all, Wise are embracing the future with the right technology behind them. They advise not to fear the digital revolution, explaining it all comes down to your in-house procedures and policies. Keep things simple and don’t stop improving – that’s the key to thriving in the uncertain terrain of the future.