19 Feb 2014 11:44am

economia blog: don't cloud the issue

Recently I saw an email sent from an accounting competitor to their client who was thinking of transferring their services to us. One thing that stuck out was the lack of understanding of Cloud Accountancy by this national, well known firm of accountants who operate in the same “micro business” space as us

I’ll summarise some of the misconceptions that they seem to hold about cloud accountancy systems and I quote:

• from a client's perspective there is very little value in an online system

• if we thought moving to an online system would improve the lives of our clients we’d have done it ages ago

• in reality most of the value is for the accountant as it means firms can employ less accountants

• accountants only use online systems so they can reduce costs for themselves not for the client

• online systems are, however, great for large companies with huge volumes of data, multiple clients, invoices and highly trained bookkeepers. They hold little value for those with a few expenses and invoices

• nobody would build an online system to target one person limited companies

• we prefer clients to send us their data

I did chuckle at the comments made, but it left me wondering if these views were shared amongst accountants or was it an isolated opinion of someone just a little out of date with what technology can do for the client and the accountancy firm.

Who knows, but I thought it was worthwhile taking some of the comments made and dispelling them ...

No value to clients

Having up to date accountancy records that are visible by both the client and the accountant is a huge advantage; clients call us with queries on their accounts and we can see exactly what they are talking about without the need for the usual to-ing and fro-ing of system backups or spreadsheet swapping. VAT returns can be quickly reviewed before submitting; issues can be spotted, discussed and resolved immediately rather than many months after the year end when memories of the transaction can fade.

Our clients expect to have a robust online system that gives not only up to date information about finances (bank balances, profits etc) but also tax and dividend projections; it’s not life-improving, just a fact of life in the 21st century.

Employ fewer accountants

Using cloud systems mean that our accountants concentrate on the work that they should doing – adding value. In fact cloud systems allow us to service more clients per accountant and with geographical restrictions eliminated, the overhead base doesn’t swell when new markets are opened up. Not only that but access to client’s up to date financial data creates a plethora of cross and up selling opportunities.

So rather than employ fewer accountants a firm should be able to expand both their clients and fee base with its current complement of staff and lower overheads should mean a better deal for clients, assuming of course that firms pass cost savings onto clients! Surely that is a good thing in this competitive market?

Only for large companies

With online accountancy systems starting at about a fiver a month for entry level needs, such systems are far from limited to the domain of large organisations only. The ease of use of these systems mean that little or no bookkeeping experience is required for someone to be able to keep their accounts up to date. The entry level system that we use is clearly written for those who have a small number of invoices and expenses. The one person limited company is well served by such cloud accountancy systems being available at an affordable price which is often much less than a monthly mobile phone or satellite TV bill.

Prefer clients to send us their data

Now, the cynic in me might think that this could be a fee generating opportunity charging for bookkeeping but I’m sure that couldn’t be the reason for such a comment. I am a strong believer in offering the clients the services that they need and giving them the choice of being able to do things themselves to keep their accountancy costs down. Cloud accountancy systems are so very simple to use that most clients can do basic data entry themselves and where they cannot or do not have the time then bookkeeping services can be provided as a value added service.

To conclude, I’d say it’s great for a client to have options. They can “do it in the cloud”, hopefully reducing their accountancy fees by paying for the services that they need, and certainly giving them up-to-date information about their business finances including tax and dividend projections at their fingertips. Or, they can choose to take everything to their accountant for them to crunch the numbers and come up with the results some time after the end of the relevant accounting period.

I guess you can tell which approach I prefer, and in light of what happened to BlockBuster I think the accountancy world needs to have a very keen eye on any technological advances that “de-skill” accountancy services provided to clients.


Elaine ClarkeElaine Clark is managing director of CheapAccounting.co.uk. is managing director of CheapAccounting.co.uk.

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