As most accountants are aware, change in the profession is constant. And if history tells us anything, the rapid pace of change isn’t about to let up—from tax code updates to the release of new legislation to, yes … you guessed it … advancements in technology.
Amanda Aguillard, CPA and Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Padgett and this week’s guest expert in our Scaling Growth series, understands this better than anyone—with first-hand expertise on the direct connection between harnessing new technology and firm success. This includes success in running a highly efficient operation; building a scalable, sustainable business; and supporting clients in a far more proactive way.
According to Aguillard, the accounting profession’s long-standing resistance to change, especially when it comes to technology, is holding many firms back from developing richer, closer relationships with their clients.
“Technology represents change, and our profession tends to be resistant to change. We need to flip the switch on this mindset.”
- Amanda Aguillard, CPA
Still, even though the profession might need to change its approach to technology, Aguillard also made it clear that accountants don’t need to become IT specialists. That isn’t the point. The key shift lies in being willing to explore what technology can do for clients and firm staff.
She stated: “No one expects accountants to be technology gurus, but we also can’t be completely shut down to it. Being tech curious is more important than being tech savvy. It’s the first step to elevating engagement and understanding.”
So, how do firm leaders move forward with technology to build stronger client relationships? Read on for insights and tips from our expert, Amanda Aguillard.
Embracing technology to improve relationships—both internally and externally
The first step in embracing technology lies in understanding and addressing our resistance to it in the first place. The human mind doesn’t fear the upside of change. We fear the imagined downside. Accountants almost universally want to know how new technologies will affect their ability to do their jobs, and for good reason.
So before your firm explores how technology can enhance client relationships, let’s start by exploring what technology can do for the firm internally—improving the day-to-day work experience of your own employees.
How technology improves job satisfaction for accountants
As staffing issues continue to plague the accounting profession, capacity has become a major concern. With fewer people, workloads are heavier. Factor in inefficient processes, littered with manual tasks, and these challenges escalate.
Technology is the answer to streamlining firm operations and freeing up staff time. But getting there requires firm leaders to embrace technology to achieve:
Greater efficiency: When exploring new technology, the first objective is to increase efficiency by automating processes across departments and roles. When workflow is highly efficient, it releases the pressure of slow-moving, bottleneck tasks for your staff—while also freeing time to redirect the team’s focus on higher-value advisory client services.
Increased capacity: By significantly reducing manual tasks, automation also lets team members spend more time on higher-impact services with more personalized support. This high-impact work has a more direct effect on client growth, so employees get to see the value of their own contributions—with bottom-line results for their clients as well as increased revenue for the firm.
Better visibility into data: When your technology ecosystem is integrated, the reward is full visibility into the numbers—for everyone who needs it. This makes it much easier to run financial reports that support clients in making smart, informed business decisions.
More intellectual space: When team members are pulled out of the weeds (manual, inefficient tasks and processes), it gives them the space they need to move beyond mundane tasks and start analyzing data for trends and opportunities. Very few people enjoy doing the exact same thing over and over, day-in and day-out. When accountants can diversify their daily tasks and add strategic thinking to the mix, they’re more energized at work while simultaneously providing more value to clients.
“Your brain can’t get to the bigger-picture thinking required for advisory services if it’s always mired down in the small things.”
- Amanda Aguillard, CPA
How technology improves client relationships
According to Aguillard, clients want more than a data cruncher when they hire an accountant. What they really want is an advisor who can show them how to run their business more efficiently.
To do that, firms need real-time access to data. They need to work within a technology infrastructure that supports full visibility into information and allows for quick and accurate reporting. In other words, they need a tech stack for the modern age to support today’s tech-savvy, on-demand clients.
Because clients rely on you for guidance and insights to grow and scale, the speed and accuracy of your financial reporting is key. Using the right technology, firms can connect clients with the insights they need for success.
“The advisor’s role is to take technology and move it from the four walls of the firm to the client.”
- Amanda Aguillard, CPA
Once again, all roads lead back to technology as the answer to strengthening the client-advisor relationship. When this occurs, it allows firms to:
Support client operations: The goal here is to apply data insights and analysis to improve how clients operate their business. Today’s clients are looking to their trusted advisors more and more to help with every aspect of operations, which requires immediate access to accurate financial information.
Start by asking yourself a few key questions: Do I have a tech stack that supports timely, accurate data reporting? Are my systems integrated, offering a central source of truth for financial health? Is my team trained on systems and processes to best serve clients?
Meet data consumption demands: For clients, the real value of automation lies in giving your team the time and space they need to interpret both the financial and the non-financial data—and then converting all that information into a format that supports easy consumption.
For example, let’s say you have a client in the restaurant industry who wants to grow their food delivery service. To provide them with higher-impact advisory services, you pull both core financial data (e.g., sales, cash flow, food and beverage costs) and non-financial data (e.g., peak sales hours and percent of online orders vs. in-store orders). Combined, this offers the client a panoramic view of the business’ health, helping them assess both risk and opportunity of launching a new service. This is the level of insight and detail clients crave.
Support high-touch service: This gets to the heart of proactive service. Clients want their accountant-advisor to make their life easier, not give them more work to do. That means providing them with data automatically, without making them ask for it, in a form that they can quickly and easily understand.
For example, if a firm uses technology that supports direct bank feed, the accounting staff can conduct regular bank reconciliations and then proactively ask clients questions and forward reports. Aguillard added:
“Clients love this level of service because they know that someone is paying attention—that their advisor is keeping a close eye on their cash flow.”
When you work within an automated, streamlined tech stack, you can aggregate data quickly and present it to clients in a way that’s understandable and actionable. This opens up a whole new world to communicate clients’ financial data—moving away from outdated spreadsheets and basic, monthly report handoffs.
Tech strategy next steps
Now that you have a clear picture of the importance technology plays in better serving clients, you’re probably wondering: “Where do we go from here?” Aguillard offers six expert insights to get you moving in the right direction:
Define why: Think about your main reason or reasons for implementing a new technology strategy. Is it to provide employees with a better life-work balance? To expand your client-advisory services? To scale the business? Your ultimate objectives will drive your decisions when it comes to designing and implementing your new tech stack.
Think differently: Technology is a mindset, not a skill set. Don’t start by trying to dive into specific technologies. Instead, think about how you want data to flow, the results you want for clients, and how you want staff to work. When you start with what you want technology to do for your firm and your staff, you’ll be in a better position to select the right tools.
Visualize the customer experience: At the end of the day, you want to offer your clients the richest experience possible. That’s true whether you want to provide high-impact client advisory services or simply provide a more frictionless experience, with faster, easier data flow and reporting for the services you already provide. When you put client experience at the center, it’s easier to identify the technologies that ensure a stellar experience.
Flip the script and jump in now: The time has come to stop saying, “I’m just too busy to do this.” Technology is the key to freeing up your time, so flip the mindset and start the planning. With the right tools, implementation will be easier than you probably think—and well worth it.
Map your processes: Do the work upfront and map out all the processes within your firm. Once you can visualize your workflows, you can start to identify areas that need improvement and the places where technology can eliminate manual tasks with automation.
Identify help: There are plenty of free educational resources available to the accounting profession when it comes to cloud-based technology and automation. Look for technology partners that offer free educational webinars, expert guidance, and up-to-date resources.
With these next steps in hand, it’s time to make your move. Technology is the key to deepening client relationships and growing your business for the long term.
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