Own the numbers

Jul 05, 2019

Should we, as qualified chartered accountants and CPA’s, be doing bookkeeping for clients?

Do we really want to get involved with having to sort out a client’s receipts and keeping their records updated?

To put it crudely, until recently accountants considered bookkeeping to be ‘beneath them’. The client needs to do their own bookkeeping or engage a bookkeeper and then we as the ‘great’ accountant will do the lofty accounts prep work that really matters.

Those days are gone.

Nowadays, whoever owns the numbers, owns the relationship.

But how?

Moving to the cloud

I expect you have already moved to the cloud. If not, then do so yesterday! The cloud accounting revolution is not going away, it is here to stay. The advantages to your firm are innumerable – from bringing about internal efficiencies to being able to give clients real time management information at the touch of a button.

I remember I was on a mentoring webinar in 2014 when other accountants were talking about using Xero and QBO. I recall saying that our clients were too big for it to be appropriate and that Sage was superior. How wrong I was. Thankfully, upon reflection and having been convinced of the reasons by fellow accountants, I made the decision to advise the team to move all our bookkeeping clients onto Xero. Thereafter we started the roll out to all clients. I’m so glad we did. The ability to collaborate via cloud accounting has revolutionised how we can work with our clients in real time.

The technology eases the way into offering the full finance function.

The full finance function

In my firm, our most profitable and highest paying clients are the ones where we do everything – from bookkeeping to VAT returns to payroll to accounts prep to FD support to tax planning. In other words, the full finance function.

Furthermore, our highest growth area is where we take on board the full finance function for a client.

When you are in daily control of the client’s numbers, you create dependency. You (or a member of your team) have reasons to be in regular, even daily, contact with the client. You are creating ‘touch points’ to give you an opportunity to wow your client with your customer service.

Your clients are not interested in their statutory accounts. Talking about history is not going to float their boat. The year-end accounts have little impact in your clients’ business today. They want you to have more involvement in their business. They want you to tap into your expertise as a business owner yourself - and your experience in dealing with so many other businesses - to help them grow and make their business successful.

So – do not shun an opportunity to take on board the client’s bookkeeping. Take it. We have had several big compliance fees come on board by stepping in when a client’s full-time finance staff has left. When the client is paying between £30,000 - £40,000 for a bookkeeper or financial controller, if you can do the same job for less, then why wouldn’t they pay you instead? With technology you can do the work a lot faster and know it will be correct.

The anchor for your price in this case should be the amount they would ordinarily have to pay for an in-house accountant, financial controller or finance director – all roles that you would provide to them on an outsourced basis.

However, I wouldn’t use the term ‘outsourced’ because of the ‘cheap’ connotations. Use words like ‘Virtual Finance Office’, as we do, or ‘Real Time Management Information’.

Another advantage of controlling the client’s numbers, or having access to them in real time, is that you save yourself a lot of work when doing the year end process.

We know as practitioners that even those clients who proclaim to have their books kept in pristine condition leave a lot to be desired. Think of the horrors you come across sometimes even when taking over cases from other professional accountants!

That should be reason enough to want in-house control of, or have sight of, the data in real time, so you can check in regularly and intervene before the mess gets out of hand.

The big 4 accountancy firms are already moving in this direction. Deloitte with their Propel offering; KPMG tried with their Small Business offering etc. What the big firms lack is the personal touch and service. That is where we win.

Action point: be open to taking on board bookkeeping for clients and package it up to give them a full finance solution.