Today, accountants are expected to go beyond providing traditional services like day-to-day accounting, bookkeeping, financial reporting, auditing, and tax filing. Clients also expect insights on an organizational level, like how to curb spend, identifying new revenue sources, and accelerating company growth. However, to provide these bespoke services with excellence, accounting professionals require a holistic view of their clients’ businesses while they’re efficiently running their own firm’s operations.
“Managed services,” as these offerings are known, will soon be something clients look for, first and foremost, so it’s wise for accountants to start reconfiguring their tech stack right away. The financial world is changing more rapidly than ever, and the only way to effectively remain ahead of the curve is to find software that sets the pace appropriately fast. Here are some key considerations for accounting firms, particularly small and medium sized businesses, to have in mind when upgrading to offer managed services.
Setting Up the Client
The foundation for great accountant-client collaborations begins at the bottom of the tech stack itself. There has to be at least a base level of communication between the two systems to ensure accuracy of records, ease of financial transfers, and the utmost security.
When deciding on a platform upon which to offer managed services, vendors need to look beyond their own needs and consider the ways in which clients might interface with the chosen software. Managed services have to go both ways—the client’s system must include flawless integration with the one chosen by the vendor, and vice versa.
Good news: The easiest way to accomplish this feat is also the most effective and cheapest one. Accountants can look for supporting software, built by the same vendor, that exists as part of a larger tech ecosystem. This enables the vendor running their own business with complete transparency across the organization and inserting client updates into workflows and pipelines effortlessly, as the two pieces of software were built either in conjunction with, or in support of, one another. Often, the client-facing software is one they’ve been using anyway; or, if it’s something new for the client, most modern financial tech includes options for customization and scalability, ensuring the transition from one platform to another goes smoothly.
Don’t forget that with transparency into client finances, accounting firms can begin to offer insights with pinpoint accuracy, beginning a true partnership with clients.
Seeking Baseline Functionality
The right software solution for accountants will be able to evolve alongside the company itself, but without meeting the needs of that company today, the software will fall flat and stifle growth from the get-go.
Many of the offerings available meet those needs, and then some. Accountants can look for software equipped with industry-first functionalities built from the ground up for distributed firms, including AI-driven anomaly detection for client records; built-in collaboration through chat, voice, or video calls; and a unified platform to act as a single source of truth for all client services. That last point is of particular importance: accurate consolidation of financial records is perhaps the single most critical aspect of great software. If a vendor’s software can’t match the functionality of, say, a calculator, there are problems right away.
Of course, the goal of any accounting firm offering managed services is to grow its client base, meaning the software has to be intuitive so new employees can quickly get up-to-speed and offer supreme customer service, kicking off a word-of-mouth cycle that will begin attracting new customers.
For even more interoperability, accountants have to look at how customization is treated within a vendor’s system. Some platforms offer tools with which accountants can implement precise solutions and specifications in calibrating software; and, when it comes to considering software upon which large financial transactions will be executed, the more specific an accounting firm can be with their tech, the better.
As the SaaS industry has grown, companies have begun introducing enterprise-grade features into software intended for small and medium sized businesses, affording accounting firms of all sizes the opportunity to compete with bigger players. This often takes one of two forms: an extension marketplace and a developer portal.
The ability to add extensions to accounting software ensures firms are always running at their fullest potential. A vendor’s marketplaces offer a wide range of options often influenced by the needs of their other customers, no matter how particular. This also ensures these additional solutions are based on real-world business cases rather than theoretical ones cooked up by developers with no accounting experience. Vendors who place a premium on customer satisfaction will often offer many of these extensions for free, or for only a nominal fee. In fact, some marketplaces allow for third party developers to upload their own solutions and collect 100% of the profits, opening an additional revenue stream.
For even further customization, accountants might consider a platform that includes a developer portal for building extensions themselves. It might sound like this option is only suited for hardcore programmers with a comprehensive technical background, but low code technology has become a staple of SaaS, and companies will find it put to good use within these portals. All employees at accounting firms, even those with a significant lack of technical know-how can complete extensions of their own to elevate the software they already run, offering the ability to tweak to a company’s exact specifications.
Software for All Seasons
The decision on small business software is not to be taken lightly. Choosing the right one is like hiring for manager-level positions within a company—employees will be working with the technology on an everyday basis for just about every task. It must support the work they are already doing and empower these same employees to easily go above-and-beyond. Clients will feel secure if their accounting firm is looking to the future; that’s where true success can be found, together.
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