How do you transform your firm’s accounts production workflow so that you free up people's time whilst simultaneously building stronger, more meaningful, more valuable relationships with your clients?
In this Humanise The Numbers podcast with Vipul Sheth of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing, you'll hear Vipul share insights from the many dozens of firms with which he and his team work, specifically around the magic of one or two profound shifts, or profound little changes, in the way you look at and tackle production workflow, so that you and your firm can free up time for your people and still build stronger relationships with your clients.
I hope you'll enjoy the discussion I had with Vipul as much as I did, and I truly hope that you take on board the messages that he shares. I'm convinced, and I know because of the experience I have with other firms, that what he's talking about makes absolute sense and will deliver the results that you want for yourself and for your firm.
I think part of the problem is we're too nice as a profession.
We are. We're really nice people, in the main, and I think as a result, we're kind of ‘oh, well, you know, the client's happy, I want to keep the client happy’.
But actually sometimes, and I've seen this, and had conversations with many firms about this, where they’ve said, 'when the client has listened to us, they just said: "why didn't you tell us this earlier?"'
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Full Podcast on Workflow - TRANSCRIPT - unedited
Paul Shrimpling: [00:00:00] Welcome to the humanized, the numbers podcast, series leaders, managers, and owners of ambitious accounting firms, sharing insights, successes, and. That will challenge you and connect you and your firm to the ways and means of transforming you'll
Vipul Sheth: firms results. But I think parts of the problem is we're too nice as a profession.
We are, we're really nice people in the main, and I think as a result, we're kind of, oh, well, you know, the client's happy. I want to keep the client happy. And actually sometimes and I've seen this and had conversations with many firms where they. When the client has listened to us, they just said, why didn't you tell us this earlier?
Paul Shrimpling: How do you in your firm profoundly changed, profoundly improve the production workflow results across your firm so that your team have [00:01:00] freed up. They have more time on their hands to do more work, but also. You build stronger, better, deeper connections, deeper relationships with your clients so that you get a better return on investment from everything the firm does.
I know it sounds profound, but join me on this podcast discussion now with DePaul chef, and you'll hear Paul in a relatively brief podcast share some really powerful insights. Let's go to that pocket.
Vipul Sheth: Hi. Thank you for asking me to join you today, Paul. I'm, the poor chef. I I'm the MD and founder of advanced track.
But by background, I'm a chartered accountant. I trained in a full partner practice in Worcester which gave me a really good grounding. And hopefully I became a half decent accountant at that point. Before I went on to work in tax for Ernst and young and KPI. And I guess way back in 2003, I kind of decided that practice wasn't for me.
Well, it is in the sense of what we do in [00:02:00] terms of what we help people do. But it was really for me for a much bigger picture to help accountants transform their relationships with the firms that they work with. And I see. The opportunity of seeing lots of talented accountants in India and really using technology to help harness those skills for accounting firms here.
And whilst we started with five people, we now have many hundreds of staff working, delivering for accounting firms across the UK, Ireland and Australia. So that's kind of where we are.
Paul Shrimpling: Brilliant to kickstart that, but what, how would you interpret the phrase, humanized the numbers from a production workflow?
Get the work out the door perspective.
Vipul Sheth: I think the challenge for every firm is we are a technical profession and I'm sorry. [00:03:00] The natural inclination for a number of people who enter the profession is this is what I do, that what I do is technical work. So, and I think there's huge value in those people.
I employ quite a number of them. But I think within an within a firm it's then using those people to support the wider. With the skills that they have one to produce the work. But I think increasingly it's about their ability to interpret that information in a way that their colleagues can use more effectively.
So I think it's about identifying them and it's something the big firms started to do 20 odd years ago where they said, oh, You're more of a compliance type person. You're more of an advisory type person. And, and that was done [00:04:00] over probably I'm thinking back to my KPMG days about a 12, 18 month period where firms identified the people that were within the business and, and said, you're this you're that?
And I think it's important that today. If firms haven't identified those individuals that they, they do. So because it will then make it a lot easier to see what production capacity an individual firm then has and actually what advisory capacity a firm might have. And I think it's important that then you you're then able to say right now, I understand that we can produce.
300 sets of accounts, 500 sets of accounts, a thousand sets of accounts. And, and then do you have the, the other group members and that will include partners who are then able to do the, the [00:05:00] conversation piece with clients and, and then you kind of say, right, have I got the right balance? And then do I need additional reserves?
And if I do need additional resource, do I have it? In-house do I not have it in house? Yeah. Yeah.
Paul Shrimpling: Interesting. You've you've made me think now because I've had too many conversations with the owners, leaders, management teams of accounting firms about, well, what do you think your capacity is for a set of accounts?
But I've not often enough. I have asked it, but not often enough. Have I asked the question? So what she capacity for performing, delivering advisory work at interpretations, use your word interpretation work. Yeah with your clients. And it, it's an easy one to answer from an annual perspective, isn't it?
But when we moved towards making tax digital, then that perspective looks completely different.
Vipul Sheth: Very much so. Very much so. And and as I said you know, I, I'm also of the view which sounds counter-intuitive, but technology is a great enabler in, in [00:06:00] increasing the. Of any practice because if you can collect the data faster and you can use the technology to, to read that data and start to put it in the right place you can then suddenly raise the number of files or clients that you're then able to serve.
And and I think that that's the, that's the piece where. Firms perhaps need to be stronger with their clients as good as because
Paul Shrimpling: the technology exists. Doesn't it, all that technology actually exists now for, for firms to radically improve their capacity, but it's not being used in any. Anyway, I like the volume.
It should be across enough clients. And th th the pushback I get on that is, well, partly because they can't get the team to adopt it, or the pushback is they can't get the clients to adopt it. Is that
Vipul Sheth: does that. I was going to say exactly that. And I, but I think part of the problem is we're too nice as a profession.
We are, [00:07:00] we're really nice people in the main, and I think as a result, we're kind of, oh, well, you know, the clients happy. I want to keep the client happy and actually sometimes and I've seen this I had conversations with many firms where they said, when the client has listened to us, they just said, why didn't you tell us this earlier?
And that's just because, you know, there may be somebody within their business who is. Perhaps the blocker, the business owner doesn't want to challenge their bookkeeper or their finance person. Who's got comfortable using whatever piece of software they've been able to use for the last 10, 15, 20 years.
Yeah. And whereas actually the business owner. Has actually seen more information more regularly, which perhaps was [00:08:00] in the domain of that finance person, shall we say? And the other side of it also is in many small businesses, it's the partner of the business owner, or even the business owner gives up their Sunday.
To do those financials. And what they don't understand is the personal costs that comes with it that they're giving up their time. But the other challenge often for the accountant is it's almost they need to be a diplomat in terms of telling the client actually, you know, your partner does the books.
They're actually not very good. And we end up spending a day. Sorting it out and you don't see that part. Whereas actually, if we, we put these processes in place then we'd be much more able to support you and you won't get any shocks. [00:09:00] The number of times when I used to do. Management accounts. And when I used to do accounts I'm going back a long time in history.
Paul here. It's still a century though, isn't it? Yeah, it's just about but and, and then clients said, oh, I thought I made this much money. And then it's like, no, you didn't, what do you mean? I didn't make that much. Well, the accountant didn't put through last year's adjustments and until we came to do the accounts, and we've now found that as a result, the management accounts that you were looking at were actually wrong.
And, and it's those sorts of things that actually caused the issue. Whereas if the, they use the technology, the accountant would have been aware of these issues. Quicker. Yeah. And as a result, we would have been able to address it. The client gets no surprises and they wouldn't have gone and bought that land Rover or whatever it was.
They went and bought. And I think sometimes that that's where the [00:10:00] challenges come that. Well, let, let me, you've used the
Paul Shrimpling: word challenge a number of times there. And I just want to share with you just done a little bit of research into how do you communicate a higher, greater value when you're in a conversation with a business owner.
Yeah of the firm. Cause we're always looking for the, the, the nuances that enable a stronger, better, more meaningful conversation. And the, the research that we've dug up and I've, I've put it into a a business breakthrough report, which we'll make available in the show notes of this podcast.
And it's about how do you, how do you turn the value dialogue in the eyes, hearts, minds of the client and essentially the research points to the fact that you need to challenge the course. With some new information that moves them or makes them think that they need to move away from their status quo bias.
So we all want to stay doing what we've always done, where the human brain is hardwired habitually to continue doing what's already. And you'll only get, or you're more likely to get someone to [00:11:00] shift if their status quo is challenged in order to challenge the status quo, you've got to share with them new information or new processes that show them that actually they're going to be redundant or that by redundant, I mean, you know, their current methodology is going to undermine their future.
Yeah. And so you take them to a place of pain before you then go look, but there is a solution which is a bit a process of you better use of technology. So because you're exposed to so many firms across the UK, Australia, America, and so on, what, what distinguishes the firms that are brilliant at implementing the better use of process and technology from the.
Vipul Sheth: So I'll give you an example of a firm that all their year end clients. So including those that they do the bookkeep, those that they do, the bookkeeping and management accounts for get these reports anyway. Right. But, but what they do for their urine clients is they run [00:12:00] the they put all their accounts production through a particular piece of.
Hmm, even though it might've been in a desktop and they run it through the cloud software and then they deliver the report. So when they have the meeting then with the client, they don't just give them the statutory accounts. Yeah. They then give them a piece of report from, and there are so many out there I don't want to, I don't want to kind of say it's this one.
It's that one, but they run it through one of the reporting software products. So say, yeah, say actually here's some additional insight into your business. Number one. Secondly, what they also do is they run the account software through. A product that says how good or bad the bookkeeping is because and it's a lot easier and less emotional when it's like a report not done by [00:13:00] a human.
Yeah. But it says, you know, the computer says, yeah, your quality score is 60% or your quality score is 95%. And so, oh, what can I do to change that, that conversation becomes easier. Number one, but number two is. This is what you could have had almost. And I think by presenting that information in that new format, which gives them business KPIs rather than financial alone, because historically they've almost been one dimensional.
All they look at is what their was, their turnover. What was their gross profit? What was their net profit. Yeah. Whereas actually if you're a, an ice-cream. Yeah. What measures do you have? Yeah, average sale. When were you quiet? When were you busy? Yeah. Top 10 profit. The client. Yeah. Yeah. You know which sites, you know, you know, the park down the road or, you know, the, the theme [00:14:00] park, whatever it is.
Yeah. Yeah. It's actually presenting them with some additional information that enables them to run their businesses.
Paul Shrimpling: So when you're doing that, DePaul is just a cut across your slightly, sorry. But what you're doing there is actually adding an extra piece of work into the workflow of a verb. And actually lots of firms are going well.
I haven't got time to do the workflow that we're doing.
Vipul Sheth: But that that's true, but what they've done is they've standardized their workflow. So it goes through it and because the technology is there to take that information. It doesn't add a huge amount of time, but because the value that is then there in the meeting, you get it back.
You know, I, I can't remember a time where I've been, you know, when I've been on the practice side of things where I've sat in front of a client where I've not earned that extra time back, [00:15:00] because when you show a client. In and they understand their business. And when you present that in a slightly different way, they can engage with that.
So, oh, actually I didn't think about that. You know, I didn't think about, well, that store was less profitable, you know, I just thought, oh yeah, that's doing X million pounds or whatever it must be doing well. Yeah. And I think sometimes people forget that a an accountant can actually drill down. Into that information and present it in a, in a different way.
And we are dispassionate, but we're actually really good when separating out that information in a way that we, it helps us understand that. So we can present it better. Yeah. Yeah.
Paul Shrimpling: So w w what I'm loving about this conversation for people was all of a sudden, instead of workflow, you know, we look at the accounts, production workflow as a get information off client, that bookkeeping [00:16:00] information that enables us to then generate a set of annual accounts.
Or quarterly accounts, but what you're saying is, and then, and then generate a draft set of accounts in present to client that's workflow. But what you're now saying is no, no, no, no. What we need to do, what the best firms are doing is looking at workflow in terms of smoothing the front end in terms of bookkeeping using the technology so that we've got highest standard of records on them.
And I think it's gotta be every day or every week. Yeah, that they're up to date. My experience shows that the best firms are doing it that way which makes the account's production easier and faster, less pickup put down. And then the time that that then frees up, enables you to then port another piece of technology, which goes, look, here's some non P and L and balance sheet numbers that you really should be considering.
That's a, of. Production workflow, not the narrower version. And then all of a sudden you've got a value added for that's a shame I called business intelligence. Have I understood you?
Vipul Sheth: Right. That that's absolutely right. And, and what you then, as a result are able to do [00:17:00] is talk to a client one more regularly and you ultimately upsell them to a much better.
Solution for them as a business, because if they are more profitable, if they are more successful they will, the, the business owners are more likely to attain whatever personal goals that they have for themselves and the key stakeholders, whether that's family, employees, et cetera. Yeah. Yeah.
Paul Shrimpling: The if you've come across the theory of constraints, it's the management of bottleneck.
But it's also got a quality aspect to it. When you look at, if you Google theory of constraints, you'll all sorts comes up. One of the greatest books of all time written on that's called the goal by Elijah gold rap brilliant piece. It is. And then he's got another one called the critical chain, which is probably more relevant to the way an accounting firm works or B it's actually a.
Software company. But why is this relevant? Well, it's relevant because one of the questions it poses [00:18:00] who decides on the quality of the work you do, there's only one answer to that question, which is the client, doesn't it. So the client decides on the quality. And so you have to design your workflow. To reflect the quality that the client's looking for.
And if your perception is the client's looking for a P and L and balance sheet, that's what you're gonna produce. And you manage all your constraints in order to do that. And if they want it once a year, you'll create a business model that delivers it once a year. Yeah. Or do you want to design it so that actually it delivers higher value, more intimate numbers about other things in the business that doesn't show up on the P and L about.
And if you see your firm as a business intelligence firm, rather than their CAPSI firm, all of a sudden you're going to design your business model and your work flow
Vipul Sheth: differently completely. And as I say that the firms that just do the annual accounts, they still give this report because it gives an insight as to what the firm is capable of delivering for them more regularly, [00:19:00] regularly.
And that is the key point. And they're here and you say. You've given me this. Oh, if I had this every month or once a quarter, it depends on the business. You can get me wrong, some businesses. You're very seasonal. And if you miss a season yeah. You're, you're done. Done. Yeah, you're done. You know, it's really hard.
You know, I grew up in the rec trade and my dad always said to me, if you have one bad season, it takes you three to recover from it. And that's, that's tough. Yeah. Get close to them. But that's the point. Yeah. So what you need is that information at the right time, that helps you make the right decision.
Paul Shrimpling: the what, what, what is so smart about that is very few people buy a car without taking it for a test. And so what this, what these firms are doing that you've just described are once a year, they give all their business owners a test drive of something they could have on a regular basis. Yeah.
And that [00:20:00] came up in a conversation this week with a client, with a group of managers I was working with and they were going well, you know, we can't persuade the client to take quarterly management accounts, even though we, even though we know that's in their best interests, but they don't see the value.
And I said, well, you're responsible for. Showing them or delivering or demonstrating, that's the value. It's not their fault. It's yours and you don't know. Yeah. But how do we do it? I said, well, just give them a test drive and that annual piece, but the annual piece is connected with workflow because you design your model, your workflow model to yes.
From bookkeeping to business intelligence report of which part of that is the P and L and balance sheet and tax
Vipul Sheth: calculation. Yeah. But, but that's a given that's what every business owner.
Paul Shrimpling: Yes, but not every accountant is delivering the business intelligence. They're just delivering a set of annual accounts sometimes several months after the year end date, which is now using their own ornament.
It's sorry. It does have value, but not, not as much as if it's timely, [00:21:00] which again is another theory of constraints issue. I get my accounts about 10, 14 days after my year. But now it's relevant to me. I can see exactly what we've done. We, you know, we factor the insights into the, the year going forward.
So in summary, they pull, they we've got best use of technology. That exists now. It's not like we have to reinvent that wheel. Oh, it's all out. And do,
A, a broader look at workflow. It's not just a narrow look in terms of produce a set of annual accounts. It's look at it broader back to bookkeeping, you know, popular man, back to bookkeeper.
And then forward into that business intelligence space and see workflow as a a longer piece. But still I come back to you with firms are struggling for time, they're struggling for resource. How, how do they actually, you know, take time out to investigate and start to implement the technology?
Where does that come from?
Vipul Sheth: But I mean, obviously I do what I do and we certainly help [00:22:00] firms solve some of those. Yeah. I say it's never one item. One thing is not a silver bullet. Yeah. It's you genuinely need to look at what you do as a firm, how you're organized. And what I'd also say. And I say this many, many times to people, I trained in a firm with four partners, there are at least four ways of producing.
I never understood that when I was 22, 23, I actually don't understand it today, doing what I do. And to give you an example top firm they had four offices at the time. They've got a couple more now and that when they came to us I said, so how many. Ways do you have to produce your files at present?
And they said, well, we have four offices, so there's at least four, four ways. And so, but then that set them on a path where we said, look for it to work for us. We need to know when we get your [00:23:00] files, there is a way, one single way of producing. Because otherwise we need to work out, oh, this came from that office.
Yeah. So they want it this way and this other office wants it this way. And, but the guys, all they know is, oh, it's the same name. So which one is it? And when you're in the environment. So I give myself as when I was at 22, 23 year old kid Oh, I know it's this manager and it's this partner. So I know I have to produce it in there a way, but my guys wouldn't know.
Yeah. That it's that manager and it requires that that slightly different way. And it actually that process that they undertook has been the basis for a very successful implementation. What we do for them. But more importantly, as a firm, there are a lot more [00:24:00] efficient in the way that they deliver. And the biggest thing that they've actually been able to do as a result is they're able to share staff across offices a lot more easily brilliant, because you know, they don't have to think, oh Alice needs to go and work on this client.
It doesn't, she. It's not her office. Yeah. But she can go and work in that, on that client because everyone knows what's expected. And as a result, the clients get consistent service. The team knows what they're doing, the firms more profitable and they, it, everyone wins. It
Paul Shrimpling: just washes out a whole. Pickup put down question mark queries delays that ultimately smooths out the flow of workflow, which means that you get more jobs from a particular group of people than you otherwise would have done where they're trying to juggle four different styles of doing a file and just as bonkers, isn't it.
So that consistency pays. It's a brilliant, [00:25:00] brilliant DePaul. So if there's the two massive takeaways that I'm seeing, there is a workflow. Look at it in a. You know, get back into making the bookkeeping better and go forward into the business intelligence and even a step further, see workflow is regular client interaction using the workflow.
And then if you've got four systems for generating that workflow, trim it down to one and you'll have a much more effective accountancy
Vipul Sheth: firm. Yeah, totally, totally. And the truth is we're going to have to do. In the next sort of couple of years, that the time to experiment. Is now isn't it
Paul Shrimpling: brilliant. It is visual.
Isn't it? We've got making tax digital for corporation tax coming. So instead of doing annual accounts for everyone, we're gonna have to do quarterly accounts for everyone. So we better get our acts together. Now it's my, I'm getting loads of sticky LinkedIn at the minute about you're looking too far ahead, Paul and going.
No, I'm not. If you've got 500 clients, you've got to get to. Quarterly MTD [00:26:00] Corptax and we've got 16 or 20 quarters till that happens. Take the 20 cost of the math's easier. So divide 500 by 20. And that's the number of clients you've got to shift every quarter. Yeah over to this. You've got to start. Yeah, I agree.
That's been amazing. Really clear and I really appreciate you taking time out and investing your insight for the people listening to this podcast. Really
Vipul Sheth: appreciate it. That's brilliant. Thank you very much for marvelous.
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Vipul Sheth: I said, one of our values is be better than yesterday and looking to continually improve.
And I think that's why we mostly ask certain questions of clients because we want to win. We want to improve to be able to service our clients better, to provide a better experience for them. Because I think the one thing that I think we're all seeing. Our profession. And I think in the world in general, it's about a [00:28:00] customer experience.
It's about a client experience and what can we do to make that? Yes, obviously, as I keep saying, the deliverable is to make sure we get the taxes. Right. But how do you make that a pleasurable experience?
What does HTN mean around Workflow?
How to better implement technology
Consolidate your processes
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Resources relating to this podcast:
Vipul and Paul talk about the need to challenge your client with new information, that moves them, or makes them think they need to move away from their current status quo bias.
Because your clients are human there is a tendancy to want to do what they have always done, humans are creatures of habit, but people are more likely to change if you challenge their status quo.
When you share new information, technology or processes, that shows your clients that their current methods undermine their future success, they are more likely to change.
Click the button to read the Business Breakthrough report on Client Value and discover how to tackle the status quo bias that exists in your clients business.