Long gone are the times when clients mostly just expected their accountants to organize a collection of scattered paper documents into completed tax forms or financial statements. In fact, the proliferation of business software and self-help services have reduced much of that tedium but also turned some of these tasks into commodities. Clients expect more from their accounting firms, both in the quality and value of services. Accounting firms must do more to justify their billing rates over low-cost, self-service options on the market today.
To win and retain business in an extremely competitive market, accounting firms must offer clients an exceptional customer experience, provide value through operational efficiencies, and of course, safeguard their own and their clients’ reputations.
Here is the good news. With the right tools in place, these professional service providers will find meeting these goals easier than they might have thought. With a simple investment in better technology, these businesses can benefit by not only serving clients better but also by making their own work more profitable and less risky. With that in mind, consider the most critical improvements that modern accounting firms need to make to keep and attract more clients.
3 Improvements For 21st Century Accounting Firms To Win And Retain Clients
Look at three solutions for accounting firms who need to transform their business to meet the expectations of today’s clients and make their own businesses run better.
1. Provide An Exeptional Customer Experience
These days, successful accounting firms do not just look at new requests to handle accounting tasks as services. Instead, they view these events as a chance to build long-term and robust relationships. They want customers to see them as not just service providers but also as consultants. Some employees may fill out plenty of tax forms or financial reports. At the same time, accountants also provide input on how to manage various aspects of a business better.
Often, clients know they need certain services but may not know what else their CPA firm could do for them. For instance:
Clients might need tax forms completed. In the long run, almost all of them could use suggestions to help reduce their future tax obligations.
A customer might ask for financial information but may not think of all the ways they could use this data to inform their business decisions.
As noted in Accounting Today, providing the best customer experience can get complicated for accounting firms. It typically involves multiple touchpoints, tools, and processes. Today’s clients are not afraid to look for a new accounting firm when their old one can’t integrate with their accounting system, fails to keep them updated on project process, or simply takes too long to provide services.
While better information management can benefit almost any kind of business, it is particularly important for professional services and consulting firms that work with many diverse clients. The more clients a firm handle, the more important it becomes to manage information well. Still, it is putting the cart before the horse to commit heavy resources to win new clients before implementing efficient operational technology tools. Instead, intelligent information management will not only make it possible to serve customers better, but it also becomes a critical selling point.
How Intelligent Information Management Serves Customers
Helping a client make better financial decisions requires finding historical tax documents, current payroll obligations, and planned projects or purchases, for example. This typically results in a tiresome process involving the collation of information from various sources that may include several data repositories, cloud storage, and even file folders on a department’s server. Without the right integration, this will typically involve manual, time-consuming, error-prone, and tedious processes.
Even a firm that has already built a robust technology stack for services like taxes, auditing, and consulting will suffer from a disconnect with customers who want to work with them collaboratively or have immediate and remote access to the latest progress. The easy and efficient flow of information underpins the entire accounting firm operation and, thus, to meet client expectations, a firm must layer an intelligent information management solution onto their technology stack.
Customers certainly will not be pleased if they need to wait longer and, especially, pay more in billable hours for an accounting firm’s own inefficiencies with their data management. CPA firms can lose clients simply because their accounting systems are not compatible with the one the firm uses.
A flexible system like M-Files enables accounting firms to access information siloed in other systems — like ERP, CRM, firm management software — and a variety of diverse storage locations, besides having its own internal repository. Not only does this keep employees working with the same document through one interface, it can also provide clients with the ability to login to view or collaborate. Since logging into M-Files only requires the right credentials and not one location or even one kind of device, it’s a good solution to provide transparency, collaboration, and flexibility — the qualities modern accounting customers seek.
2. Improve Efficiency To Boost Productivity & Morale
The article in Accounting Web that quoted Nicholas Fedele discussed ways for accounting firms to justify technology investments to sustain growth. He continued his thought, stating that accountants should first ask if they can earn returns on their investment through improved efficiency and better data.
Also, it is no secret that accountants work lots of hours. According to a survey from the American Institute of CPAs, less than 6% of the profession reported working less than 40 hours a week. Almost 60% reported workweeks of at least 58 hours. In addition, an incredible 98% of them reported experiencing some stress and many said they worked harder than they had in the past.
In contrast, some professional services companies have focused on innovations that helped them do more in less time. Instead of scaling by adding more hours to a workday or adding more staff, they increased profits by figuring out how to improve efficiency and productivity while reducing expenses. In turn, their digital savvy, high revenues, and lack of reliance on grueling work schedules attracted top talent and better clients to their firm. These firms could earn more while working (and even charging) less.
How Document Management Systems Improve Productivity and Reduce Waste
An intelligent information management system like M-Files offers an accounting firm several features to improve productivity and reduce waste:
Rapid access to information: M-Files can integrate with other common software and types of data storage, plus it also has its own central repository that companies can choose to use. Either way, users can perform rapid searches to find the information they require across the entire information ecosystem. They do not need to waste time looking for various documents in multiple places.
Simple and efficient collaboration: M-Files also makes it simple to collaborate with management, team members, and even clients with built-in co-authoring and versioning features. Mangers and clients can use the same interface to find out what is getting done, who is doing it, and what is left to do.
AI-enabled editing features: Intelligent data entry, pre-filled forms, and other features reduce the chances of keying errors or even adding redundant data. It can even enforce adding the right metadata tags for faster searches. This reduces the time spent entering data and improves data quality. Business do not need to waste resources by storing and protecting data they cannot use. Just as important, they can use their information system to enforce their business processes and policies.
Built-in Automation: Automation not only helps enforce good business practices, but it also helps speed up workflow. For instance, the system will move a document along for approvals or edits to the next person in the chain and alert them to their new task. Meanwhile, M-Files keeps an audit trail and a complete history, so it is easy to backtrack in case of problems, questions, or logjams.
Flexible, remote access: Users can log in to M-Files from any internet-enabled device they care to use. That means authorized users also have remote access to their information from the desktop inside a headquarters building, a laptop in a client’s office, or a cell phone at home. By setting security roles, accounting firms can also please their clients by allowing them to login and view or collaborate on relevant documents.
Smart, sophisticated security: M-Files also makes it simple to set sophisticated security rules to give different roles the kind of access that they require to each document or type of document. The right people can view or edit information, but the wrong people will not even see that those documents exist. If a person leaves or starts a job or government regulations change who can work with the data, it is also easy to remove or change access.
M-Files adds to accounting firms’ client experience by offering them a more transparent and collaborative view of their project. When accounting firms can work more productively, they can also offer better value to their customers without having to work more hours. The automation, collaboration, editing, versioning, and security features also remove a lot of drudgery from common tasks, giving employees more time to focus on important jobs.
Of course, while smart document management improves the customer experience, it will also help employees. Without having to spend so much time on boring tasks or simply tracking people or information down, they can focus more on the sort of work that will grow the firm and their career. Today’s talent expects a modern, efficient workplace, and being able to show off intelligent document management to prospects is one good way to attract the best people.
M-Files Can Even Handle Training, Updates & Communication
For another benefit, consider the concerns of clients regarding regulatory compliance and the competence of the accounting professionals they might trust to guide them. If a business needs to train or advise employees and clients about a rule change, they do not have to rely on email, hoping everybody reads it.
Instead, they can use M-Files to alert employees to the existence of new guidance or training and track who has attended to this task and who has not. It does not just make training and communication more effective. The system also provides clear and trackable documentation that the firm followed procedures and best practices.
3. Increase Security To Safeguard Assets & Reputation
According to the Connecticut Society of CPAs, or CTCPAS, accounting and finance firms have plenty of reasons to make security a top concern:
- Over 4,000 data breaches have exposed over four billion records
- Over 50% of these beaches stemmed from outside hacking, but still, a significant amount started on the inside
- More than nine out of ten of these events stemmed from electronic and not physical theft
If security problems happen because of intentional crimes or human errors, they can leave both accounting firms and their clients open to litigation and compliance penalties. Not only can a security problem leave accounting firms vulnerable to lawsuits and regulatory compliance problems, but it may also do just as much damage to their reputation as news of the problems becomes public.
Even more, if firms do not provide employees with the flexible solutions, they need to manage data, they have found that their employees and departments will increasingly take it upon themselves to find ad-hoc solutions that the IT department doesn’t even know about and that probably wouldn’t meet security standards if they did.
Even now, it is not uncommon for employees to email spreadsheets back and forth or share them through public cloud storage. Not only can this create a nightmare for controlling versions and collating the most updated information, but it also leaves a huge hole in even the best security systems. The right document management software eliminates the need for these kinds of workarounds, so firms will not have to worry about files getting lost or stolen because they resided on an employee’s hacked or damaged cell phone.
Consider just a few ways that M-Files security can help businesses meet the challenge of securing information in a dangerous and rapidly changing environment:
With M-Files, users can manage information with on-premises storage or in the cloud, so it’s possible to meet regulatory or governance standards for different projects and organizations. The software can integrate with other systems and storage mediums or utilize its own repository.
Robust permission features allow administrators to set permissions at the group, role, or user level and even by metadata properties. There is no need to write scripts to create sophisticated security rules. It’s also easy to change permissions in case of future changes.
Encryption and security can meet the standards of any organization. Besides protecting information, this makes it easy to enforce and implement either business governance rules or legal privacy regulations.
M-Files also keeps an audit trail of activity on each document that makes it easy to track history, and various versions. If any questions arise about any activity, M-Files will have the answers.
Employees can access the features that they need to find, manage, and collaborate. That removes any incentive for them to violate company policies and find off-the-shelf solutions that may not meet standards.
M-Files also offers multiple disaster recovery features and rollbacks, and it prevents standard users from permanently deleting files.
M-Files does not just provide flexible, remote access. The system also makes it easy to set and maintain security rules that will ensure every user only has the kinds of access that they need. As a certified ISO 27001 provider, M-Files meets international standards for protecting sensitive data. Audit trails, version tracking, and other loss-prevention features also keep information secure against either intentional or accidental misuse of data. Because M-Files offers features that existing technology lacks, employees will not feel motivated to turn to less-secure, unapproved tools to work productively.
Having a secure, robust system like M-Files in place offers accounting firms a major selling feature when speaking with new clients, particularly those with sensitive, private, or even competitive information to protect. When issues, questions, or even errors do occur, the system’s internal tracking will solve any mysteries. And if the CPA firm ever gets audited or investigated, they can easily demonstrate the auditing and security features of the system that they invested in to show compliance.
Why Haven’t All Accounting Firms Upgraded Their Information Management?
Some accounting and other professional services firms might still struggle with justifying a new investment in technology. As described, an investment in an intelligent information management platform like M-Files can easily pay for itself if it offered just one of these benefits. In fact, research shows that, over a five-year period, investment in a document management system results in a 404% return on investment.
To help make the case for M-Files, this is a quick summary of all the benefits this advanced information system offers:
Competitive advantages to attract and keep clients: As Fedele mentioned in Accounting Web, an accounting firm’s ability to provide clients with better insights, additional transparency, and more collaboration will set them apart from services that only provide journal entries and completed forms. As all kinds of businesses experience their own digital transformations, they will want to hire professional consultants with tech at least as good as theirs. When courting new business, having AI-enabled, secure, and efficient systems like M-Files can become a sales point.
Efficient business processes & workflows add a competitive advantage to attract and retain talent: Efficient business processes and workflows add a competitive advantage to attract and retain talent: Besides offering their customers a better value, accounting firms will also enjoy such efficiencies as fast, AI-enabled editing and document searches. Employees will not need to spend as much time on boring and error-prone tasks, so they are free to focus on important aspects of their job. All accountants can see the value in getting more and better work done in less time. Instead of having to collate information from multiple sources, employees can see everything they need in context and in one place.
Improved customer experience: Today’s customers often want to work collaboratively. Clients want transparent access to their information and progress on projects. M-Files has features that will let them see their documents, work with their accountant, and know the status at each stage of the project. Accounting firms can also offer high-quality data to power better insights. Firms also won’t be limited by the kinds of niche accounting or information systems or various storage mediums that either they or their clients already have in place because M-Files can interface with them.
Remote and flexible access: Today’s employees want and need to work from anywhere and from all different kinds of devices. A manager in the headquarters building can work with an employee or customer on a client’s worksite, in an airport lounge, or even at home. M-Files tech will empower a remote or in-house workforce.
Robust, flexible security: If improving efficiency and offering customers a better experience was not enough to justify an investment in intelligent document management, having certified security and simple, powerful security roles should nail the discussion. Breaches can result in litigation, recovery expenses, and worst of all, almost irreparable reputation damage. Neither accounting firms nor their customers can afford security breaches, and administrators will also enjoy the ease of use of M-Files’ security features.
Ease of installation: Because M-Files can interface with many different systems and file storage sources, it is easy to get started. Many customers have called switching to M-Files the easiest transition to new tech they ever experienced. While some companies have spent time exploring the product’s features to enjoy even better benefits over time, a firm can get this new system up and running fast.
Learn How M-Files Offers Accounting Firms All The Benefits They Need To Compete
Are you ready to arm your accounting firm with the sort of 21st century tech that can help you retain clients and win new ones?
Contact us right away to have your questions answered and request a guided demo or free trial.