Co-workers looking at tablet together The widespread acceptance of cloud-based services has opened up countless opportunities for CPAs to speed up their adoption of new technologies
(Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt)

There was a time when many technology tools were out of reach for small to medium-sized accounting practices. But the widespread acceptance of cloud-based services has opened countless opportunities for CPAs to accelerate adoption plans.

“Small to mid-sized practices can now leverage the cloud  to share data, collaborate, collect payments online, import hours from mobile apps and much more. It’s tough to imagine not operating that way nowadays,” says CPA Obed Maurice, a partner at Avail CPA, a virtual accounting firm in Lethbridge, Alta.

Here are some recent or enhanced offerings of tools that accountants can introduce to their practices to improve their services and bring new efficiencies.

TRANSACTION ANALYSIS

“This is a relatively new category for SMPs,” says CPA Chad Davis, co-founder at LiveCA LLP and co-host of AutomationTown Podcast. “Because these tools connect to accounting systems to identify trends, they can be super helpful. An analysis can pinpoint allocations, different name uses, or bills that should be there but aren’t within seconds versus hours.” A couple of options:

  • Keeper is a bookkeeping app that allows users to communicate with clients, catch coding errors, track key performance indicators (KPIs) and manage their month-end close. “You can look at all your client data to help you identify little variances that you might not see when looking at individual files,” explains Maurice.
  • Scrutinize is another tool that automates bookkeeping file reviews, allowing users to quickly analyze transaction volume and identify issues.

PASSWORD MANAGEMENT

“Accounting uses a ton of cloud-based applications,” says Maurice. “With that comes a ton of usernames and passwords. In some cases, you could have 50 to 100 different apps and logins. You need a way to track, secure and enforce them for individuals and for the entire team.”

Options include:

HELP DESK

Help desk tools are meant for managing customer inquiries and responses. “They allow you to standardize the support process. Inquiries from multiple sources need to be funneled to some type of support tool that can monitor and respond so you’re not having to rethink answers every time,” says Maurice.

Options include:

  • TeamworkDesk: a ticketing system designed to manage customer queries in one central location and automate repetitive functions.
  • Help Scout: a solution that allows users to manage all customer conversations on one platform.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT AND WORKFLOW

There are many project management and workflow solutions on the market that can oversee hundreds of different deadlines and projects. “Even an individual client might have up to 20 different deadlines that need to be managed and assigned,” says Maurice. “The choice comes down to personal preference and practice management.”

Options include:

  • Teamwork: a scalable and customizable project management tool that allows users to create tasks and projects, upload files and add comments. “For firms that have not yet invested in project management tools, I would recommend that they start with traditional systems like Teamwork,” says Davis.
  • Karbon: a system designed for accounting firms. One of its most effective features is its triage function for emails. Ease of use is another, says Maurice. “You can use it within half an hour of signing up.”
  • Financial Cents: an accounting project management tool that enables workflow automation, email management, status tracking, scheduling and document management. “It’s one solution that is gathering popularity with accounting coaches and consultants,” says Davis.
  • Ignition: an app that allows accountants to automate selling, billing and payments all in one place. “It can do everything from engagement letters to pricing, invoicing, billing and taking in payments,” says Davis.

AUTOMATION

“Automation tools allow apps to talk to each other,” says Maurice. “That’s where a lot of the value comes from. However, firms that are still struggling to adopt basic tools might take a bit of time to get to that level.”

“Automation is one of the newest technologies moving to mainstream because accessibility to data has increased tremendously,” adds Davis. “Users can connect all their apps together in simplistic and advanced ways to effectively remove or augment traditional manual processes that involve two or more applications.”

Options include:

  • Make.com: a solution that enables multiple apps and systems to build and automate processes in one visual platform. For example, Davis says his firm uses Make.com to fill out T2200 tax forms for employees. “It can take data from our HR and payroll systems and generate all of the T2200 pdfs and send them to 100 individual email addresses in less than five minutes.”
  • Zapier: a tool that can automate work across more than 5,000 apps.

Both Zapier and Make.com can use artificial intelligence on their data using the OpenAI module, says Davis.

REPORTING AND EMAIL MARKETING

“Financial reporting is one of most widely used of cloud accounting platforms. It doesn’t take long to get data in once you have established templates,” says Maurice.

Davis points to programs such as Reach Reporting and Fathom all-in-one reporting, analysis and forecasting software. “Reach is getting a lot of attention because it allows you to take data from any accounting system and augment that with your own sets of data and non-financial data to generate incredibly customized reports.”

Newer email programs allow accountants to go deeper and segment audiences to create customized newsletters and collect analytics. These include:

  • Beehiiv: a newer newsletter platform available for e flat-rate pricing. “Beehiiv is becoming more popular and allowing users to move off traditional tools such as Mailchimp,” says Davis.
  • ActiveCampaign: another cloud-based software platform for small to medium-sized businesses.

PAYMENTS

“Payment solutions are a foundational tool for creating and enhanced client experience,” says Maurice. “They’re not new, but they’re something that accounting firms need to get their act together on.”

Options include:

  • Rotessa: a Canadian product that takes care of the technology side of processing one-time or recurring direct debit payments. “You can connect to invoices via the application programming interface, or API. It’s a very inexpensive way to gather a lot of money,” says Davis.
  • ChargeOver: an intermediary tool that allows people to use credit card, direct debit or other types of payment for subscription and recurring billing. “You can actually use a tool like ChargeOver and run Rotessa on the back end. It’s all about flexibility,” says Davis.

GETTING STARTED

As Davis points out, some technologies (such as Make.com) have higher learning curves than others (such as Rotessa). Therefore, implementation is typically a function of the time you have available to dedicate to the project, your budget for outside resources and your ability to effectively manage change within the organization.

“One trick is to start small, find one manual process that can be fixed with one feature and master that,” he says. “Gaining buy-in via small increments is usually a more successful approach than massive implementations.”

When looking into technology options, Maurice advises following chats by experts online through platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. “The app developers themselves also spend a lot of time and money educating prospective customers,” he says.

No matter how many tools you introduce, however, it’s important to remember that you cannot solely rely on technology to create an enhanced client experience. As Davis puts it, “If you are not providing advisory and proactive professional services as well, you are not putting technology to its best use.”

STAY TECH SAVVY

Learn about apps that can transform your bookkeeping services. And check out CPA Canada’s data management foundations  and advanced data management certificates, as well as its audit data analytics guide  and other tech resources for CPAs.

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