All aboard: How to bring clients on the digital transformation journey

All aboard: How to bring clients on the digital transformation journey

Why is it important for accountants to secure client buy-in when they move to more automated ways of working?

Digital transformation is taking the accountancy sector by storm. For several start-ups, it is the only way to work, while for others, implementation is either well underway or is their main short-term goal.

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, cloud-based software and a raft of new tools are now readily available, making work more productive and efficient. 

There are also numerous advantages for clients such as better expense management, automated bookkeeping and immediate insight into how their business is performing.

But are clients ready for this revolution? 

Digitisation can also be a difficult issue for accountants from a communication standpoint. How should they ask clients to submit their records more frequently and install software to enable this? What is the best way to explain the benefits of digital transformation, or will they need to part ways with those unwilling to change?

Katie Hawking has first-hand experience of digital transformation when she worked as an accountant and was tasked with overseeing this work within her firm. Now, as global head for practice solutions at cloud accounting tools provider Dext, she talks regularly to accountants about the client journey.

Ready for digitisation?

“If you’re a digital start-up you can make it clear to clients that this is the way you work. But, for established firms, you will have long-standing relationships and you may not want to ask them to leave,” she says. 

In such cases, Hawking says it makes sense to meet clients in their “comfort zone”. She explains that if the client still wants to bring in paper records, then you can use a product like Dext to extract the data. 

“Over time, you can suggest bringing in data more regularly and scanning it – many clients will catch on to the benefits. Dext Precision, for example, gives you regular information on transaction and turnover levels and how the business is doing on a day-to-day basis,” she says. 

Clear communication is also essential and means explaining to clients how working digitally will produce better results. Improved analysis, more timely reports, greater accuracy, security, and compliance, all leading to better insights and decision-making.

Pricing needs to be right

But it is not just the benefits of digitalisation that need to be communicated to clients clearly; pricing issues are also a risk

There is a perception that automation may mean lower costs. However, the reality is the value of work tends to increase since it can become more complex and there is no need for manual processing. 

“The client gains extra insight […] better analysis can provide some easy wins to show the power of digitisation and you do not have to lose the personal touch,” Hawking explains. 

For example, if a client undergoes a period of significant turnover, accountants have the ability to get in touch, congratulate them, and also explain how this impacts their pricing given the additional insight they will be able to glean from their data. 

“Too often, accountants simply take a client on and continue to charge the same even if there is growth, simply adding around 3% yearly for inflation. It’s not accurate and an outdated way of working,” Hawking says. 

She adds billing promptly is also a wise policy. “You should charge a client while they remember the work and not months later.”

Securing engagement

Once a client sees how digitisation brings advantages, they are likely to be more than willing to use the technology, whether on desktops or phones, such as for easy receipt capture and automated data entry, for example. 

This can be further enhanced when the accountant explains there is training and support available to ensure a smooth transition.

Hawking says training should largely be supplied by the software provider along with ongoing support. But, she advises that accountants may well be contacted by the client if there are problems. 

“It needs to be proportionate –  you’ve recommended the software, and so the client may see you as the first port of call if they’ve made an error, for example,” she says. 

“There’s nothing wrong with speaking for five minutes, but you need to manage this. Fortunately, a good system will be easy to use and once up to speed, clients won’t look back.”

In some cases, technology will be provided free of charge since it benefits both parties. Hawking also notes there will be instances when the accountant will take on a bigger role, advising on the removal of an existing system and replacing it with one that is integrated, such as with integrated tools, cashflow reporting apps and cloud migration.

In such cases, a charge will be paid, and this can provide the accountant with an extra income stream.

Clients can also be encouraged to switch to digital through incentives. “You might do this by offering additional services, such as extra business insights or perhaps discounts if they provide records earlier,” Hawking says. 

“But, these may not be necessary – it’s about leading by example and showing digital is just a much better way of working.”

In with the new

As working digitally expands, some accountants may increasingly pick and choose clients. This will depend on their level of digital maturity. 

“I don’t support the view that older clients tend to avoid going digital. I’ve seen many cases where they’ve adapted quickly,” Hawking says, but acknowledges there will always be some clients who refuse to transition. 

“If the accountant chooses to become fully digital, then they may want to part company and pass on the client to another accountant who is not focused on digital transformation.”

She adds there has been a growing trend for accountants to work with other firms in the local community. 

Hawking concludes that digital is not just for those who are focused on a growth trajectory. 

“The key benefit is an increase in capacity and that extra time is for accountants to use as they wish, whether they are passionate about expanding the business or simply to enjoy a better work-life balance,” she says. 

 

Are you ready to take your digital accounting skills to the next level?  If you’re someone who is always looking to maximise efficiency and take your firm’s digital transformation to the next level, then Dext’s new guide would be a useful resource for you.

 Download Dext’s latest guide, ‘Beyond the Basics: A Guide to Unlocking the Full Potential of Digital Transformation in Accounting Firms’ is free to download here.

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