There's a huge choice of business software tools available for your clients – and smart automation is becoming a key part of the feature set for many of these apps. But are your clients making the most of these new automation and smart AI-driven features?

Business owners now expect their accounting partners to have sharper tech skills. They want recommendations from you on the best business apps, financial management solutions and fintech software. But which apps should you be recommending to your clients? And where do they add the most value?

We caught up with Mitch Hahn, CEO at Nordens Chartered Accountants and Mark Storey, partner at BHP LLP accountants, to find out how apps and automation are helping their clients.

Key areas where automation can add value

Using automation to save time and effort is one of the key secrets of a successful digital transformation process. The average micro-business spends 15 hours per week on financial admin tasks, according to a recent report by Starling Bank. If you can help clients use technology and automation to reduce that admin workload, you’re onto a winner.

So, what are the key business areas where automation has helped clients make these kinds of efficiencies? We asked Norden’s Mitch Hahn and BHP’s Mark Storey where automation has proved most valuable when working with clients.

“Book-keeping processes can be improved very easily by making use of all the features available within cloud accounting software,” says Mark. “Direct bank feeds save time when manually inputting transactions. Data is stored securely and can be accessed and updated from any device, anywhere for a paperless record solution. And there are over one thousand apps which integrate with cloud accounting software to assist with all business areas, from stock control to people management.”

When it comes to record keeping and electronic storage, Mitch agrees that “automating digital paperwork and confirmation statements makes it so much easier for both clients and for accountants. Our internal communication has also greatly benefitted through Microsoft Teams, Monday and Typeform whilst our forecasting for clients has improved with management pack reports allowing scenario planning and getting a detailed grasp of financials.”

The best apps to suggest to clients

Once you’ve identified the most valuable areas to automate, you then move on to choosing the best apps for the job. In a crowded app market, being able to narrow down the choices for clients is extremely useful. So, which apps and solutions do Mitch and Mark suggest to clients when streamlined automation is a key goal?

“We’re Xero partners,” Mitch explains. “So we always recommend Xero as a must-have for invoicing and bank feeds. Dext is a great piece of software for uploading receipts, while also being able to automatically forward receipts from suppliers through emails seamlessly. For e-commerce businesses, A2X has shown to be highly efficient as it consolidates all your selling platforms into one place, enabling you to keep track of sales easily.”

Mark also recommends Dext, saying “it helps our client's process purchase invoices more efficiently by automatically reading data and storing digital copies within the accounting software. Chaser has been valuable to clients for credit control automation, enabling faster debt collection and saving admin time. ApprovalMax has helped clients streamline their purchase order and invoice approval processes, especially when working remotely.”

Automating your own practice systems

Automation isn’t just useful for your clients, of course. Running an integrated digital practice is a key goal for any ambitious accounting firm in 2021, and automating your practice processes will be critical. But which areas of practice management should you be automating?

“Over the last 18 months, BHP has taken on many projects to increase automation across the practice as a whole,” Mark told us. “We’ve recently automated our document signing procedures, how we prepare client proposals and, to some extent, our working papers for our year-end and management accounts clients.”

“Our internal processes have seen huge growth since we started to mass automate our processes,” Mitch describes. “We aimed to set up all of our clients on Xero, even non-VAT and non-bookkeeping ones. This means once the year ends, it makes all information so accessible, so we don’t need to pester and chase. As well as this, our dedicated client contact plan allows our clients to book into their accountant’s calendar automatically, providing the impetus for efficient communication.”

Becoming more efficient as a practice

Saving time and improving efficiency are key elements when scaling up and growing any accountancy practice. And automation has the potential to not only improve your efficiency but to allow for a greater volume of clients. So, how has automation helped our accounting partners become more productive?

Mitch says that their chasing of clients has been automated with relevant messaging related to how urgently they require information. “This has been warmly received and has resulted in clients sending over the information more promptly than before, saving us time when deadlines hit,” he explains. “Our internal workflow has also become streamlined through Monday boards, onboarding process forms and branding books, helping us to become more adept and productive than we’ve ever been.”

“Automating some of our manual processes enables us to spend less time on manual tasks and more time providing the services that our clients truly value,” says Mark. “The automation of document signing was key to us being able to file financial statements etc. throughout lockdown, in the safest possible way. The automation of some of our working papers and clients’ management accounts means that we can spend more time investigating the numbers and advising clients on how they can achieve their specific goals and targets.”

Automation as the key to business productivity

The emergence of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) has been dubbed ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ by the World Economic Forum. And, as with all revolutions, it’s the organisations that fully embrace this change that will reap the biggest rewards. Nordens and BHP have seen the productivity and communication benefits already and it’s this investment in apps and automation that’s driving their growth and evolution.

If you want to position your accounting firm at the cutting edge in 2021, automation and the use of integrated, AI-driven business apps should be central to your strategy.

Find out more about the benefits of automation in this guide from FutureFirm.