Take back time for your practice, your people, and your clients
There has been much talk in the past decade of the need for accountants to automate their compliance processes and focus on value-added advisory services. But what does that actually look like in practice, and why has the discussion framed compliance processes as less valuable than advisory services? In many ways, compliance has never been a more important service offering, and still accounts for the bulk of work for many firms; in fact, based on data collected for the 2020 “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of the Australian Accounting Profession” report, 58% of average total revenue is attributed to compliance. With the raft of constant legislative changes and new tax complexities being added to weekly, being able to keep on top of compliance requirements, and knowing how and when to apply these to clients, has never been more critical to a firm’s success.
So, how do you effectively manage your compliance processes while giving your team time to interpret new legislation and implement that across your client base, develop new service offerings, or work more closely with clients to truly take on the role of a trusted advisor? Yes, the answer does lie in automating key compliance processes, not because it’s not worthy of human touch, but because it is such an integral part of how accountants are able to support their clients.
This white paper aims to step you through how you can go about automating your compliance process and thereby free your team up to focus on what matters – working closely with clients to help them meet the ever-changing complexities that are thrown their way in an uncertain world.
Let’s get started.
Step One: Map out key compliance processes
When was the last time you reviewed your compliance process? When was the last time you actually paused and mapped out what’s happening in your practice, and how your team are actually getting the job done (not just how you think it’s being done)?
Take the time to work with your team to map out your compliance process from information request to lodgement, and it might surprise you to hear the scope of difference in tools, templates, and approaches that are being used across the business.
Each variation from standard adds potential for error, additional time, missed opportunity – so it’s integral everyone in the business knows “The Way” of working at your practice.
Not only that but with the rate of change of technology, just because you’ve always done things a certain way, doesn’t mean you should still be doing it that way. Get your team involved in a discussion around best practice, and when you identify areas for improvement or change, allocate a champion to head up the investigation and implementation of any new software or process improvement.
Finally, to keep things standardised, streamlined, and systemized you MUST document your process. Do it for posterity, do it for clarity, and do it to support your team to deliver the best service they can. Utilise a simple charting tool such as Microsoft Visio to map out your final process and then print it out and stick it up where the entire team can see, or create an electronic copy that everyone can easily access to keep this valuable process top of mind.
Here’s a sample agenda you can use to workshop your compliance process with your team, and an example process map to help you make your own.
- What are the key steps and corresponding processes or software we use in our compliance process from information request through to lodgement?
- Are there any elements that are no longer relevant (E.g. checking certain workbooks, running certain reports, steps that constantly get skipped over)?
- What elements are critical to the success of our compliance process?
- What are we missing, what have we recently “been burnt” for missing?
- What are you hearing and seeing in the industry or from clients that could influence our process?
Step Two: Map out your desired customer journey
Now that you have an understanding of how your team experience the compliance process, it’s time to change lenses and view the process from the eyes of your clients. How do you want your clients to experience the process? What friction points exist on the customer journey that could be adding to processing delays, errors, or dissatisfaction?
Put your compliance process map to the side, then run a separate session with the team to map out your customer experience journey. When completed, compare the two side by side. Is your desired, frictionless customer journey reflected in your ideal compliance process? What gaps need to be closed, or questions answered, to allow for synergy between the two processes?
For example, if you want clients to get their information to you within 1 week of starting the job, not providing a detailed list of information needed, or requiring them to send physical documents, could add to processing delays. Try reducing friction for clients by making the step as easy as possible: utilise a client portal for easy document sharing, and experiment with an online form or questionnaire tool to request information needed and elicit responses to queries.
Here’s an example of a customer journey map you can use to create your own.
Step Three: Identify what you can automate
With your compliance process now mapped out, and a clear understanding of how you want your clients to experience that, it’s time to identify which bits you can automate. While you might be thinking that a customer-centric process means more work, the breadth of integrated technology solutions available to support automated compliance processes now means that you no longer need to sacrifice user experience for efficiency gains and vice-versa.
How do you identify the perfect steps for automation within the compliance process? Pull out that process map you made earlier and look out for the tasks that are repetitive, are prone to data entry errors, and involve multiple people – these tasks are typically ripe with automation potential.
Examples you might identify in your own compliance process include:
- Data collection
- Updating / rolling over workpapers
- Generating/modifying report templates
- Copying journal entries between ledgers and workbooks
- Updating standard templates / worksheets / correspondence
- Preparing report packs for review or distribution
- Distributing finalised accounts
Step Four: Identify what you should automate
Just because you can automate something, doesn’t mean that you should. While you might have a long list of potential automations, when it comes to implementing those that lead to efficiency gains AND support positive client and team member outcomes, less can be more. Prioritise those that provide quick wins, that have high value outcomes, and/or require less effort to get up and running.
Take the tasks, steps, or processes you identified in Step 3, and plot them on this simple graph to assess the effort required to implement a solution and the impact of making it happen.
Step Five: Leverage technology
Now you’ve identified the steps in your compliance process that you want to automate and prioritized those that could be quick wins and provide high value outcomes, it’s time to outsource! We’re talking of course about outsourcing to your team of “software workers”: technology solutions that can do the heavy lifting for you, are on call 24/7, and will perform the tasks you need to be done to a strict set of rules.
There is no shortage of technology partners and solutions that automate some or all compliance tasks. However, just as you should be wary of what you automate, so too should you pause before adding another piece of technology to your growing app stack.
When considering a new piece of software or new technology partnership, you should consider the following (and put these questions to the partner as well!):
- What will we have to change in our current process?
- What impact (if any) will this have on clients?
- What is the cost/benefit of the solution?
- Is it reputable?
- How are others in the industry utilizing the platform?
- How is it supported?
- Is there implementation support and/or customization?
- Is it regularly updated?
- What training is available or do we need to consider?
Your compliance process is invaluable to your practice, so any technology partner you bring on to help you execute that should understand this and support you to achieve your desired outcomes.
Compliance in a click, standardisation in a second – One way for your whole firm.
One of the key elements of the compliance process is managing, maintaining, and updating your practice’s workpapers and templates. These are typically managed at a practice level and updated manually when key legislative and compliance changes pass, when a new year’s processing is commenced, or when you finally have the time to update them!
Combined with the complexities and quirks of different industries, entities, or structures, managing and maintaining your compliance workpapers and templates is a role of its own – and one that requires heavy tax technical understanding at that.
Miss an update, use an old template, or forget to apply a specific calculation and the costs for your client, and your practice could be huge.
These are just a few of the reasons why automating and outsourcing your workpapers management to a software worker is a big win for adding efficiencies to your compliance process.
Using pre-built and templated workpapers can be a great solution for firms looking to reduce the administrative burden of maintaining and updating rafts of documents.
Solutions like Smart Workpapers are updated by qualified CAs and CPAs as soon as legislative changes happen and can be combined with your own templates to improve accuracy and consistency across your data.
“To improve efficiencies, we aim to use best of breed products and standardise our processes wherever possible, Smart Workpapers tick both boxes. Since upgrading to Smart Suite, our training and review times are down and the risk of errors is reduced.”
Robin Allardice – Director, Bentleys Tasmania
Step Six: Manage, monitor, refine
Of course, the key to implementing any new technology or way of working is to continually circle back and check in on how it is serving you and whether it is still fit for purpose. Consider your technology and “software workers” as any other key member of your team. From doing the due diligence prior to implementation, through to regularly providing refresher training to your team, to checking in with the solution provider for updates and best practice information, we recommend charging one of your team with the invaluable task of product “champion” to ensure the long-term success and sustainability of the process improvement.
Annually, step back and ask yourself the following questions in relation to the process/task/technology:
- What frustrations do we (or clients) have with the task/process/technology in its current form?
- Is there a smarter way?
- What has changed in the past 12 months?
- What could change in the next 12 months?
- How do we need to adapt the task/process/technology to support us in the near future?
Compliance is not dead, far from it. The challenge accountants face is how to balance the growing administrative demands of compliance processes with valuable client outcomes. With the constant barrage of legislative changes unlikely to ease anytime soon, it is vital that firms understand why leveraging technology to automate the clunky, cumbersome, and costly areas of the compliance process is integral to the client, team member, and business success.
Having walked through the 6 steps you need to automate your compliance process, it’s clear that there is no shortage of technology available to help you do so. When you leverage technology that systemises, streamlines, and standardises your processes, you’re giving your team back time to focus on what’s important: managing client relationships, improving the business, or developing skills and capabilities across the team.
The technology teammate your future fit firm needs
Business Fitness has been helping firms rise to the top of their game since 2001 by providing end-to-end software solutions designed to help you and your team work smarter, not harder so you can focus your time and energy on what’s most important – growing your practice, developing your team, and supporting your clients.
We make managing your most important data easily with our range of robust, intuitive, and integrated solutions designed to boost your efficiency, improve your productivity, and enhance your client experiences.
With our fingers firmly on the pulse of the accounting industry, we tailor our tools to meet the needs of your business. Through our document management software, integrated templates and workpapers, intelligent reporting, and insightful benchmarking tools, our intuitive solutions give firms everything they need to reach their full potential and be truly future fit.
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