Making workpapers work for you

In 2023, here’s how to make workpapers work for you

Despite all the talk about it disappearing, compliance work remains a key fixture in the revenue streams – and daily lives – of Australian accounting firms.

Table graph: services as % revenue

But as automation and technology start to change expectations around professional services, accountants need to stay ahead of the curve and leverage technology to find opportunities for efficiency within compliance work.

At Business Fitness, we’ve been studying the interaction between accountants and their tools for 21 years. And we’ve learned six key strategies that make compliance work more efficient. In 2023, we launched our Active Workpapers: a suite of over 300 up-to-date compliance worksheets delivered on a cloud platform designed to enable ultimate efficiency across accounting and compliance work.

1.    Maintain a centralised system

One highly underrated contributor to the efficiency of compliance work is storage and document management. Most accounting firms rely on some kind of central storage systems, but protocols are often weak or non-existent, and even in 2023, firms of all sizes are dealing with the realities of spreadsheets stored in individual desktops, files passed back and forth over email, different team members creating multiple versions of the same file, and client documents not being accessible through a single client folder. This doesn’t just create inefficiencies and rack up the client’s bill; it can also expose your firm to risk if the right documents can’t be found at a later date.

How Active Workpapers can help

Client home screens

Simply start a workpaper binder with a few clicks from the client home screen, allowing you to efficiently complete year end Accounts and Tax, BAS, FBT, Payroll Tax, Tax Planning and more. This makes Active Workpapers your one-stop shop for compliance work. Working from Active Workpapers’ centralised system will radically improve job efficiency, minimise the risk of important documents slipping through the cracks or disappearing after an employee leaves, and ensures that every member of your team is working from the same version of the same files. No room for manual error here!

2.    Focus on firm-wide standardisation

Most accountants understand how standardisation leads to efficiency. But although most firms have standard tools and processes for accounts and tax jobs, many have never gotten around to developing procedures for less common jobs like FBT, BAS, payroll tax, CGT advice, and tax planning. What’s more, most tools on the market don’t offer standardised solutions for smaller jobs like these.

How Active Workpapers can help

Job types

There’s an Active Workpaper binder type for every type of job in your firm, allowing you to standardise even the smallest and rarest of jobs. When your whole team is working on the same files, from the same tools, and according to the same rules and procedures, compliance runs like clockwork and becomes a smaller piece of the day-to-day.


Active Workpapers even offer standardisation for processes like client queries. Add matters for attention, client queries and review points quickly within each record. You can easily batch these matters in the matters screen, allowing you to send client queries or review points in a standard format every time, improving consistency across your practice.

3.    Harness the power of integration and synchronisation to eliminate manual data entry

One of the most frustrating parts of an accountant’s work is data entry and re-entry. Manually entering and re-entering data is not just wasted time; it also creates room for human error. But just as many manual tasks are now obsolete thanks to technology, so too is manual data entry now a fixture of the past for the firms who embrace the power of integration and synchronisation.

How Active Workpapers can help

Link client source data

Active Workpapers’ powerful API connections allow you to link client source data with the click of a button. Add your clients’ details and easily link a client accounting file from any major cloud provider, or use our powerful Excel import to instantly link Active Workpapers to the source of truth It’s also easy to create journals to adjust trial balances. When the job is complete, you can send the journals back to the client file at the click of a button — no more messily adjusting journals.  Now your workpapers and the client file are always in sync.

4.    Improve accuracy to minimise preparation and processing time

Traditionally, workpaper preparation and processing involved all those repetitive tasks that make younger accountants ask, Why did I become an accountant? But with the technology available today, the existential crises of the young accountant can be averted.

How Active Workpapers can help

Workpapers chosen for you

Active Workpapers has a recommendation feature that automates the process of choosing appropriate worksheets to support trial balance accounts. There are over 300 fully tax-compliant calculation worksheets within Active Workpapers that improve the accuracy and consistency of your client’s data. This saves preparation time, reduces review times, and increases deliverable quality, regardless of how complex your client’s needs are.

5.    Give your team the flexibility to perform at their best

The power in workpapers comes from standardisation, but just because your team follows standard procedures, this doesn’t mean they all have the same preferences when it comes to the way they work.

We’ve noticed that many senior accountants prefer to work with Excel-based workpapers; it’s a reliable and powerful tool that offers serious efficiency for power users. Yet many of the younger accountants now graduating into the workforce are far more engaged when using web-based technologies.

How Active Workpapers can help

Excel and web-based workpapers

The best tools create standardisation without compromising on flexibility for individual working styles, and that was the intention behind the hybrid approach to Active Workpapers.

When each of your team members opens a job file in Active Workpapers, they’ll have the option of working in their browser, or directly within the Excel file. Any changes you make through either interface will be automatically synced across both, creating a seamless experience for workpaper preparation.

6.    Increase leverage by minimising rework and partner review time

Partner review time is expensive — for your clients, and for your firm. This is one of the best places to optimise for efficiency gains with the possibility to reduce review time with the reassurance of higher quality work output (time and cost – rework this phrase). The best compliance tools recognise and reduce review time requirements, and minimise the frustration and time involved in rework.

How Active Workpapers can help

Review centre

The Active Workpapers review centre provides increased visibility over job matters and allows for a quick health check of the file. You’ll be able to review any audit issues, outstanding matters, client queries, and items still requiring review before setting the job status to ‘completed’. This locks down the file and prevents further changes while providing a full audit trail from job start to finish.

Refresh client data

Rework is inevitable, but it doesn’t need to come with the added onus of exporting and reformatting client data with each change. With Active Workpapers, you can refresh client data at the click of button, and instantly see audit trails of what’s changed. You’ll only need to change the data in a single location (workpapers), saving preparers up to 30 minutes for each rework.

Beyond compliance: the bigger picture

In past years, efficiency gains in compliance work were a bonus, but not always a necessity. But in 2023, with accounting firms around the country on the brink of adopting hyper-automated tools and systems to change the face of day-to-day accounting work, ignoring efficiency in your compliance workflows can have real consequences on the bottom line.

The firms that do embrace efficiency in their compliance processes will free up the time and capacity to focus on value-added services — particularly those rich in data, analytics, and predictive insights. They will move from commodity service providers to trusted business advisors, revolutionising their business and their teams’ daily working lives in the process.

Additionally, improving controls over your compliance workflows will also allow you to monitor and collect data. With monitoring comes the ability to optimise; once you can identify the bottlenecks and inefficiencies within your workflows, you can finetune accordingly. And the sooner you can move your team onto a modern compliance platform that tracks key operational metrics, the more data you’ll have to work with in the future.

Want to get Active Workpapers working for you?

Active Workpapers can start streamlining your firm’s compliance work from the get-go and lead to significant cost savings. To learn more, get in touch with the Business Fitness team today or register for one of our upcoming webinars