Digital transformation: Top tips from finance professionals

If you want to put technology to better use in your work life, these early adopters have practical tips for successful digital transformation.

Investing more time and effort into digital transformation has helped accountants accommodate the need to conduct more advisory work online during the current pandemic.Early adopters of digital technology in accounting practices agree that, for those concerned about time and cost, there is plenty of cheap technology that can be mastered quickly.The wave of digital transformation over the past few months means that there will be no going back to doing things the traditional way, even post-pandemic.

By Nigel Bowen

Kyelie Baxter CPA, managing partner of IQ Accountants, was not exactly blasé about having to shut down her office earlier this year, but she was a lot more relaxed about it than many other business owners.

Baxter is a Gen Y digital native and self-confessed “tech nerd”, and was judged MYOB 2019 Certified Consultant of the Year and 2019 Partner of the Year (boutique firm) at the Australian Accounting Awards.

She had long ago ensured there was no real need for her nine staff or hundreds of clients to go to the office, or post, personally deliver or even email documents.

“Most of the staff, who’ve long had the option of working partly or entirely remotely, kept doing what they would normally be doing at that time of year,” she explains. “While they focused on tax planning, another team member and I dealt with all the JobKeeper, JobSeeker and other shutdown-related client enquiries.”

Baxter heard plenty of shutdown horror stories from friends in the industry throughout March and April. “Peers were expressing concern to me about clients having to drop documents off to staff members’ homes,” she says. “Staff having to lug equipment back and forth between the office to their homes. Staff having to commute into the office – and risk getting infected – to prevent bottlenecks forming,” she says.

There were no such issues for Baxter’s staff or clients.

“Our office has been paperless for years,” she says. “If clients or staff need to upload or download financial statements and tax returns, they use an online portal, one that allows documents to be electronically signed. Client consultations are done via the GoToMeeting videoconferencing platform.

“The staff and I use Slack for routine communication and task management, and video conference when we need to have an in-depth chat.”

Time’s up

“I remember the days when I’d be handed half a ream of paper whenever I needed to review a big job,” Baxter continues.

“I can also recall posting tax returns and business activity statements out to clients to manually sign, then logging, filing and ultimately archiving those signed documents. Not to mention spending countless hours doing data entry and bank reconciliations. The scary thing is that many accounting firms – I’d guess about a third of them – are operating like it’s still 2005.”

A decade and a half ago, Baxter began buying out the other partners in her firm because they didn’t share her vision. That vision centred on leveraging technology to cut costs, driving efficiencies and making business processes less tedious and time-consuming for herself, her staff and her clients.

“It’s amazing how many accountants advise clients to leverage technology, but find excuses not to automate processes themselves,” she says. Baxter likens these accountants to the proverbial plumber who never manages to get around to fixing the leaky taps in their own house.

“A lack of time and money are the usual excuses, but there’s plenty of technology – such as instant messaging software or videoconferencing platforms – that’s cheap and that can be installed and mastered in a matter of minutes.”

“The trick is to start by convincing the undecideds. Once that’s done, you try to get the traditionalists to understand they are risking being stranded on a burning platform and need to adapt to changed conditions.” Tony Krizan FCPA, National Health and Medical Research Council

Baxter, a long-time digital transformation “evangelist” and member of CPA Australia’s Digital Transformation Centre of Excellence, argues that there is no going back to business as usual following the shutdown.

“If you were servicing an older clientele and didn’t need to attract younger staff, it was possible to keep doing things the old-school way prior to February 2020,” she says, “but two things have now changed.

“First, whether or not they aspired to such a role, many accountants were forced into becoming business advisers as a result of COVID-19. Suddenly, it was no longer enough just to take care of a client’s tax return; they wanted your input on how to steer their business through the shutdown and post-shutdown period.

“Second, people have gotten used to doing everything online. They aren’t going to want to go back to doing things the old-fashioned way.”

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