Leveraging the Cloud to Deliver Better Client Outcomes

Client Relationships Cloud computing, close up of male hand holding cloud with copy s

I started to embrace the cloud and the paperless office just a year after starting my business in 2004, finding myself already out of file storage in my small office. In 2005, I contracted with a company to back up all of my files from my server in the cloud. I am extremely grateful for that strategic move, since just one year later in 2006, my office was burglarized and my local server, backup unit and all workstations were stolen. Without that offsite, cloud-based backup, I would have been out of business!

Since then, as we have grown from a team of one to 15+, we have continued to embrace technology, and all of the new apps that come to market daily, to help us better serve each other and our clients. Our company is different from the traditional CPA firm, in that we focus on client service and consulting first, and then on compliance work. We collaborate with our clients on their day-to-day business challenges, as well as longer-term strategies for saving tax, maximizing cash flow and moving their business forward.

Why did we transition more than 80 clients to QuickBooks® Online (QBO) from QuickBooks Desktop in the last year?

  1. The QBO dashboard is amazing. In one view, we can quickly see how many transactions are outstanding. We can offer our assistance and “upsell” our bookkeeping services to help clients stay up to date. This allows us the opportunity to offer better advice, since we can see what is going on with our clients on a daily transactional level. As a firm owner, I can also see if my team is on track for fulfillment of our service commitments for our bookkeeping clients.
  2. The live bank feeds! We have improved our security and efficiency with the “always on” bank feeds. No more passing out bank passwords to our team and waiting to download transactions. From the QBO dashboard, we can quickly see if the bank feed is broken so that we can proactively contact the client and check on the links.
  3. There are so many apps that make data entry faster, easier and more accurate. We recommend apps to save our clients time and improve our clients’ businesses. We commonly use Quotient, G Suite, Dropbox, Receipt Bank, Knowify, Bill.com, Intuit® Online Payroll, FathomHQ and ProfitCents.
  4. My team and I feel far more comfortable advising clients on their inquiries because we can see their data live with QBO. We are also far more efficient since we have one login to quickly access the client data files, and we can access this data anytime, anywhere. This totally beats having to login to a remote server and wait for a desktop file to open.
  5. It is so much easier to train clients on QBO than QuickBooks Desktop. We can quickly assist with issues in real time, rather than getting a set of books that we have to spend hours tearing apart at year-end. It makes for a much better relationship when we can be consultative in our approach, rather than the “nag” that offers negative feedback at year-end.

Best Practices:

  1. We offer fixed-fee/value pricing for our clients, and we provide annual engagements detailing our services. Of the 105 clients that we have on QBO, we pay for 84 of the subscriptions on wholesale billing. We also partner with other providers to obtain discounts on commonly used apps, and we include the software as part of our service.
  2. We act as the system integrator and implementer. We find the apps to solve the client problems, and then we invoice them to set up, and integrate, the apps to be sure that they are configured correctly so that the data is correct.
  3. We sell an upgrade and training package to our clients when we implement the QBO upgrade. Clients who want to save money by keeping their own books are properly trained, and we monitor them through the QBO dashboard to be sure that they stay on track with the new system.

Considerations:

  1. Moving to the cloud requires ongoing training for your team. We have implemented the following training programs:
    • All of our team members must obtain QBO Certification as part of their initial training when they are hired.
    • We have weekly training sessions to share information on new apps, tips and techniques. We are also in the process of making our own training videos on the eeCPA way of connecting in the cloud.
    • We have quick huddle meetings at 9:09 a.m. each day to be sure that we get any quick questions out of the way so that the team moves forward on initiatives.
    • We attend QuickBooks Connect each year to meet with other QuickBooks ProAdvisors® and check out all of the new apps that third-party vendors are offering to see what will work best for our firm and our clients.
  1. We find that we are much more active in communicating with our clients. As a result, we have had to create some new positions within our firm: Scheduling & Project Manager, Client Services Coordinator and Team Administrators (to support client communication with professional team members and assist with bookkeeping services).
  1. We strongly recommend QuickBooks Online Accountant (QBOA) for accounting firms. Create a Master QBOA Account, and then add team members to it. It is important to have a checklist for onboarding and offboarding team members to be sure that the team members have access to client files they need to work on, and that access is terminated quickly if a team member leaves your firm. Be careful to track all software apps that you are using to be sure that permissions have been appropriately set, and that only your active team members have access. We discourage password and login sharing since the Audit Log is helpful in identifying who worked on the file and when that work was completed. If team members share logins, then the Audit Trail is useless because we cannot identify who made the entries in the accounting systems.
  1. We have found it very successful to appoint an Account Manager for each client. Our professional team members act as Account Managers. They provide a central point of contact for clients and coordinate the services for that client so that the client receives personal and consistent service and advice.
  1. Finally, we strongly recommend developing a service plan for clients with touchpoints. Scheduled touchpoints to “check in” with clients often enhance the relationship and prevent potential problems before they start. With QBO, we find it much easier to be proactive, rather than reactive. It can be challenging to convert desktop users to the cloud, but frequent communication makes the conversion much easier. Most clients do not want to switch, but after three months, they are 100 percent satisfied and often comment that they do not know how they lived without the cloud!

Cloud for Tax?

We still rely on Intuit ProConnect™ Lacerte® for tax preparation, and that is the best solution for our firm today. However, we are experimenting with the integrated workflow from QBO to ProConnect Tax Online, and can envision a day in the future where our tax is also in the cloud.

The Benefits of Leveraging the Cloud

In addition to establishing deeper connections with our clients, we have found that the move to the cloud has yielded significant benefits for our clients and our team. We have saved our clients more than $150 million in taxes to date. Plus, we save our clients more than 25 hours per year on tracking accounts, managing accounts and bookkeeping. Finally, we, too, reap the benefits, as we have been able to grow our firm’s revenue by 32 percent annually over the last 13 years!

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