Accountant guide: modern expense management for clients
Managing client expenses is nobody’s idea of a holiday…
Expense management used to mean being handed a box of crumpled receipts. Each receipt had to be individually categorised and reconciled. The process was tedious, low-value and prone to error.
Modern accounting software for accountants has replaced a wide range of mundane bookkeeping tasks, but for many firms expense management is still a world of paper trails, spreadsheets and end-of-year panic.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Expense management software for accountants is streamlining and refining the expense auditing process, turning a tedious chore into an activity that can add value for both your practice and your clients.
Chapter 1: Traditional expense management: the challenges
Traditional expense management is certainly dull. But the costs to your firm are greater than that.
It is a commodity activity
Traditional expense management is high effort, low value, with no opportunity to differentiate your business or your expertise. Time taken managing expenses is time taken away from more high value work.
Maximum effort for minimal reward
Expense management is a core service, but data entry and manual reconciliation are time-intensive processes, fraught with the potential for error, and every mistake costs your practice time and money.
It gives an out-of-date view
Capturing receipts and transactions is fiddly, and rarely happens at point of purchase. (Although photos of receipts are now becoming more commonplace, reconciliation isn’t). Today’s accounting software for accountants seeks to provide an up-to-the-minute view of cash flow. In contrast, data from traditional expense management processes can be weeks out of date.
It is about compliance – and not much else
Traditional expense management is a monotonous, error-prone process that makes no contribution to business beyond basic compliance. It’s a cost; a burden with no upside.
Happily, a new generation of expense management software for accountants adds simplicity and strategic value to the process of recording, reconciling and reporting business expenses…
Chapter 2: The data-driven practice
The idea of automation is welcomed and feared in equal measure. To some, the automated workplace represents a ‘hellish dystopia’ of lost jobs and robot workers. And global research by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) found that three out of five accountants under the age of 36 believe technology will replace many entry level jobs in the profession.
The opportunities of financial technology
But smart accountants are not downbeat. Accounting software is fundamentally changing the way practices work, but the younger accountants surveyed by ACCA don’t regard the encroachment of new digital technology with pessimism. The report states that they “recognise that technology will enable finance professionals to focus on much higher value-added activity.”
The status quo is manual and unsustainable. Practices that don’t embrace financial technology risk being left behind.
Accountancy software for accountants: from compliance to advisory
Automation and digitisation are driving change across professional services. AI-powered chatbots are providing first contact advice in sectors as diverse as law and travel. In the financial services sector, software is reducing the amount of time spent on repetitive tasks like data entry, bookkeeping and compliance work. That is freeing up time for accountants to focus on other services.
Some practices will want to offer pure compliance, done very efficiently and relatively cheaply (with technology). Then there are others like us who want to deliver the compliance pretty cheaply so that we can add value by helping clients grow their business.
Della Hudson, Hudson Business Accountants
Automation and digitisation are not quite the same thing. Automation removes repetition and complexity by letting a computer do the heavy-lifting of a task. Automating basic client services (like bookkeeping and data entry) adds speed and accuracy, and reduces the cost to your practice of routine services.
In expense management, Soldo makes capturing receipts and reporting expenses easy. It reduces data entry and reconciliation errors, improves duplication detection, and automates approval and compliance processes.
Automation saves you valuable man hours. Digitisation allows you to redeploy those hours, and the digital data you now possess, on new models of advice and service.
Modern expense management software lets you track employee activity in real time, transforming expense management from a purely functional activity into one that can add real business value. Soldo gives your practice complete visibility of your clients’ team’s spending and the tools to report on it and analyse it. This data can be used to make comparisons and e.g. uncover systemic overspending – it gives you the oversight you need to become a trusted counsel to client businesses.
The digital roadmap: taking your practice forward
Accountancy is evolving. A typical practice may recognise three distinct phases on the path to digitisation:
Phase one: a toe in the water
Your practice spends a lot of time on manual tasks like basic data entry, bookkeeping and reconciliation. But compliance processes have become more complicated, thanks to the introduction of self-assessment, Real Time Information (RTI), and more recently GDPR and Making Tax Digital (MTD). Your client relationships will suffer if you just stick with Excel. You start to experiment with accounting software automation options to simplify an increasingly complex compliance environment.
Phase two: automation proves itself
Automation begins to drive down costs by reducing the number of hours spent on everyday compliance tasks. The hurdles of adoption have been borne and the technology becomes embedded, allowing you to deliver greater efficiency to your clients.
But competitors are on the automation express too! Compliance may be easier, but it is still a low-value activity, with little opportunity to differentiate your approach. You can trim staff (or add customers), reduce face-time with clients and compete purely on price, or you can move up the value chain.
Phase three: deploy data to become the trusted counsel
Technology buys you the time to invest in relationships. And it gives you the data you need to make those relationships deeper and richer. Accountants can take advantage of the real-time information offered by financial software to offer more in-depth guidance around (for example) access to funding, growth, forecasting etc. They can delve deeper into the data, producing real insight. By doing so, they can make themselves invaluable, putting their expertise at the centre of every client’s business.
The technology is going to continue to improve and remove manual compliance work. So, as a profession, we fundamentally must look at how we go about building opportunities for other work. And that has to be done through building great relationships. Paradoxically, the successful digital firm will be a very human firm indeed.
Will Farnell, Farnell Clarke
The digitisation of expenses
Expense management software is part of that digital roadmap. It helps you automate compliance processes and offer new and more profitable services. Digitisation:
- Simplifies the audit trail, making errors less likely.
- Drives automation, cutting the time it takes to capture, process and report expenses. Taken one step further, solutions like Soldo allow for the automation of expense categorisation, cutting the effort required on repetitive admin.
- Reduces manual intervention and wasted time.
Chapter 3: The time is right for digital expense management
It’s always easier to do nothing, or carry on doing things for no other reason than it is the way things have always been done. But practices that ignore digitisation risk being left behind by more proactive competitors.
Business is changing
Commoditisation is changing the business model. Automation is driving speed and efficiency. Practices that refuse to modernise will lose business to competitors who can complete the same services more nimbly.
Making Tax Digital
Making Tax Digital (MTD) means processing data more reliably and rapidly than ever. Practices that refuse to automate will find it impossible to serve lower-value clients profitably. Those that do will win business and earn the right to offer more valuable services.
Clients demand more
But there is also a client-side push for digital. Clients increasingly demand the efficiencies that come from deploying accounting and expense management software. Lucy Cohen, founder of Mazuma Accountants, says that millennial entrepreneurs, “instinctively deploy technology to make every process faster, better and smoother – it’s what I’ve done in my own processes to run a lean accountancy practice.”
- Businesses of all sizes are deploying automation in a variety of functional areas, from HR to financial reporting. Modern businesses are already lean in terms of resources, so they can’t cut people. Instead, with automation, they can cut time and repetition.
- Clients are similarly more demanding of professional service providers, expecting them to employ the best tools for the job.
- Clients know that data can reveal valuable business insight, and expect accountants to be able to collect, analyse and harness that information.
Digital tools are becoming an essential part of running an accountancy practice, not just because they are efficient, but because they are expected.
Don’t get stuck with systems, processes or technologies that are a ten-year burden: you’ll suddenly find that they’re outdated. You must future-proof yourself and your practice with systems that are agile, flexible, and open to shifting demand.
Lucy Cohen, Mazuma Accountants
Chapter 4: Deploying expense management software for accountants
The benefits of smart expense management are hard to ignore. So how do you go about deploying it in your practice?
Trial it yourself
If you’re new to expense management software for accountants, trial it first. Soldo lets partners use it for free in their own practices, so you can get to grips with it before offering the service to clients.
Enlist staff advocates
Younger staff have lived through one era of technological innovation after another. Millennials are used to digital disruption and expect to find better ways to simplify onerous tasks. Let them be your early adopters and flag-wavers for implementation.
Integrate and adapt
How will smart expense management affect your own workflows? Should you consider moving from client ownership to process ownership? Della Hudson of Hudson Accountants says that implementing accounting software can prompt a wider reorganisation: “We’ve moved from ‘doing everything for one client and then moving to the next’, to organising it by activity: data input, bank reconciliations, returns etc.” Most practices find this reorganisation a necessary process.
Make the most of quick wins
Expense management software offers quick wins that can help persuade hesitant clients and staff, and buy you time to embed and exploit the technology more completely:
- Automating onerous data entry and reconciliation tasks will streamline your workflow and delight your staff, who will gain extra time to spend on more interesting projects.
- Manual data entry mistakes are a huge source of frustration. Smart expense management solutions significantly reduce the likelihood of data entry errors.
- A rounded view of client expenses allows you to very quickly illuminate areas of significant spending, immediately establishing a link between expense management and potential bottom line benefits.
- Real time expense tracking gives clients control over their staff spending. For a quick win, explain that it reduces the chances of minor acts of fraud and careless acts of extravagance, both of which are commonplace with traditional expense management processes.
“My staff are hugely positive, but nobody likes change – we all get used to doing things a certain way. The thing to remember is: nobody is against change per se; they just need to see the value.”
Della Hudson, Hudson Business Accountants
Anticipate and mitigate pain points
Implementing any new accounting software for accountants faces hurdles, but the benefits outweigh the challenges:
Automating accountancy tasks involves replacing a fairly vague cost – staff time – with a distinct one – the recurring monthly cost of the software solution you adopt. Create a plan that reinvests staff time in higher value tasks to illustrate the bottom line benefits of smart expense management. The monthly fees are negligible compared to the labour costs of even junior staff; and that fee becomes even more negligible when those staff can be redeployed more profitably.
Too much tech!
Many traditional practices worry about the proliferation of technological solutions that have to be managed, maintained and integrated into a wider network. But the right solutions work seamlessly together. Soldo, for example, integrates effortlessly with all leading accounting software packages, like Xero. And with cloud-based solutions, upgrading, patching and security remain the responsibility of the service provider – so there’s no new machinery for you to manage.
Will Farnell of Farnell Clarke says that his firm employs a suite of extension technologies – Soldo, GoCardless, Stripe – around a processing engine like Xero or QuickBooks. “There’s a raft of extension technologies we deploy to help clients get paid quicker or solve problems…which (also) increases the live data within our reach.”
Traditional practices may worry that they lack the in-house expertise to fully exploit powerful expense management software for accountants. But solutions like Soldo are built around easy, intuitive user interfaces that use tick-boxes and drop down menus. If your staff can use apps, they can use Soldo.
Chapter 5: Help your clients to help you
Help your clients implement smart expense management software and quickly see value – for themselves and for you.
What your clients need to do
To start using a solution like Soldo your clients need to:
- Identify the teams and individuals that require physical or virtual credit cards. With Soldo payments are made through prepaid Soldo Mastercard cards.
- Download the app. Personalise the individual experience and capture receipts easily.
- Set appropriate spending rules and design restrictions for staff and departments with the authority to spend. Clients can attach a different set of rules to each card, and change them at will.
What your clients need to know
Clients may take an “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” attitude to expense management. They may not see the advantages of software over traditional processes (although nobody enjoys bundles of paper!). Here’s what to tell them:
- Smart expense management saves you time. For example, Soldo Mastercard Cards connect directly to the Soldo app. In-app receipt capture makes it easy for your cardholders to upload important paperwork anywhere, at any time.
- Soldo prepaid Mastercard Cards give your team the freedom they need to do their jobs without the delays or frustrations associated with traditional expense solutions. Staff never have to use their own money and wait for reimbursement.
- You retain complete control of expense spending. A wealth of options let you set budgets and spending rules that precisely meet the needs of individual cardholders, wider teams and the business.
- Everything is centrally managed via the web console, which shows spending in real time and offers automated reporting and advanced analysis. You always know who’s spending what, when and where.
- With a complete and up-to-the-minute picture of staff spending at our fingertips, Soldo can help you to identify savings and unnecessary outlay; and advise on opportunities to spend money more efficiently.
Common client concerns
“We don’t want to spend time learning how to use even more technology.”
Soldo is simplicity itself for clients. Download the app, set spending rules and connect to our accounting software. We’ll do the rest.
“Won’t staff think they’re being spied on?”
You have a right to know what company money is being spent on and whether it could be better spent. But staff also appreciate clearer rules and transaction limits, because it takes the anxiety out of spending company money. They appreciate never having to dip into their own pockets on company business; and they certainly appreciate never being the subject of clawbacks.
“Isn’t there a security or fraud risk with multiple company credit cards?”
By setting spending rules and transaction limits, you dramatically reduce the damage that fraud or theft could do to your business. You can limit spending to certain categories of goods or services, prevent cash withdrawals and even prohibit online transactions, seriously frustrating any potential thief or fraudster. You can turn cards off when they are not being used. And when multiple staff have their own cards, you’re never stuck with one high-risk ‘corporate card’ shared across multiple people.”
A 60 second guide to smart expense management for accountants and their clients
- Accounting software is changing the way accountants work. Not only is it automating laborious manual tasks and streamlining day-to-day accounting processes, it is also providing opportunities for a deeper and richer client relationship.
- Using solutions like Soldo, accountants can process client expenses more accurately and efficiently. It generates a complete and real-time view of expense spending. That gives accountancy professionals the information they need to advise on potential savings, warn of potential overspend and fraud, and help clients make better spending and managerial decisions.
- It is easy to realise these benefits with simple rules and limits.
- Clients retain complete control of expenses, restricting how much can be spent, in which categories and by whom, all with the click of a mouse.
- Soldo is secure and easy to use. And accountants can link it to the other digital tools they use to manage client compliance and reporting. The insight these tools generate puts them in an even better position to help grow the business.
For more information on what Soldo can do for your practice, visit our website.