Mobile Apps Changing the Client Experience
We’ve seen a shift of focus in the last few years when it comes to technology and the client experience. In the past, applications were built with the intention of making the CPA’s job easier and little consideration was given to the client experience. The firm often hoped the clients would adopt. Clients, for the most part, didn’t want to be forced to use applications that made their CPAs job easier but created more work for the client. The client refused to use them so their CPA often declared clients are averse to change and don’t want technology.
Tax organizers are a perfect example. For decades, CPAs sent paper organizers to clients which were costly for the firm and unutilized by the majority of clients. When those organizers were digitized, most software providers simply took a paper organizer and put it on a screen. In many cases, digital organizers were even more cumbersome for the client to deal with because they had to print the organizer, scan it, and send it back. It met the needs of the firm (reducing printing and postage costs), but not the client. Portals were much the same – convenient for the firm but cumbersome for the client. Adoption rates for both online organizers and portals were far less than vendor marketing and sales projected. Today’s organizers can be customized for the client based upon prior years’ information.
Client expectations have changed. Companies like Amazon, Apple, and Zappos have set new standards for customer service. From shopping to investing, everything can be done with a mobile app with a seamless user experience. The same can be done for CPAs and their clients. Real-time information is the norm, so waiting until the end of the month to receive after-the-fact data isn’t acceptable.
As we evaluate technology solutions, we see a shift from tools that make the CPA’s job easier to applications that are focused on improving the client experience – with a realization that when CPAs make it easier for their clients to do business with the firm, everyone wins. This is one of the reasons marketing is having an increasing influence on firm technology budgets. Here are a few examples:
Integrates with several accounting systems. Simplifies getting paid by clients and payments to vendors and contractors while saving time on data entry. When payments are sent or received, accounts are reconciled automatically, so the client never has to enter data twice. Clients can approve and pay bills from anywhere via the mobile application. It simplifies management of payables and receivables for clients and increases efficiency for accountants so they can serve more clients. It even notifies vendors of approval and deposits.
Automating the receipt and expense management process. Employees can take pictures of receipts and receive reimbursements in their bank accounts within 24 hours of approval via ACH direct deposit. Companies can customize expense policy rules for their organization to automate approvals or flag others for review. It integrates with several accounting systems, so changes sync automatically, in real-time. It simplifies the recording of transactions for the client and saves time for the accountant. It also integrates with leading time and billing applications for firm use.
Pulls information from receipts and invoices quickly, accurately, and efficiently. Publishes to the client’s cloud accounting package automatically. Receipts and invoices can be submitted anywhere, anytime using iPhone and Android applications. Users can create rules that tell Receipt Bank when and where to transfer information to transactions, suppliers, and payment methods. It streamlines workflow allowing bookkeepers and accountants to handle more clients and improve cycle times.
Tracks time on any device and syncs automatically with the client’s accounting or payroll software for accurate payroll and invoicing. Provides real-time, interactive reporting so clients can schedule, plan for payroll, or receive overtime alerts. Simplifies payroll for clients and helps accountants grow their practices.
Makes gathering tax documents and sharing them with an accountant easy. Can automatically retrieve 1099s, 1098s, and W-2s, or allows clients to snap photos of their tax documents year round. Clients can answer organizer questions, sign engagement letters, e-file authorizations and other documents from a PC, Mac, tablet or mobile phone. It simplifies tax time for taxpayers and reduces cost and inefficiencies for CPA firms. One suggestion under consideration is a “PayMyCPA” button where the client can pay using ACH which will improve cash flow and reduce credit card fees.
You’ll notice that each of these examples is cloud-based and mobile. Integration among cloud based applications is much better than with proprietary desktop software. When you evaluate new solutions, think beyond your firm’s internal resources. Think about meshing and utilizing only what you need. These applications provide for little or no data entry with accurate coding due to machine learning. And they’re scalable, with knowledge transferred among multiple clients. By meeting the client’s needs and expectations, they’re creating major wins for firms.
These examples are just a few of the available applications. The tendency of firms is to say, “that application is for small or large firms”. The good news is the applications are all being utilized by firms of all sizes and many on a global basis. Without a vision or plan it is often difficult for firms to know where to start and maximize their return.
“Clients today don’t know what they want, because the things they most want are things they don’t yet know are possible. Give your clients the ability to do what they can’t currently do, but would want to, if they only knew it was possible.” – Daniel Burrus
Sadly, the same can be said for many CPAs and their firms, which by definition are small businesses. The challenge is with change management and accountability. Firms with strong leadership advance while those that lack leadership procrastinate and struggle.
What would change in your firm if you were able to reduce workload compression? How much easier would it be to recruit top talent if you could deliver on 40-hour work weeks during busy season? What caliber of clients could you attract if you were able to move beyond transactional and compliance work your clients need to provide the higher-level consulting and strategic advice that they actually want and value? Think-Plan-Grow.
L. Gary Boomer, Visionary & Strategist of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is recognized in the accounting profession as the leading authority on technology and firm management. He consults and speaks around the globe on several topics including strategic and technology planning; mindset, skillsets and toolsets for the future; change management and developing a training and learning culture. He also acts as a planning facilitator and coach to some of the accounting profession's top firms.