Collecting & managing clients’ data

Year-end accounts work makes the largest contribution to the income of most accountancy practices. It is also the foundation from which additional services can be offered to clients – both complimentary compliance services and added-value advisory services.

Compliance services are under pressure though. Fees for year-end accounts work are mostly static, or falling and competition is getting tougher. Emerging technology is suggesting a future where clients are less dependent on their accountants for the completion of basic compliance tasks.

So it’s never been more important for accountants to secure their compliance work into the future. To do so, year-end accounts work must be managed ever more efficiently. Productivity gains are the price of staying in the game.

Not all accounting records are equal

Unless you do the client’s bookkeeping for them, you are going to need them to provide you with their accounting records at year-end time. The nature and condition of those client accounting records has the most significant impact on the productivity of your year-end accounts work.

Client records can take the following forms:

  • No records
  • Paper-based “books”
  • Spreadsheets
  • Desktop software
  • Cloud software

No records? Really?

Yes, you can efficiently handle clients who have kept no records at all – provided they are not cash-based businesses. The decline in the use of cash as a means of payment and the rise of service businesses and internet banking mean that, often, the client’s bank statements are the accounting records.

The key to handling this scenario is to get hold of the bank statement data in QIF, OFX or CSV format (standard internet banking file export types). Ask the client to provide such a file for the whole accounting period.

Now you need to use smart technology to read and help you post the transactional data. Most, if not all, bookkeeping software will allow you to import the bank data but we recommend Xero – and its Cash Coding feature for this purpose. For more information see https://help.xero.com/uk/BankAccounts_Details_FastCode.

Paper-based “books”

Efficiency and productivity gains are almost exclusively obtained through the use of software and other technology. Physical records present a barrier to the application of technology.

Physical records require physical collection or delivery and return. They require manual handling and storage in a real-world space. The presence of sensitive financial documents on-site represents a security risk. There is a danger that records can be mixed together inadvertently, lost or damaged.

Digital records are not subject to most of these limitations and, where they are, the risks are much more easily mitigated.

Our recommendation is that you have a “sunset” policy as far as physical records go: this means you speak to each client and tell them [a] that this year is the last year you will accept their records in paper-based form and [b] you will gladly (and without charge) help them move to a software alternative that suits them for the future.

Spreadsheets and desktop software

If “digital is good and physical is bad” in the world of accounting records, then it makes sense to focus productivity efforts on improving how you collect and manage digital accounting records.

Firstly, it does not make sense to receive digital records in a physical form. All of the limitations relating to paper-based records outlined earlier also apply to Floppy Disks, CD/DVDs, USB sticks and Portable Hard Drives. You don’t want to collect, store and manage real “things”, you are only interested in the data they contain.

We recommend that you only accept client accounting data by email, or a download link. For free tools see: http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to/storage/3509067/how-send-large-files-free-email-big-photos/.

Cloud software

The Holy Grail of efficiency and productivity as regards collecting and managing client accounting records – because there is no collection or management to be done. Armed with your login details for the client’s data you have all you need to get started with the year-end accounts work.

Just make sure you have a system in place to check that the client is ready for you to start work.

Client data files – organising for efficiency

Whether you are handling spreadsheets or desktop software backup files, you need to be organised to maximise efficiency. Use a lightweight database that stores key information about each client, and their accounting records, and can ideally automate sending an email to prompt the client to send you their data.

Setup your database so that nobody ever needs to ask these questions.

  • When is their year end?
  • Who do we contact?

  • What software do they use?

  • Do we have the same version?

  • What’s the username and password?

  • Who got the file?

  • Whose inbox do I need to look in?

  • Which PC is the file on?

  • Which folder did you put it in?

How Checkmybooks helps

Checkmybooks collects your client's Sage, QuickBooks or Xero data for you, analyses every transaction in the accounting period and then tells you exactly what you need to know. Automatically providing a list of Review Points, our unique software shows you exactly where you need to focus your attention.

From there you can easily and quickly drill down into the detail and make journal adjustments as needed. When you're happy with the revised numbers simply export the final trial balance into your accounts production system. When you finalise the job, Checkmybooks produces a report summarising all of the work you’ve done and a CSV file of adjustments for your client.

Since your clients will now be uploading their accounting data directly to your Checkmybooks account, you can stop collecting backup files, and remembering their passwords, and fiddling around with different versions of Sage and QuickBooks. You can probably even stop spending money every year on software upgrades just so you can handle different types of client files.

You can work the same way on every job, because they all look and work the same in Checkmybooks, regardless of the software the data came from. Your team will thank you too, as they don't have to work with lots of different accounting software anymore - only Checkmybooks, which is simple and easy to use.