Running an accountancy practice through the COVID-19, and beyond

Chiene + Tait’s new Accounts and Business Support Partner, Dave Shadwell, was delighted to recently take part in an online discussion led by MyWorkPapers, with leaders from other accountancy practices. The event focused on experiences of running a practice through the COVID-19 crisis and how, in the future, firms may work differently. Here, Dave talks us through the main areas covered during the discussion.

COVID-19 has forced many accountancy practices to change or re-think technology requirements, but at Chiene + Tait, being a ‘digital first’ business is one of three key pillars of our strategy. There’s no doubt that the pandemic has reinforced the importance of this, but it hasn’t changed our direction. Indeed, I feel strongly that the lock down has given us an opportunity to make some significant changes in the business, addressing issues such as climate change and increased flexible working models. I envisage that we will see a hybrid model, when our office officially reopens, to ensure our people can achieve the best work/ life balance that suits them.

One of the things that the lock down has clearly shown, is that our team doesn’t need to be in a building all together to serve our clients. Although our people have told us that some of them miss the social aspect of the office, others are revelling in managing their time more effectively. Overall, we are determined to pick the model that works best for all, and collaborate to deliver this as a team. Fundamentally, we are our people. That’s why we continue to recognise and place huge value on the fact that our staff have an active growth mindset, curiosity and a willingness to learn new tools and techniques

Another key learning is the recognition that accountants aren’t bean counters, clients view our role as essential to their success – we help them understand and make sense of risk, uncertainty and opportunity to decide the best way forward to meet their ambitions.

There are, of course, other ‘positives’ for our business – forcing a change of mindset around the smarter use of technology to enhance what we do for clients, adopting an approach of welcoming change and challenging ourselves to constantly look for new and better ways to support our clients. At C+T, we want our team to benefit as much as possible from how we innovate and support our clients. This enhances our credibility when advising clients on how to adapt their businesses to change and technology. Indeed, our virtual CFO service has seen a huge surge in demand, to provide the higher-level, strategic, financial and commercial advice required to help clients deal with risks and opportunities. Cloud technology has made this offering far easier.

Over the next six months, the challenge will be to navigate ourselves, and our clients, through the huge economic uncertainty that will only reveal itself as we start to see the real economic landscape. We know times are going to be hard, but it’s still a massive unknown – I personally believe the UK’s future prosperity will depend on how well we can all adapt to technology. My advice to any practice, or other type of business, is to push forward with using cloud-based technology. You will wait indefinitely if you wait for perfection, or to be 100% ready – the sooner you jump, the sooner you will reap the benefits. By building in a 20% learning curve, you will build solid change management and structures to the implementation, resulting in an opportunity to gain the most from innovation and adapting to future change.

David Shadwell joins us as Accounts and Business Support Partner

David Shadwell, an experienced financial services sector and SME business adviser, has been appointed as Partner within Chiene + Tait’s (C+T) Accounts and Business Support team. A University of Edinburgh graduate, he returns to the UK after a nine year spell in New Zealand.

David initially trained and qualified with a Big 4 firm in the Isle of Man, where he spent 14 years working in senior accountancy roles.  In 2011 he relocated to Wellington, New Zealand to take on a Partner role within a Big 4 firm. He joins C+T from Findex, one of Australasia’s largest advisory firms, where he served as Managing Partner.

David will be based at C+T’s Edinburgh office where he will work alongside Partner Jeremy Chittleburgh, the firm’s Head of Accounts and Business Support team.

Commenting on his appointment, David said: “I’m delighted to be back in Edinburgh and joining the impressive team at Chiene + Tait after nine fantastic years abroad. I look forward to working closely with my new colleagues, building on my experience and helping further develop the firm’s business.”

Jeremy Chittleburgh Senior Partner and the firm’s Head of C+T Accounts and Business Support team said: “We warmly welcome David, who brings a high level of international experience to the firm, particularly within the financial services and SME sectors. Despite the challenges of operating in the current pandemic, our team continues to grow and support our clients through this unprecedented time.”

Making Tax Digital ‘digital links’ requirement delayed

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, HMRC has confirmed that any businesses undertaking Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT now have an extension to 1 April 2021 (previous deadline 1 April or 1 October 2020) to meet the ‘digital links’ requirement related to their recordkeeping systems.

To be MTD for VAT compliant, the digital links requirement will see businesses move their system to ‘functional compatible software’. For clarity, a digital link is when the VAT data required for MTD is transferred between two digital places such as software or computer devices, for example when a business digitally transfers VAT data to their accountant in order for exemptions to be calculated. It also occurs when a business retains transactions with a spreadsheet and uses a formula to calculate a total. However, HMRC does have two strict rules on what defines a digital link for HMRC, that is:

  1. Data is transferred electronically between software programmes, products or applications – linked cells in a spreadsheet or a formula.
  2. The transfer is automated – it doesn’t need manual intervention such as copying data by hand, but a click of a button is considered a digital process.

HMRC also accepts less obvious digital links including:

  • Emailing a spreadsheet so it can be imported into software.
  • Using a memory stick or pen drive.
  • Import and export including downloading and uploading of files.
  • API transfer.

If you have a query about Making Tax Digital, contact our team today at MTD@chiene.co.uk.

Automating your bookkeeping

Taking advantage of new software can save you time and money. (This article first appeared in the Winter 2017/18 edition of our Connect newsletter.)

As technology advances, so too do the opportunities to improve processes. For bookkeeping, that can be automating data entry, whether it be sales, purchases or bank transactions. This enables accurate and timely bookkeeping, which enhances decision making and cost control.

Why should we automate?

A common issue with manual bookkeeping, particularly when there is a high volume of transactions, is a combination of both the time cost of inputting the data and the increased risk of human error. This can lead to the production of Management Information being out of date (i.e. too old) and expensive. Financial automation is therefore about improving your decision making and allowing profitability and cash flow issues to be caught early.

The reduced admin time will also allow you, the business owner, to put a greater focus on core business operations. As a business, the last thing you want is to stunt growth because you’re spending more time and money on your non-core operations.

How do we automate?

Automated bookkeeping services are becoming more common and are getting smarter. For best results, they will work with a cloud-based accounting package and they are third-party applications that integrate with your current accounts package.

The key to automation is creating workflows to capture your bills and invoices either directly or by sending the data to a unique email address. The system will then ‘read’ the invoices and prepare posting documents for review and approval. Invariably, they will require some small additions or narrative changes. The software is designed to learn and will start to remember which details were completed previously.

There are now mobile apps that let you snap a picture of a receipt and upload it straight from your phone, so no more looking at multiple receipts with the details all in different places, and no more entering individual coffee receipts one by one!

Make software work for you

The imminent arrival of Making Tax Digital requires that businesses consider how they can produce accurate and timely financial information, with the least amount of strain on resources. Within our Business Support Department, we are working with clients to implement these systems daily and would be delighted to discuss the potential of these with you.

With the tools and technology currently available, there has never been an better time to start automating to your business’ advantage.