By Bruce Penson, Managing Director of Pro Drive IT
April: one of the busiest times of year for accountants. 5th April 2019 marked the official end of the tax year in the UK, but many people and companies will still be scrambling to complete their tax returns. So, accountants have their work cut out.
For smaller accounting firms or businesses with an in-house accountancy team, this can be especially challenging. Many firms will have found they were under-resourced and struggled to keep up with the increased workload – particularly as year-end approached.
As such, flexible cloud solutions like online accountancy software and remote access portals are needed to meet demand, save time and prevent the dreaded burnout. Not only will this allow for a more productive and agile core workforce, whereby accountants can operate remotely from any location – but it also creates better opportunities to outsource tasks during busy periods, without compromising ways of working. Plus, data and information will be much more secure.
Take it online
As the reasons for doing so become harder to ignore, many accounting firms have already turned to cloud-based applications. One particularly compelling reason is HMRC’s new Making Tax Digital initiative; as of April 2019, all companies over the VAT threshold of £85,000 will need to keep digital records and submit these electronically.
Fortunately, cloud-based accounting software makes the number crunching business much easier and improves efficiency, as accountants can access the same data from anywhere at any time. Because these services are delivered via the internet, they also remove the need for onsite hardware and all its associated problems – instead, using the latest technology to ensure systems work seamlessly together and keep data secure. What’s more, cloud accounting software also reduces costs and encourages greater collaboration with clients.
Even the smallest firms with the most limited budgets should be able to find software that suits their needs and price range. Xero, QuickBooks and Sage are among some of the best cloud-based accounting software for 2019.
A secure exchange
In the accounting world, documents are typically exchanged between firms and their clients through email, which is disorganised and can easily become overwhelming. Particularly during busy periods such as year-end when keeping track of communications, changes and approvals can be challenging. Not to mention, sharing data via email poses a massive security risk.
A document exchange portal or secure email system is recommended to facilitate the secure exchange of information between accountants and their clients. Some accounting software will even provide dedicated client portals or the ability for the accountant to connect to the client’s system – ensuring both parties have the flexibility of on-demand access to financial data, organisational resources and corporate applications no matter where they are.
Make the first move
Some accountancy firms may still have their systems on premise IT systems – this may be due to restrictions on cloud-based systems or simply because of the privacy concerns of their clients. Even then, these systems can be made accessible to remote workers via the web, giving more flexibility during times of high demand.
With the help of cloud services, accountants will no longer just be the person that helps out around year-end. Instead, firms of all sizes will be able to act as true business partners – keeping pace with their clients at all times, from any location.
But making the move won’t necessarily be as simple as flicking a switch. This should ideally be an automated process as any manual transference can lead to errors and compatibility also needs to be considered.
Although 2020 might seem a long way off, it is vital to start planning ahead and getting the necessary resources in place now to ensure you are fully prepared for the next year-end. To guarantee proper implementation of these services, it is worth seeking the help of an expert who can ensure the correct measures are in place to protect valuable data during migration or set up.
To find out how we can help your accounting firm make the move today, please get in touch.
AI: CUSTOMER FACING EMPLOYEES’ BEST FRIEND IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY
By Ryan Lester, Senior Director, Customer Experience Technologies at LogMeIn
We’ve all heard the old saying “money talks.” Well when it comes to customer loyalty and retention, good customer experience talks much louder, with 30% of customers leaving a brand and never returning due to a bad experience.
The truth is, there are a lot of companies with similar products and services, but that doesn’t mean that differentiation is impossible. So, what’s the solution? For financial services, large and small, customer experience is becoming the key competitive differentiator and the best way to deliver an impactful experience is to empower customer-facing employees to do their best work. Artificial intelligence (AI) is enabling these employees to create remarkably better customer experiences, resulting in customer loyalty, advocacy, and overall growth.
For financial institutions that have been considering new strategies for improving the quality and efficiency of their customer experience, here are a few ways AI can enable them to deliver the “human factor” that good customer experience demands whilst ensuring customer facing employees can provide a more positive experience for customers.
Increase employee productivity
How much of employees’ time is spent searching for answers to questions? Do they ever have to put customers on hold or even step away to get additional help? AI helps provide front-line employees real-time guidance so they can spend less time looking for information and more time solving problems. An AI-powered chatbot, for example, can be listening in the background of a conversation helping point employees to the right data, solutions, and processes to resolve customer issues faster than ever before.
Deliver a consistent customer experience
When banking customers engage with their financial institutions, they measure the speed and accuracy of the service through two criteria. First, how quickly can the system access their account and deliver the correct information? Is it faster than a human could type it in and share it? And second, if they eventually do need to be connected to a live customer support agent, is their information captured and passed along accurately? AI technology takes those general queries off the customer support team’s plate, providing a quick, accurate, and effective response. If a query needs a more in-depth response, AI can hand it off to support staff to address.
Not only this but leveraging a centralised, AI-powered knowledge solution ensures every employee has access to the same, updated information, so no matter who the customer speaks to, they can be assured that employee responses are both consistent and accurate across the board.
Accelerating employee training and onboarding
Like any industry, employee turnover is inevitable and can be costly. But, not training new employees correctly or in a timely manner could be much more costly. When it comes to financial services there is a lot to learn, whether it is something simple like the process for checking an account balance to all the nuances associated with mortgage loans. AI can support on-the-job training by helping new employees answer questions confidently, correctly, and much quicker than they could before.
Improving employee satisfaction
Today’s banking customer has all kinds of new ideas about their banking experience. “The Amazon Effect” has successfully raised consumer expectations to the extent that a consistent, personal, and relevant experience is the new normal. As a customer, how many times have you been told “I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer?” Customers want solutions to their problems and employees want to be able to deliver those solutions as efficiently and effectively as possible. AI assisting in the background helps minimise those negative moments – making employees job easier, less stressful, and overall more enjoyable.
Identify knowledge gaps
Do you know all the questions employees are getting asked? Do you know what’s easily answered and what’s not? Real-time insights allow knowledge managers to keep up to date on frequently asked questions and gaps in current resources. This allows them to strategically improve or add content where needed.
Augmenting customer service
Whether talking with an AI chatbot or a personable customer service team member, the modern banking customer has high expectations for convenience, speed, and security. Which means that the technology you choose to deploy and how you deploy it is now just as important as who you hire and how you train them.
Today’s AI solutions won’t replace customer service agents or get in the way of the human factors that drive the customer experience. On the contrary, they augment it, allowing the business to do more without adding human resources. The higher the quality of a AI chatbot solution, the better it will be at taking the routine requests off the plate of customer service agents—giving them more time to provide a personalized and positive experience for customers.
TIPS TO PROTECT YOUR CASHFLOW DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
By Rita Cool, Certified Financial Planner at Alexander Forbes Financial Planning Consultants
The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is as yet unknown, but individuals have already begun to have their lives disrupted by the country’s economic shutdown, with retrenchments, salary cuts and forced unpaid leave making them take stock of their financial position.
The basic principles of financial planning are especially relevant at this time, but in the short term, cash flow is more important to many people.
To help safeguard you and your family’s financial security, here are some tips to follow to make sure you’re making your money work hard for you:
- Draw up a budget – this is especially relevant if you’re worried about possible retrenchment of yourself or your partner. This will help you know how much you need to cover your basic living expenses and where you can save money. Don’t only look at what you need to spend money on, but also when you think you will need that money. Perhaps you paid school fees upfront at the beginning of the year, or your car registration is only due again next year.
- Check your bank fees. Are you in the best structure for your needs? Are you paying for services that you never use? Consider moving banks to get a better deal.
- Banks have waived the Saswitch fee payable for withdrawing cash at another ATM other than your own bank, but if you’re doing this, be aware of when this switches back as you can end up paying almost double the bank fees.
- Did you know that you start paying interest immediately if you draw cash from a credit card and that you do not get three or six months’ interest free?
- Go through your house while you have extra time and identify potential items which you could sell, as this will free up cash.
- Where possible, pay cash for items as the interest rate on hire purchase items is very high and you pay around 20% more for those items than the sticker price. If you cannot afford the item and you don’t need it right now, wait.
- Look around for bargains online rather than driving around. There are some good sales on, and you can support businesses that need your help.
- At the same time, be aware of spending extra cash you could be saving towards your financial safety net. There are lots of deals available, so balance the need for the 70% off bikini or new laptop with being cautious about the future.
- Use store coupons and discount vouchers. The main food retailers have loyalty programme structures that can be tailored to your specific spending patterns. Make sure you claim point or vouchers but look out for monthly costs to belong to a rewards program. Ask yourself if your monthly savings validate the cost. Optimally a reward scheme shouldn’t cost you money.
- Check with your insurance company if your premium can be reduced because you’re driving less during lockdown.
- Check your current insurances. Do an insurance rebroke. Make sure you are covered for what you need and take things off the list that you do not have any more and add what you have bought since the last update. Make sure you are not under or over insured and that your premium is market related. The cheapest premium isn’t always the best so be aware of exclusions and excesses and make sure you can afford the excess if you need to claim.
- In most cases you can reduce your monthly insurance premiums by not having a cash pay-out in the future. If you want a pay-out, save the extra premium in an investment product, not a risk product.
- Be wary of consolidating debt. You might pay a lower interest rate but it might well be over a longer period so the total interest paid will be higher. If you have debt issues, set up a debt plan with dates and goals to reduce the debt little by little. Do not give up.
- Be aware that payment holidays are not a free loan, you still owe the money and you’re paying interest on it. Check with your service provider.
Remember that the pandemic will pass. Try not to panic as this may lead to rash financial decisions, which could have an impact on your finances later down the line.
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