Top Challenges Faced By Accountants And How Technology Solves Them

Podcast Transcription:

Hello, everybody. And welcome to the Modern Workplace Hacks podcast. My name is Tom Freer. And in today’s episode, as we’ve been promising for a while now, we have a special guest. We have Melissa Vos joining us, and she is from Fuseworks. Melissa has a really cool story around how she established this business, solving a very specific problem for her accounting firm, which has now driven her into this software development sphere, solving problems for accountants. This is a really cool platform and Melissa knows and loves this stuff and you’ll get a lot of value out of it, particularly for the accountants out there who are looking to better utilize time in their practice listening. This is a good one.

Welcome to another Modern Workplace Hacks with Tom and Josh, and we have a special guest today, which we’re excited about. We’re promising guests for weeks, weeks. It has been, yeah. You’re not going to have to grow up with Tom and I today someone that maybe knows a little more about accounting and workflows and all that fun stuff. So we’re really excited. Melissa Vos is on the show today. Thanks for coming on, Melissa. You’re welcome. So Melissa got an interesting story. Actually, I had the honor of talking to her a couple of weeks ago and after speaking to her on the phone, thought she’s got to come on a show and share some of her insights. 25 years in the accounting practice industry and has created a wonderful piece of technology software, probably more than the technology. And yeah, I’d love for Melissa to probably share a bit more about it.

The company is called Fuse Works and Melissa, tell us a bit about your history. Yeah. Well, thank you Firstly, for having me on the show, which is very exciting. I had the chance to do a couple of podcasts in the last year and this is something that we’ve never, ever done before because Trove is obviously impacted the way we are communicating with our clients now and did my first ever Facebook Live. Oh, no, maybe I’m a little bit out of the agebreak. Thanks for having me on the show. So Josh alluded to the fact that I’ve been around in accounting for about 25 years. I started when I was three. About me. I have been in public practice and accounting firm based in Brisbane for quite a number of years and have done many, many roles in our practice. So I am an equity holder in the accounting practice.

I started in an admin capacity and I just worked my way through studying six years at Uni, doing my child at accounting over two years and learning the ropes of an accounting business from there. It morphed into me in my junior accounting days management in accounting and then running a practice and all the practice workflows that comes from managing and practice. I have probably done every aspect of running an accounting business and doing an accounting role, from making the coffees to talking to clients and running the work for the business. Again, lots of breadth of experience in public practice.

Accounting, probably fast forward to about seven years ago, we as a practice, had some frustrations. Every practice does have some level of frustration in terms of technology and the process that you follow. But probably what we found over the time was that the technology we were using in our business had some gaps in that and all technology. You can’t have one thing that does everything. We decided that there must be a better way to do things. And Amorto was always there has to be a smarter way. We have a big chart up on the board so we can nominate things that we were getting frustrated by and looking for solutions. But we toyed with the idea of trying to fill gaps through new technology when looking couldn’t find anything. And the biggest frustration for us as an accounting practice, which led us to our first development of technology, was around document collation.

So in an accounting practice and similar to most have a process around compliance tasks. And the nature of accounting is very compliance based, and there’s lots of paperwork. There’s lots of engagement with clients. There’s lots of signing documents, and there’s lots of just the workflow in terms of getting a job through the funnel, pull up the factory or the back office to actually getting it out to the client and having them sign up and engage with those documents that you have to do. And it’s a little you don’t even have time for any of the Proactive stuff. So we’re trying to free up our day to day repetitive, clunky, boring collection processes.

And a business partner of mine, Scott Barber, comes with a software engineering background, and he worked alongside us in the accounting business, and he had obviously the skills and the drive to turn our frustration into some software that we then used internally in our practice. And over the last seven years we’ve taken that to another level and have, I guess, been engaging with other accounting and financial planning firms to implement our technology into their practices to help them with their pain points. So I guess that I have is an accounting hat in a technology business now, which 100% of my time is in, and it’s really just trying to connect the dots with accountants that if you’re frustrated by some processes, that there are some technology elements that can help with that and just making sure that they’re educated and can see the value of why we’ve done what we’ve done.

That’s a very lengthy introduction. But really we started with a pain point. We fixed it. We’ve now got a business called Fifthworks, that is, I guess, an offshoot to the original membership, the accounting practice. And we work with lots of accounts around Australia and New Zealand on Fuse Docs, which is our first product Fuse charts. And more recently, again, through clients demand and frustration, we’ve launched a digital signing platform called Fuse Site, and they all tie in together. So obviously, Fuse Docs being the core element of it. And where does that fit in? What’s this role in? What is the gap that it’s the collation of an annual package of financial statements and tax returns was the pain point we had. That is generally where Fuse Doc staffs. So if you’ve got a practice management system and a document management system, regardless of what that is, think of Fuse Docs as the middle man between those bits of technology that utilizes the information in those systems to do a task for you, the common application, the way a firm might be doing it.

Now they might have a EE with the document management, and they are manually pulling together financial and tax returns for a family group. And that might be taking them an hour or more to brand, to Bookmarket, to put in divider pages and to put it in the order for that family group, do a letter. That is the part that Fuse Docs has taken and turned into about a five minute task. Okay, so think of I guess we have fused as a little robot. It’s the automation robot that sits inside your practice and connects with the systems that you need it to connect to to do that task for you. So instead of using a manual PDF tool, PDF Manager a lot of my practices would be using this. Eliminates the need to open up saving to PDF documents will automatically convert Word Excel documents into PDFs and give us a client ready bundle without us having to interact with it at all.

There it goes, ready to go, and then obviously the add on to that is the few signbits. Send it out, request the signatures, electronics, and track it. The annual collision is one repetitive function in an accounting practice that for every client every year you need to do the same thing. So why not have technology do that and leave us for the human parts of our job, which is the fun bit. There are probably five or six other very repetitive functions in an accounting practice like GST Superfunds Engagement Letters client checklists if you can do that process once. If I was looking over somebody’s shoulder and watching what they were doing for that very repetitive task, that is how we tell few stops to do that task for them. Every time that it needs to happen, you just open few stops and have it do it and make it do its thing. It doesn’t seem it’s very repetitive. If you were doing it for one client, you’re likely to be doing it the same way for a big practice that drives really good consistency.

So you might have a ten partner practice. Ten teams. Ten different ways of working technology doesn’t allow you to vary variation not only the efficiency of creating something. But the consistency is good. And even the review process and the shuffling backwards and forwards of checking things before they go into a client, all of that’s eliminated without being built workflow. The few sign one is an interesting one because in the period of last year and many years prior, lots of our clients were saying, we love how you just get us, because as accountants, we are solving their pain points. We’re not just building technology because we like it. We’re building it to solve a pain point.

The pain point that a lot of us still have is around document signing. So they wanted a way to leverage what Fuse Docs had already done in terms of creating documents and just give me a button to press it and send it to my client. So we’ve now done that. We’ve got the ability now with Fuse Sign, which can work very independently or few stocks. You don’t need few stocks. But what fusoftheart is because it knows who is in a family group. It knows who needs to sign the documents. It’s got all the documents there. You literally press a button and it will go out because it’s already pulling that info from the core platform, and it’s flexible enough to integrate with any of the system.

All of the above, we try to work with technology providers in accounting that everybody on our website. We’ve got the most common applications. We’ve been asked, and we’ve been asked a number of times. That’s something we work towards. But lots of the cloud based document management system, the traditional document management systems is where we would interact. Yes, they’re saving the documents somewhere. We’ll go off, find it, grab it, do what it needs to do, whether it’s windows, whether it’s SharePoint, whether it’s something in a document management structure, that’s what we’ve done. And look, we’ve put a lot of time and energy into the way we’ve built our digital signing platform, and it’s all around, making it very easy for an accounting practice to interact with a large family group where there’s lots of different documents and then signing.

There are lots of different people that are party to those documents. So we’ve got a patient actually out on the approach to that granular control. At a document level, we can nominate who has access to view, not view or sign a particular document within the one in one. Yeah, it’s a cool interface she showed me. Why doesn’t everybody use it? It’s so much easier than DocuSign. All the other signing platforms. You still got to get them up there. You got to tag your spot. Very good. I mean, it goes back to what you mentioned. We’ve said it a few times is the automation. If you’re going to do it more than once, then consider automating it. But the consistency is the key one, because you’re right.

You walk into any organization and everyone’s doing something differently trying to get the same result. But why didn’t that work? Why is this working automation and map it out? And I didn’t realize the time the time it took. I spoke to an accountant two weeks ago. He said, I download a word document, then I need to convert it. Then I need to compile it. Then I need to find the cover document for our firm, so it looks professional. It doesn’t just look like I know my own account sometimes sends me stuff. No cover page. I’ve got to work out where to sign it’s. A very clever bit of technology, and probably the best part about it.

For eight practice, large practices can afford to go and create their own tools, and whether they should for the smaller and medium sized vendors, they’ve got access to very customizable sort of bespoke solutions, does what it needs to do in their practice and connects to their systems without the price tag or developing something yourself from scratch. And that’s the scary part with any of this. And when we talk about those automation and string on their process, I think some of the fear around it is going to be expensive and time consuming and all of the excuses. But at the end of that, if you can find that, it is about finding the right solution for that gap.

And I think the Fuse docs that Fuse Works platform is where that works really well. Yeah, it’s pretty. We’ve learnt a lot of lessons over the last five years in terms of what makes for a successful implementation. We’re talking about this offer before in terms of having technology, but the right people and process surrounding that. So we do have a very structured and detailed discovery process and implementation process. And while it might seem so far reaching for a client to go, oh, that just seems like it’s going to take forever. It can all be wrapped up in a week. It’s really efficient because we’ve done it many times and we know what we’re doing and we know what best practice looks like.

And we can also ask the right questions of the practice, and we empower the champion. So we have Champions in a business, and it’s all about giving the champion the keys to success, so to speak, and making sure that the starting point that we’ve got is morphed into what they need as a business. So yeah, I think having some experience around that change management piece and optimization is really critical when you’re implementing technology. And our business is probably not a cookie cutter off the shelf solution.

Well, Pewsone can be we’re very much happy to hold hands and you’ve got to align it to the way they’re doing it and things like that. And I think what you said, the fact that it was born out of a frustration within the accounting practice that you were running, it makes complete sense to say, accounting organizations while they’ll all have their own way of doing things. Ultimately, they’ve all got a very similar process, very similar outcomes requirements, particularly around that compliance space. So anything you can automate is going to make it a lot better.

And I think one of the things that we always say is automation is not about replacing people either. So it’s not about going and going. Well, we can save those two admin people over there and you don’t need that anymore. Well, that’s not the objective, because if you can free those two admin people up, it means that you can then get your partners or your accountants to free their time up to go and do the value ad, the really value ad stuff around that face to face clients and what they actually do best. Absolutely. I love that. And we have heard firsthand from many people to the admin person that their whole job was all around compliance and collation of documents. And they just were overjoyed. And thank you so much at the end of the process.

A few months in this has changed my life. So what I was doing has now given me the ability. And in his words, he’s just up the road from where we are sitting. I can now help the accountants more. I’ve learnt more. I am helping in the marketing activities. So they’re doing stuff on LinkedIn. They’re doing some blogs, they’re doing events, they’re doing stuff they weren’t doing and that’s really enjoyable. No one wants to be doing the repetitive stuff. And another client example was a few months ago. Now she rang and said, look, we’ve implemented Fuse docs for something we needed to do. Three other things we needed for this. This and this because I’ve just had someone come in and resign and say I’ve had too much of my day is spent on menial tasks. I don’t want to do that anymore on my brute.

So the partner picked up the phone and said, okay, right. We need I do not want another case of someone coming in and resigning because of their day is too boring, which is fantastic. And that’s exactly where technology should be geared in that it’s about the people. I mean, there’s no people process technology. We live by that. And I was going to say something I completely forgot. It’s probably the most enjoyment I get is hearing Noah. Firstly, I guess it’s when somebody looks at what we’ve got an offer from the first time I go, oh, my God, where have you been all my life?

I have that number. I just understand the frustrations because I hear them. I can’t speak about them. And if you ask people, what is the pain point? They’ll tell you a lot of the time, but it’s another thing from knowing, but then actually doing things to change. Well, understanding what they can do as well. You don’t know what you’re doing, what is possible. And how do we education and that’s one of the reasons for this is about anything possible. I wish you the story. Anything is possible in that sense. I mean, technology. I mean, it comes down to time and money, to some extent to make things work. But if it’s a big enough issue, there will be a solution that can be done that’s going to add value back to the business.

And in every accounting firm, this is an issue. Do they know it or not the time people are spending doing these document collation tasks, even always digital signs and a whole other thing. But the collation of documents, it could be sold tomorrow. They just don’t know a step further as well. I mean, they might have someone doing that task and they don’t see the day. But how many times did I replace that person doing the task? That person has enough of doing that meaningful job, the cost of recruitment, the cost of retraining, all that sort of stuff. So there is all these underlying human costs in not addressing the roots of the issue. The cost, two of errors. So you think someone can just do that? That person does it. Invariably there’s a mistake. It goes to the manager.

It has to go back for changing, it has to go back to the manager. So the workflow around changing documents or they’re not presenting it in the way they should be for clients because it takes too long. Many times. I’m like, oh, no, we don’t do a front cover. We would never do a table of contents. That’s too hard. We don’t bookmark. We’ve turned from the traditionally back when I started a bound set of financials and tax returns. Front cover, divider pages in blue. Lovely. It took at a time. We’ve turned that into the electronic version of what we used to do. So it’s a nice electronic package with all the bells and whistles. What a lot of clients do is that turns that bounce it into an email with about 20 attachments and have their client have to click in and work out what they’re doing. You’re doing that? Not only is it not secure, you’re giving the client not a really great experience.

So view docs commercial together, identifying a separate signing pack upload it to fuseign away you go. Yeah, that’s right. And at the end of the day, that’s what people and clients and consumers want is they want speed and experience. Yeah, that’s it. Again. It’s just everything’s about time. So everything we do or want in life is really about how do I make more effective use of my time? I mean, I think we mentioned Uber. That’s how it started. That was it. How do I get it? Taxi faster. It was just the play. It’s time. It’s nothing else. Absolutely. As an accounting practice, you want to stand out, you want to stand out from the crowd. And this year has shown the people that stood up and was active and had the best level of client experience.

It’s all about that client experience. It is differentiate save time in your practice and also give your clients the best experience. Then you’re winning, I suppose, moving to that very commoditized service at the compliance level, every account can do compliance in that sense. But it’s how well is it perceived by the client as the retention on that and the price pressure. So you’ve got to produce something. You’ve got compliance cards. They often don’t realize there’s quite a bit of work involved in preparing financials and tax returns. Well, and lots of the legislation around certain things the client doesn’t actually get. So they get a tax return, which shouldn’t take more.

You can give that a bit more Polish at no cost. Then they’re getting going. Oh, that’s actually value is only ever perceived in that sense. And what pain is it solving? And has it made me feel when I finished that process and how easy to interact with my account because they’ve given me stuff in a logical order. And simply I can quickly sign up return. And then the other side is the accountant’s getting a really great experience because they know everything that’s out and the follow up and the follow up. And that’s what it is. It’s one thing. And in our business, it’s one of the things we do is that follow up because you can send some reminder. We know that they’re busy and they’re not going to get to it. So if we don’t follow that up, then it’s actually on us.

They’re not getting that outcome. And I think accounting is very similar. Well, they might send me my bath and it needs to be signed and lodged by the what is it was yesterday anyway, and if I haven’t done it, well, obviously that’s my responsibility. But if my accountant then emails me, Tom, this hasn’t come back. Correct. And that’s what you want. I like the corporate compliance model. So you have an annual review, you go out for signing and you have to pay attic to whatever it is now and then it was just forgotten. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve got a technology now through automation like BGL, that’s all automated. So you’ve got the reminder going out. It happens you pay it, you don’t get the late fees. So automation has helped in many ways. I agree. But that’s the experience.

As an accounting firm, it’s about. Well, I know there’s going to be a late launchment fee or whatever it is if the client hasn’t done it. And if they can be Proactive and automate all that and it is, it’s about that experience. It’s cheaper to automate that task and have the system handle that than having a person going. Oh, which is crucial. It’s got so much functionality. You don’t need it for everything. You don’t want to use it for everything, even though I can just because they can doesn’t mean you should. And then that’s pretty key, because you go into a lot of businesses accounting otherwise. And the amount of businesses that are run on an Excel spreadsheet scares me. And it might not be from financial but operationally run on a spreadsheet. The task of work planning most practices would be pulling that out into a spreadsheet and trying to manipulate who’s doing what data in the system. We have some interesting integrations with some clients in that purely that task management, even from an accounting perspective, you’ve got the admin team and the partners who I need this done and that done, and they’re trying to manage it in their email or task lists or whatever.

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