That’s the message from Steven Kühn, Head of Software at Azets, formally known as the Cogital Group; who has spent his entire career working at the intersection of business and technology.
In recent years, we’ve seen the barriers around cost and accessibility to digital tools come down with the rise of the cloud and this is reshaping, rather than replacing, what accountancy firms can offer their clients.
“Today, accountants are highly-qualified people whose time gets consumed in certain cases by data capture.”
“By automating those mundane tasks, accountants can continue to evolve into the role of business advisors. Clients will get more value from their accountants because they will become true business advisory partners and not just the people who deliver statutory compliance services.”
Evolution and revolution
Steven began his career at an accounting firm, at a time when businesses began to experience a seismic, technology-induced shift. “My career started at the beginning of the technology revolution,” he says. Steven moved over to the IT department and one of his first projects was transforming the internal email system of the firm. This involved moving from one email address for the whole company to individuals having their own email addresses - something that is now taken for granted but then was the start of digital correspondence and document sharing.
The theme of evolution and revolution through technology has been a constant in Steven’s life and eventually led him to head up Software Solutions at Baldwins Accountants, which has just rebranded to Azets.
Azets, backed by Hg Capital, a leading investor in the accounting services and technology sector, is an international accounting and business services group serving over 120,000 clients ranging from entrepreneurial owner managed businesses that need to scale to medium sized and large international corporates, public sector enterprises and private clients.
The group is big on the notion that providing clients with technology-driven outsourced support enables owners to focus on their core operations to achieve long-term success.
Walking the talk
For Steven and Azets, reshaping the narrative of the accountant and the business services model had to begin internally. In other words, they had to walk the talk and build a team of digital evangelists within the organisation if they were to showcase the benefits of a tech-focused approach to their clients.
“Internally, we digitised our full workflow end-to-end, from data capture all the way through to digital submission of statutory accounts. This has been implemented over the last few years and has escalated in the last six months to a full digital journey for our staff.”
Azets has also developed its own secure, cloud-based portal called CoZone where clients can submit and access all of their financial information and business performance data and interact digitally with their accountant.
“By having an end-to-end digital platform, it allows people to understand the value of working effectively and digitally. Our accountants / business advisors understand the technology we are recommending to our clients.
Recommending best-in-class solutions
Steven and Azets are also setting themselves apart by giving clients access to industry-specific experts who are able to provide a deeper level of advisory support.
“Vertical specialism is very important because, as a client, if you deal with a general accountant you might be missing out on industry-specific knowledge. Vertical specialists have deep knowledge of industry specific legislation and insights that will benefit the client.”
“Azets are unique in that we have a strong belief in retaining local offices to offer a local and personal service - 73 across the UK alone. Because of our geographic spread, we understand our local business communities and with this local touch, we able to hold our client’s hand as they scale from being a small entrepreneurial business to become medium sized enterprise or grow internationally if that is their desire.”
It’s an approach that promotes the “business partner” relationship with clients, helping them grow their businesses in the most effective way through tailored advice and also through recommendations on which best-in-class tools to leverage.
For Steven, this aspect of finding relevant technologies that make business sense for clients is particularly important and he looks at three key criteria when selecting solutions. The first is quality and knowing it is delivered by a trusted provider, the second is ensuring there is support available within your timezone if something goes wrong, and the third is that it’s commercially viable for a business – there’s no point recommending an expensive piece of software for a smaller company.
Real estate verticle solution
One such vendor that ticked these boxes was Re-Leased which is the property management platform designed for commercial and mixed property portfolios. Re-Leased won Xero’s industry-specific app of the year in 2020.
“The service we got from Re-Leased was exceptional and the quality of the product was great. It’s easily deployable and connected to cloud accounting software which gives us a property vertical outsourcing route, but the key thing was the service.”
Firms of the future must be adaptable
With technology advancing seemingly every day and redefining how whole industries operate, Steven believes this will drive businesses to turn to more subscription-based software solutions.
A new generation of business leaders, who are digital natives, will also spur this shift as they become decision makers.
So, what does that mean for the accountancy firm of tomorrow? They must be focused on providing greater value through a true partnership combining advisory with technology and specialist industry knowledge and as Steven says, “not just being a statutory compliance partner.”
“To retain clients, the service levels will need to be high and accounting firm who will survive will be those that recognise the shift to advisory and adapt to technology as quickly as possible.”