“I started out with the ambition to create a business that was, first and foremost, to build capacity for practitioners who saw that their challenge was a lack of time for themselves, and their people, to better serve their clients,” says AdvanceTrack founder and MD Vipul Sheth.
“It was, and still is, about harnessing technology and people resource to create a business that would enable accounting practices to have a real impact on their business owner clients and families.”
And, so 20 years ago, Vipul used his own experience from working in a variety of practices to form AdvanceTrack.
Ups and downs
“There were false starts along the way,” Vipul admits. “The biggest challenge we had was, when we looked at the landscape, we didn’t want to be a ‘me too’ operator.” In other words, copying larger scale outsourcing outfits would not work for a nascent business. Besides economies of scale, Vipul saw that firms would likely stick with more established players – particularly if the offering was essentially the same.
“So, we as a business had to make a choice: to do things differently. Way back in 2003 was where we inevitably had some missteps – but our first version of our cloud platform was born during 2005/06. As Xero was born, we were in the cloud.”
Building a technology business – one that involved a high level of trust between AdvanceTrack and its potential practice clients - meant Vipul ‘built the business with bootstraps”. “There were hard yards traipsing up and down with my brochure, convincing people they should entrust us with their business and their clients’ data.”
The here and now – and Covid
AdvanceTrack employs hundreds of people across the UK and India. It is certified under all the major
data security and organisational ISO/BSI standards. It is established and successful. But its ‘proof of concept’ came during Covid.
Vipul describes AdvanceTrack as having “tech so embedded within our organisation – the way we use it and interact with it – that moving to a home-based model during Covid was practically Seamless”.
“Our 17+ years of being a cloud business allowed us to move at pace to support clients – and our own staff knew we had a plan that meant they could work and be safe. It was an incredibly important time for us.”
Not only was the AdvanceTrack service ‘always on, as if nothing had changed’, but practices also saw that they didn’t always need staff in the office – or anywhere physically near to them. “That has definitely helped overcome a perception barrier – people can work with you from Glasgow, Manchester, Sydney or India.”
If we take the ‘now’ and ‘immediate future’, then Vipul is concerned that practices will postpone or row back on their digitisation plans, following further delays to Making Tax Digital (MTD) for firms in the UK. This, he believes, would be a grave mistake.
“You should never base a business plan on what the government’s proposing to do. The whole concept of MTD (or digital tax filings anywhere in the world) should encourage practices to think digital. And the key to digitisation is it enables those clients willing and able - and wanting a higher, more useful, level of service from their accountancy firms – to put the data in a format that can be used to provide that proactive service.”
“Whether someone in-house at your clients can access all these apps to help them run their business better – or you as their accountant are bringing your expertise to bear – it gives clients more useful and timely information to help them make better business decisions. And you as an accountant need your clients to be successful and grow.”
Vipul points to recent Capitalise statistics – which illustrate that businesses only look for funding days before they need it. “A proactive accountant with client visibility would have identified the funding issue much quicker.”
The future landscape
Things have moved on so quickly in the past 20 years in the worlds of technology and accountancy but that pace will at the very least be maintained, if not accelerate, Vipul believes.
“Remote will be the norm; staff working working in the world,” he says. While there has been the return to the office for many staff, to support training and development, Vipul’s idea of ‘remote working’ is more nuanced. “Look at the way the Big Four firms have set their operations up with global services centres … the accounting practice will directly employ fewer technicians – and their work will focus on checking and validating files rather than ‘crunching’ them.” External service hubs – alongside further automation – will manage processing.
“Technologists in the office will support both the practice and their clients in being connected: ‘integrators or interfacers’. There will also be the business strategist role: supporting owner-managers by understanding their ultimate life goals and ambitions – and how their business can help them in achieving those goals.”
Open banking and the automation of billing and invoicing will see further ‘ties’ made between accounting systems – particularly seamless payments. “There’s so much activity in this space already.”
“Because of that, I think we’ll a fully-fledged managed accounts/reports service as the norm for pretty much every different sized business. The funders will drive this because, as they become more sophisticated and want to better interrogate the books, it will drive more business owners to use accountants (and tech) to better manage their books and current financial position.”
Vipul Sheth is founder and MD of AdvanceTrack Outsourcing
ADVANCETRACK’S 20TH BIRTHDAY
If we’re celebrating AdvanceTrack’s 20th birthday, then there has to be a party! Well, a party atmosphere at least, at the AdvanceTrack Conference on 9 May at the British Museum in London.
And the atmosphere should be electric, for we have one of the world’s greatest accountancy thinkers presenting. Paul Dunn, chief story-teller at Clarity, B1G1 co-founder, and a four-time TEDx speaker is a key speaker. Paul made his mark on the profession with the Accountants’ Boot Camp, through which 17,000 practitioners partook. His ‘Firm of the Future’ book (co-written with Ron Baker) is widely regarded as a breakthrough text for professional services firms.
Also on board we have the effervescent Paul Shrimpling; and we’re delighted to welcome back Louise Wilson from leading outsourced calls and live chat provider, Moneypenny. More very special guests to be confirmed!
If you’d like to find out more, please contact Vipul Sheth at firstname.lastname@example.org.