Dawn Goddard CA: The practice of innovation
Andrew Harbison speaks to Dawn Goddard CA about cloud accounting, MTD and the challenge of going paperless.
Cloud accounting software has been around for some time now, but for some practices it is still a tool that is viewed with trepidation, caution and confusion.
But for Dawn Goddard CA, Director of Goddard Accounting and Tax Solutions, Cloud accounting software is the best solution there is to support her clients.
“Cloud accounting provides real time, accurate, integrated financial information, which both my team and my clients can access, enabling us to react quickly to support our clients, and help us proactively give them advice and support when it is needed, rather than when it’s too late.”
Dawn does admit, however, that she has found herself in a “fortunate position” when setting up her practice.
“Six years ago, when I set up [my practice] cloud bookkeeping systems were still fairly new, but they were well enough established that they worked well at the time.
“I've never had to do a conversion as such, these Cloud accounting systems were available, and most new clients are start-ups, so we used Cloud accounting right from the start of the business life”
Although Dawn’s firm has embraced a digital mindset, with less than 5% of her clients still handing over paper receipts, she experienced the more ‘traditional’ accounting process during her training at a small firm in Edinburgh.
“For the first 2 years of my CA training, we had no computers in the office and all working papers were hand-written. On my first day in the office, my manager gave me a pile of receipts for a taxi-driver's businesses, along with last year's accounts and the bank statements, and left me to ‘pull them together’.”
Having seen first-hand how time consuming the bookkeeping process can be, automation seemed like the obvious choice.
“I was quite clear I wanted to remove unnecessary manual processes for both myself and the client, allowing me to really focus on giving advice and the client to be able to focus on their business.
“These systems allowed me to do that, allowing me and the client to be a lot more efficient and effective.”
There are still some pockets of resistance from clients, said Dawn, but it’s usually because they believe it will be a costly process.
Dawn mentioned that there are several excellent trusted Cloud based accounting systems available, but her recommendation would be to invest in quality to get the most benefit.
“However, offering clients the choice of a less expensive cloud accounting supplier is one way to persuade them to go digital.
“The key is to understand what the client needs from their Cloud accounting software and tailor their solution around this. Being familiar in more than one system can provide options to your clients.”
Provide up front training to your clients on how to get the best out of their Cloud based accounting.
“I find this works best through a WebEx call where I can share my screen with the client and give them the tour of their new system.
“Good training and user guides will enable early client buy-in, encourage clients to manage as much as possible of their own processing and reduce errors and calls for help at a later stage.
For me, as much as possible it's about a service for the client so my clients (and potential clients) can find everything they need in one place, as well as being a slicker way to communicate updates.
“It also makes your clients feel more financially empowered and much more likely to stay with your practice.”
Working digitally means the security of clients’ data, and the way accountants share it with them and their team, is a critical consideration.
Dawn’s advice is to “engage good local IT support, who can advise and manage your IT requirements, and help you adapt to growth.”
The inevitable implementation of MTD, and the lack of business awareness of the change, has also proved a challenge for Dawn.
“The government is almost leaving it to the cloud software and other developers to come up with the interactions.
“The feedback that I'm getting from some providers is they're maybe not getting enough guidance on that.”
Internally, Dawn keeps informed on MTD developments through ICAS updates and HMRC webinars
To support her clients, Dawn sends out client wide communications to keep them updated on the latest MTD developments and arranges presentations on the subject to help educate them on what they need to do to prepare for it.
If a client still isn’t convinced of moving to Cloud bookkeeping, and the issue is one of time or reluctance with work on computer/Cloud, then outsourcing the task is an option.
“I encourage my clients to do as much as possible. If a client said ‘I don't want to invest the time or ‘I can’t work with computers’, I may go to a bookkeeper as a middleman.
“The bookkeeper will take all the receipts and put them on to the digital system. I'll then work with the Cloud accounting system and the advice side.”
What does the future hold for Dawn?
Although her practice is almost completely paperless, Dawn is still looking for ways to make her and her clients life’s easier.
I find that there is continually new Apps, software and ‘Add-ons’ available for use by our practices and our clients, and it is easy to be overwhelmed with choice on what is best. A Digital Strategy or Plan is important to have in place and continually review.
“I'm getting [an app] developed at the moment through the standard My Firms App.
“For me, as much as possible it's about a service for the client so my clients (and potential clients) can find everything they need in one place, as well as being a slicker way to communicate updates.”
In summary, Dawn said: “Digital technology has so much to offer the accountancy profession and the businesses we support. Not being digital feels like we are not giving our clients the best service, or even an adequate one. "In my view, those firms that embrace new technology and keep up with the pace of change will thrive, while those that don’t change will be left behind.”