For both companies featured this year, client accounting services has a lot to do with finding the right clients – those who want to grow, learn, and fully realize the benefits of outsourcing their accounting and sometimes CFO needs.
Tonneson + Co., based in Wakefield, Massachusetts, believes the future of CAS is in service, not software. And indeed, it is the value that accountants bring to the customer that will dictate everything from the number of billable hours spent to the software they choose to deploy the necessary services. Based in Salem, Indiana, small business Steven Brewer & Co. finds that without the “advisory” element, CAS is not a satisfactory service for customers. While the central accounting platform is an important element in the delivery of CAS, so are the peripheral software applications and services provided by the business.
Design an approach
Solidify: Tonneson + Co.
Size of the company : 76 employees
Software: QuickBooks Online
Checked in: Customer Service Manager Stephanie Howard
On CAS: For Stephanie Howard, client accounting services are defined by client needs. Many customers only need simple accounts payable and accounting, but others need full accounting management and reporting. Tonneson also provides consulting services, internal control reviews and software assessments as part of its CAS offering – as Howard said, “The role of CAS has really grown.”
Howard came to Tonneson this year from the private sector. His experience there showed him that many companies seek to outsource certain tasks because it saves money and time. “Especially if you go to a CPA firm, you get a lot of expertise at a lower cost than you would hire in-house,” she said.
Software: Tonneson uses QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online as their software of choice to deliver CAS. The company is trying to move most of its customers to QBO because it’s cloud-based, which offers visibility and access from anywhere, and lots of integrations with other apps. But, she added, “I don’t know where CAS is going, if there really is only one solution. With internal control reviews, etc., larger companies may already be using software that would make more sense. I think there’s a lot of movement right now to try to define what’s best for specific clients.
Indeed, some of Tonneson’s largest customers use Xero, which is also cloud-based and also offers integrations with a range of apps. Bill.com is a favorite app the company uses with QuickBooks and Xero.
Tonneson serves clients in a range of industries: non-profit, technology and life sciences, retail and food service, professional services, manufacturing, construction, distribution and logistics.
Challenges: The biggest challenge Tonneson faces in delivering CAS is not with the software, but with streamlining customers into the software. Going from office to virtual is a challenge for some customers who find it difficult to switch.
To come up: “In the future, it may not be a single system that touches everything in terms of systems and services,” Howard said. “It’s going to be about designing our approach based on need and the most cost-effective way to do it.”
Solidify: Steven Brewer & Co. CPA
Size of the company : 7 employees
Checked in: Owner Steven Brewer
On CAS: “We think Accounts Receivable services are heavy with accounting and payroll services,” said Steven Brewer. “It’s basic, but I think CAS should be spelled CAAS – client accounting and advisory services. We had to go into advisor mode to make CAS a good service, and that’s really what a customer needs.
Software: A decade ago, Salem, Indiana-based Steven Brewer & Co. was doing in-house payroll for some clients and trying to “build a bit of a payroll practice,” Brewer recalls. So the company partnered with a large payroll company, but after a few months the company realized they wanted more control over the process. For example, Brewer wanted to be able to print checks on the spot, instead of sending payroll and waiting for the payroll provider to send the checks. That’s when he came across AccountantsWorld’s Payroll Relief product.
“We read the reviews and it sounded like a system that would meet our needs,” Brewer said. “They have a nice trial period and prices.”
Brewer & Co. tried it for a year, liked it, and decided to stick with the product. Over time, the company also moved from the other accounting software it used to AccountantsWorld, in order to reduce costs and have the company on one software that did everything it needed.
“We’ve had AccountantsWorld for about eight years, and it really meets all of our needs,” Brewer said.
By the way, to serve remote clients, Brewer also uses Liscio, a file sharing and email hub for accountants. The company has customers in 21 states.
Implementation: Brewer said he did the software implementation himself. It feels very in tune with the software because of it.
“The problem was getting staff to buy into it,” Brewer said. “They used to [the former product we were using]. Getting them to try new software was very difficult. We had gone through three different groups of staff since then, just getting the right people in. We tried to get people out who were having a hard time accepting and we brought in people who wanted to work the way we wanted.
Strong points: With Steven Brewer & Co.’s old software, the company sometimes had to extract data and put it into a different program to create financial reports, which is an important function when a company acts as an accounting department or outsourced CFO. for a customer. AccountantsWorld’s accounting power allows Brewer to create these financial statements directly in the software.
“Sometimes the basic financial statements that we give to clients, they can’t read them,” Brewer explained. “I can create a more readable set of financial data that the client can understand. I can group expenses into categories because it’s somewhat customizable. For example, maybe I want to separate advertising and marketing expenses – I can combine them in the income statement.
Brewer also highlighted Payroll Relief’s high level of automation: “It’s good because there’s so much automation with ACH and e-deposit. Colleagues who do payroll in other ways need to enter and make payments, transactions, etc., as part of the electronic federal tax payment system, all of which is integrated with Payroll Relief. We set it up, it runs all the stuff in the background, we don’t have to.
Challenges: While Payroll Relief has been “very good on the federal side,” there are some “limitations on the state side when it comes to integration with state unemployment and sometimes local tax offices,” a said Brewer. The company must perform certain workarounds to connect to these local tax authorities.
To come up: “We’re definitely still in growth mode,” Brewer said. “What we’re looking for is the right customer – they recognize the value we bring, they want us to be able to work with them and work alongside them to grow this business.”
Brewer uses social media to present the company as an expert in certain areas and finds good leads through this type of marketing. It aims to start providing more benchmarking services and industry-specific information for clients, giving them goals to aim for, like annual budgets.