Collaborating with Accounting Clients in the Cloud

Lately, there’s been a great deal of attention placed on “collaborative accounting.” If you haven’t been following the many articles dedicated to this hot topic, it’s time to get up to speed. (Scroll to the end of the article to download a new white paper, “Setting a Goal for True Client Collaboration,” written by Darren Root.)

Collaborative accounting is a model that enables firms and clients to work in real time – removing the boundaries of time and distance to collaborate with one another and complete tasks with ultimate efficiency. And, yes, it is possible … if the right technologies are in place to support it.

Over the years, we’ve witnessed the continuum of technology innovation. We started with desktop applications, moved to connecting a few computers and then to full-blown networks. Today, it’s all about the Internet, the cloud, and mobile apps. While all this change can be overwhelming, each move through the technology continuum has been necessary to progress firms forward, and support highly efficient operations and exceptional client service.

These changes were also necessary to advance the collaborative accounting movement. Today, technology enables firms to serve clients with speed and efficiency, offering immediate response to questions and exchange of data and documents. True collaboration would simply not be possible without cloud innovations and mobile apps.

Let’s take a look back so we can see just how far we’ve come as a profession. Some 30 years ago, clients were hand writing checks, followed by accounting professionals posting checks and producing financial statements. Firms eventually moved to desktop software, where “backup and restore” was the next big thing. Then came the Internet, which allowed firms to transfer files online and eliminate time-consuming faxing and mailing.

Today, no matter the need, there seems to be “an app for that!” With so many choices in cloud-based software, it’s easier than ever for firms to work on the go and stay in touch with clients to consistently move work forward. QuickBooks® Online is a great example. Clients can access the software from anywhere and at any time to input data. At the same time, professional accounting staff can access the client’s information with up-to-the-minute views to correct issues or gain insight into the client’s financial status.

At the end of the day, it’s all about helping the client. That means that firm leaders must ask themselves: How do I design my firm to best serve clients? How do I set up a system that supports true collaboration?

I’m going to answer these questions as someone who runs an 11-person accounting firm. First, I believe that our clients want us to lead them in the direction they should go. We are our clients’ most trusted advisor; they look to us for tax and accounting expertise, and sound advice that supports business success. Without this direction, clients have a tendency to create a mess.

In order to offer this level of support, it’s critical to have the right internal system in place. Firm leaders must actively research all relevant solutions in the market and make decisions based on the needs of the firm and the client. Your system should support a paperless workflow, immediate access, and real-time collaboration between your staff and clients. You must then stand by your system and make it a mandatory element in working with clients. For example, if your system includes QuickBooks Online for cloud-based client accounting, SmartVault for online document storage, and portals for document delivery, then all clients must adhere to this model. This is all part of leading our clients in the direction they should go.

Today, our clients are enjoying immediate collaboration in so many other areas, including banking, financial investments, and social media. It’s all about being mobile and agile. Accounting is the next logical step in this area, but only if firms support a collaborative environment. To do that, the right technologies are required. The ability to work in real time elevates the client experience to new levels of convenience. This is where firms truly differentiate themselves.

Editor’s Note: Download Darren Root’s white paper, “Setting a Goal for True Client Collaboration,” written for Intuit®.