Firm of the Future Spotlight on Large Firms: JCCS

Welcome to another article in an ongoing series that spotlights the accomplishments of medium-sized CPA and accounting firms. I recently sat down with Tony Vanorny and Erin Vukelich of JCCS, a firm with six offices in Montana, to learn more about the firm, how they are using QuickBooks® Online (QBO) and how working the cloud has helped retain clients and build business.

Mindy King: Tell us a little bit about you and your firm.

Erin Vukelich/Tony Vanorny: JCCS is a “why-purposed” firm whose mission and vision are built around “why” we do “what” we do, and why our clients would miss us if we closed our doors. This has not always been the case, but over the past six years, JCCS has been working diligently on a new strategic direction, complete with a full rebranding of the firm.

JCCS was founded back in the 1940s and has seen its share of changes over the years. The most recent of those changes has shifted the focus of the firm from “what” we do to “why” we do it, with a focus on seeing beyond the numbers to enhance the success of our clients and employees. Our culture focuses on extending leadership and trust to the outer most edges of our organization and rewards our employees for living the core values of the firm. One of those values is innovation, which we believe has lead us to where we are currently at in our Client Accounting Services (CAS) line.

MK: What prompted your firm to switch to QBO? What has surprised you the most about QBO’s capabilities?

EV/TV: The interest level of our clients in using QBO was our first exposure to considering a switch. We also were aware of the growing demand for cloud-based applications. QBO was met with some resistance initially, but ultimately, we were impressed with the streamlining capabilities and the surprisingly robust nature of the accounts receivable and accounts payable modules.

In addition, when we were deciding what our ecosystem would be for CAS services, we evaluated several different solutions that would be the core general ledger package solution. For several reasons, we quickly determined that the path of least resistance was going to be QBO; the most basic reason was the firm’s comfort level with QuickBooks. The other was the vision of Intuit® and the number of solutions that integrate with QuickBooks. Using QBO as the core of our technology stack made the selection of our suite of cloud-based solutions simple.

MK: For your firm, what have been the biggest benefits and/or timesavers that you’ve seen after having switched to QBO?

EV/TV: The biggest benefit for the firm has been the ability to bring an entirely new approach to accounting and advisory services. Immediate access to client data provides us the ability to address client needs in real time. The ability to see trends in our clients’ businesses as they happen puts us in the best position to advise our clients or address specific questions on the spot, rather than after the fact.

MK: For your clients, what have been the biggest benefits and/or timesavers? What do they like most about being in the cloud in comparison to their previous desktop experience?

EV/TV: There are numerous benefits that are routinely mentioned: on-the-go access, app integration, real-time assistance, disaster-proofing their accounting records and compatibility of Mac vs. PC. All of these translate to efficiencies gained by our clients in their accounting processes. The integration of QBO with other solutions used for bill payment, payroll and other areas remove duplication of effort, and remove the risk of human error.

MK: How did you or your team get buy-in from key stakeholders at your firm to make a switch to QBO?

EV/TV: This is a current and ongoing process for our firm. We see our stakeholders in the firm ranging from the staff providing service up to the CEO, with each level of stakeholder being just as important as the other. This process first started with the alignment of our strategic plan with the objective of bringing cloud-based accounting solutions to our clients. Developing a CAS service line became strategic initiative 1.1 in our most recent strategic plan. Matching the strategy of the firm with the vision of firm leadership helped us frame the message that we wanted to convey to the stakeholders. From there, it has largely been a process of education and demonstrating success stories. Along the way, we also made sure that all parties were given the opportunity to provide feedback, which is also critical to secure buy-in.

The key to success in any buy-in process is the consistency and frequency of the message. Anyone who has dealt with change management understands the duration that significant change requires. Our story is not very different than that of other firms. We are at the start of year three in the implementation of our CAS service line and still have a measure of implementation, training and best practices that need completion.

We also could not mention a QBO buy-in process without specifically calling out the efforts of our Accounting and Payroll Professional (APPs) staff. They are the boots on the ground delivering services, and their commitment to embrace the change and use the cloud-based solutions was absolutely crucial to our ability to move forward. We are very fortunate to have a strong group of employees and good leadership within our APPs staff.

MK: How did your firm get agreement from your desktop clients to move to cloud? If those clients voiced any concerns, how did you address them?

EV/TV: The idea of on-the-go access seems to be very attractive to clients. When we combine that with our ability to wholesale bill, as well as all the other cloud-based solutions that we can plug into a service delivery package, the discussion is a positive one. For clients that are suitable for QBO, it is relatively easy to demonstrate how this becomes a winning prospect for them.

The concerns we have received and addressed include:

  • Security - Intuit has a handy flyer regarding the security systems in place. Explaining that it uses the same type of security as financial institutions definitely helps.
  • Reporting function limitation - We spent time with clients determining what exactly their reporting needs are and what they have been accustomed to seeing in the desktop version of QuickBooks. We have been able to show them a different way to get the same information. Even more so, QBO has given us more reporting power regarding location and classes.
  • Pricing - The monthly subscription tends to be more expensive in one year than QuickBooks Desktop. Typically, we are able to demonstrate the benefits of streamlining and integration that save the client time and money in other aspects of their accounting processes. This, combined with 24/7 access, results in greater value to the clients that are suitable for conversion to QBO.

MK: What apps does your firm use to extend the power of QBO?

EV/TV: Receipt Bank, Bill.com, AccountantsWorld Payroll Relief, Fathom and Expensify make up the remainder of our technology stack, with direct integration with QBO. We also have clients that are using other apps, such as Toast, Talech and more.

MK: What piece of advice would you offer to other accountants or firms hesitant to move to the cloud?

EV/TV: Our advice would be summed up in five key components:

  1. Designate a champion in your firm. Someone needs to beat the drum consistently and loudly.
  2. Perform some measure of due diligence to make sure your firm is built for success in this service line and that your leadership and staff have the passion for implementing the change.
  3. Engage with the correct vendors during the vetting process. Without a doubt, the vendors have provided our firm an immense amount of support along the way. They have seen many firms go through the growing pains of change management and can shorten the learning curve with training, resources and recommendations.
  4. Develop strategic partnerships. Once you decide what your technology stack is going to be, develop strategic relationships with companies like Intuit, Bill.com and Receipt Bank. These relationships are invaluable in developing best practices, onboarding clients, training and much more.
  5. Finally, just start! We are talking about technology. The landscape of cloud-based services is ever changing. Just when you think you have the perfect plan and your firm is ready to start training and implementing, something new is available. Don’t wait for everything to be perfectly lined up. Once you decide that you need to move to the cloud, just start. From there you need to be educated and attentive to the changing landscape, stay engaged with your vendors and partners, and be nimble and open to changes along the way.