Using Data to Drive Enhanced Client Service Delivery
At a recent webinar in collaboration with Gary Boomer of Boomer Consulting Inc., our CEO Mark Edmondson and Head of Centre of Excellence Evan DeFord presented a session on Using Data to Drive Enhanced Client Service Delivery.
In this session, both Mark and Evan discussed:
• The landscape of the profession and the importance of data in client services
• Utilising skills and data as an asset, and leveraging the use of data available
• How to build better data competencies and skills
• Short-term wins you can make this busy season
If you missed the live session, you can now watch the full video on demand below:
Let us kick off with a polling question from the webinar which really sets the scene and gives us a little insight into what CPA firms are doing generally.
When asked when was your latest addition of innovation within your client delivery process – 44 percent of participants have added new technology in the last three months. Gary Boomer commented: “it is safe to say that 100 percent are probably going to add more technology before the busy season”, buoyed by the current upheaval that the global pandemic has caused.
There have been two critical things that we’ve seen develop over the last 12 months, one being the COVID-19 pandemic and two, the shift towards remote working.
Mark highlighted that McKinsey just recently released a study on remote working, whereby they carried out a number of different analyses around which particular territories remote working would lend itself well to, but also which professions. Interestingly, the top three areas or sectors where McKinsey felt remote working could be adopted without very much impact were:
- Finance and insurance;
- Professional, scientific, and technical services.
For those who are covering those sectors in the professional services sector and working very closely with finance, the numbers are quite strong. The study quoted that 62 percent of activity performed by professional services firms could be done remotely without impacting productivity whatsoever, up to a potential maximum of 75 percent.
What we have been hearing very strongly from CPA firms, not just in the US but globally, is that partly as a result of that move to remote working and just the general dynamics of technology and modern working, is that desktop solutions have become very difficult to maintain, sustain and use in the firm.
CPA firms have highlighted how frustrating it’s been for them that some of the big incumbent providers have not moved to the cloud anywhere near as quickly as they could have or potentially should have. This has exposed the lack of commitment and investment to giving CPA firms the tools and the technologies they need. And we’ve started to see a huge demand for cloud native providers to be able to take more of a role in the performance of an engagement.
The ability to integrate technologies to different solutions, to be able to create entire workflows rather than just simple, siloed solutions that solve part of a problem has been a huge demand driver from the CPA firms and what we’re seeing is that data is one of the key drivers to that. Most engagements that a CPA firm performs utilise financial information. When that engagement starts from a PDF, it can be a very messy process, but when it starts from a data feed that is real time and giving you the information you need, you can automate a huge amount of the end-to-end process.
When looking to the next 5 years, we asked CPA firms what they saw as the biggest opportunities with new technology developments. 39 percent of participants think that better tools for unstructured data and reporting are the biggest opportunities for firms and 44 percent think that advanced robotic process automation (RPA) is the biggest opportunity which is interesting.
In the area of robotics, we see generally two types of proposition coming into the CPA profession. We see the kind of the RPA type tools where you’re effectively programming the robotics to be able to almost sit at the machine and execute different activities – open applications up, move data from one place to another, and effectively simulate what a human would do sat at their machine. The second area we see robotics is in providers who are using robotics within the application and it’s happening almost behind the scenes.
We see those two different instances – one where the firm effectively has to train the robot on how to do the activities and move between the applications they’ve got and one where the robot is almost built into the application, and that really plays to there’s a huge potential for data driven or other activities that are currently performed manually to be automated. Now, one of the key challenges we find with firms when they’re looking to automate their techniques or their processes, is simply that processes are highly inconsistent across even their own firm.
Tangible quick wins using Inflo
Diving into real life, let us take a look at tangible things that firms could literally do this afternoon or tomorrow if they so wished and some of the key areas that we’re seeing firms start to leverage; data, data visualisation, data analytics in their audit and tax and their advisory services.
One of the key things that is exposed when we start to use data far more is getting to more efficient ways of accessing the data from clients. To be able to get it straight from their accounting system in its rawest and most detailed format to really drive that information and leverage that data in the process.
When asked who owns the extraction and transformation of client accounting software data, 56% of participants polled say that the engagement team which is interesting.
Our modules are really driving the interaction of that digital collaboration, so for example, for data acquisition you would use our Ingest module. Inflo Ingest is a key module because it involves the process of getting the trial balances and the general ledger detail from your client. For the raw detailed data that you’re looking for to help you downstream, Ingest drives that and changes the behaviours of how you get that data and really takes the burden off that engagement team, helping drive the client to own some of that process.
When we talk about what strategies you can use with data, if you can be strategic in how you engage your client and their time, as well as strategic in how you’re corroborating or understanding the entity and its environment that can be extremely impactful and powerful throughout the engagement whether that is planning field work or completion. Inflo Explore is able to interrogate characteristics, attributes and transactions at that individual transaction level detail if needed, because again, this is driven by the data that we imported in the data ingest process. Not only being able to import that information and then ingest the data very quickly but using that transactional detail to really understand the client.
Strategically, when you’re looking at leveraging technology, it’s where can you reduce the legwork – to use that RPA or that machine to help drive and do some of the work. This is where the Inflo Detect module comes in. Inflo Detect drives the journal entry testing process. We’ve taken the approach of rather than it being a siloed method, which is traditional of saying let’s look for large round dollar amounts, we’ve infused Inflo Hybrid Intelligence (InfloHI). InfloHI goes through and uses machine learning and user behaviours to run algorithms to effectively score and say, where is the risk within these populations?
So how do you meaningfully and tangibly bring something to the client to show not only what you’re doing, but to really help resonate on being that trusted business advisor? This is where the Inflo Reports module comes in. Inflo Reports is driven off the individual transaction testing within the Inflo Detect module and is extremely powerful in the sense of it allows you to capture some of that imagery that was in the Detect module.
When you go through and look at the relationships on each one of those routines, you can drill down and see a step further and really kind of explore other certain characteristics that help you identify where the risk lies. A lot of that is extremely helpful and is effectively information about the client’s system or about their users or about their transactions that is really hard for them to visualise or see.
How frequently is your firm using data analytics within your accounting services?
When asked this question, 56% of participants say that they often use data analytics but 44% say rarely which is probably a fair reflection of where the profession is currently.
What we see here is that firms are using data in different ways. First and foremost, they can use it quite simply to do their current engagements better and to deliver more value to their clients so their audit can be more insightful and their tax engagement can be more collaborative with the client.
Firms are wielding this as a competitive advantage – we’ve seen some firms going into tender situations and doing demonstrations of what their technology can do, and some are even going as far as getting data from their target to say this is what we can do, and this is how we can leverage technology to give you a new way of working. That plays towards the existing service suites of a CPA firm, but quite interestingly we’ve also seen firms who are getting good at this now starting to broaden their utilisation of the technology i.e., creating whole new service capabilities off the back of utilising the Inflo platform.
Let’s say the client uploads data to the Inflo platform, dashboards are produced, and the CPA firm can either use it themselves or can pass it back to their clients. They can publish some of the dashboards to the client as an interactive dashboard. What we’re seeing is some firms saying, well, why don’t we create analytics as a service offering to our clients? We could very easily get the client to upload the data to the platform – we could either just simply release the dashboard to the client, or perhaps we could even add some more value to that process by reviewing them, presenting them back to management or even producing some reports out of it.
So, we’ve got firms who are looking at tiered approaches to monthly or quarterly services which allows them to start thinking more strategically.