Me and my background
I’m Marius Fourie and I’m the Director and a Business Advisor at North Advisory Chartered Accountants, in Sydney.
I graduated from university in South Africa and came to Australia in 2008. Even though my South African degree is recognised here, I chose to undertake the Australian Chartered Accountant qualifications to maximise my knowledge and guarantee my skills were locally appropriate.
Why we decided to embrace accounting technology
Like most of the suburban firms in Australia, we didn’t have a lot of choice in accounting software until Xero launched and put our industry at a crossroads. Are we going to embrace technology or stay where we are? We chose to embrace it.
In the last couple of years, you’re now starting to see the fall out from that choice. We’re now able to assist our clients in real-time, compared to practices that chose not to embrace technology and find themselves a quarter or even a year behind with the numbers.
If you’re thinking about implementing technology in your practice now, I think it’s a no brainer. We found that 98% of our clients wanted that change and wanted us to be advisors to their business.
How we managed client expectations of new technology
When we made the shift to being cloud-based, our current clients didn’t really raise their expectations of our work as they already knew the value we provide. It’s more when we bring new clients on board that we see their expectations raised.
We set the expectations in the beginning and make sure to outline exactly what they can expect from us and how much that will cost. At the end of the day, they just want to run their business. The more hand-holding you can give them through onboarding and showing where you can deliver value, the better you’ll set expectations going forward.
What we do to differentiate in the accounting space
Technology has helped us to massively shift the way we offer our services. Now, we only charge for advice. We don’t charge for compliance lodgement of tax returns or business activity statements – they don’t even get listed as a price point. What clients pay us for is our expertise and business guidance throughout the year.
We also ensure that we engage with our clients personally. If they’ve got a question, I’m going to have a meeting with them and I’m not going to charge them for it. If we need to talk for a couple of hours about it, whatever the client needs, that’s fine – it’s all built into the relationship we want to have with them.
Some firms will offer that fixed-fee model but as soon as it comes to extra services, they’ll bolt them on with a price point. From the start, we offer all of our services at a single cost so the client knows exactly what to expect and we can create a more honest relationship with them.
What I’ve learned since using accounting technology
Very early on in our journey, we saw that the culture of the firm has to buy into the vision of technological change. Luckily, at the time I was a managing accountant, we had a partner who saw the need to pivot with tech, stood back and let us run with it.
We did see a slight resistance to the change but that’s natural. It took a while for everyone to buy in but once they started to see the benefits of being paperless and working from the cloud, they came around to new ways of working.
The other takeaway I’ve seen is that even if you invest in all of this technology, you still need to take care of your clients and make sure they don’t feel neglected.
Just because the old conversations don’t exist, such as: “Hey, can you tell me about this receipt”, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t reach out to your clients. It’s important to show them you’re there and you care. Pick up the phone every now and then just to check and see if there’s anything you can do to help.
What accounting practices need to focus on to grow
For me, accounting practices need to focus on getting their senior accountants and managing partners to be proactive and reach out to clients on a personal level.
It’s not the norm and I’ve found you have to teach accountants to be proactive, and that’s because accounting has never traditionally been proactive work. It’s always been let’s look at your accounts retrospectively and summarise what’s been going on.
Technology is shifting to a real-time understanding of data so we can see what’s coming rather than what’s been. Accountants need to spot those trends and be proactive with their advice.
How technology has changed the experience of work
I’ve found that embracing technology has given me a lot of fulfilment as an accountant. Most of my day is spent speaking with clients and I love that. Of course, I appreciate that might not be the case for everyone.
Accountancy has always been a technical discipline but I believe that’s becoming less important with technology doing that aspect for us. When I’m looking to hire an accountant, I’m looking for people who enjoy speaking with others and can teach because much of the role now is about educating clients on their options. This works for me because I like really speaking to people and problem-solving in a more philosophical way.
How being cloud-based has benefited us and our clients
With each new cloud-based process we’ve put in place, it’s allowed us to give time back to our accountants and let them focus on actually servicing clients. It’s not about reducing the number of people we need in our team, it’s reshaping what they do so they can focus totally on the client rather than onboarding the client onto our systems or collecting their receipts. These innovations are taking care of the financial statements, doing the tax returns and completing the BAS.
I think that’s the best part of this because as soon as you’ve got the freedom of time for your clients, that’s where you win.
About Marius Fourie
Marius Fourie is the Director and a Business Advisor at North Advisory Chartered Accountants, in Sydney. Marius recognised that he had a talent for numbers early on and that led to him following the Chartered Accountant path. He graduated from university in South Africa and came to Australia in 2008. Even though his South African degree was recognised here, he chose to undertake his Australian Chartered Accountant qualifications to maximise his knowledge and guarantee his skills were locally appropriate.