A Game of Two Halves in Accounting

In professional football, there has been a huge overhaul using technology within the game in recent years, the pinnacle of this being the introduction of VAR – the Video Assistant Referee. VAR has aimed to reduce margins of error arising from on-field decisions, using replays of incidents using several camera angles.

The blend of technology with professional expertise, in the case of the referees, follows closely with the practice that Ryan Alderson – a qualified referee himself – likes to use in the accounting and digital advisory work at Harold Sharp Limited.

The kick-off

Born in Sunderland, Ryan grew up in Manchester and his talent for Maths was evident in school from an early age. So much so that studying accounting as a core subject at college and then continuing the same path at university was an easy decision.

His love for football has also been consistent throughout his life.

“I’m a huge Newcastle fan! Quite different from the rest of the family who are all Sunderland fans, which has always caused a few arguments on Derby day!”, he laughs.

Not satisfied with just being a supporter and playing Sunday League football, the 29-year-old also acts as a referee in football matches.

“I’ve refereed all the way to semi-professional level and also in the FA Cup. I’ve been lucky enough to go around the country doing that, which was a great experience”.

Wearing the armband

A football referee must have integrity, confidence and a good sense of judgement – qualities that Ryan brings to his day-to-day job, alongside his keen interest in technology. It didn’t take long for him to realise how much automation could help accountants and clients to save time, maximise efficiency and reduce risks.

Today, as a Cloud and Digital Specialist at Harold Sharp, Ryan spends his time advising clients and colleagues on how to improve their workflows with automation.

“I get two days a week where my job is dedicated to tech. Whether that’s speaking to someone who’s getting a certain software set up, someone who needs help with what apps they need… or whether that’s just going out and researching what could add value to our client’s business, or indeed Harold Sharp itself”.

Ryan retains his own portfolio, which he values as hugely important to maintain his understanding of clients’ needs and to stay up-to-date on how new regulations affect them. To keep these relationships, Ryan splits his time between regular accounting services and tech advisory.

“For me, it’s really important to just pick up the phone and have a conversation with clients, human to human. People like that. You tend to find out more of the nitty gritty that way and it sometimes results in identifying another problem, which may actually be a priority and one that you wouldn’t have identified over an email exchange.

Digital advisory is not about being a robot who knows everything about tech – no one knows everything. It’s about understanding what challenges a client is experiencing and finding a solution that fits”.

No “hand of God” allowed here

Today, accounting firms can’t achieve a successful digital transformation without a focused strategy and a digital resource. But there’s much more to the role of a cloud accounting specialist than simply signing up for a couple of apps.

“Adding clients to Xero alone doesn’t make you a cloud accountant. You need to make sure clients are set up properly – and I mean properly! The number of half jobs that we’ve seen come through… The idea that someone could have a Xero account and not have bank feeds in place is rudimentary to me. Or, to anyone who isn’t using the fixed asset register on Xero: why? And even down to lock dates and anything like that… So that’s a good start”, he smiles.

Ryan highlights the importance of communication to support both colleagues and clients on this journey. Ultimately, in any firm, the cloud accounting specialist can only thrive if the whole team understands the value they bring and are open to suggestions. And, of course, the power of networking has never been more evident.

Harold Sharp made a decision to invest in technology and understood early on the importance of professionals like Ryan. Today, he directly influences several decisions the firm makes on what they take forward or not and which apps they use to address specific pain points that he helps to identify.

“From my point of view, it was nice to know the expectations of my job when we started this. Not everything I was doing had to be revenue-generating, there was time to research and develop this part of the business. You need to keep in touch with the apps to know what’s coming, with clients to understand what they need and with other accountants too”.

Divers will get the yellow card

According to Ryan, practices can no longer afford to delay their digital transformation. His advice? Get your internal processes in place, go cloud-based and encourage clients to embrace technology.

“We are investing in digital and putting it at the core of the strategy because it’s the future, right? So there’s no point in doing half a job”.

Often, clients do not know what software they need or what they can automate – and that’s an essential part of the cloud accounting specialist’s job. After all, pairing technology with people and getting them to use it properly benefits everybody – businesses and accountants.

“As accountants, we generally serve the same pool of people, so if you don’t show them those solutions, someone else will. That’s why we’ve been one of the early adopters of technology to make processes better for us and our clients by focusing on the value it brings and how it evolves. For example, we started using Dext Precision at the very beginning and saw it growing in itself – next thing you know, it’s become one of our core apps. Dext Prepare too, it’s essential today – I would pay for it from my own pocket if I had to, but I would not be without it!”

For any practice that might not have fully explored the benefits of automation yet, the process might sound intimidating. But Ryan reminds us that, much like a team training before a big final, the return on investment is very rewarding – and it comes quicker than you might think.

“You need to be really committed to it at the core of your strategy. It’s not as simple as setting things up and thinking ‘job done’ because technology continues to evolve and change. It’s not even about keeping up – to be successful, it must be about staying ahead”.

When it comes to accounting automation, we’ll probably never hear the final whistle. As regulations change and technology evolves, professionals who embrace the opportunity will continue to thrive and set the pace for the next premier league of accountants. For Ryan, it’s exciting to see teams of cloud specialists gaining ground worldwide.

“After all, if there’s a more efficient way, why would you not use it?”, he says.

Fair play.

If you want to know what a cloud accounting specialist like Ryan needs to succeed and how they can help your practice generate revenue, our extensive free guide answers all your questions. Download it for free it here!

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