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How to Become a True Client Partner

Accountants can become true business advisors. Here, Kate Bennett, Director of Business Advisory, and Kate Griffiths, Business Services Advisor, at Kendons explain how.

How many times have someone’s eyes glazed over when you’ve said you’re an accountant? It happens to us all the time. 

But now, with the widespread use of cloud technology, accountants can be so much more than number crunchers. We don’t have to live in the past, looking at historical data and using old technology. We can actually become true business advisors.

What do we mean by advisory?

Historically, advisory has been reactionary. Prior to the 2020 pandemic, a lot of people saw advisory services as being about things like preparing forecasts and budgets. Essentially, these services were a one-time bandaid on the issue, with little support or follow-up after the fix. 

Even if things like forecasts were created, they were put in a drawer, never to be looked at again. But now more than ever, we need to be proactive and more involved with our clients. 

How Covid changed advisory

We’re based in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we’re currently Covid-free and no longer social distancing. But the initial lockdown had a huge impact on how we do things at our firm, Kendons. 

When we first went into lockdown, we were really forced – or encouraged – to get in contact with our clients. We even asked our traditional compliance staff to pick up the phone and call every single client, because they needed us now more than ever. 

“Now more than ever, we need to be proactive and more involved with our clients.” 

We pride ourselves on being proactive, and really helping our clients navigate changes in the industry and to grow. But where to start? We soon realised that we often couldn’t rely on the data they gave us through their account software, and without accurate data, we couldn’t give detailed advice.

The role of software and data

Part of what sets us apart is that we have a dedicated app advisory and cloud integration team, which is a group of staff who helps get clients set up and trained on how to use their account software better. 

If they aren’t already using software, we’ll get them using simple apps, whether it’s payroll or scheduling tools, or more complex stock and manufacturing software. The aim of the team is to help clients get really good data out of their software so they can make better-informed decisions. 

Still, we would often start work and realise there was a big problem with data quality, which meant a lot of backtracking and revisions, leading to delays and a bad experience for the client. It wasn’t the kind of service we wanted to offer. 

Getting quality data with Precision

If you can’t rely on your data, you can’t rely on any of the decisions you make based on it. Good data is absolutely key. 

We moved our internal systems into the cloud during lockdown, which made for an interesting time, but really allowed us to practice what we preach. It was a learning experience – you should have seen the quality of our data before. It was shocking. 

We found that using Dext Precision with Xavier was a game changer for us. It let us plug into the clients’ files and see exactly what we were dealing with before getting started. It would highlight any data quality issues so we could price jobs accordingly, and have difficult conversations with clients upfront, which led to a better experience all around. 

It also highlighted other things we could discuss with clients, whether it was offering finance reviews, Xero training, or just little tips and tricks we knew would really help them in their day to day. 

“If you can’t rely on your data, you can’t rely on any of the decisions you make based on it.”

The flows feature also helped our compliance staff get involved, fixing files as they were working on them and providing a real time service to our clients. That also meant our advisors had better data to use for their conversations with clients, but it even empowered some of our compliance staff to pick up the phone themselves.

The key to being a true client advisor

The most important thing we learned was that most clients don’t necessarily know what they need until we pick up the phone and have a conversation with them. But good data was critical to these conversations. 

With technology moving so quickly, advisors need to keep evolving, just to be able to provide the best services to their clients. It’s no longer about looking at the short-term issues and fixing them where we can. New technology is giving us an edge to bring those conversations to the fore, and actually provide good advice to our clients. 

Just call your clients and have a conversation. Check in and see how they’re doing. And have the right data and the right tools to get the quality information you need to have those conversations. You don’t need all the answers when you call your clients – just being there to talk, and to listen, is often enough. 

You’ll be surprised at the types of projects you end up involved with. You’re aiming to be part of your clients’ business, be involved and invested in their decisions and their growth, not just fix the short-term issues. You’ll actually be there to be a part of their story. 

Kate & Kate are a famous double act of the advisory space, working together at Kendons business advisors in New Zealand.