Date posted: 30/07/2020 5 min read

Living the paperless dream

These CAs cracked the paper problem by using new software and integrations. Presented in partnership with CA Catalyst.

In Brief

  • Phil Smith CA and Luke Kemeys CA of nextAdvisory have done everything they can to eliminate paper from the accounting process.
  • A critical piece of software when going paperless is electronic signatures.
  • Storing documents online makes it easy to offshore account preparation and streamline the compliance process.

Phil Smith CA had worked in a number of firms across New Zealand by the time he decided to set up his own. He and business partner Luke Kemeys CA decided they’d do everything they could to eliminate paper in the accounting process.

“In the 2½ years we have been in business, I’ve bought one ream of paper – and I still haven’t finished it. My kids use it for drawing now,” says Smith, who founded nextAdvisory with Kemeys in 2017.

Luke Kemeys CA and Phil Smith CAPicture: Luke Kemeys CA and Phil Smith CA.

Get an electronic signature

A critical piece of technology when going paperless is electronic signatures: nextAdvisory uses Adobe Sign, which is tightly integrated with Xero. It’s used for electronic signatures on letters of engagement, tax returns and annual accounts resolutions.

“We can have documents sent out to the client and signed within 10 minutes,” says Smith. “Gone are the days of emailing documents to clients to print out, sign, scan and return. That has always been a bugbear in older firms. You can be waiting for weeks for some clients to get back to you.

“We don’t need to invest time in ourselves or an admin resource to follow up the client or even track where particular documents are because it’s all automated in Adobe. You can see who has and hasn’t signed.”

Smith also set it up so email reminders are sent to the client every three days. “Once they sign, we get an alert from Adobe and download and file it – job done.”

Switch to electronic workpapers

At a recent Catalyst workshop, one of the discussions turned to workpapers, which brought up strong opinions.

“I respect and accept that we’ve got a code of ethics we must adhere to but I think older practitioners forget the role technology can play in meeting the obligations to our clients,” says Smith.

Rather than building a physical file of documents to support a client’s annual accounts, nextAdvisory does all work electronically, including workpapers.

“Moving to an electronic one is a massive change – in culture, training and process,” admits Smith. “Accountants will often say it’s too hard.”

Another area that works better online is the annual client questionnaire. “Clients bitch and moan about them; they hate them. And accountants laugh them off and say we have to do it. But they don’t sit back and think how we can do it differently.”

Smith uses a function in Xero called Ask to send individual questionnaires tailored to each client. Clients upload all their documents electronically and Xero notifies Smith once it’s done.

Digital storage and note taking

Storing documents online makes it easy to offshore the preparation of accounts and streamline the compliance process.

“We don’t even have physical offices,” says Smith. “Our clients love it because it means we get to spend more time with them. They say, ‘We know you don’t have an office, you can come and hang out here.’ They can ask us questions they may not otherwise ask us.”

“We don’t even have physical offices. Our clients love it because it means we get to spend more time with them.”
Phil Smith CA, nextAdvisory

Smith and Kemeys work on Apple devices and take notes in meetings on iPads.

“Clients find it quite surprising when we roll up to meetings and take notes electronically. We have an app that converts handwriting to text and we save them to our Google Drive. We will scan documentation at a client’s office and give the documents back to the client.”

Smith sees technology as more than a vehicle for improving productivity. It frames the client experience.

“There are better ways to engage with your clients. As a CA, there’s an expectation you’re at the forefront of your industry.”

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