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Helping Clients Find The Right Technologies

Var Programs Benefit Clients & Accountants

From the Jan./Mar. 2008 Issue

Practicing public accountants wear many hats, providing small businesses and
individuals with services ranging from tax compliance, to corporate establishment,
payroll, business management, financial planning and generational wealth transfer.
Along with dozens more traditional and niche services, another common client
need has played a large role in shaping the services many professional firms
provide: technology consulting. And although helping a client determine the
best or most appropriate tech solution to their business needs may not immediately
synch with many people’s definition of a professional public accountant,
it often makes perfect sense.

For the owners of many small and mid-sized businesses, their public accountant
acts essentially as a CFO, providing all of the hardcore financial analysis
and planning advice, while also managing write-up and other reconciliation activities.
In short, these business owners know the intricacies of their particular industry
and may even be experts in their field, but very few are as skilled with accounting
and financial subjects. They value their professional accountant when it comes
to these functions and, naturally, also turn to their financial advisor for
advice on selecting and implementing their financial applications.

Benefits of the Tech Advisor Role
In addition to strengthening the relationship by helping clients to more effectively
and efficiently run their own businesses, several other benefits come from recommending
and helping them implement these technologies. Foremost for many practices,
especially for write-up and tax clients, is the advantage of integration. In
short, if a firm can get most of its clients to use programs that integrate
with the firm’s in-house programs, then data can be much more easily transferred
back and forth. This virtually eliminates data-entry time, while also ensuring
data accuracy and limiting the downtime for the client. Having clients on the
same systems also allows the firm to more easily help the business troubleshoot
problems, since the professionals will already be familiar with the systems
and will likely have assisted other clients with similar issues.

Benefits for the Professional Firm

  • Data integration saves time, improves client service
  • Strengthened client relationship
  • Free or discounted software from vendors
  • Free or discounted training from vendors
  • Additional revenue stream

As familiarity with these client-side programs increases, and often through
free or discounted training provided to professional accountants, practices
often grow to specifically offer consulting and implementation services. In
many larger practices, this has evolved into separate departments for these

Of course, every accountant and every firm has a different level of interest
in providing any tech consulting services. So a variety of options are available,
from recommender-only, to program reseller, to certified consultant programs,
with each offering different benefits to practitioners.

Programs Available for Professionals
Not surprisingly, technology vendors have recognized the important role that
accountants play in advising small businesses, and many have established programs
specifically geared toward accountants. Sure, these companies are looking to
expand their sales bases by going through the professional accountant, but financial
motivation often drives great innovation, and these programs generally provide
benefits to all parties: clients, professional practices and the vendor.

The kinds of programs and specific benefits available to professional firms
vary greatly depending upon the type of software and specific vendors. The major
off-the-shelf bookkeeping programs for small businesses all offer advisory-level
programs. These include the ProAdvisor program for Intuit’s QuickBooks,
the Microsoft Professional Accountants’ Network for the company’s
Office Accounting system, and the Sage Software Accountants Network for that
vendor’s Peachtree, MAS and other software lines. Other small and mid-sized
business software vendors, such as Softrak Systems, CheckMark Software, MYOB,
NetSuite, AccountMate and A-Systems Corporation offer similar programs. These
networks all give accountants free or discounted versions of their programs,
along with additional support, training and development aids.

Many programs for accounting applications designed for specific markets are
also available, including nonprofit and construction-oriented accounting systems.
Examples include reseller programs from the likes of AccuFund, Blackbaud, Management
Information Systems Inc., Open Systems, Red Wing Software and Serenic Software.
Business consulting programs and risk and control management partner programs
are also available through vendors like Transition One, who provides compliance
and performance management solutions to help organizations identify, manage
and monitor business practices to ensure Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

Finding the Right Solution
As a small or mid-sized business’ most trusted financial advisor, finding
the solution that meets a business’ specific needs the best is always
the primary consideration. But making the decision to recommend specific programs
to clients can help a professional practice provide clients with better service,
while also improving workflow in the practice. The bottom line is that through
reseller, partner and advisor/recommender programs, accounting professionals
have increased training and support resources, and they can also develop a new
revenue stream. This helps serve the client and can also strengthen the practice.