The 2015 Cloud Readiness Survey for Australian Accounting Firms

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1 The 2015 Cloud Readiness Survey for Australian Accounting Firms HOW FAR HAVE ACCOUNTANTS TRAVELLED TOWARDS CLOUD ACCOUNTING? A DIGITAL FIRST REPORT FOR SAGE AUSTRALIA

2 Contents Cloud Readiness Survey 1 Practices slow to move to cloud 1 Software a priority for business 5 Staying competitive in the cloud 7 Exposure to Change 8 What do clients want? 10 Conclusion 11 Survey statistics 11 B

3 Cloud Readiness Survey How prepared are accountants to move their firms and their clients to cloud software? And how do they plan to stay competitive in a turbulent market? The 2015 Cloud Readiness survey examined how far accountants in Australia have travelled down the path towards cloud accounting. The survey was conducted by Digital First in conjunction with Sage Handisoft with more than 400 firms from every state and territory in Australia. Australian firms edge towards the cloud The survey presents a unique insight into the aspirations, motivations and concerns of accountants across Australia as they prepare to transition their practices to cloud accounting software. The survey asked key questions about the number of clients who had already moved to cloud software and how accountants felt about moving their own practices to the cloud. Respondents also indicated how they planned to remain competitive and how easy it would be to implement those plans. Practices slow to move to cloud until now Australia is clearly in the middle of a major migration to cloud accounting software. Estimates by several accounting software vendors suggest that more than 10 per cent of small businesses using accounting programs are on cloud platforms. The ability for accountants and business owners to view cloud software simultaneously from their respective workplaces has created new ways of working together. Every major accounting software company has responded by launching a cloud version of their accounting software. The shift to cloud represents a modernisation of the tools of trade for accounting firms. However, the survey suggests this trend is driven largely by the expectations of younger generations of business owners rather than led by accountants themselves. The 2015 Cloud Readiness survey looked at how fast accounting firms are rising to meet the challenge. While cloud accounting software is widely available, accountants must face the difficulties of adjusting business models, pricing structures and workflow processes. Businesses have already begun to switch to cloud software but accountants are still seeing it as a nascent trend. A majority of respondents (60 per cent) had 30 per cent or fewer of their clients using cloud software. 1

4 The survey found that many practices are in no rush to help them move faster. In fact, 40 per cent have no intention of moving any clients to the cloud and a further 20 per cent haven t set a target. This is despite the fact that on average one fifth of their customers were already using cloud software. 2

5 The results suggest that while cloud accounting has established itself as the future of the industry, accountants are still working out how to take advantage of the transition. About 40 per cent of firms intend to move some clients to the cloud and only a quarter of those (10 per cent in total) plan to transition all clients to cloud-based accounting software. These results suggest that thousands of businesses have not yet had a conversation with their accountant about the benefits of cloud-based software because the accountant hasn t yet worked out how to articulate them. Despite the varying level of commitment to moving to cloud software, many respondents are aware that the transition is taking place. Nearly half (43 per cent) of respondents see a major shift to cloud software as likely to happen within the next 12 months. The group of firms most keen to move to the cloud are those that spend less than $1,000 a year on software (n=19). The survey revealed a mix of factors with equal weighting that are driving the move to cloud software. These include security and data protection, higher productivity, mobility, better device support and pricing (each important or very important to 70 per cent of respondents). The high level of awareness of the multiple benefits of cloud software is at odds with the fact that only 40 per cent of respondents plan to move their clients to the cloud. This gap suggests the biggest barrier to cloud software is not about educating accountants how cloud software works, but how they can introduce cloud software into their practices. 3

6 The accounting profession s primary concern is fiduciary responsibility; accountants need to feel comfortable that their clients information is protected at all times. Accountants are still dealing with common fears about cloud software, particularly to run their practices. These include the perceived threat from hackers and cybercrime (83 per cent say it is important or very important), client data moving offshore (76 per cent are concerned about data sovereignty), and the reliance on an internet connection to access their software tools of trade (85 per cent). Accountants must also deal with a major practical issue in the migration to cloud software. The current boom in accounting innovation is reducing the time to complete routine tasks in an accounting firm such as filing a tax return or a business activity statement. Accounting firms, like most professional services businesses, typically charge hourly rates, which can put them in a difficult position during times of rapid innovation. Firms that move to more efficient tools need to either increase the number of clients or add more services to maintain the same revenues. 39% of firms have no intention of moving clients to the cloud (another 21% have set no target). Only 10% of firms intend to move all their clients to the cloud. On average, 20% of clients were already using cloud accounting software; 18% of firms had no clients using cloud, and another 60% of firms had less than 30% of clients using cloud. 4

7 A third option is to move to fixed fees for services, a trend popular among cloud-savvy accounting firms and even Big Four firms such as Deloitte Australia and KPMG UK. However, only 42 per cent of respondents considered fixed fees as important or very important to staying competitive. While the efficiencies of using cloud accounting software for clients are well established, there is less interest in moving to cloud versions of practice tools. For example, the survey found mixed opinions about the need to move to cloud-based compliance software, a key tool in an accounting firm. A third of firms are not concerned about using a cloud program to submit tax returns at all. However, 43 per cent of firms view the transition as likely within the next 12 months. Why are firms so lukewarm on moving to cloud tools for their practice? The accounting industry is notoriously averse to change. If updating their clients to cloud accounting programs is a big step, replacing the practice management software is a huge ordeal. The cost to even a small firm in downtime and lost productivity as staff get up to speed on new processes and interfaces can be extremely high, firms have told Digital First. 65% spend $1 to $5,000 a year on hardware and support. 27% spend $5,000 to $20, % spend $1,000 to $5,000 a year on software and 44% spend $5,000 to $20,000. Software a priority for business The move to cloud software has implications for accounting firms own technology buying habits. Accounting software companies are creating cloud versions of their practice management suites; Microsoft is pushing all its customers to replace their and document servers with its cloud productivity suite, Office 365; and a range of cloud apps, from Dropbox to Google Apps, are popping up in forward-thinking businesses. As SME businesses are entering the twilight of server ownership, accounting firms are already prioritising software spend over hardware. The survey found that practices limit the amount they spend on hardware and support. A solid 65 per cent of respondents estimate they spend less than $5,000 a year and a quarter spend $5,000 to $20,000. However, these firms are willing to spend significantly more on software to run their business. While 50 per cent spent less than $5,000 on software, 44 per cent spend $5,000 to $20,000. The survey revealed a strong correlation between company revenue and software spend. Almost 90 per cent of firms generating less than $100,000 a year in revenue spend less than $5,000 on software, while 78 per cent of firms making $500,000 to $1,000,000 a year spend between $5,000 and $20,000. 5

8 Firms are willing to spend more on software than hardware because they understand it improves productivity. Software is an essential business tool that enables firms to carry out their work efficiently and productively. Three trends will reduce spending on hardware and potentially increase the budget for software. Cloud software doesn t require servers or maintenance, which would likely comprise a large portion of these hardware budgets. As on-premises applications are replaced by cloud versions, firms are less likely to buy new servers, leaving more money for software purchases. The second trend is bring your own device (BYOD). Staff in businesses of all sizes are bringing consumer-grade hardware such as tablets and smartphones to work. Desktop computers are increasingly powerful, extending their refresh cycle. As firms move to browser-based practice management and client accounting systems they will find that cheaper computers such as Chromebooks will be just as effective. The gradual disappearance of upfront fees for software licensing could increase software budgets further. As software vendors move to annuity subscriptions, firms will pay lower monthly prices over a longer period. It is impossible to know how the accounting industry will emerge from this boom in accounting technology. The Australian Taxation Office is undergoing a fundamental overhaul of its own technology systems which will also bring about greater efficiencies for businesses and firms and cause the latter further disruption. Firms should consider diverting savings from hardware to software programs that bring a competitive advantage to the way they operate or the services they offer. A more automated taxation system from business to accountant to government department is likely to foster a highly competitive landscape for accounting firms. 6

9 Staying competitive in the cloud One of the most significant findings related to accountants ideas for maintaining or growing their businesses in a time of rapid change. How accountants plan to stay competitive? The survey suggested a number of options to respondents and asked them to rate how easy it would be to achieve them. The most favoured approach is to increase productivity. Nearly three quarters of respondents (73 per cent) nominate productivity as an important or highly important option to staying competitive. The second most favoured approach to staying competitive is to offer business advisory services (62 per cent). With more than 60 per cent of respondents claiming to have an engaged relationship with clients already, adding business advice could deepen those relationships (and margins) further. Productivity may be a popular option for improving competitiveness but respondents are not as confident about achieving it. 7

10 A third believe that making their practices more productive will be easy to do. A surprisingly large bloc (41 per cent) are neutral, suggesting that while they are keen to find productivity improvements they are unsure how to find them. There is a clear correlation between an interest in cloud and desire for greater productivity. 70 per cent of firms with a high appetite for cloud (n=125) say productivity is extremely important. The second most favoured plan is to offer business advisory services (62 per cent). Nearly half think it will be easy to offer business advisory (44 per cent) and a third are neutral. Over half of respondents (53 per cent) indicated that finding new clients is important or very important to staying competitive. This is a low result given the opportunity presented by cloud software and the level of disruption in the market. The ability to view a client s file without leaving the office means accountants can easily provide more assistance to existing clients. Technology such as bank feeds and bank rules have reduced the amount of time it takes to reconcile a set of accounts. Accountants who take advantage of these technologies can service more clients, from a larger area and with a higher level of service, than previously. There is already evidence of firms which have embraced cloud accounting adding large numbers of new clients. More conventional firms are likely to struggle with the cultural aspects of becoming a more sales-focused organisation. Other ideas, such as hiring cloud accountants, training staff and switching to fixed rate fees were attractive to less than half the respondents. Exposure to Change Many firms in the survey produce a lot of tax returns for individuals, as well as businesses. For 38 per cent of firms surveyed, more than 50 per cent of their clients are individuals. While it is common practice for an accountant to process a business owner s personal tax return as well as the company return, firms that are also processing large numbers of employee returns could be in an exposed position. The Australian Taxation Office hopes to move to auto-generated individual returns for employees, especially once the standard business reporting (SBR) transition has been completed June These returns will use payroll and other employee information submitted by the employer to calculate tax rebates. Soon accountants will also be able to pre-fill company returns and individual returns for business owners using the ATO s data and from the client s cloud accounting file. While company returns will always require a level of manual intervention, the number of hours (and therefore the amount of revenue) from compliance work is likely to decrease. The pressure on compliance revenue will be felt most by firms that have a largely transactional relationship with their clients. 8

11 A large number of firms (nearly 40 per cent) describe themselves as transactional rather than highly engaged practices. A transactional business without strong client relationships will find it harder to hold onto clients and more difficult to offer complementary services such as business advisory or wealth management. Accounting software companies and industry associations have advocated a more consultative approach to accounting for several years now as a way to make up for shortfalls in compliance revenue. As cloud software automates the data entry and processes in reconciliation and accounts payable and receivable, accountants will have more time and incentive to proactively assist their clients growth. 9

12 The classic SME accountant is likely to mature from a desk-bound abacus who rarely sees clients in person. Instead he or she will need to be a highly engaged, personable adviser who has a deep knowledge of clients businesses and is instrumental in solving operational problems to increase performance of the business. This will require a reimagining of the profession, reskilling of older staff and changed priorities for new recruits. There are many new tools to aid accountants in forecasting what-if scenarios. However, cultural change will be just as important to staying visible in what will quickly become a crowded market. With 62 per cent of respondents looking to add business advisory services to stay competitive, customer service will become a key point of difference between firms. What do clients want? Respondents in the Cloud Readiness survey have clients in line with an Australian business demography dominated by small business. Three quarters of firms mainly deal with micro businesses employing fewer than five staff. The most heavily represented industries for small business clients include building and construction, retail and hospitality, and professional services. Regardless of industry sector, the biggest concern for clients is managing their cash flow. They also want better expense management including forecasting and automating tax and super obligations. These concerns explain the push for cloud accounting software by business owners. Cloud software s automated bank feeds reduce data entry and move the focus away from record keeping and compliance. The top three: Two thirds of firms have clients in building and construction (64%), 57% are in retail and hospitality and professional services is 40%. Managing cash flow is the biggest issue for clients, according to two-thirds of firms. Managing expenses and paying tax and super are also significant concerns (more than 50%). Businesses want to use their accounting software to help them stay cash flow positive. Accountants that can position themselves as forecasters rather than reviewers will find it easier to attract more clients. Despite the millions of dollars pumped into marketing cloud accounting software in the past two years, it s clear that the transition to the cloud is still in the early stages. Just 13 per cent of respondents surveyed have more than 50 per cent of their clients already using cloud software. Established businesses using desktop accounting software for several years are likely to see little reason to change until their accountant suggests a better way. The 20 per cent of firms with no target for cloud migration had clients spread across industry sectors in line with the largest verticals. The 10 per cent of respondents who want to migrate 100 per cent of clients to the cloud had the strongest representation of clients in property and business services (34 per cent, n=120; average per vertical n=62). 10

13 Conclusion The majority of practices across Australia have not rushed to move their clients to cloud accounting software, nor have they done so themselves. However, this appears to be changing. Practices have a growing desire for cloud accounting solutions as a way to stay competitive through higher productivity. Many also believe that a major shift to cloud accounting software will occur within the next 12 months. Education is clearly a factor here for accountants wanting to know more about cloud software and how it can help their businesses and their clients. Clients main concerns cashflow, superannuation, compliance are familiar topics and don t require complex knowledge to satisfy. Accountants may need to refocus their businesses to match these concerns. Compliance will become a ticket to the game rather than an end in itself. While online accounting software is still relatively immature compared to desktop software, it is well positioned to meet these needs. Survey statistics The Cloud Readiness Survey was carried out by Digital First in May 2015 on behalf of Sage Handisoft Australia. Of the 411 respondents, 82 per cent were the business owner or managing partner. Over half were over the age of 50. Three quarters of respondents worked in practices with fewer than five staff, and 96 per cent had fewer than 16 staff. Half of the respondents practices generated annual revenue of between $100,000 to $500,000 and 87 per cent made under $1 million. 11

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