FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING OUTSOURCING AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF SERVICE PROVIDERS AND THEIR CLIENTS IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND.

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1 FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING OUTSOURCING AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF SERVICE PROVIDERS AND THEIR CLIENTS IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND. Graham Ray, Accounting Lecturer, School of Commerce and Management, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW Telephone Topic: Track 9 - Risk Management for Small Business. Profile: Graham Ray is a lecturer in Accounting in the School of Commerce and Management of the Faculty of Business at Southern Cross University specialising in financial accounting, management accounting, small business management and Accounting Information Systems. Graham s has extensive business experience in SME s as an owner operator, financial controller and as a business consultant. Graham s current interests include his own consultancy practice, specialising in Financial and Management Accounting Computer Systems. His clients include regional enterprises and both large and small businesses from both the public and private sector. Graham is a Doctoral candidate with the Graduate College of Management at Southern Cross University and this paper is submitted as part of his Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) research study.

2 FINANCE AND ACCOUNTING OUTSOURCING AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF SERVICE PROVIDERS AND THEIR CLIENTS IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND. Graham Ray, Accounting Lecturer, School of Commerce and Management, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW Telephone Topic: Track 9 - Risk Management for Small Business. Significance of issue: Academic research and practice. Approach: Mixed Methodology ABSTRACT This paper is based on a current research project which seeks to explore the relationships existing between finance and accounting service providers and their clients along with a matching of perceived attitudes and understandings relating to decision factors, benefits and impacts of the outsourcing decision by small business to service providers. This study will seek to satisfy three questions. What are the main factors involved in the outsourcing decision by small business owner/managers in Australia and New Zealand, what are the perceived benefits of outsourcing the finance and accounting function by small business in Australia and New Zealand and what are the perceived impacts of finance and accounting outsourcing on small businesses in Australia and New Zealand. In this study, a qualitative approach was incorporated into the research to determine the information requirements for understanding the perceptions, attitudes, feelings and motivations of SME owner/managers concerning Finance and Accounting Outsourcing. This study will not only identify the decision factors, benefits and impacts of finance and accounting outsourcing by small business, but also identify and understand the perceptions and attitudes of the finance and accounting service provider in relation to their small business clients. Based on an inductive mixed methodological approach, this study will use literature reviews, and involve data collection from two subgroups through the use of an Online Survey Questionnaire which will be administered to each of the subgroups. Keywords: Decision making, Research methods, Core competencies, Strategic & organisational change. Page 1

3 INTRODUCTION The aim of this research study is to explore and identify the variables considered by small businesses on the decision to outsource their internal accounting functions. Research on small business behavior is used in many industries to improve the quality of service to the small business consumer. This research will attempt to develop a model, which compares and contrasts the perceptions of both finance and accounting service providers and their small business clients and the motivations for small business for using an accounting service provider to perform the accounting function with respect to decision factors, benefits and impacts of outsourcing their accounting activities along with the incentives that would encourage the client to further outsource different aspects of their accounting function. Based on a review of extant publications, little research on the subject of outsourcing of the finance and accounting function in Australia and New Zealand has been conducted and as a result, many questions remain unanswered. Current literature on outsourcing has identified differing viewpoints on what outsourcing covers. Some literature defines outsourcing as hiring an outside company to handle all or part of an organisations data processing activities (Romney, & Steinbart, 2003, p 626) while other literature simply refers to outsourcing as the assignment of an internal function to an outside vendor (Gelinas, U., Sutton, S. & Hunton, James E P669). Whatever the precise definition, outsourcing may be viewed as an arrangement in which one organisation provides a service or services for another organisation that chooses not to perform those services in-house. It is extensively claimed in the literature that cost reduction is one of the main reasons that tempts most small businesses to outsource their finance and accounting functions (Financial Executive, Mar/Apr 2004, p52). However it seems that a number of other factors like access to accountants with specialised skills and increased service levels (Financial Executive, Mar/Apr 2004, p52) can be put forward as an explanation as to what really influences the decision to outsource the finance and accounting function as most small business owners want more than someone who just fills in their tax forms and checks that financial reports are accurate. Most small business owners want an advisor to take an active role in managing the business through the rough years As the amount of outsourcing undertaken by small businesses escalates each year, the decision as to which activity to outsource becomes increasingly more difficult and as such, the decision to outsource Page 2

4 any small business activity is one that should be considered very carefully due to the long lasting implications. Outsourcing has evolved from those activities that are normally regarded as peripheral, such as cleaning, catering, and security to include critical areas such as payroll, accounts receivable, accounts payable. This form of outsourcing is known as FAO or Finance and Accounting Outsourcing. Outsourced accounting services are increasing and many experts suggest a rapid growth in the outsourced accounting market. A report by Dunn & Bradstreet ( described increased numbers of small businesses contracting out for finance and accounting services, with growth really beginning to accelerate in 2002 and They found accounts receivable and accounts payable to be the most commonly outsourced function with a growing number of outsourcing contracts for a full range of accounting services including payroll, management reporting and analysis. Small business managers are learning that outsourcing the finance and accounting function is a sound business strategy. Successful outsourcing of the finance and accounting function may provide small businesses with a way to meet a diverse set of tactical and strategic objectives aimed at improving the decision making activity while still saving money and allowing the organisation to focus on its core business activity. While great ideas and entrepreneurial skills are fundamental to the business start-up, good financial management is considered critical to the business survival. The reason most small business fail is that they are not up to the challenges of effective financial management and decision-making. This is where outsourcing of the finance and accounting function comes in and is an alternative, which all small businesses should consider in order to be remain competitive. All organisations need relevant, timely and accurate financial reports and analysis. Irrespective of the organisations size, the needs are very similar and unlike the larger organisations, small businesses can generally not afford to employ an in-house accountant and as such, outsourcing the internal accounting function by small business can make a lot of sense and is generally regarded that outsourcing finance and accounting functions by small businesses to organisations regarded as experts in the field can alleviate the burden of staying on top of frequent changes to tax codes and accounting regulations and provide increased levels of information transparency, visibility of controls and clarity of accountability. Page 3

5 As small businesses struggle to find work strengths among their in-house personnel, turning to a qualified, external outsourcing partner often becomes a logical step. In an age where the focus by small business is on core competencies, small businesses are increasingly outsourcing critical financial functions to the experts and for many finance and accounting outsourcing providers, accounting is their core competency and they are experts in their field. Outsourcing is gaining popularity as a way to reduce financial and operational risks by making them easier to manage. As White (White, Tom. 2001) points out, improved risk management has a direct correlation with improvements in financial performance and shareholder value and as continued pressure for improved financial performance increases, so do the levels of competency and consistency in finance and accounting functions. Outsourcing doesn t work in every situation, but when it is does, it is hard to argue with better financial reporting, decision making and professionalism as well as lower costs compared to in-house accounting. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY Having identified a research topic and carried out the preliminary literature review the next logical step is to identify the various approaches, strategies and data collection methods across the continuum of research philosophy. Once the objectives of the research are defined, the research design can be planned. Research is defined as the process of systematically obtaining accurate answers to significant and pertinent questions by the use of the scientific method of gathering and interpreting information (Clover and Balsley 1984, p. 1). As the outcome of any study is influenced by the choice of research design, determining the characteristics of the study is a significant factor in the quality of the conclusion (Miller, & Salkind, 2002, p.18) As there are a variety of different approaches to research, it is helpful to categorise the different types of research. Business research can be classified on the basis of either technique or function (Zikmund, 2003, p.54) and where the research is based on purpose or function, it can be further classified into either exploratory, descriptive, or causal research As indicated by Zikmund (2003), exploratory research does not look for conclusive evidence to determine a course of action and is initial research conducted to clarify and define the nature of a Page 4

6 problem (Zikmund, 2003, p.54). Exploratory studies are a valuable means of finding out what is happening and gaining insights to assess phenomena in a new light (Saunders et al., 2003, p.96). Choosing the research philosophy depends on the choice of strategic aims and objectives of the study, and it would be misleading to prefer a single approach to the others. There are two principal approaches in gathering information to provide insights into research questions: qualitative and quantitative methods. A combination of research approaches often provides better results and can be illustrated by the following: Not only is it perfectly possible to combine approaches within the same piece of research, but it is often advantageous to do so. (Saunders et. al., 2003) and if it is acceptable to combine approaches, then it can be deduced that it is perfectly all right to mix and match different research strategies within the different research approaches. Although combining quantitative and qualitative approaches is quite common and acceptable, the implication is that the qualitative research is intended to highlight what should be measured. Quantitative research, according to Bryman (Bryman 2003), is presumed to be exemplified by social survey and exploratory or experimental investigations employing deductive reasoning to test the extent of theory; whilst qualitative research is associated with in-depth phenomenological interviewing and participant observation drawing on inductive reasoning to develop a model or theory. Bryman (Bryman, 2003) supports this concept of combined methodologies with his contention that if two styles of research are merged they may produce a number of pay-offs within a single investigation. Further he asserts that the blending of qualitative and quantitative research allows different ways of examining the same research problem. The combination of one method of investigation enhances validity of conclusions when mutual confirmation can be demonstrated. A qualitative method is complementary to the quantitative research, resulting in a holistic understanding of the factors involved and how they interrelate. In addition the method seeks to develop knowledge by linking the accounts people give to an underlying body of theory (Jankowicz, 1995, p.174) and provides a richer source of data than can be obtained using solely a quantitative approach. In this study, a qualitative approach was incorporated into the research to determine the information requirements for understanding the perceptions, attitudes, feelings and motivations of SME owner/managers concerning Finance and Accounting Outsourcing. This study will not only identify the decision factors, benefits and impacts of finance and accounting outsourcing by small business, but Page 5

7 also identify and understand the perceptions and attitudes of the finance and accounting service provider in relation to their small business clients. This study is concerned with satisfying the following three objectives and as such it is considered that exploratory research is more appropriate to this research because it is usually conducted to clarify and define the nature of a problem. The first objective will endeavour to identify the principal decision factors and their importance in the decision to outsource the internal accounting function as considered by finance and accounting service providers and their small business clients The second objective is focused on how finance and accounting service providers and their small business clients independently perceive the internal accounting function and whether this activity is considered to be a core or non-core activity. The third objective is concerned with how finance and accounting service providers and their small business clients perceive the impacts of finance and accounting outsourcing in relation to small business. DATA COLLECTION METHODS The study will involve data collection from two subgroups and for the purpose of this study it is considered that the primary source of data will come from the use of a questionnaire which will be distributed to each of the subgroups. The first group of participants will comprise licensed members of a national accounting services provider who operate as independent businesses providing accounting services to the small business sector. Since many tests have shown that that the percentage of responses to questionnaires can be significantly increased through the use of an advanced notice, the purpose of the pilot study questionnaire was introduced to this group of accounting service providers prior to their annual conference and through their organisations web site. A pilot study was conducted with the first group of participants where each was provided with a hard copy of a questionnaire and an Information sheet and asked to manually complete the questionnaire. Page 6

8 The data collected from this questionnaire survey was used to design a general survey questionnaire which would be administered to both subgroups. This questionnaire was subsequently peer reviewed in order to satisfy construct validity of the questionnaire. Following the peer review, some changes were made to the questionnaire. A final questionnaire was then prepared which was administered to the two groups of participants. While each questionnaire contained the same questions, the way in which the questions were phrased, depended on the group to be surveyed. The first group to be surveyed is the accounting service providers. The questionnaire focuses on the perceptions of the service provider in relation to the services offered to their clients and what they consider to be the decision factors, benefits and impacts of outsourcing the accounting function by their clients. The second group of participants to be surveyed is the clients of the accounting service providers. The questionnaire focuses on the perceptions of the small business clients and the motivations for using an accounting service provider to perform the accounting function with respect to decision factors, benefits and impacts of outsourcing their accounting activities along with the incentives that would encourage the client to further outsource different aspects of their accounting function. Both Online Survey Questionnaires were created using web survey software and are hosted on a secure server. Links to the accounting service providers online survey questionnaire and to the client online survey questionnaire have been ed to all accounting service providers and have also been made available on the accounting service providers web site home page. This site allows access to the online questionnaire for all accounting service providers and their clients. The accounting service providers will also provide their clients with the link to the client survey questionnaire. Data collected from the online survey questionnaire will be entered into the SPSS statistical computer package for analysis. CURRENT STATUS Data collection though the use of online survey questionnaires to both groups of participants commenced on the 6 th June and as such is currently in process. It is expected that the data collection process will be completed by the time of the conference and the analysis and findings emanating from this research will be completed by the end of October Page 7

9 OUTCOMES It is hoped that the proposed research will provide a better understanding by both finance and accounting service providers and small businesses on the decision factors affecting the outsourcing decision by small business and also the benefits and impacts on small businesses. Page 8

10 REFERENCES Bryman A. and Bell E. (2003 ) Business Research Methods. Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press. Clover V.T & Balsley H.L (1984), Business Research Methods. (3rd ed). Columbus Ohio, Grid Publications Financial Executive. (2004). F&A Outsourcing What Buyers Are Saying, March / April, 20,2. Gelinas U, Sutton S, & Hunton James E. (2005). Accounting Information Systems,(6th ed), South- Western, Ohio. Jankowicz A.D (1995), Business Research Projects, (2nd ed), Melbourne, Chapman Hall Romney M. & Steinbart P. (2006). Accounting Information Systems, (10th ed), Prentice Hall, New Jersey Miller D.C & Salkind N.J (2202). Jandbokk of Research Design and Social Measurement, (6 th ed), Thousand Oaks, Calif, Sage Publications London. Saunders M.P. & Lewis et al (2003). Research Methods for Business Students. Upper Saddle River, NJ, Financial Times Prentice Hall. White T. (2001). Finance & Accounting Outsourcing: The solution for the new economy. AFP Exchange, January 1, Zigmund,W.G (2003). Business Research Methods. Mason, Ohio. Thomson/South Western. Page 9

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