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How Silverfin is helping Johnston Carmichael meet the future head-on

"We believe that accountants of the future will be data-driven advisors above all else." Lynne Walker, Partner and Head of Business Advisory

How Silverfin is helping Johnston Carmichael meet the future head-on

Lynne Walker, Partner and Head of Business Advisory at Johnston Carmichael, Scotland’s largest independent firm of Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors, told us how Silverfin is helping to future-proof the company.

Tell us a little about Johnston Carmichael?

We have 13 locations across the UK (primarily in Scotland) that serve over 16,000 clients spanning a wide range of industries including: agriculture, technology, food and drink, financial services, hospitality and tourism.

Our main goal has always been to use our expertise and experience to turn our clients into business success stories. As you might imagine, this is an incredibly wide-ranging remit but I think we’ve been doing a fantastic job so far.

So what prompted you to look at Silverfin?

We’ve been noticing a major trend emerge over the past few years: rising client expectations. Compliance is no longer a major attraction or selling point — clients simply assume that it’s going to be part of the package. Instead, they’re really looking for ongoing support from advisors who are not only in tune with their company, but can help them make the right decisions and take their business to the next level.

We believe that accountants of the future will be data-driven advisors above all else. They’ll need to operate and analyse in real-time, helping clients make critical forward-thinking business decisions. But this is easier said than done. We recognised that if we wanted to make this a reality in our firm, we needed a tool that would make it as easy as possible for both our employees and our clients to obtain and analyse business-critical data. That’s where Silverfin comes in.

"Compliance is no longer a major attraction or selling point — clients simply assume that it’s going to be part of the package."

What sort of challenges have you faced along the way?

When we took a step back and objectively assessed our firm, we realised that we were still far too reliant on paper-based processes and worse, we had inconsistent working practices across our teams. There were even instances where work would be duplicated during different assignments. This was a big no-no, so we needed to level-up our internal processes if we wanted to take our business to the next level. 

I think our decision to look into tools like Silverfin came from a very positive movement within the firm. Our internal desire to change has been driven by a genuine willingness to embrace the future head-on. All our accountants and business advisors want to improve what they do and are willing to embrace new tools that will help them fulfil their potential.

We quickly realised that technology needed to be at the core of this change. We wanted to streamline how we operate and to introduce standardisation across our teams. Specifically, we wanted a technology partner that could help us in four primary areas:

  1. Improving how we capture client data
  2. Providing a digital working papers platform
  3. Streamlining the end-to-end compliance process
  4. Allowing us to focus on value-add advisory opportunities

However, despite the firm wanting to embrace the future, there was still a slight, and understandable, fear of change. Our staff are incredibly busy and many have used these existing ways of working for decades now so it’s no easy task trying to completely revamp how we operate on a daily basis.

"We were still far too reliant on paper-based processes and worse, we had inconsistent working practices across our teams."

How did you go about convincing everybody to embrace change?

Continuous communication was the key. We wanted to inform people about what was coming, explain why it would be so valuable to our firm, and to involve everybody in the journey. We didn’t want to suddenly impose new technology or ways of working on our people without their prior knowledge or buy-in.

In the end, we opted for Silverfin because we believed that it would bring tremendous value to our firm and prepare us for the future of accounting but we had to remember to communicate this value to our employees if we wanted their buy-in.

We also achieved top-down support, which was really important. You won’t be able to successfully enact change within a company if you don’t have the support of the leadership team. That’s just a fact.

"We didn’t want to suddenly impose new technology or ways of working on our staff without their prior knowledge or consent."

What were you looking for in a tech provider?

First and foremost, we wanted to provide data-driven advisory services in real-time. 2020 has highlighted that accountants are genuine business advisors, helping their clients make it through turbulent (and incredibly confusing) economic periods.

To be more competitive in the future we knew we needed to spend more time on advisory services and less time on compliance-related work. To do this we needed to become more efficient and streamline our digital practices wherever possible. We were aware that this was a long-term project. Sure we might not see massive time efficiencies in year one but we knew that down the line, it would begin to take us to that next level of efficiency and productivity.

One of our partners recommended Silverfin so we decided to check it out. Pretty quickly, we realised that this was just what we were looking for. It was a powerful platform that met our specific requirements and the Silverfin team was really responsive to our needs. Their advisors built up a genuine relationship with our team, so the entire experience has been absolutely painless. I’ve been incredibly impressed.

"To be more competitive in the future we knew we needed to spend more time on advisory services and less time on compliance-related work."

How did you set about implementing Silverfin within Johnston & Carmichael?

We actually decided to establish a dedicated internal project team that could focus 100% of its energy towards successfully implementing Silverfin. We invested time developing specific training material and the Silverfin team’s been wonderful, they’ve been on hand at all times to assist with any and all training needs.

We wanted to make sure that if things didn’t quite go to plan, it wasn’t because of a lack of effort on our part. Without this dedicated team, it’s unlikely that we would've been as successful as we have been in transitioning all our business advisors over to the platform.

But there’s been more to it than just our specialist team. Overall, I believe that our company has undertaken a massive shift in mindset over the past few years. Whereas tech used to be seen as a “necessary evil”, something that we had to put up with in order to keep up with the times, we’re now actively looking to find new tools that’ll help us become more successful.

We’re always guided by the same underlying principle: how can we reinvent our internal processes to bring more value to our clients and be ready for the future?

"We invested time developing specific training material and the Silverfin team’s been wonderful, they’ve been on hand at all times to assist with any and all training needs."

What sort of impact has Silverfin had on your business?

Silverfin has been nothing short of a game-changer. We introduced it just when we needed it most, right when COVID was beginning to wreak havoc on the global economy. Our team suddenly had to all work from home, and having Silverfin has made the entire process of accessing critical information, sharing resources, and continuing business as usual (well, as much as possible), so much easier than it would have been otherwise.

Generally speaking, we always knew that we wanted to find a technology provider that allowed us to access key information at the touch of a button but this is becoming ever more important for accountants and business advisors. Now we’re able to be proactive to our clients’ needs, instead of reactive, and we can easily access need-to-know information at any time or any place. It’s a lifesaver.

More than that, the Silverfin team has been amazingly receptive to our future plans. They’ve listened to our specific needs, taken the time necessary to get to know our business and what we’re looking for, and have supported our development plans. We feel like we’ve found a genuine business partner, instead of simply signing up for a technology solution.

One thing’s for sure: Silverfin will be at the heart of our operations for a long time to come.

"Now we’re able to be proactive to our clients’ needs, instead of reactive, and we can easily access need-to-know information at any time or any place. It’s a lifesaver."

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