Darren Austin and Matt Allen, Directors of Tunbridge Wells-based Synergee, discuss the challenges their firm has been facing, why they decided to implement Silverfin and the impact it’s had on their business.
Tell us a little about Synergee?
Darren Austin: We are a 10-person firm of experienced chartered accountants, registered auditors, and business advisers. On top of routine tax and accounting compliance, we also provide support, advisory and planning services that allow businesses and individuals to set, achieve, and enjoy realising their financial goals.
What were some of the challenges you were trying to solve through technology?
Matt Allen: As with most firms, our client data generally sat in multiple places: cloud bookkeeping software, on-premise systems, and generic spreadsheets. Clients have different ways of working, and we do our utmost to adapt and meet them in the middle. If someone prefers spreadsheets over anything else, for example, then we’ll generally try to work around that.
However, we realised that having data spread here, there, and everywhere probably wasn’t the best idea if we wanted to successfully grow our firm. Imagine a member of our team is away on holiday and they save all of a client’s data on a spreadsheet on their desktop. If that client gets in touch and wants to see their business’s latest figures, then we’ll be unable to access this key data. We needed to implement a central, single source of truth for all client data available to all — this is the only way that we can make sure we can always access our clients’ critical data.
Darren Austin: We also realised that we had inconsistent and dated processes across the firm. I remember analysing a few working papers for some of our most long-standing clients and realising that the team was going about the drafting process in the exact same method as we’d used over a decade ago. We were following the same process we’d always used even though we’d significantly updated our ways of working for our more recent clients.
Once we realised this discrepancy, we knew that something had to change. That’s where Silverfin came in.
What made you choose Silverfin?
Darren Austin: We were really impressed from the get-go. We knew that Silverfin was the missing piece to our puzzle from the very first instance that we came across the platform.
Having a central, cloud-based data-hub has transformed our way of working. Now, we can seamlessly import all our clients’ data into one place (no matter which particular tool they use), review it instantly, and then push it over to our accounts production platform. This has made us so much more efficient and has helped save a huge amount of time.
Matt Allen: We also really valued Silverfin’s collaboration and communication capabilities. We wanted to move away from sending endless emails to one another—eventually, no matter how diligent you are, something is going to get lost in your ever-increasing inbox. Now, whenever we have queries during the working papers review process, we can simply make notes directly on the actual data itself. It saves us so much time and headaches having everything in one platform instead of having to trawl through endless email chains to find the specific comment that you’re looking for.
When a file is ready, we tag the client and they can access all this data themselves via the Pulse portal. Silverfin has also made our clients feel more up-to-speed than ever before — they have complete access to their data at all times instead of simply receiving updates whenever we have the chance to meet.
What impact has Silverfin had within your firm?
Matt Allen: As you can probably tell, we’re delighted with the impact that it’s had. This is all the more pleasing because implementing the tool was challenging. That’s not a criticism of the Silverfin platform or their team because they were fantastic but we first started introduced it in January 2020. January is an incredibly hectic time for accountants. On top of that, COVID was beginning to hit and suddenly everybody was working from home — which is never the best time to introduce a brand new tool.
In an ideal world, we would’ve loved to have had plenty of in-house training and support to help people get to grips with the tool. Circumstances have meant that wasn’t possible. That being said, I think that we’ve actually implemented it successfully, mainly because the tool is so intuitive. Considering the time of year and all the COVID-related confusion, it’s pretty remarkable how easily Silverfin has become a central part of our practice. It’s quickly become the single source of data and truth we were looking for.
What advice would you give to other firms looking to reinvent their own processes?
Darren Austin: Embrace technology. It’s not going away any time soon — no matter how much you grumble about preferring pen-and-paper processes. Be proactive and find the technology that works for your specific practice. Or, even better, find a provider that’s willing to give you some flexibility, and allow you to create a solution that’s just perfect for your firm’s particular context.
I think people also get trapped in thinking that they need to be at the forefront of innovation. Sure, it’s nice to have the latest shiny new piece of tech, but you’re never going to keep up with the rapid pace of change — so stop trying. Instead, work out what you need to provide your clients with the most value. This doesn’t mean constantly looking to implement the latest, newest, and most innovative solutions. It’s about working out what your clients truly need and how you can best provide this.
For example, once we realised that our clients were all adopting the cloud as standard, we knew that we needed to rethink our own processes. It’s never a good look if your clients are a couple of steps ahead of you technologically. It’s hard trying to position yourself as being a forward-thinking practice if you’re still using Microsoft Excel!
Matt Allen: You also have to be conscious of the fact that clients are becoming more demanding. This is no bad thing — it means they’re looking for us to help them more, which allows us to put our expertise to good use instead of simply completing routine compliance work.
However, it does mean that clients will expect more. You can no longer get away with only analysing your clients’ data a few times a year in preparation for big meetings or upcoming deadlines. Now, not only do your clients want to access their data in real-time, but they also expect ongoing insights and analysis. In order to provide this - it goes back to the importance of having a single source of truth in your client data.
If you'd like to know more about how Silverfin has helped Synergee to make the shift to cloud based accounting in an increasingly competitive landscape, watch the video below.