The last twelve months have been challenging for accountants. They have been stepping up to guide small businesses through COVID-19 challenges and support the wider economy. Technology has been key in helping them to do this.
Xero’s recent research found that 87% of accounting firms use some cloud technology. The global pandemic has made the benefits of technology clear, and firms that use the cloud have had significant advantages. One accounting firm that made the move to the cloud last year was Cape Town-based MGI Bass Gordon.
Xero spoke to Susan van der Valk, partner at MGI Bass Gordon, about how they adapted during COVID-19 and why moving to Xero helped the business adapt to the ‘new normal’.
How was the business impacted when COVID-19 hit − did you have to make any changes and how was working remotely?
When COVID hit and South Africa was put into a hard lockdown, we had to jump into remote working. We had already started the process of moving data to the cloud last year, but this year ‘pushed’ us to accelerate our future strategies and plans in real time. For us, 2020 has been the year of digitisation. Jumping into Microsoft Teams helped us stay connected with our staff and clients on a regular/daily basis. A number of clients were able to provide us with information throughout the period and thus we continued working. When staff had to wait for information, we encouraged them to do online courses and attend webinars to upskill themselves.
During the last few months, we have moved our accounting systems to Xero, CaseWare to cloud and phone system to VOIP. We are a completely cloud-based firm now. This has been fantastic in terms of being able to work remotely wherever we are. These changes have been instrumental to ensure business continuity during COVID-19 and in future.
What made you decide to move into the cloud earlier this year?
We worked closely with the Xero team to discuss our needs and where we wanted to take the business. From these conversations we realised there were a number of factors we could address:
- Improving efficiencies for our staff
- Move away from our ageing server and reducing data costs – having to connect to a VPN is unstable and uses a lot of data
- Having more flexibility around where staff can work and ease of collaborating remotely. This tied with our decision to move to smaller premises at the end of the year and continue the ‘work from home’ policy
- Finding solutions that would allow us to collaborate with our clients more seamlessly during this challenging time
How did you find adopting new tech during a lockdown and getting the team on board?
I am very proud of our team. Whatever we ‘threw’ at them they took on board and implemented the changes. Whilst introducing new tech during the pandemic, we have made sure that they have had the right training and ongoing support − it is really important to bring the whole team on the journey. We also use tools like Microsoft Teams and Yammer where questions can be asked and answered remotely, which is available for all to see.
The cloud systems that we opted for − like Xero accounting − were easy to change over to. That’s one of the key benefits of the cloud, especially whilst trying to make these changes whilst remote working.
Since using Xero, how has it changed the business, what are the benefits?
Being new to Xero, we are still finding our feet as we learn what features are available to us. We have started to use Xero HQ, Xero VAT (especially the new SA VAT report), the data capture tool Hubdoc as well as Xero’s bank feeds which automatically import bank transactions into Xero. Hubdoc and bank feeds in particular have made our processing function more efficient and saved us loads of time on manual data entry.
How have your small business customers been doing during COVID and what are the main areas you have been supporting them to survive/recover?
We have small business customers in various industries, so some have been doing well, while some have felt the strain − especially those in the hospitality and tourism industries. Our focus has been to stay in regular contact with clients so that they feel supported and armed with the right information to give them the best chance of survival. We have been advising them on any tax relief that would be available to them as well as assisting with cashflow management, projection and budgeting.