If you're the youngest partner at a thirty-three-year-old accounting firm you could possibly find yourself in a tug-of-war between traditional methods and your own drive for innovation. But Darren Dettling CA knows his firm has its eyes on the future, asking the big questions to keep moving forward:
"Are we proud of where we work and what we do? Are we adding value to clients?"
Bendall and Cant is striving to add more value to its clients' businesses by adopting new systems that help deliver better advice to clients, including smart automation tools to handle previously-manual tasks. Now instead of being stuck inside client data, the firm can interpret results more efficiently – and deliver more value.
And it's working. The 30-year-old Auckland-based firm has attracted many more clients and grown its business by 40% in the past six years.
"Quite often conversations with clients go beyond the numbers and I think this is the advantage Chartered Accountants can offer because of our unique position as a trusted adviser," he says.
"We need to be proactive in asking questions and making sure the clients understand what their balance sheet and P&L is saying, giving insights into the business that might be obvious for a CA but for a business owner caught up in the day-to-day of running a business might not be so obvious."
The Owner Manager programme improves relationships – and priorities
As part of the CA Catalyst initiative by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, Dettling was embedded in the Owner Manager programme which operates in association with The Icehouse in Auckland.
The programme is designed for businesses with more than 10 staff and turnover exceeding $3 million who want to explore new ideas and develop skills for driving growth.
"One attraction of the Owner Manager programme is taking the time, without the day-to-day distractions, to think about what we can do better," Dettling says. "Being able to set aside the time to work on the business."
Dettling is in The Icehouse three days a month for five months, building the profile of his own firm and working closely with fellow participants to analyse and critique each other's assignments.
One hands-on assignment Dettling found really useful was creating a business profile on Bendall and Cant, which went through the firm's strengths, weaknesses, goals and financials. He then received useful critiques from the other participants, who'd also shared their own business profiles for review.
"The CA Catalyst program's real benefit is that it’s system agnostic, a central place for information, and I think it's going to be a really good community of ideas."
"You build up quite a bit of trust with the people in the group because you're all sharing a lot about your businesses," Dettling observes, reflecting that basing himself onsite during the program has helped solidify relationships with other participants.
During his time in The Icehouse he has shared insights into common challenges such as business structures, buying out business partners, options for financing growth and his own firm's experiences with automating processes.
"The real benefit of CA Catalyst is that it's system agnostic, a central place for information, and I think it's going to be a really good community of ideas," he says. "I'm always looking for new and better ways of doing things – I generally don't like to stand still."
The Owner Manager programme has certainly fuelled Dettling's desire for business improvement and it has also inspired changes in some of his personal habits.
He's started cycling to work, which helps him avoid the stress of Auckland traffic and take time to switch from 'work-mode' to 'home-mode', and he's thinking differently about what a work-life balance means for him.
"I like what I do as an accountant. It's a big part of my life," he says. "It's not trying to separate the two things, but it is making them work together."
The MVP model for adopting new technology
Bendall and Cant recently introduced digital workpapers and document delivery to reduce manual inputs. It has also started using a system to capture digital signatures, which Dettling says will significantly cut the amount of time the partners spend chasing client signatures and keeping track of documents.
"Ultimately this all helps eliminate time spent on low- or no-value tasks, freeing up time to add value to clients," he says.
In turn the digital document signing system will also save clients time they used to spend printing, signing, scanning and returning documents.
Well aware that the day-to-day work of accounting is changing, Dettling says his firm has adopted a minimum viable product (MVP) model to adopting new technologies.
"Our philosophy is continuous improvement: making incremental improvements rather than going flatline for five years and then having a step change. That goes for both adopting technology and training. If you're always doing a little bit, it's less difficult," says Dettling.
"Choose one area you're interested in, or you think has an issue, and just start with that. Test it, then keep adding to it as you go. You don't have to do everything but do set that time aside to do the things you want to do. No one's going to do them for you. If you don't start, they're just not going to happen."
Apply for the Owner Manager Programme
The Owner Manager Programme is designed specifically for owner-managers of businesses with over 10 employees who want to develop personal skills, gain a refreshed perspective and drive growth in their business. CA ANZ members can apply for a scholarship to participate in the programme.
Owner Manager Programme
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