From an IT and a software perspective, how tech savvy would you say that your practice is?
We are on our way. We understand that we need to do it and we have started to introduce cloud-based solutions for our self-managed super offerings. We’ve just delivered a new CRM, it’s taken six months to build that as it goes over the whole practice.
We’ve now got accounting, accounting financial planning, mortgage, property and legal divisions with 49 staff.
So, you can just imagine the clarity we need when we are looking at clients' information across the whole business. You can't do it without good technology. It's going to bring your business down if you don't have that flow-through system where a financial planner can look at the information that an accountant can and vice versa. That piece has been about six months in the making and we're live with that now, which has been terrific, and it is a really good system.
We’re looking at other systems as well. We’re looking at ways to minimise how much we rely on the external software packages and try and look at how we can bring them internally, because obviously the more you can do internally, the more control you have.
How often do you currently review your IT and your software systems?
All the time. We brought in a chief operating officer, he started in October last year, so he is certainly pushing for it. There’s so much technology out there that you can use. In fact we did a full review six months ago and had a whole list of them. And we broke it up in the senior management team –they all had to go and review a particular type of software and then report back on it to the group.
So, we actually could ascertain what applications out there we should be using and what we shouldn’t.
That was a really good exercise. You save time because we broke up the responsibilities. But it was clear to us what we needed and what we didn’t. You have to be constantly looking at it, because with technology, you know how quickly things change. Something that is hot today will be obsolete in a month, and so if you’re not on top of it, you fall behind.
We’re not quite in a position to have a full-time chief technology officer, but that could be in the not too distant future – to have someone whose sole job is to run the technology for the firm.
So that's where you feel you sit. How do you feel some of your peers in financial services are going on the technology front?
The spectrum is so big. You’d have people who have been advising for 30-odd years who are sitting in their office, and their biggest bit of technology they’ve got is their PC, and everything is done in paper folders still.
The accounting, legal and financial planning firms tend to be more old school. But having said that, at the other end of the spectrum is you've got firms that are totally paperless. We set a goal two years ago to be totally paperless by the end of this year.
When we say totally paperless, it isn’t actually a paperless nirvana. It’s about using as much online server storage as you possibly can. You can really minimise the amount of paper that you use. So we are very much on track to achieving that.
Think about the efficiencies you can get from a practice. You don’t have to pay for as much storage space. And in the Sydney CBD, every square metre counts when it comes to cost effectiveness. Those storage areas give you the room for more seats, and more people, and ultimately more opportunity to generate income.
A lot of practitioners are put off by the initial cost outlay. What have you seen as the bottom line benefits following that initial investment?
They key word is efficiency. You don’t do anything unless you’re going to get a benefit out of it. You don’t change the way you do business just because you feel the rest of the industry is doing it. You do it because you can actually create e efficiency in your business.
The one thing professional services always struggle to create is more time. That’s the most precious commodity we all have, because that’s what we charge for. So if you can create more time, that’s a great end result. If we can create more time we can sell it, and therefore you increase the bottom line of the business. The old saying is time waits for no man, but you can certainly create more time by introducing efficiencies.
For those practitioners considering an upgrade, did you encounter any unexpected hiccups with costs or staff?
Not with cost, because we quantify everything before we do it, and there’s no doubt you’ve got to do your homework. For example, you’ve got to understand that a change to a whole new CRM could potentially ground the business to a halt. You’ve got to have the right people driving certain aspects of that change. So, proper change management is crucial.
Importantly, you've got to understand how much it costs to have the software, but how much it's going to cost to run it, how much it's going to cost to install and move everything across. Now once you've got an idea, then you can really go away and plan it.
Be sure you make the change at the right time too. For example, end of financial year is probably chaos from an accountant's perspective. There's so many ways you can effectively manage the process. But it's taking the step to do it. It's setting the goals: this is what we want to be, this is how we're going to get there.