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Topics: Accounting, Industry, Outsourcing

5 Tips for Using a Virtual Accounting Staff for Your CPA Firm

7 MIN READ | Posted on February 17, 2022
Written By Shweta Pandey

Accounting Outsourcing - Virtual Staffing

The accounting industry has been hit by a talent shortage for many years now. Add to that the labor shortages fuelled by the Great Resignation, and you will say this is not an excellent time for your firm, that is, if it wants to scale by adding highly qualified accountants to its team.  The problem is one of plenty and the usual demand and supply issue, but it is an accountant’s market out there this time. There are openings available across the biggest and the best firms across the industry, and skilled accounting professionals can choose to work with any one of them. They pick the best offers and select firms that can guarantee a mix of career and skills progression over those who cannot. Many times, it is the smaller firms that bear the brunt of the talent shortage. 

They want to scale but can’t. They can’t find the right resources to add to their team. 

Of course, there is always the off chance that they can get lucky and convince an experienced accounting professional to join their team. But ask yourself this question, “Do you want to depend on ‘good fortune’ to scale your team?”. 

The answer will be a resounding NO.

You really want to take the reigns of your firm in your hands, and be in control of its growth strategy. So, here’s one of the things you could do. Why depend on the vagaries of the talent market? Why not move towards a system that doesn’t restrict you to geographical borders to hire your accounting staff? Why not move to a more virtual accounting model, and why not choose accounting outsourcing even within this model?

Different between Virtual Accounting and Accounting Outsourcing?

All outsourced accountants are virtual accountants, but not all virtual accountants are outsourced accountants. The pandemic has forced many people, including accountants, to work from home; this working model is now permanent. These accountants can be clubbed into the virtual group, who are attending to clients’ accounting tasks from their homes, using the internet. 

When you outsource accounting, you are working with accountants working out of a delivery center that is typically based offshore, and you can still call them virtual accountants. Still, there is a key difference here – these outsourced accountants are not on your payroll. On the other hand, virtual accountants can be on your payroll, that is, accountants that are part of your firm but aren’t working out of the firm’s office space.

5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Virtual Accountants

The Setup is Important

First thing’s first. Does your virtual team of accountants have all the systems in place to work virtually, and this begins with a reliable internet connection? 

But this is just the basics of the work model. You then must look at the accounting software your firm leverages and make sure it is cloud-based. Typically, most accounting software these days is cloud-based, so your firm is sorted. But, if the technology is a little bit behind the curve, you must move to the Cloud. And this is important because this software will be accessible by all your firm’s accountants, irrespective of their location. 

Now, let it be known that moving to a new process backed by an advanced accounting software setup is expensive but necessary. However, if you want to cut costs, why not go the accounting outsourcing route? In this work model, your accountants, who will be working as your extended team, will be using the best and the latest accounting software out of their delivery center. You can therefore cut down on your tech investments.

Data Security is an Imperative

There is no doubt your firm might have put the necessary security protocols in place to protect all the financial and personal information your firm handles. But, when it comes to virtual accounting and your staff working virtually, security must be extended to those who are working from outside the office premises. And for this to happen, significant upgrades must be made from the IT security purview. This might entail moving to new and improved security solutions that are more comprehensive and, as a result, more expensive. You cannot compromise on data security even if your accountants work virtually. 

This pointer calls for zeroing in on the difference between virtual accountants and outsourced accountants again. Your firm is responsible for ensuring the accountants on your payroll work out of a secure environment; however, data security rests with the providers if you outsource accounting tasks to an offshore provider. Whether it’s GDPR, SOC 2, or any other compliance, you can pick the provider who can meet all necessary regulatory guidelines.

Man Management

This is super-critical if you want to make the most of your virtual accounting staff. Historically, CPA firms have adopted a conversative team structure and process management approach. Micromanagement and multiple layers of scrutiny is the norm. Also, in-person instructions and in-person meetings are de rigueur. But the New Normal, and the rise of the WFH model, has upended this structure and way of working. The fact that a virtual staff, is not working out of the office, means in-person meetings are near impossible. Yes, you have the video call option and Zoom meetings, but it is not the same thing? And, managers or senior partners will always worry if the work is getting done the way it is supposed to (it is, but the worry doesn’t go away). 

So, you need to reimagine your management approach and look at it from a ‘virtual accounting’ prism. Firstly, you need to foster an element of trust in the process; a trust-based process where individual accountants are given complete responsibility for their work is critical. Again, technology rears its head here, wherein collaboration systems must be implemented to enable seamless work management. 

Now, suppose you are choosing the model of an outsourced accounting firm. In that case, you work with individual contributors with many years of experience under their belt and do not need to be overly managed. Also, you have the option of outsourcing accounting managerial duties to the outsourcing provider as well. A perfect situation to be in.

Handling Motivational Issues

This can be a problem. In an office environment, you can immediately make out whether an accountant is losing motivation in work, overburdened, under pressure, or facing some other work-related or non-work-related issue interfering in productivity and work quality. 

What do you do when your employees are working virtually? 

Here again, you need to institute policies and working models that allow you to get clarity on the mindset of your employees. Your firm also needs to get creative with fostering motivation and employee nurturing. Remember, you will do all this virtually, and this doesn’t mean you cannot motivate employees virtually, just that you will need to be more innovative. 

Think of virtual motivational team meetings with the single-minded purpose of boosting employee spirits. This could take the form of inviting motivational speakers for a talk or just an informal chat about what’s happening in their lives. Once in a while, a one-on-one with team members can also help. You could also show them that your firm cares about them in various small ways and do whatever it takes to make them a part of the team.

This requires time and effort and is an integral part of ensuring you are able to leverage the full potential of your virtual accounting staff.

But accounting outsourcing doesn’t demand this level of time and attention on your part. The accountants that are a part of your extended team, are not on your payroll and you, therefore, aren’t responsible for them, their motivation or the lack of it. 

If there are productivity issues, you flag the problem to the accounting outsourcing firm, who will then take care of it. And this isn’t only about motivation. The provider sorts out all outsourced accountants’ related problems.

Balance is the Right Way to Go

How do you scale your firm, build capacity, and take the necessary steps to fuel growth? This, in essence, is the question you must ask yourself? You cannot depend on the age-old methods of driving scale, that is, by aggressively hiring accountants. There is a talent shortage in the accounting industry, which means hiring accountants becomes a time-consuming and expensive exercise. And secondly, the expectations of accountants and the labor force at large have changed. Many of them want to work from home permanently. As for many, they have fallen in love with this flexibility, and it brings a semblance of work-life balance that they missed. It is just a more convenient and comfortable way of working for others. 

If you want to hire the best and brightest, you might have to give them the option of working virtually. But this might not bring down operational costs. Yes, you will scale your firm, but at a cost. So, ideally, you need to balance things out. Mix up virtual accounting made up of in-house accountants with accounting outsourcing. This way, you can manage your costs better and improve ROI. 

Think strategically about virtual accounting and scaling your firm with virtual accounting staff. Evaluate the benefits you will experience, the investments you need to make for sharing those benefits, and make an informed decision.

Shweta Pandey

Creative and enthusiastic, Shweta turned into a marketer for her independent ventures long before she formally joined the realms of QXAS marketing team. Alumni of the University of Delhi and MICA - school of ideas, and with experience in creating content for multiple niches, Shweta now creates content and strategies to chart the changing landscape of the accounting industry.

Originally published Feb 17, 2022 01:02:12, updated Feb 17 2022

Topics: Accounting, Industry, Outsourcing

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