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Data: The Key to Unlocking Your Firm’s Advisory Services

February 18, 2021

We’re delighted to welcome Yoseph West, co-founder and CEO of US-based Relay Financial to the Float blog for this special guest post.

If you’ve had your firm for a while, there’s a good chance you’ve explored advisory services at some level.
This article originated from the Xero blog. The XU Hub is an independent news and media platform - for Xero users, by Xero users. Any content, imagery and associated links below are directly from Xero and not produced by the XU Hub.
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Data shows that accounting firms who offer advisory services generate 67% more revenue than those who do not. But the good news doesn’t stop there. In addition to revenue growth, firms providing advisory services will improve and deepen their client relationships.

Successfully delivering advisory services can often improve retention and increase referral rates.

Unlocking the value of advisory

Advisory services most often include some of the following:

  • Budgeting
  • Cash flow forecasting
  • KPI dashboard reporting
  • Technology advice/implementation
  • Benchmarking

A common theme in advisory services is to look forward, instead of backward.

Looking forward gives your clients an edge. You can enable them to make projections, and in real-time, check their progress towards those forecasts.

With advisory services you help clients be proactive rather than reactive. Instead of pointing out mistakes from the past quarter, you are anticipating potential issues and making quick, informed decisions to course correct.

These services are essential. A real-time look at cash flow, for example, can help in critical decision-making that can literally save a business. The problem is, if you provide a cash flow report with bad data, it’s useless.

The challenge: data and speed

While the benefits of delivering advisory services can be exciting, it’s not as simple as simply announcing that you’re now offering these services.

The promise of advisory relies on the fundamentals. If you have inefficient workflows or bad data, it will be impossible to confidently advise your clients at scale.

There are amazing tools available to help your firm create and deliver customisable forward-looking reports that can serve as the basis for the guidance you provide clients.

However, the quality of your reporting will only be as good as the data you collect.

Delivering advisory services

To successfully deliver and scale your advisory services, you’ll need a solid foundation. There are three components to a successful foundation in advisory services:

  • Data
  • Technology
  • Workflows

Advisory starts with good data

Let’s say you’ve worked with your client to build a 12-month budget. If you’re reviewing the budget with them three months into the year, but you only have one month of data, what’s there to talk about?

One of the biggest mistakes business owners and advisors can make in forecasting is making decisions based on incomplete or inaccurate data. A successful foundation for advisory services requires a data set which is:

Accurate: Not only should you have data, but you should have the correct data. Forecasts inherently have a margin of error. Inaccurate underlying data dramatically increases that margin.

Reliable: This accurate data must be reliably available, not just one time but consistently. This allows you to build a repeatable process for delivering advisory services and guiding clients.

Real-time: The older data gets, the less useful it becomes for decision-making. The closer you can get to real-time data, the more informed your clients will be and the more impactful your services.

Keep the data flowing with integrated technology

In order for the data mentioned above to be useful to you and your clients, it needs to be easily and regularly accessible. The best way to deliver that is to ensure that data is flowing seamlessly from its original source system (i.e. the bank account) to its final destination (i.e. your forecasting tool like Float).

There are two general approaches to solving this problem: spreadsheets or integrated technology. In identifying the right solution for your firm and your clients, consider if your reports are:

Accurate: Does the final reporting accurately capture all the data available?

Reliable: Is the reporting available when needed?

Quick to create and update: This is where spreadsheets tend to come up short. Simply updating last month’s cash flow forecast with a spreadsheet could require hours of manual work. Additionally, you’re also introducing the risk of human error.

An integrated system can reduce reporting time dramatically, ensure the data is accurate, and also allow you to report on more recent data.

Customisable: Not every client will get value out of the same reporting. Sometimes small tweaks can take data from being informational to actionable. That’s why it’s important to create reporting that is easy to scale but also easy to tailor to client needs. How easily can you adjust your reporting to client needs?

When business owners can visualise their business performance in real-time, the value goes through the roof. They are now equipped to make proactive decisions, and drive the results they’re seeking.

To get there, you’ll need to bring it all together in a tech-driven workflow.

Pull your advisory tech stack together with a workflow

Finally, syncing reliable data to provide meaningful advisory reports comes down to the right tools working together in a seamless workflow.

Relay: With Relay as your client’s operating account you’ll have all transactions flowing seamlessly into your general ledger with our native bank feeds. You’ll also benefit from high resolution transaction data which populates categories, provides check images, and more to.

Quickbooks Online or Xero: From there, your transactions go into your accounting software, which is the hub in which all transactions flow in, and reports flow out.

Hubdoc or Receipt Bank: To verify the transactions coming from Relay, you can automate receipts and bills, connecting them to the bank transaction in your GL.

Visual forecasting in Float: When your data is accurate and verified in QBO or Xero, you can sync to Float and automatically produce a financial dashboard, forecast, cash flow reporting and more.

With a tech stack like this in place, you can dramatically reduce the overhead and time of going from settled transactions to reporting. Now, you as the advisor can provide guidance with confidence and blow your clients away.

Want to take the pain out of client banking and speed up reconciliation? Try Relay (Only available for US companies at this time)

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