From XU Magazine, 
Issue 16

Flexibility and control - serving two masters in a more digital tax world

The evolving landscape of more digitised tax authorities has created interesting challenges for accountants, and many will be wondering how they can adapt their working practices. With governments around the world developing closer digital relationships with taxpayers of all kinds, it’s clear that there’s a huge amount of new regulatory burden, but that undoubtedly means lots of available compliance work for firms. The question that practitioners are asking is how can they adapt and serve both clients and tax authorities?
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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One company thinks it has the answer to future-proofing practices.  From inception, practice management pioneer, Senta, has been offering a platform that works not only in different practices, but in different countries too.

From the outset, James Kilford, CEO of Senta, recognised that whilst every firm needs to comply with the same rules imposed by the local compliance regime, each has a unique view on how it should serve its clients.

“The availability of new technology potentially offers ways of adapting and scaling their operations to suit their clients, their practice’s needs, and the local regulations,” says Kilford.

Before working with accountants, he spent his career within highly technical environments, witnessing the impact of tight regulation in industries like banking and aviation.  His belief in the importance of flexibility in the face of increasing regulation provides an interesting glimpse into the ethos driving forward this rapidly growing and international software business.

“It’s the mix of building software that complies, but also offers individual freedom - that’s a challenge I really enjoy,” Kilford explains.  “The first time a practice owner told me they were using Senta to differentiate from their competitors, I really felt like we were making a difference.”

Contending with a growing workload

This theme of enabling a very individualised toolset, and also accommodating the sweeping changes required by governments, sets the company apart in a world of by-accountants-for-accountants software.  “It became clear that the broader digitisation of tax all over the world was going to impact on the amount and depth of reporting that businesses were going to have to contend with, and accountants help to deliver on,” says Kilford.

“When we got into the detail, we saw that this was going to keep building up over a period of years, meaning a lot of data and deadlines for accountants to manage. And, given the real inflexibility and cost of some existing practice management providers, we could see that there was room for alternative options”.

Supporting the firm’s culture, not just its tasks

A strong focus on flexibility and control, especially around the flow of work through the practice, is at the heart of Senta. “We know that every client is different, but each practice is too - with its own set of demands and, more importantly, culture to accommodate. You can’t do this if the way you pass work and stick to deadlines doesn’t give you that flexibility from the start.”

Senta can be used to create highly customised workflows, enabling firms to shape the software and processes around how they do business. “Some clients have amazed us with what they have done with the workflows. It’s fascinating how one firm in the UK could be creating quite intricate ways of handling a small number of intensive, high value clients, and another in Australia is handling greater volume, and has a more customer-service approach”, Kilford explains.

Integrations are key

Another key part of this is integrations; something that Kilford has obvious passion for. “From the outset we were determined to work with as many of the systems as possible that accountants and their clients currently use. Through APIs we can pull in all kinds of useful data and insights, and this is a big area of growth for us as we expand into new territories”.

“A great example is how Senta brings in clients’ details and deadlines from Companies House in the UK, or data directly from the chart of accounts in the bookkeeping software into the client record. These things deliver efficiencies and reduce the number of small errors that build up over time whilst hopping between systems.”

It’s also helped to establish Senta as a serious contender for accounting firms that have international operations. “Being cloud-based means that passing work between teams is so much easier.  We can use a combination of common workflows across the practice, and different ones to cope with the local compliance regimes. And obviously we can accommodate whatever software they are using in each office.”

“Focussing on the accountancy sector means we can take the things we learn from our clients and find improvements that should suit nearly everyone, regardless of which jurisdiction they operate in. We have one client that has 25 staff working in 4 different countries; something that is now much easier to do with the help of Senta.”

Keeping pace

Looking to the future, Kilford sees Senta as the prime tool to help evolving firms. “The move to a more digital relationship between the tax authority and tax payer is an incremental one: from the recent introduction of Single Touch Payroll in Australia, to near real time sales tax reporting in Spain, or MTD for VAT in the UK next year. Every time there’s a change, the impact is felt by accountants - both positively and negatively. Our job is to make sure that whatever is mandated can be turned into workflows that make sense and integrate with practices - not the other way around.”

With an increasingly complex and digital regulatory burden for businesses to bear, there’s undoubtedly plenty of work for accountants to help with for years to come. For firms, the critical question could actually be how easy will it be for them to adapt and scale their own workflows in order to continue to provide and develop a consistent, and reliable service.

Why leave it there?

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