A recent article published in Acuity Magazine has highlighted our high-tech accountancy services, helping to champion beany.biz and cloud-based technology.
Written by Jennifer Black, appeared in Acuity 1 November 2014
An accountancy start-up has nearly halved customer costs through clever use of cloud technology, low overheads and a profit share scheme for staff.
While some clients will always want to drive to their accountant’s office, wait in reception, then have their hour in the boardroom, flexibility is becoming increasingly popular, says Sue de Bievre CA, CEO of beany.biz.
The online accountancy business, based in Taupo, New Zealand, is targeted at people who want to access their accountant at a time that suits them – the client – best, around their own business needs.
Many small business people are actually happier working with their accountant online, De Bievre says.
“They can ‘visit’ us whenever and from wherever they want. We have a 24/7 customer support email service and always get back to you within a working day. We can also call if clients need to talk. People really just want to know that we’re there to help when they need it.”
And there is no charge for a phone call.
In fact, it’s the charges that a client does not incur that helps this practice stand out in the marketplace.
“We’ve surveyed the New Zealand market and know that, on average, we are 46% cheaper than the traditional service,” De Bievre says.
“In addition, due to the strength of our internal processes and custom built technology, we have a very fast turnaround time and a high level of accuracy.”
beany.biz focuses on compliance work and De Bievre describes the company as having built “a fantastically efficient compliance machine”.
The company does a lot of compliance work on behalf of other accountants, allowing those accountants to focus on adding value to their own businesses and to build and maintain closer, stronger relationships with their own clients.
“It was part of our development aim to be able to offer the technology to other accountants via a white label solution which is marketed under the brand FinStat. FinStat is the software which powers beany.biz.”
beany.biz has built custom software that collects all the “soft” data that sits around the business accounting software and then amalgamates it with that data. This can provide a complete picture for financial and tax purposes.
But despite using some cutting edge technology, De Bievre believes the most progressive thing beany.biz is doing is putting the client at the heart of the solution.
“Traditionally the client has been made to fit around an accounting process. We do the reverse.”
In addition to compliance work, beany.biz does have a team of chartered accountants who can offer a full range of services.
“Originally we wanted to offer small business an incredibly robust and affordable compliance product but there was some demand from the market for business advisory so we do offer it on a fixed-price basis.”
The company also keeps its fees down by asking itself: does the client need it or want it? If not, then it’s not included.
“We don’t have flash offices, receptionists, boardrooms, paper, filing rooms, servers on the ground. I live in Auckland and travel with my NZ$400 chromebook which is my effective office.”
The company has a physical office in Taupo, in the central North Island, from where the development team operates, while other staff are located around New Zealand.
The team communicates via Google hangouts, and sometimes operates from the BNZ Partner Centres, a nationwide network of business spaces available for use.
De Bievre says working in the cloud significantly reduces the cost of running the business.
Another key way this new company has kept its costs down is by paying staff below market rates. But to make up for these lower wages, staff are incentivised with shares in the company. De Bievre says it is not a profit share as much as an ownership scheme, so dividends are paid in a normal commercial way.
Everyone in the team was selected for a combination of technical excellence and a good personality fit.
“Because of the intense work ethic and dedication to the business, people who are not fully engaged will not be tolerated by the existing team.”
Everyone is involved because they see the potential of the business, she says.
Nearly everyone had to juggle their financial commitments and time to make it work in the beginning but De Bievre says the company attracted people who loved the idea and were entrepreneurial themselves.
“Each team member ‘owns’ their section of the business.”
She says a person’s decision whether to join a company run this way is more about attitude and risk appetite than about career advancement and the security of wages covering mortgages.
De Bievre likes people to be rewarded for their commitment by ownership, no matter how small.
She says the best thing about running a profit-share scheme is the level of commitment and engagement shown by staff.
“I have never experienced a team like this where each team member will find a solution to whatever comes up in their area. I am never presented with a problem without a solution.”
She says it is important with a share scheme to have an open and transparent process as the whole team is involved when someone new comes on board, and shares must be allocated fairly.
But despite the lower cost accountancy this team is able to provide to customers, De Bievre ensures the quality is high.
There is a strong focus on a formal double review of every piece of work to ensure a consistently high-quality product. Data validation is also carried out as a standard part of the business process.
“I come out of an audit background so believe in a combination of controlled systems and high quality human review,” De Bievre says.
Customer service is also a top concern and she has a staff member dedicated to this. The company uses software to collect all queries and provide data on the time taken to resolve these, and the level of customer satisfaction with the resolution.
But for De Bievre it is the company’s attitude to its customers that she takes the most pride in.
“Every single business owner knows his business better than anyone and every single business owner works hard and takes risks. I regard us as high-quality service providers to this hard working group of people.”
The idea for the business came about as De Bievre, who has been a chartered accountant for 25 years, became interested in how the accountancy industry’s landscape was changing as technology advanced.
She met Australian accountant Julie Piper, the former CFO of Heinz Wattie for Australasia, through a mutual friend and shared with Piper her idea of a completely online accounting practice, using integrated software and working in the cloud.
“[Piper] saw the potential immediately. She was an amazingly supportive business mentor and has now come on board as a director of beany.biz.”
They teamed up with experienced software developer John Curtis, who had worked for a number of years at Weta Digital, the Wellington-based digital visual effects company co-founded by Sir Peter Jackson.
So what convinced De Bievre this new “remote” model of accountancy could work?
“We felt that there was a place in the market for a fully cloud-based accounting service and we also believed that using technology in a smart way could bring the cost of compliance down significantly.”
De Bievre is passionate about developing New Zealand’s economy – it’s one of the reasons she established this company.
“New Zealand is a nation of amazing entrepreneurs but we end up selling milk, logs, raw materials and don’t add enough value. It’s tough in the provinces to be taken seriously as a business person unless you’re milking cows or chopping logs or running a tourism business.”
She wants this to be a prosperous country and believes smart thinking and entrepreneurship are needed to add some real value to the abundant natural resources.
“We are genuinely so lucky with what we have but we don’t make the most of it. Part of my beany.biz mission is about releasing dead compliance money into productive business spend and empowering New Zealand business to commercialise far more.”
And after New Zealand, she wants to take beany.biz to the world.