The entire landscape of the accounting industry is changing due to the rapid emergence of new technology. This is great for us as accountants, but it is also greatly beneficial to you as a real estate investor. That's because strategic use of technology correlated with our client experience will foster the growth of your real estate business!
Let’s briefly explore both the client-facing and backend technology that we are using to deliver excellent service. This is exploration is not all-inclusive. In addition, we don’t want to focus on the exact tech solution, as functionality between providers can change quickly. We strive to provide the best solution for the situation, so we aren’t beholden to any one company. If “the best” dramatically changes, as it often does, then we may consider a careful migration.
To show how technology helps us add value, we’ll focus on two areas in Part 1 of this series, Our Tech - Your Data and Our Communication and Collaboration with You.
Then, in Part 2, we’ll focus on another very exciting topic, Tech on the Radar. This final section, not only represents our forward-thinking, but also a general insight into what we are looking into.
First, let take a look at your data.
Our Tech – Your Data
Hooray! Many years ago, the world found out you no longer had to do your accounting with just physical records. Later on, another shout of joy came about, gone were the days of having to use sole spreadsheets for your record keeping, as affordable accounting software became prevalent for every business owner. Now we appreciatively shout again, because we have cloud accounting solutions that make room for more innovation.
Why do we like cloud accounting software? One big reason is that it helps with transaction recording. Rather than having to manually enter transactions into the register, cloud accounting allows for secure connections (financial institution security) to your bank accounts, so that transactions will seamlessly import into the software on a day to day basis.
Upon connection, the software can bring in past transactions (a few months worth of transactions beyond the date of connection), and as long as it remains connected, it will bring in transactions going forward.
Even if you have older transactions that need to be entered (before the scope of the initial transaction import usually 90 days) tons of banks allow for the export of transactions within a custom date range. You will then be able to load this exported file of transactions, into your accounting software.
As an aside, some may say that this can be done with normal desktop software (ie: QuickBooks Desktop bank feeds functionality), “What’s the difference between cloud accounting and desktop?” For a thorough breakdown, juxtaposing (2) of the top solutions available, please take a look at the article, QuickBooks Online vs. Desktop: Which is right for you?
We also utilize other import and automation techniques if we need to record data outside of the default bank feeds. We do this with 3rd party programs or through proprietary techniques that we implement into the API of the software.
Once the data is in the software we can use custom automation to categorize the transactions appropriately where possible.
This sounds like it makes our job easier, but how does this help you, if we are doing your accounting and bookkeeping anyway?
Well, if you are just becoming a client, cloud accounting allows for quicker onboarding and migration from past accounting solutions. Then, once you are on board, by freeing up time on data entry, we’re able to dedicate more time on advisory services; helping you understand what the numbers mean and how you can you use that understanding to benefit your business.
We’re also able to quickly provide you transparency, so you can see financials closer to real time. In fact, the more we learn about your transactions, the quicker we become (we’ll talk more about that with machine learning in the final section).
Another mutual benefit of cloud accounting software is the ability to access the data remotely. As a 100% virtual CPA firm we especially enjoy this, however, this also benefits you as you can access your data from anywhere, including mobile devices.
Speaking of mobile, most software will allow you to attach receipts digitally to your transactions from within a smart-device app. Receipt capture functionality actually leads us into another way we use technology to support best practices with your data.
Earlier, we touched on the virtual nature of The Real Estate CPA. Which means, you won’t find a brick and mortar office with file cabinets filled with past accounting records. What you will find is the use of a cloud file sharing and document handling solution. How does this benefit both of us?
Firstly, digital documentation is certainly “sturdier” than a physical copy, and at the very least provides a backup. Taking that idea further, cloud storage cuts down on the IT infrastructure needed to provide this benefit. If a computer crashes or a need to get a replacement arises, your data remains unbothered in the cloud. It is secure from physical threats including theft, but what about the digital counterparts?
Cloud storage providers securely encrypt the files, and they store them in physically remote data centers. Furthermore, with our choices for cloud storage, we make sure we comply with the high standards necessary, to store your financial data.
As an aside: Many cybersecurity professionals say the biggest security threat can be from the computer accessing cloud data.
Internally within our firm, any credentials to access data are distributed within the lowest scope necessary. Externally, we seek to obtain read-only access to a client’s accounts.
How are these credentials stored?
I can think of a relative of mine that keeps their passwords on a post-it note on the top of their monitor; don’t worry, this is not the way with our firm! We encourage collaboration with secure password repository software. This software allows the secure sharing of passwords when necessary (obfuscating credentials) and storage of multiple passwords that can be used when necessary.
Cloud storage can also help us share your data via encryption. Email isn’t inherently secure, and although we have taken steps to maximize the security of transmission, we choose to play it safe by integrating the use of the cloud storage with email communication.
Request for file uploads can be sent via encrypted links that force you to log in before uploading. Files can be shared via links, compelling the recipient to log in to the secure server before accessing a file. And being that the recipient has a personal login to the secure server, they can also access and upload files remotely from their computer or smart device.
Security is important to us, even with communication. Furthermore, there are other ways technology has positioned us as a leader in communication technology.
Our Communication and Collaboration with You
Many of our clients have expressed that the reason they left their prior CPA is a lack of communication availability.
Have you experienced that with your prior CPA?
At the Real Estate CPA, we certainly hope to go above and beyond our clients’ expectations when it comes to communication. However, since we are virtual, we recognize we may have some hurdles to jump over that traditional brick and mortar firms may not face; namely face-to-face interaction.
We recognize there is a benefit to seeing your accountant in person, however, we choose to derive those benefits and others through the effective use of technology. The goal is to be available, and yet as autonomous as possible.
Email isn’t a new technology, but with its pitfalls, it’s important that we look at it in a different way.
In the firm, we prefer to use email with a focus on "economy of words”. That is, we don’t encourage use of email for long explanations or dialogue.
On the other hand, email is useful to establish clear points on record or doing a follow up of what was discussed on a call.
What’s more, we utilize apps that allow us to send video messages via email to further support points written in the message. We’ve found these standards to be successful, but this doesn’t prevent a client from sending any type of email they want at anytime. We make sure we work with the communication style of the client and actively try to enhance it.
One complaint about email is response time. No one likes to an email unanswered for unreasonable periods of time. Therefore, we use technology to ensure that emails are answered in a timely manner. In fact, our software alerts us when an email is getting too close to our “within 24-hour goal”. This allows us to at least touch base with the email, acknowledging it, even if we may need to dig deeper for an answer.
Like any firm, we frequently use the phone as a means of communication. And a virtual telephone software allows use route calls in an effective way.
However, we shine in our utilization of video conferencing software. Video conferencing software allows for collaboration by way of screen sharing and notation tools. This helps us fix problems, instruct, and explain in deeper ways.
Clients have expressed appreciation for the fact that they can schedule a Zoom or phone call through our scheduling software, at any time that works for both parties. All of this can be done from the comfort of your own home! We’re confident you’ll see the benefit of video communication.
And, we have also found success using other online collaboration software.
Messaging and Team Collaboration Software:
Because we are a virtual firm, finding the right tools for internal collaboration have been very important so knowledge can be organically delegated and spread out amongst the firm. In order to consolidate the proper information on demand, we use message and collaboration software to bring the right minds together.
We also have an internal knowledge base software that helps us to query previously retained information. The benefit to the client is no doubt obvious, we can provide the answers you need quickly. To add to that, we actively encourage our clients to join us on our applications where applicable so that they can reach out to various members of the firm according to their needs. This effectively puts them in our “offices” whenever they want, it’s as easy as a text message.
This is not a complete look “behind the curtain”, and not because of a lack of transparency, but time would escape us. To be transparent, one challenge to be aware of internally is to make sure we don’t have the unnecessary technology, stuff we or the client really don't need. On the contrary, we are always looking for stuff that can add value by saving time.
I hope you learned something about how the technology we use at The Real Estate CPA helps us better serve our clients.
If you want to learn more about these technologies, and how we can use them to help you streamline and grow your business, check out our Become A Client page to get the conversation started.
And also, don't forget to follow us on social media so you don't miss out on Part 2 of this post and other useful accounting and tax content from The Real Estate CPA.