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Interview published on AccountingWeb here

Emanur Rahman called time on a highly successful career spanning 20 years in the Square Mile to realise his dream: the development of a completely new Practice Management system for accountants. Here he explains why: 

What made you decide to change tack and enter the world of accountancy software? 

I have always had one foot in accountancy. I trained as an accountant and was a management accountant at BBC Radio before coming to the Square Mile, specialising in change and transformation through technology. During my 20 years there, I delivered two of the toughest projects the Square Mile has ever seen and one of those had failed before at huge cost. That project was mission critical and if the technology platform had gone down, it could have choked the financial markets. 

I have always been actively involved in Sue’s practice - Sue and Emanur are business partners – and we shared a joint focus on how to increase client retention. We were hopeful that by investing in one of the leading practice management systems, we would be able to meet the challenge we had set ourselves. However, it proved so complicated that we stopped using it within 18 months. 

Why do you say it was complicated? 

It was built around a workflow engine and to put it simply; none of the accountants I know do workflow. They do deadline management. 

Accountants don’t plan out the VAT returns they have to do by saying they will complete 7 on Monday and 3 on Tuesday and so on. I was surprised to see that the practice management systems on the market all provided detailed workflow - which in my opinion is overkill - none of them provided a calendar where you could see all your jobs in one place and by month. 

Workflow is 101, it is the cost of being an accountant in practice. But, if you master workflow it doesn’t mean you are going to be successful. Accountants are entrepreneurs – they sell, they market, their clients have expectations etc. Success in accountancy is keeping the clients you have and adding new ones. 

Personally, I don’t buy the mantra that accountants need to look at adding value to their services. They already do that, they’re just not good at telling their clients about it or very often, charging for it! 

So, you decided to develop a system yourself? 

Yes, there was no practice management system that was built to keep clients, so I identified a need to develop a system that works in the way accountants do – with the client at the centre of everything. Accountants don’t just deliver accounts and tax returns to their clients: they deliver a service. The key USP, we determined, was to ensure that the Practice Management system could help an accountant deliver an exceptional service to ensure retention. 

Practice Management should help accountants tell their clients about the quality of the service they provide Accountants should be able to rely on their Practice Management system to give them information and metrics on how well they serviced their clients, including things like turnaround times, response times to queries etc. We want to change the language of the annual review from “we didn’t miss any deadlines” to “we didn’t miss any deadlines AND we handled 82 requests over the year, of which 70 were turned around within a day”. Accountants are terrible at explaining their value and this kind of information would help to reinforce their worth and boost client retention. 

Practice Management should help accountants identify new or missed opportunities 

Our vision for Practice Management is to deliver the kind of useful data accountants need to be successful. Insights are an important element of our Practice Management system and they are a way that accountants can ask questions to find out more about their business, their clients and new or missed opportunities. 

Not raising fees is a very common missed opportunity. For example, let’s say you give a client a fixed price deal based on 100 bank transactions per month. As the client’s business grows, the number of transactions go up and it takes longer for the accountant to do the work so the profit on the job is falling. Today, the accountant does not have an early warning that this is happening. The Practice Management system should be able to help the accountant spot that. 

Upselling or cross-selling opportunities are also often missed. For example, not doing all the directors’ tax returns for every limited company that is a client or identifying that you’re only servicing one business for a client who has two. The Practice Management system should also help the accountant spot those. 

The Practice Management system should also tell accountants about efficiency and productivity, not as a line in a marketing brochure or as a feeling but in terms of KPIs, what we call actionable insights. This helps accountants identify bottlenecks in their processes or areas that need real improvement. 

Ultimately, Practice Management systems collect a lot of information that can be useful to accountants but they’re so focused on workflow they don’t bother. That’s why we built our Insights module

Practice Management should be client-centric 

The basic building block for Practice Management is not workflow, it’s the client record. What we have found is that as you add more building blocks you gain more data and more actionable insights into the accountant’s business and clients. Our vision is for everything to do with a client to be accessible in a single place so it’s easy to find information and to get insights across the whole client portfolio. 

What best-of-breed can’t deliver 

When accountants ask me about my thoughts on best-of-breed systems, I make the point that they often don’t have the time, skills or resources to combine all the data into one place to get the kind of insights that will help them be more successful. There’s a hidden treasure trove out there, golden nuggets if you like, that can only be found if all that data is in one place. That’s what a “visionary” Practice Management system can deliver. We believe our USP is that we are building a system with vision. Workflow, for us, is just one part of that. 

Features not capabilities 

We don’t build features; we build capabilities. So, with something like a birthday greeting, our workflow module already is capable of being set up for any kind of repeating work on any schedule. We don’t have to build a birthday greeting feature, we have the capability to build any workflow. In fact, don’t tell anyone but Sue has set up a courtesy call service for each one of her clients! 

We always think about what an accountant needs to do to be successful and because the capabilities are all in place, the sky really is the limit on what accountants can do to deliver their own vision of an exceptional service. 

Software should always reflect reality 

Too many software packages don’t reflect reality and that is why they fall down. Software companies are always forcing reality into their own way and then expecting everyone to fit. We don’t believe that is right. For example, everything in Onkho is customisable and optional and why? Because the reality is that no two practices are ever run in the same way. What’s good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander! 

Only Practice Management system without a fixed dashboard 

Our Practice Management system is the only one on the market without a fixed dashboard. It is completely widget driven and can work in the way your practice or even each team member wants it too. The reality of accountancy is that no two partners, no two bookkeepers or anyone else works in the same way. We wouldn’t be so bold as to tell them how to do their jobs, so we just make sure they can run it their way on our system. 

We didn’t bring Onkho to market to solve a problem such as workflow. We came to market to provide accountants with the means of running a successful business. The software delivers the suite of tools that are required to ensure exceptional service for clients at all times. We truly believe we are the only software company that understands the accountant’s business. 

Next steps 

The next step on the product road map is to deliver onboarding capabilities and to enhance our communication capabilities so that all communication is centralised and presented in an aggregated view for the whole team. 

Emanur urges all those interested in investing in a state-of-the art practice management system that really does turn PM on its head, to take a closer look at Onkho with a 14-day free trial. 

onkho

Onkho picks up where others leave off and addresses the challenges faced by today’s busy practices. It is the brain child of Susan Rahman, who has her own thriving firm in South West London and her husband, Emanur, who was an accountant at the BBC and a CTO at the London Stock Exchange, to develop the missing technology piece in the practice jigsaw. Since starting to use Onkho, Susan's client retention has increased from 85% to 99%.
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