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A Better Bookkeeping Solution for Advisory Firms

After outsourcing to a virtual accounting firm, we wish we'd done it sooner.

Helen Modly, CFP, CPWA, 12/08/2016

Bookkeeping and payroll processing are two important activities of running any business. If you are doing it yourself or employing staff for these functions, consider outsourcing to a virtual accounting firm.

Like many firms, we employed a staff person to handle our bookkeeping and payroll needs, as well as some light general office duties. Our firm has made a dedicated effort to go paperless and process as much as possible online or in the cloud. In the past two years, we have moved from an in-house server environment to Microsoft's SharePoint Cloud service. The last business function to tackle was our in-house financial management.

A Dinosaur in Our Midst
I will confess that I had not paid a great deal of attention to how these activities were processed in our firm. I relied on our QuickBooks reports and bank reconciliations and didn't delve much deeper.

When I started asking how particular items were processed, I encountered some troubling resistance from our staff person. I tasked her with developing a written Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for each of her primary activities to populate the Practice Management site on our corporate intranet. This was perceived as our management team not trusting her and created a very tense working atmosphere.

We began to realize that all our records were in paper in files in her office. It took until the middle of each month to close the books for the prior month because she was waiting for paper statements to come in the mail. Most of our accounts payable were done by manual paper checks. Employees submitted scanned receipts only to have them printed out and saved in paper. Invoices that arrived electronically were also printed out and saved in paper. The harder we pushed for electronic processing, the more resistance we felt.

Finding a Modern Solution
We conducted an informal survey of many similar firms and discovered a range of arrangements, from the owners/advisors doing it themselves to part-time persons shared between firms. Neither of these appealed to us.

We began to investigate some online offerings from virtual accounting/bookkeeping firms that touted the ability to handle the complete job function online. After several weeks, we selected AccountingDepartment.com as our provider and let our staff member go. Due to the sensitivity of the job function, we did not allow her to serve out a notice; rather, we paid a generous severance and parted ways at the time of notification.

AccountingDepartment.com has bookkeepers and CPAs working from their homes all over the country. We have an assigned team who communicate with us via email and weekly video conferences. Our first step was granting them user access to our Quickbooks online account and then giving them view-only access to our bank accounts and charge cards. They were able to process our payroll within four days of taking over, handling the payroll tax deposits and the 401(k) deposits.

Helen Modly, CFP, CPWA, is President of Focus Wealth Management, Ltd., and a practicing wealth advisor. She is a member of NAPFA and Chair of the board for the National Capital Area chapter of FPA. She can be reached at info@focus-wealth.com.

The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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