Moving Pay Portal technology to the next level in accounting firms 

Ian Thompson - Senior Manager at Star Professional Software Solutions 

Accountancy practice management software has come a long way. Today, features like automated billing and reconciliations are easily integrated into the day-to-day practice workflow of Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting UK customers.

Our employees work side by side with our customers to create and manage these solutions – driven by a deep understanding of their needs and addressing the rapid changes in their environment.

However, it’s often hard to look beyond improving performance in day-to-day operations. Amid Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and other disruptions, accountancy practices and their clients are dealing with an unpredictable economic landscape. Future business planning can appear daunting.

However, technology can support accountancy practices (and their clients) in making informed business decisions, and planning for the future. In the first part of our Accountancy Practice Management for Future-Fit Growth series, we’ll explore how they can use technology to define and easily track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Doing so gives practices closer control of performance tracking, and deeper insights that will inform strategic growth plans.

Saving Time

For several decades, business technology platforms have enabled practices to track performance metrics that they have customised. This highlights areas that qualify for improvement and underpins strategic planning.

Contemporary technology, such as CCH KPI Monitoring, makes setting up KPIs faster and easier for accountancy practices than ever before. This is vital today. The current business landscape demands that firms assess and amend KPIs more frequently, based on fresh market variables. KPIs such as client retention rate and business time-to-recovery have become increasingly prominent performance indicators in the past year. If clunky technology makes KPI management difficult, practices have less time and insight to plan future growth.

Reducing Risk
CCH KPI Monitoring makes it far easier to track KPIs and report on them. This is fundamental in minimising risk. For example, if a KPI is set to track and escalate debt filtered by overdue dates, the ability to easily set alerts and automatically generate reports is critical to practice performance management.

Some practices are manually running monthly reports to measure KPIs. Others are running real-time reporting engines, a key feature of CCH KPI Monitoring. This latter solution allows practices to review essential data at any time – covering both performance management and compliance requirements. They can do so remotely or on-premise.

This means that firms can assess issues before they become problems, and thus act proactively. Real-time reporting is a true asset in building a future-fit practice.

The Proof is in the Practice
A number of Wolters Kluwer customers have been using CCH KPI Monitoring for several years now. Our customers look to us when they need to be right. Ryecroft Glenton has successfully integrated CCH KPI Monitoring with its own system. This consolidates information from several sources, including CCH Central and CCH Practice Management.

“We can use the year end date to trigger a sequence of reminders. Have we asked for the books? Have they been received? If a request to a client has been outstanding for a certain period, the partner will receive an alert via email. For limited companies, we can monitor the corporation tax and Companies House filing deadlines – as well as the different deadlines for pension schemes”

– Ian Smith, partner at Ryecroft Glenton

Corporate events agency who benefited from greener graphics initiative

“Apogee are not just aprinting company, theyconsult with us and go onto deliver a full end to endservice from concept toinstallation. They go aboveand beyond and we lookforward to continuing ourjourney with them”

Corporate events agency who benefited from greener graphics initiative

“Apogee are not just aprinting company, theyconsult with us and go onto deliver a full end to endservice from concept toinstallation. They go aboveand beyond and we lookforward to continuing ourjourney with them”

Corporate events agency who benefited from greener graphics initiative

“Apogee are not just aprinting company, theyconsult with us and go onto deliver a full end to endservice from concept toinstallation. They go aboveand beyond and we lookforward to continuing ourjourney with them”

Corporate events agency who benefited from greener graphics initiative

“Apogee are not just aprinting company, theyconsult with us and go onto deliver a full end to endservice from concept toinstallation. They go aboveand beyond and we lookforward to continuing ourjourney with them”

Pay Portals have been around for a number of years now and accounting firms - like society in general – have begun to adopt them as they offer practices benefits in a number of areas: 

- Improved cashflow 
- Operational efficiencies 
- Improved client experience 
- Financial savings 

Businesses and individuals alike are becoming ever more comfortable with paying online, something that the COVID pandemic has accelerated. Before talking about ‘the next level’, let’s quickly look at each of the above benefit areas.

Saving Time
Debtor Days can be reduced by offering clients more ways to pay promptly and to make it easy to do so. As well as a link on the firm’s website, urls can be embedded into invoice and statement designs to get clients to the portal quickly. Some clients will not change their payment habits, but there is a contingent out there that will pay quicker if you make it easy for them. 

A number of pay portal providers have on and off balance sheet financing solutions that enable firms to collect debt up front and the firm or client pays a fee for client cash coming in over a period of time. Not all firms want this, but it is usually offered as an additional option to the core solution. 

The cash arrives in the firms’ bank account more quickly than when paid by cheque. This is even more true in 2020 when postal services worldwide have had delivery issues due to the pandemic.

Operational efficiencies
The amount of time spent by administration staff posting AR receipts is reduced where the receipt data can be imported into the system running the AR ledger. 

Handling fewer client cheques can mean lower bank charges with some banks. Banks are no more keen on the extra time and effort involved in processing cheques than you are. 

As well as credit cards, some portals offer the ability to pay via ACH type options and can also set up payment cycles when clients want to pay a fixed amount ‘on account’ every month, for example. 

The chances of a miss-posting are less if the payment import file contains the client file reference. Importantly in a world of COVID, no-one has to be in the office to open the mail and touch and process cheques if the payment has been made on-line. Unlike a paper bill, a bill in the portal cannot get ‘lost’ by the client or on its way to them.  

Improved client experience
Not all clients will want to use a portal, but it is no longer thought of as new or experimental technology and people have a high degree of confidence in the safety and efficiencies paying via a portal provides. Indeed, many people and businesses now prefer to pay via a portal because of this and although they are unlikely to decide on their choice of accountant based on whether or not they have a pay portal, not having that option is increasingly making firms look out of date, which Is never a good look. 

Some payment applications also enable payments to be made by cellphone, providing even more client flexibility (and opportunity) to pay. Systems invariably provide bill and payment history online when users are in the portal. A portal can be the first or second line method of bill delivery to a client, which will appeal to a percentage of any firm’s client base. Unlike a paper bill, a bill in the portal cannot get ‘lost’. This is a benefit for some clients too! 

Financial savings
If a firm is operating on an overdraft, better cash flow and lower AR will mean interest charges should reduce as the size of the facility reduces. 

Reduced processing of cheques could lead to a reduction in the amount of staff time needed, so these staff could undertake additional duties. 

Charges for a portal need to be less than the value they bring to the business in order for firms to decide they are cost effective. The growing adoption of portals suggests this is often proven to be the case; or more tellingly, once firms have a portal they don’t ‘go backwards’ so they must have seen a financial benefit through the use of it. 

The above is the world of the pay portal that firms using a portal now will recognise. They also know it is not a panacea as some challenges remain, in particular: 

  1. Not all Practice Management systems can import receipt data, so payment information still has to be keyed in. 
  2. When imported, they still have to be matched by an administrator to the unpaid invoices.
  3. As with cheques, it’s not always clear what invoices are being paid (or part paid).

Which brings us to the ‘Next level’ in the title of this article. 

A partnership between Star and Apxium, a cloud based payment portal company that has an established niche in working with accounting firms, has led to the ability for a client to pay and match to invoices in the Apxium portal and then all the payment and matching information is imported into Star Practice Management. This resolves all of the three points highlighted above and will work with both Star’s new hosted solution on Azure and where firms have Star installed on premise. 

The underlying SQL technology of both applications has enabled Star and Apxium to collaborate and Star has been enhanced to hold Apxium payment ID information. This enables Apxium to be sure that a payment made via Apxium has completed the journey into Star. Star and Apxium have collaborated on the SQL stored procedures that allow the two systems to pass data – including the PDF bills generated in Star – to and from each others’ applications to complete a ‘full circle’ in terms of the billing, payment and allocation circle. A refresh of what remains unpaid is then passed across to Apxium and the cycle continues. 

Client can also see and elect to pay the AR finance charges that Star has automatically calculated based on the firm’s rules via Apxium. Other parts of the integration handle unallocated cash, credit memos etc. 

In summary, pay portals have become and accepted and proven technology that offer benefits to both accounting firms and their clients. Their acceptance rate and usage has been boosted as a result of the pandemic. The technology is now advancing through more direct integration with modern Practice Management solutions, enabling the scale of the benefits seen for firms using these systems to be greater. 

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