Elizabeth Joyce: How did you start mAccounting?
Thomas Gabbert: Prior to starting mAccounting in 2003, I was the CFO for a couple of high-tech startup companies in Indianapolis and decided it was time to leverage that experience and start my own business. We have a staff of 33 and serve, at any one time, approximately 130 to 160 clients. We provide accounting, tax and CFO services.
EJ: How has the cloud changed the way your firm interacts with clients?
TG: It has dramatically changed our business. Cloud-based technologies have given us the freedom to do our job and service our clients much more efficiently. We can get to our client’s information anytime, anywhere. The cloud represents freedom for us and for our clients. Clients no longer have to access their information on a desktop — they can get to it on the go and do things in a much more efficient way. We started our firm in August of 2003, and we decided to use QuickBooks Online (QBO), which was brand new at the time. I’m sure we were one of the first firms to use it. The reason we chose it at the time was that it solved a time-tracking problem for us. Our employees were able to log time remotely, which eliminated a duplication of effort. Over time, as the product has developed, we’ve grown to love the efficiency and flexibility that a cloud-based accounting system provides, and we started moving our clients from QuickBooks Desktop to QBO. In the last two years, I would say we’ve evolved to the point where 80% or more of our clients are on cloud-based tools, and I hope to be 100% in the next couple of years.
EJ: What other cloud applications do you use to work with QBO?
TG: We also use Bill.com, which was the first cloud tool that we adopted after QBO. It’s been a game changer for us and for our clients. I did a demo of Bill.com a couple of years ago, and my first reaction was that this changes everything. We no longer have to go to a client’s office and deal with the stack of paper. If you think about how traditional bookkeeping has been done, a staff person would go to a client’s office, open the mail, route invoices for approval, enter invoices into a desktop system, cut checks, mail checks and file invoice copies. All of that goes away with QBO and Bill.com. Tallie is another platform tool that we have fully embraced. Our clients love the fact that they can take a picture of a receipt and throw it away, knowing that it will flow through to their accounting system. Cloud-based applications are the future, and we are excited to be leading the charge in bringing these tools to our clients. New technology gives us efficiency and accuracy, saving time and money for our clients. We also like the ability to incorporate more internal controls for our clients by using these platforms. With tools like these, we hope to turn the accounting function for small businesses from a necessary evil into a strategic advantage.
EJ: How do you identify new cloud-based tools?
TG: In addition to attending conferences such as QuickBooks Connect, we have a team we call our “cloud services team” that is responsible for researching and vetting new technologies. We spend a fair amount of time demoing new technologies to make sure we understand what’s out there and to ensure that we are providing the best in-class tools to our clients.
EJ: Does your firm bill clients by the hour?
TG: Traditionally, we have billed by the hour, but we’re moving away from that. We’re transitioning to more of a fixed fee/value pricing structure, where we quote a monthly budget for our clients along with a defined scope of services. Our clients appreciate knowing exactly what they’re going to pay, with no surprises.
EJ: How long have you been in accounting, and what is the biggest technological shift that you’ve seen?
TG: I’ve been in the accounting profession for about 25 years, and this is by far the biggest shift in technology that I’ve seen in my career. Cloud-based tools, such as QBO, Bill.com and Tallie, have changed the way that we deliver our services and improved not only the workflow, but also the quality of information available to our clients. Cloud tools are blowing up the traditional accounting model, where someone had to physically go to a client’s office and deal with a stack of paper. Accounting professionals can now do everything they need to do online, from opening the mail virtually and routing documents for approval, to drilling down on an income statement to see a source document. We spend less time getting information into the accounting system and more time working with our clients to add value and help them make informed business decisions.
EJ: How does mAccounting find new clients, and how do they find your firm?
TG: Traditionally, clients have found us. In our community, we have relied heavily on referral from clients and centers of influence. In the last couple years, we’ve started to implement a more sophisticated marketing approach. We’re now active on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to get our message out there. The age of digital marketing is upon us and we didn’t want to get left behind. We are now promoting our firm on social media sites and working hard to educate the market about a new and different kind of accounting model. This is an exciting time in the accounting profession and we want to leverage social media to help tell the story and drive our growth.
EJ: How did you end up having a NFL referee as one of your clients?
TG: Bryan Neale is a long-time personal friend and a client of the firm. In addition to being an NFL referee, Bryan is an outstanding sales coach. We’ve worked together on a number of mutual clients over the years. Bryan is an early adopter of cloud-based accounting tools and an advocate for our model. He’s a terrific guy, and he’s got a lot of great stories.
EJ: What do you think is the next big change in the accounting industry?
TG: I believe that dashboard tools will continue to evolve. Currently, we use Fathom as our standard dashboard platform and love it. We are really excited to see what’s coming next in the dashboard world. Taking data that already lives in QBO and other connected platforms and turning that into actionable information, available at your fingertips, is the type of stuff that excites me.
Editor’s Note: Click on the video below to see Thomas Gabbert’s mAccounting Firm of the Future video.