Ask the expert: Technology

Featuring Ben Richmond, U.S. Country Manager, Xero

Ben Richmond, U.S. Country Manager, Xero
Ben Richmond is a chartered accountant and U.S. Country Manager at Xero, where he is responsible for driving Xero’s growth in the region. He has been recognized by CPA Practice Advisor as a “20 Under 40 Influencer” and was named as one of Accounting Today’s “Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting.”

Adapting to the shock of COVID-19

Q. How can firms advise small business clients about accessing government assistance?

A. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the array of client needs has never been more in our face — from navigating the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to negotiating collections and payments. The shock of this financial disruption will be with us for months and even years to come. With the initial rollout of the PPP, there was much confusion among small businesses. Many firms were on the front lines working closely with businesses to navigate the loans and determine eligibility. While small business owners are used to a “do it yourself” mentality and independence, we saw a lot of firms step in to guide businesses through a “do it together” approach. If your clients aren’t asking for support today, they might be unsure of where to even begin. Now is the time for accountants and bookkeepers to reach out and show how they can help whether it’s through recordkeeping and maintaining compliance, business continuity planning, or scenario forecasting. During this time, accounting professionals can also put their soft skills to use and take the time to walk through everything side by side with their clients, balancing empathy, active listening, and emotional intelligence. If we display a deeper, collective sense of awareness and understanding of another’s situation, we can make better decisions for our clients and support more of them in the short and long term.

Q. How can firms help small businesses build financial resiliency?

A. We know that cash flow is the lifeline of any business. Many business owners don’t have a good understanding of their current cash position and how much “buffer” they have. It’s critical that small businesses identify future projections of money in and money out of the business because maintaining a healthy cash flow can make all the difference to a business surviving. As a trusted adviser, I strongly recommend being proactive and checking in with your small business clients to help them create a cash flow forecast or talk them through different scenarios for their business. Now more than ever, small businesses need advice and guidance from an accounting professional to help them keep cash flow at the forefront of their business strategy.

Q. How can technology and the cloud help businesses operate effectively?

A. Looking at how quickly technology adoption advanced during the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe 2020 became 2025. Right now, there’s no better opportunity for firms to help clients get online and in the cloud. Additionally, accounting professionals have another opportunity to become technology advisers and provide small businesses with the right tech stack to operate effectively. For instance, if you’re supporting retail businesses, you can empower clients to use technology to support logistics, point of sale, inventory, customer service, and more, so they can build a customized experience. By going beyond the basics of accounting, accountants and bookkeepers can serve as the most trusted source of advice for small businesses and play a critical role in helping them make well-considered decisions to operate successfully.