Jose Zavala, Principle at ZTX Advisors LLC and Xero Ambassador, joins Count Me In to talk about all things relating to cloud accounting. Jose has experience working with a number of different firms in an effort to help them scale efficiently and increase cash flow while implementing cost saving strategies. He leverages technology and applications to increase efficiency, and he shares a lot of his personal insight in this episode. From RPA and machine learning to future implications of technology on finance and accounting, Jose explains what it all means and why it matters! Download and listen now.
Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's a podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm Mitch Roshong and I will be your host for this episode. Today, you're going to hear Adam talk with Jose Zavala about how automation is the key to success of accounting and finance professionals. Jose explains the benefits, but he also addresses the challenges and pitfalls. He regularly helps firms save time and money through automation and has a great first and perspective on the topic. So to hear more, we'll head over to their conversation now.
So Jose, as we begin 2020, it seems that automation is a key word in accounting and finance, whether it's through RPA or machine learning. How have you seen automation in general impact the accounting and finance industry?
You know, that's a really good question. For me, what I have seen is it, at least personally on my level, it allows you to essentially provide a better service to our clients. You know, cause within this industry, at least my take on it is we need to be client facing. You know, they're our clients. We need to make sure they're getting, it's about customer service, you know, and if we're too busy in the weeds or heads down, you know, doing a lot of this taking care of kind of a lot of these administrative tasks or you know, doing a lot of stuff that we can maybe push off to a bot or to a software to do that takes away time from us to be able to be face first in front of our clients and helping them with those meetings as far as, you know, growth and things like that. So I think it's going to have a huge positive impact because it's going to essentially give us back our time to then to provide those better services to our clients and start being that advisor, you know, that investment for our clients to sort of be in what you don't have. A lot of clients see us as an expense. Oh, I got to talk to my accountant and I talked to my tax rep, I talked to my CPA. You know, where instead of doing that, they should be like, Hey, I want to make this move. Let me call them to get their take on it before and make it instead of, you know, making the move and then later trying to figure out, Oh, well did I do it right? Well, it's kind of too late. It's already done. So that's how I think go as far as automation is going to, help us in this industry. Because like I said, you know, give us back that time to be able to then give that time to our clients and provide them much better service.
So as we look at that impact that you just mentioned of automation, you know, what about a more holistic view of its benefits? What are some ways that an organization can cut costs through those and through that automation?
Yeah, no, I think that's another great question, man. So I was actually on the surge (Just want to make sure that is the appropriate way to spell the Podcast title) podcast with JJ, the CPA, and what are the conversation or topics we hit on there was invoicing. I know, and my background is public accounting, worked at CPA firms my whole career before I went out on my own. And I remember one of the big things was always billing. So you would take two or three days to sit down, go through the bills and then having to do follow up calls and it was usually the managers, doing a lot of that work do that. So that was a lot of, to me admin time, un-billable time that you could have. One of the things that just by, inputting something like a proposal software or automatic payment software that that builds your clients automatically, let's say on a monthly basis for a monthly recurring revenue, you can go ahead and eliminate that. The need to have to build that, to have to sit down and have those conversations and okay, this is what we need to do. We need to build this. We need to build that same thing as well. It removes, if you're printing invoices, stuffing them into envelopes, mailing them out, and then having to do followup calls and have an admin person doing followup calls. I'm trying to lock down those invoices. I feel like it takes a lot of time and there are too many people, too many hands touching it whenever it can be just one person making sure that these looking at the software, making sure the software is correct and then using that time, that person's time instead of non billable work, maybe move them into a little bit more billable work and, and you know, get a little more out of them that way. So that's how I think it can essentially cut cost is, is we can look at software and some of these, your friend's bots and things that are available to us as a way to, instead of paying a full time employee, we would pay them at and a third, a fourth, a fifth of the cost. And then make sure that the staff we do have, and not to say to replace a staff, but take the stuff we do, have them give them more higher value work and actual billable work that we can bill back to the client, which then in turn will keep them happier because you know, they're moving away from just entering checks into an accounting software or just entering deposits. You know, they're doing a lot more maybe client facing or maybe doing something else that you can play to their strengths. And then again, you know, you increase essentially their output, and by output is more essentially, you know, the billable output of them. So that's how I think it could cost that way.
So what if you've mentioned all this to somebody and they're like, Jose, I am still not convinced. You know, you've given me these cost cutting measures, you know, the general impact. Okay, I can see the impact. But what are the real benefits to me as an organization? And how does that trickle down to my employees? You know, you mentioned one thing as a giving the employees more high value work, but what else? What else, what other benefits can they see?
So I think one for you as a business owner, essentially it takes what it does. It eliminates a lot of those mundane administrative tasks that we have to do. Right now it's tax season we're having to, we're doing tax returns where, you know, if you're in public accounting you're in the grind right now. And one of the big things is, you know, having to go in and, and one having to make sure to okay do we have all our work papers in, you know, having to send emails and going through emails and trying to make sure you have all that information or same thing as well. You know, kind of going back to one of the things that I see a lot is trying to lock down lets say client meetings. So you're trying to do, have a client meeting and you spend three or four emails emailing back and forth. Are you free this day or you're free that day. And next thing you know, you know, when something could have been scheduled that week, it gets pushed two or three weeks ahead because you know, you're going back and forth and just little things like that kind of can help you save a little bit of time and bring a little bit of back of sanity back to you. And as far as your employees go, you know giving them the ability to essentially again go back to the higher level work, you know, so instead of actually going in and, and having to input deposit slips or doing just basic data entry, you can move that away from them and have them do a little bit more of the actual review work or actually, you know, making sure that everything looks right a little bit higher, advisor role and then be able to, especially give them, give them, like I said, a little bit more higher value work, which will then, well, from what I've seen at least personal experience on me, it makes him a little bit happier. Make some, like I'm actually part of the team. Getting more involved in the project gets them more involved with the client, more interaction with it them. And you start to see at least the, at least we've seen it personally in my firm. You know, I've gotten my, my staff a little more involved with some of our clients and I mean, the output has been essentially doubled what they used to and they're excited and they're, they're ready. And I mean, I don't have to be on top of them for every single little thing, you know, now it could be just me. I, you know, I could just been lucky with my staff, but you know, I wanted to make sure to implement those, those, those processes and give them the ability to do that with some of this technology that's out there. So a quick example would be tax returns. You have a client who comes in and gives you a box of receipts, a box of bank statements. Traditionally what we would do was go in and Excel and just type in, you know, okay, January, February and kind of create a quick P/L statement. Then we can create inside there. So with the use of different, of these kind of different applications that are out there, we use one called auto entry. You can actually take that import those bank statements in, you get an Excel spreadsheet. So then you import that into your accounting software. We use zero for our accounting software. And then they have this feature called cash coding, which you can mass reconcile transactions. So instead of having to individually reconcile a transaction, you can do all that. So we'll normally take you three, four hours of having to, you know, input in and typing in that information into Excel to create a P/L you can do it, you pay X amount of money depending on how many, on how many pages each bank statement has and you turn it around and you can create a P/L within 45 minutes. So it sends you back that time, which, and that allows you and your staff to work on more projects. And that essentially increases your profit margin. Cause your time, you're essentially taking less time on each project.
You're taking less time, but you're also creating more longterm employees because they feel valued in that year. You're giving them more responsibility.
Exactly. Exactly. I think you put it better than my long winded explanation there. That's what I was trying to get to. So that's what I'm trying to get to, you know they feel valued and that's the word. They feel valued and you empower them and the more they feel valued, the more they want to do And as you start to introduce some of these new applications and say, Hey, this is how we do things, then they start to think, okay, how can I tweak this even more to maybe cut that 45 minutes, 30 minutes, and you know, and then they start to take that initiative and then it's off of your hands. And the next thing you know, you know, a project just keeps getting quicker and quicker and quicker, done quicker and quicker, but with the same level of the same consistent, work. It's just, you know, getting done in faster time because they're honing their processes in the end and if they buy into it, it's an amazing thing because then like I said, you just sit back and you're getting it and yeah, you can take up more clients without having to throw more bodies at it.
So, you know, we've been talking about all the benefits and ways we can cut cost and of automation and RPA and AI and all these are very popular terms in the industry, but there's a kind of new, what are some pitfalls that organizations can be aware of and work to avoid when they're just starting out?
Oh man, that's a great question. And I'm going to tell you from experience, it's just because there's an application out there or a software that that's industry. The industry standard doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work for you. Out of these sales guys out there will tell you, Oh yeah, everybody uses it. There's a cookie cutter way. This is what you need to be using this, this exact stack. And I'll tell you from experience, it doesn't necessarily work that way, you know, there are some software applications that are industry standards that I use that I enjoy, but there are some that just don't fit into my workflow and we use kind of other ones that are, you know, their competition, which aren't considered an industry standard and we use them just fine. You know, what I would say is be careful about.... do a little bit of research, but reach out to the community, reach out to two other accounts, reach out to other people that you see using the software most of the time, especially with at least the zero community that we're a part of a, you'll find some very collaborative accountants, bookkeepers, tax repairs, CPAs, you know what it is. You can reach out and say, Hey, you know, I want to use X software. I'm trying to find a workflow for how to capture receipts. Okay, there's different softwares you can use. This is what I use and do that. Because what I did was I went to just demo a bunch of stuff. We'll spend a bunch of money to implement something and then it wouldn't work or I didn't fit into my process. And then I tried another one and it didn't work. The one that, the worst for me was project management. It took me four different softwares before our found one that I actually really enjoyed. And I mean, it's, you know, I'm okay with it because we learned, but if I would have actually reached out and talked to people, they would have told me, Hey, at least one of them that I implemented don't use You know? And so, that what I would say, that those are the kind of the pitfalls and then as well to just, you know, watch your costs because I can't tell you how many times I try a software out and then I forget it and then it just sits there. But my credit card is getting charged $15 $20 a month, you know, for using it. I'm like, wait, I'm not even using this thing anymore and then as well, automation and all this stuff, it's used to enhance the client experience. It's not supposed to be used to replace. So a lot of people when they think about this, they think, Oh, well it's just going to help me. I'm not going to have to talk to my clients as much. I'm not going to, you know, have none at all. The whole point of this is to automate your processes or your client's processes to give you guys back some time to then talk to your client. You know, this isn't intended for you to distance yourself from the client, distance yourself from that. The way I see it in the way I think it should be used is to get you back that time to increase your relationship with your client, to increase the time you spent in front of them. You know, talking to them and helping them with those higher, with those bigger vision goals instead of just, Hey, here's a financial statement, have fun. You know, and that, that's the one thing I think don't look at it as like a, okay, cause if you're coming into automation and you think that, you know, Oh well I don't even have to talk to the client, they can do this. They can set everything up and we onboard them and we get everything out to them and we just have a quick phone call. I mean yeah, you can do it, but that defeats the purpose. I mean cause at the end of the day, we're all about client. It's all about the client and providing the best service to them. So that, that's what I would say is the pit. One of the pitfalls.
Now, you mentioned it when we were talking about pitfalls, but I wanted to ask, you know, I know that this has been my experience when I'm looking at a software or trying to figure out how to do things within softwares or different applications. You know, finding a community of practitioners to discuss things with is always been an important place to bounce ideas off of. How important has that been for you as you've gone through your career?
Oh my God, 100%. I wouldn't be where I am without a community of people I can talk to. like I said, you know, I spent a good amount of money, this learning on my own and it's just now ever since I reached out to the community and actually have people to talk to, it's so much easier because, I mean, if you're looking for, let's say, a solution for, for billing, let's go back to bill pay, right? There's eight of them out there right now. If I'm not mistaken, there's a lot of them. And so, which one's gonna work for you? Well then you go, that's where you can go to the community and started asking questions like, Hey, have you used thishave you used that ? What do you like? What don't you like? And for the most part, the community, at least the one I saw, I'm really active with the zero community cause I use zero primarily. But you know, so in our community where we're very open and any question you ask anybody, we'll just sit there and open up their playbook and be like, this is what I use and this is, you know, this is how I do it. And if it works for you, great. If not, then, you know, at least you know how it's used, you know, if it's gonna fit into your workflow or not. So to me that's super important. I wouldn't be anywhere where I'm at without the community itself.
Definitely. So to kind of wrap up our conversation, you know, whether it's accounting, finance, general SAS, or other business functions, what future implications do you envision being impacted by the future of technology and automation?
Well, I think, I mean, just our industry as a whole is just going to completely change, you know, I mean you've got more as more and more small business owners are starting to see, and even not even small business owners, but just, you know, business owners overall are starting to see the power of automation and you know, these different applications and things like that. They're starting to recognize that. And so as a practitioner, we need to keep up with that as well. You know, we need to keep up and make sure that we're providing the top tools for them for our clients as well. And I think that, it's going to come a point to where, you know, at least in the accounting industry, you know, where maybe before you competed on price, you know, I can do it cheaper. It's going to be more now competing on that customer service or that or that client experience. And, or maybe I might charge a little bit more, but their experience is going to be a lot better then if they're going with somebody cheaper. Especially if you can sell that value, you know, either sell it or showcase that value that you are providing with them with some of these different tools you're using. So I think it's going to make a huge difference and I think it's going to be a kind of a game changer. It's going to help us out as well to be able to, again, maybe take a step back from just putting our heads down and getting the work done to maybe helping them and moving more back into that, you know, moving us from an expense back into an investment in the eyes of our clients.
It's interesting as people talk about automation and AI, there's a fear that the human interaction is going to lessen. But from what I hear you saying, it seems like the human interaction is going to be more important as those things become more prevalent.
Yeah, 100% I mean, you know, they're not perfect. None of these systems are perfect. You still need it. You still need a set of human eyes to make sure what goes out is good. A robot. A system, an application cannot explain to a client why their cost of goods went up 30% over the last month. You know, you can sit there and run a report and create, you know, these fancy reports. But if a client doesn't know, they're not going to be able to understand that same thing as well. You know, if a client has a call and they want to, let's say a real estate investor and they want to buy a new piece of property and they want to sell their old one, well then you know, you want to make sure to walk them through a section 1031 exchange and let them know exactly what that is to help them with that or you know, different things like that. I think, to me it's enhancing. I mean, right now I'll be real with you. I spend more face time with my virtual clients that I do with my local clients and with Zoom meetings and you know, things like that. It's made it possible for me to work with them and I spend probably more time with them than I do like with some of my local clients.
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