7 Experts Weigh In On the Future of Accounting
Every industry is impacted by the rise of technology and automation, and for many, that can be an...
Nina Chmura, Partner at Withum, joined the New Jersey-based firm 16 years ago as an auditor almost straight out of college. In 2015, 11 years into her career, she was itching to make a change and wanted to explore other opportunities at Withum. Nina quickly was able to recognize an opportunity. She saw that the accounting landscape was lacking client accounting services (CAS) and that Withum was in a unique position to bring these valuable services to their clients. She put together a business plan and started to lay the foundation for the now incredibly successful Withum CAS practice that she runs today.
But there was still room for improvement, and in 2020 Nina recognized her staff’s desires to curate higher-value services for their clients. The problem was a looming capacity issue.
Hours Withum saved per month on Botkeeper
Estimated annual savings in accountant hiring needs
Clients onboarded to Botkeeper and counting!
"In our service line, we of course feel that the value is in the advisory work. That is, the ability to analyze the numbers to provide meaningful feedback to our clients. While I think that everyone that starts at Withum needs to understand the basics of bookkeeping, I don't think they have to stay there that long.”
Nina reached out to Botkeeper, and since implementing Botkeeper’s platform and services into the Withum CAS business model, her CAS team has been able to train and shift their more junior staff to higher-level advisory services, creating a ripple effect throughout the firm. Botkeeper’s strategic partnership has provided Withum the ability to embrace a problem-solution approach, and the team has more bandwidth to meet and advise clients, creating a new pipeline of advisory services that didn’t exist before.
Withum is a forward-thinking, technology-driven advisory and accounting firm. With a staff of 1,200+ and over 160 partners and principals, they have successfully been helping clients to be in a Position of Strength℠ for the last 50 years. Their menu of services includes advisory, tax, assurance, and accounting. The firm is built on a foundation of 4 principles that they refer to as the Withum Way: innovative, adaptive, effective, and trusted. They serve a variety of industries, including private equity, automotive, construction, consumer products, financial services, government, healthcare, manufacturing, real estate, technology, and emerging growth services, providing industry expertise and offering insights and experience to help clients achieve their financial goals. Withum is headquartered in Princeton, NJ, and has offices in nine other US locations, as well as an international presence.
In 2015, Nina created a firm goal to centralize Withum’s CAS practice under one umbrella. She wanted to create processes and procedures that were repeatable and profitable. She had a large focus on streamlining efficiency and effectiveness for the division and being able to provide meaningful solutions to their clients. Watching a tremendous growth curve over the last 5 years, the need to create more capacity became apparent. As a tech-focused firm, Nina knew she wanted to find a technology solution that would not only offer capacity but also help align with her goals for the firm.
“Withum has been on a tremendous growth curve, and finding capacity has been a continuous interest to us, because we’re a tech-forward firm, anytime we have the opportunity to streamline processes through technology, we're encouraged to do so. With my goals around always being on the lookout for good technology and good procedures, I knew I wanted to find a technology partner to help me create the capacity I needed.”
The Withum CAS division had consistently brought on about 5 new hires each year under Nina, bringing the team total to 46 in 2021. Nina began to notice each round of new hires would quickly get up to speed and want to do more, mostly related to bringing more value to their clients. She also realized any solution she would bring on would have to do more than provide capacity. It would need to help tackle low-level services so her staff could quickly be trained on next-level client-facing services and move up within the organization. She knew the true value for her team was in the advisory work, so she welcomed a solution that could allow the team to spend more time on CAS.
“We are a firm that is founded on growth, and because of that, when we bring on new staff members, they quickly want to grow,” Nina said. “When they spend their time in the weeds of transaction processing, posting, and bank reconciliations, it doesn't provide a lot of time for them to get all of the other knowledge and skillsets to be able to truly be advisory. And in our service line, we of course feel that the value is in the advisory work. That is, the ability to analyze the numbers to provide meaningful feedback to our clients. While I think that everyone that starts at Withum needs to understand the basics of bookkeeping, I don't think they have to stay there that long.”
Setting out to achieve her goal of finding a technology-focused capacity solution for Withum’s growing CAS practice, Nina remembered an automated accounting platform she had heard about through her trusted network.
“A big driver on my path to client accounting services was the AICPA, the EDGE conference, and being part of the Leadership Academy,” Nina said. “These networks have really helped shape the software packages we use at Withum today, and I consider them my trusted allies. I had heard about Botkeeper when I first started in CAS, and because of Botkeeper’s partnership with the AICPA and other programs, they were always top-of-mind as a potentially good solution for Withum when the time was right.”
Before engaging with Botkeeper, Nina evaluated the economics of bringing on Botkeeper to the firm.
“I looked at the hours it would take Withum to execute our client’s bookkeeping contracts,” Nina said. “ I evaluated how many bookkeepers Withum would need to hire to fill those hours as their associated costs.”
Once Nina had run the numbers like any good CPA, she considered her options: hire new bookkeepers or bring on Botkeeper.
“When I sat down with Botkeeper, I knew my goal was to be able to eliminate 4 new hires a year if we brought Botkeeper on,” Nina said. “Once we went through the pricing, I realized I would not only be able to fulfill all my bookkeeping needs, but I would actually come out financially ahead if I went with Botkeeper! And as I started looking at our client base, it felt like we had enough of the same type of repeatable work that it just made sense to use Botkeeper over a human. This was really the catalyst that made us move forward with our decision.”
Nina was quickly able to see how she could create efficiencies, capacity, and save costs by becoming a Botkeeper partner.
Nina started to see the reality of her team having more free time to focus on CAS as she joined Botkeeper in her first round of clients, her “beta group”.
“We started with a beta set of clients,” Nina said. “We tried to make the clients as different and as alike as possible. We wanted them to all have the same hour requirement of work and the same type of work, but we wanted to spread it out amongst different managers.”
"As we onboarded more clients, we saw such tremendous value in all of Botkeeper’s work, and we got to a point that even if the client only needed a couple of hours of work, we still found it valuable to put them on Botkeeper. We have already seen savings of over 280 hours per month on just our first 62 clients onboarded to Botkeeper."
With best practices in place from their learnings with the beta group, Withum worked with Botkeeper to create an easy formula for evaluating good-fit clients for Botkeeper.
“Evaluating clients to put on Botkeeper came down to three key elements: the client’s transaction volume, the ease of getting access to the client’s financial information so we could easily integrate it into the Botkeeper Client Portal, and lastly, making sure Withum could save at least 4 hours per client,” Nina said.
With a strategy in place, Withum started to onboard more clients to Botkeeper.
“As we started to onboard more clients, we went through Botkeeper’s efficient Scoping Tool in the same way we would scope clients for Withum,” Nina said. “It was just kind of reverse-engineered. We would look at the costs and the benefit and what was most important to our client and then decide what processes we want Botkeeper to handle. Our Growth Partner, Drew, was essential in making sure we were clearly delineating Botkeeper’s responsibilities and setting up a client playbook that created the best value for the client, Withum, and Botkeeper.”
With 62 clients on Botkeeper so far, Withum has saved 280 hours per month—and counting.
“After our successful initial beta group, we were stringent about making sure we picked clients that we could save at least 4 hours of time each month by onboarding to Botkeeper,” Nina said. “However, as we onboarded more clients, we saw such tremendous value in all of Botkeeper’s work, and we got to a point that even if the client only needed a couple of hours of work, we still found it valuable to put them on Botkeeper. We have already seen savings of over 280 hours per month on just our first 62 clients onboarded to Botkeeper. That’s over 4.5 hours saved per client per month and we only expect the hours saved to continue to grow as we onboard more clients and take advantage of more of the Botkeeper services.”
Botkeeper has allowed Withum to become a more review-focused firm and is helping them to support their client-centric mentality. They have eliminated the need to bring on 3-4 new full-time accountants, totaling over $325,0000 in salary savings.
“With Botkeeper, Withum is able to be more review-focused,” Nina said. “It has allowed us to get out of the preparation mode and more into the review mode. It has created this amazing upward stream of productivity and has eliminated a need to bring on 4 more accounting hires. Everything that we are able to push down to another level allows our top-level people to do more of their best work. And I think that's what we've seen as the biggest benefit of Botkeeper to our clients. Because we are able to get the bookkeeping automated with Botkeeper, the Withum team can now spend more time focusing on the numbers, the processes, and providing better solutions to our clients. All the levels of our team were able to move to be more client-centric because of our Botkeeper partnership.”
For Withum, Botkeeper is far more than a technology solution.
“From the beginning, we always looked at Botkeeper as a part of the Withum team,” Nina said. “They are not just a technology solution, far different than any other technology vendor we have integrated at Withum. We meet regularly with Drew, who helps us make sure our clients are still receiving the highest quality and the highest level of service they always received from Withum.”
An unexpected but welcomed impact of bringing on Botkeeper is growth in ancillary services requested by clients.
“Over the last few months, we have seen a huge growth in asks for additional tax work, software, and other things like that from our clients,” Nina said. “I think that's a direct correlation to having Botkeeper because we have been able to free up our people to have more conversations with our clients. We are now able to spend more time hearing their problems and challenges and helping to create solutions to solve them. I can’t wait to see what the impact of Botkeeper is in the long-term.”
"Because we are able to get the bookkeeping automated with Botkeeper, the Withum team can now spend more time focusing on the numbers, the processes, and providing better solutions to our clients. All the levels of our team were able to move to be more client-centric because of our Botkeeper partnership."
As for the future, Botkeeper has helped Withum create new solutions for clients and has created new cross-departmental opportunities.
“With Botkeeper, I see the future together with Withum as twofold: Botkeeper can help us continually bring in clients at different levels and do it economically for the firm and for our clients,” Nina said. “We can then grow clients at an earlier level. I also see Botkeeper as a way for us to partner more cross-functionally at Withum. Right now, other departments are coming to the CAS team and saying we have this client that needs a solution, and we're identifying it and then running it. In the future, I’d like to see Botkeeper packaged as a solution for tax and small business clients that aren’t necessarily day-to-day. CAS is seeing such a tremendous impact, and I know each and every division at Withum will also see an impact with Botekeper.”
As a leading Botkeeper Partner, Nina has spoken to many firms considering Botkeeper and addressed their concerns around automating lower-level tasks.
“Client accounting services or outsourced accounting services are going through such a growth phase that you should continue to be able to pull more work in with a minimal lift,” Nina said. “ Even if that is not the case and your firm is completely static, I think that it's very important to have a little bit more trust in your team members. Those that are doing the transaction-type processing are capable of doing so much more, it is just they are stuck in this consistent work month after month, day after day; they can’t just develop these other skills. It doesn’t take a big lift to get them from transaction posting to actually reviewing and then being able to talk to clients. I think it's really important to trust in the process because I think a firm will find that there are other things that staff can be doing that’s their highest and best use of time, and they don't have to think of it as an either-or solution.”
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