An Alternative To Advisory: Collaborative Accounting

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Attention: This is a machine-generated transcript. As such, there may be spelling, grammar, and accuracy errors throughout. Thank you for your understanding!

Twyla Verhelst: [00:00:00] Visor can look very different for everybody and doesn't need to be this big pie in the sky. It can be just tell your client something that they probably don't already know, that you know, but they don't know. And and that's the piece that our customers are looking for.

Blake Oliver: [00:00:19] If you'd like to earn CPE credit for listening to this episode, visit Earmark Cpcomm. Download the app, take a short quiz and get your CPE certificate. Continuing education has never been so easy. And now on to the episode. Hey everyone. Welcome back to the show. I'm Blake Oliver, joined today by Twyla Verhelst, head of accountants at FreshBooks. Twyla, how are you doing?

Twyla Verhelst: [00:00:49] I'm good, Blake. Thanks for having me here. I'm excited to chat with you today.

Blake Oliver: [00:00:52] Yeah, great to talk to you. We're going to talk about advisory, which is something that is a bit of a love hate relationship for me on this show. I've been doing episodes on it now for a few years. I have been myself in the accounting profession for, I don't know, over a decade now. And we keep talking about advisory but don't know about you. It feels like we're not really making a lot of progress in your typical firm. We keep hearing these sessions at conferences about the need to move to advisory services and pivot away from compliance, which is all going to get automated now by I. But, but like it doesn't seem to really be happening. Don't know. What are you seeing on your end?

Twyla Verhelst: [00:01:42] Twyla Well, first of all, I think that advisory is like the a word. Like you almost don't even want to say the word in the profession for the reason that you're explaining, because we keep hearing about it. It almost feels like this pressure to to do it or that we're not doing it or we're being scolded. You know, accounting professionals are kind of being scolded for doing it or not doing it. And it doesn't seem like we're making progress. And I've been out of my practice now for almost nearly four years, and we had an advisory practice. But I think that we're still having the same conversations that we had when I left the firm versus now inside of the firm, although I think I think from this side, I've learned some more visibility in terms of why we're having those challenges overall as a profession. But I do think the conversation has remained the same for the last four plus years in the profession.

Blake Oliver: [00:02:36] Yeah, I've been out of the game, I think about a little longer than you. Twyla and I always felt a lot of pressure when this topic came up at conferences or webinars because I didn't do much advisory. I mean, I wouldn't call what I did in my firm really advisory. I did a lot of bookkeeping work, you know, creating financial statements so my clients could get their taxes done. We did payroll, we did bill pay, so we acted as their outsourced bookkeeper, outsourced accountant, maybe for the bigger engagements, you could call me an outsource controller or a fractional controller, but I wouldn't say I was giving a lot of advice. I guess I gave advice on technology and, you know, maybe some a little bit of, you know, how and when to, you know, hire somebody. But it wasn't like heavy in that regard, right? Like most of our business was just we're getting the books done and that's what the clients wanted. So I felt a little inadequate. A lot of times when comparing myself to this ideal, I'll need to be a CFO kind of person. I didn't feel like I had really the skills to do that. I didn't even know how to get there. So it just sort of seemed like this pie in the sky idea. Not really for me.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:03:53] Yeah. Yeah. I think though, you know, if I, if I consider the reasons that I believe the profession has not progressed with advisory or why we're having these same conversations over and over, I think one of them, one of those reasons is inside of what you just said, in that you you didn't really think you were doing much advisory, but then you almost caught yourself to say, Well, maybe I was doing some technology advisory, maybe I was doing some some other smaller pieces of advisory throughout the the engagement, but it wasn't formalized as advisory. So I think we.

Blake Oliver: [00:04:23] We didn't call it that-

Twyla Verhelst: [00:04:24] That. Right. You didn't call it that. And in in credit to you clients don't call it that either, right? I mean, FreshBooks customers that we've talked to, they're like, what the heck is advisory? So, so but regardless, you didn't you probably didn't build it formally into your engagement and call it that. And and then additionally that you also believed that advisory was something that may or may not actually be. And I think that that's part of the challenge inside of the profession, is that those who are doing advisory, in some cases they may may actually not be. But but mostly those who are doing advisory have have figured out how to get it to a spot where it is part of their their business model and their engagement. Those who are not yet doing advisory, it does feel out of reach and it does feel pie in the sky, as you said, or feel like what's the path to get there? To take my practice from today to what I see some somebody doing that is an advisory focused, firm or lead firm. And I think that part of that is the piece of that you said in terms of it seems out of touch or out of reach, there isn't really, other than a few.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:05:32] I think that over the past few years there's been a few pieces of training and education. That are really breaking down the step by steps to get there. When it comes to conferences, though, as you refer to before, those are like you can't just can't double click enough into it to really get to the how and often that how if you have an established firm isn't just how do I start to do it? It's like how do I change some of these engagements inside of my existing firm on the on the go, like on the fly. It's like, what do they call it? Repairing the plane while it's in the air or building the plane while it's in motion. Like you're kind of trying to do that. So it's really it's really complex. And and I think that that that feels overwhelming. And a lot of people park it and say for another day, I'll tackle that another time.

Blake Oliver: [00:06:21] Yeah, Yeah. And for me, starting a practice. When I was relatively young, I didn't go the traditional path. Right. Of of working my way up and then leaving and starting my own firm. I kind of did it from the beginning. I didn't feel like I had the knowledge and recruiting people into my firm who did have the knowledge to deliver these services. Like seemed impossible to, you know, I'd have to cover their salaries and then I'd have to somehow sell the engagements to make it happen. Seemed like a lot easier just to, you know, hire a bookkeepers and do that kind of kind of work. And thinking on it now, like if I was in that situation today, I think it might even be harder because we're all aware of this talent crisis in the accounting profession. Experienced people are leaving something like 82% of the accountants who left this year so far were had six years or more experience. And, you know, we've lost like 19% of the profession in the last few years. So there's something I'm just not reconciling about the difficulty in hiring accountants and then building an advisory practice in your firm because it is very people intense, right? It's not something that can be easily automated. And so, like, how do you how do you reconcile those two things? This this desire to automate in our firms and make things more efficient, but then also this desire to do advisory, which is very inefficient by nature?

Twyla Verhelst: [00:07:52] Yeah. Well, there's some there's something kind of that I want to share with you. But before I do that, there's two things that I that I'll preface it with probably a couple of things. Even in the time that you and I have worked together that I've, you know, we haven't even talked about, One thing is that my very first job in accounting was actually in an advisory led firm. And really and I'd like to say I've only been ten years in the profession, but I'm a little bit a little bit longer. And that was back in 2000. In 2000, when we were still using desktop technology and still had to go a lot of times to a client site to do bookkeeping. We had an advisory led firm. It was way ahead of its time. That's what that's the model that that I took. And then when it was time to build a different firm a few years back with with a business partner, I used that model and we put that into practice in a model now that has cloud accounting instead of desktop. And so what I want to share from that time is that I was fresh out of university. I wasn't designated yet. That was my very first accounting job.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:09:05] But yet there was elements of the work that I did, even though, believe me when I say that I was the reconciler, I was the payroll runner. I was the person who went out and collected things from clients. I still did elements of advisory. And was it a stretch for me? Was it uncomfortable for me? Heck yes. But I still did elements of advisory. So I think that, again, thinking about like what is advisory, if we think of it as something that only somebody who's designated with years and years of experience could do, it is an overwhelming model. Like it's not scalable, but it can be scalable in this like these step by step ways or in smaller ways to bring advisory into your firm or with some of your clients with some of those more junior staff members. So I want to I want to just kind of challenge that back because I was I was put in those hot seats of doing some advisory and sometimes it looked like something like I went to small claims court one time on behalf of a client because we were their outsourced solution. That was very much advisory heavy. My boss at the time did most of the real like proactive Financial Insights advisory, but I did other pieces that were beyond compliance, beyond running payroll, beyond reconciling banks.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:10:23] So that's that's the one piece. And then the second that I want to share is around our firm what I learned from my firm that I am bringing into now my role at FreshBooks is that even with cloud accounting, where we it's significantly more efficient to work with clients, there's still elements that are challenging to scale back then for years ago and now even more so that. That's that's part of why I, I really led this initiative inside of FreshBooks that that we, that we're launching is that it is it is tough to find talent. That's true. It's tough to staff and have the people to do the work. It's tough tough to see the workflows and the tech stacks that we designed back when cloud accounting really took off that we created to say to the client, you stop doing that, I'm going to alleviate your headaches. No more stressing at night. We're going to do it all. If you can't find those people, you just cannot find them. Then there has to be another way. And that's part of the of the model that we have created that we've just recently launched.

Blake Oliver: [00:11:32] I love this. I want to learn more about it because. Like. And the thing that I liked about it especially is that step wise approach, because that was always the barrier for me, was I had my team doing work and I had my clients doing work and we were collaborating and this idea of us doing everything for them and them just talking to like a CFO and that being the engagement seemed impossible to create. And so. Yeah. Tell me more about this. This new approach.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:12:03] Yeah. Well, let me let me maybe frame it with a definition and then I'll unpack it as to like, what the heck does that really mean?

Blake Oliver: [00:12:11] Are we calling it Cass? Are we calling it?

Twyla Verhelst: [00:12:13] No, no, no. That's another that's a that's a really bad if we go with the words. All right. I won't even bring that one up.

Speaker3: [00:12:23] What do you call it?

Twyla Verhelst: [00:12:24] No, I'm just saying, if you call it the C-word, it gets like.

Speaker3: [00:12:27] Oh, yeah, Yeah. No, Yeah, we can't. We can't.

Blake Oliver: [00:12:29] Go there.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:12:30] No, no. And the other the other word in the profession, I think is like almost like a swear word is pricing. That's like I call it the P word. So, no, we do not call it Cass. What we have recently launched, we call collaborative accounting. So let me define it for you first and then we'll dig into it. So collaborative accounting is really this new integrative way of working with your clients in a single platform to accurately and effectively manage their finances. So it's through a combination of technology and workflow. There's a model created to really bring forth capacity to accounting professionals to deliver this ongoing and value added advisory experience that really lets them, you know, start to change their practice into a practice that didn't touch advisory or maybe was doing a little bit of it and start to deepen or broaden that line of work as well as those relationships or service offerings with the existing clients. And it really brings the advisory to the forefront because of the fact that we've got different systems and a different process in place that that enables that. So you're probably saying like, okay, what the heck does it mean? Maybe you're not, but.

Speaker3: [00:13:48] You're saying collaborative.

Blake Oliver: [00:13:49] Collaborative. I mean, who am I collaborating with? Am I collaborating with my employees? Am I collaborating with the client? And and what exactly does what does that look like?

Speaker3: [00:14:00] Yeah.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:14:01] Yeah. So collaborative county is definitely it's it's collaborating with, with your employees, your team and the client. But where I'll lean in is on the client side because I think this is where we have created frictions and roadblocks to scaling advisory, not to mention a few other stressors for the clients, which I can I can share after, but it's a different way of working. And if you think about the fact that if we go back to we've built these tech stacks, we've, we've built workflows that takes as much as possible off the client's hands and puts it onto the firms into the firm's hands. And part of that's been that like a cloud accounting lets us do that. If you go back to when I talked about in 2000, you couldn't really do that effectively because you'd have to essentially be a bookkeeper right on site. You just couldn't do that in a non cloud accounting environment. So we've we've over time been able to evolve and have these workflows and extensive tech stacks that allow us to take on more and more of the clients work and gets the clients further and further away from doing the work or puts them in a spot where they're doing that work in a disparate system for whatever reason. Operationally, they're trying to figure out like, Can I pay myself? At the end of this month, they're doing some sort of math in their heads, back in the napkin or using a disparate system entirely.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:15:23] There may or may not talk seamlessly with the system that the accounting profession is using. So when we think about, okay, this scaling is a challenge, hiring is a challenge. Freeing up time for advisor services is a challenge. Are we doing ourselves a service by doing like doing all of that workflow? And I keep kind of using this motion. Those who are listening won't see it. It's like the circular motion where we say, okay, the first half of what you need from a client is quite administratively heavy data, heavy like data entry, heavy operationally heavy things like timesheets for time tracking, payroll, invoicing expenses estimates. That's that's very admin operationally heavy. And accounting professionals have tried to take on some of that. And it's a challenge and it's a challenge to to get the information from clients to get it timely in a timely way. Even when you do kind of say, all right, fine, complete X, Y or Z inside of the system that I'm working in. But please, for heaven's sakes, do not touch anything else because you're going to mess it up. You know, part of that has been, I think because the technology serves the accountant, it doesn't serve the client.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:16:36] So they are going to mess it up. It's it's not really intuitive for them. So they are highly likely to mess it up. And as accountants, we we on the the other side are saying, Harry, I'm fixing to work again or your team is spending their time fixing their work again. So they're chasing, fixing, heavily reviewing, fixing integrations if there is some sort of integration, that's what a good chunk of the work is now doing in order to say, But I need the time. The accurate data in order to close the books and complete the financials. And even if I did want to do advisory, which you do, you do need timely, accurate, consistent data. But why? Why are you taking that from the client when they're really the best one served to complete that work? But you have to do it in a way that's going to let them do it accurately and even in a way that I believe that technology can be inspiring if it's the right tool for the right person and the right job and let them be be doing the things that not only they're best at doing, they actually feel good about sending an invoice and getting paid, right? Like that's, that's what what they love to do or their admin that's in in their business is hired to do so it's it's giving them that that back that piece of the workflow that if you rewind to years and years before a cloud accounting it was a piece of the workflow that often an admin in-house bookkeeper or the business owner did.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:18:05] And then you as the accountant can pick up where they leave off inside of a cloud system and take it to through to completion without trying to nag at them to get the information that you need and, and kind of constantly chasing or constantly correcting. And it, it really frees up scaling that side of your firm. And now you take it to the other side, complete the other half of that circle and do things like, okay, finalize the reconciling of the bank. If there's anything, anything there, come any journal entries that need to be done. Run the reports, analyze the reports, and then depending on your engagement, this is a key advisory moment. What what do you do now with those financial reports? Do you slide them across the, you know, the virtual desk, which means send them in, send them over email or whatever sort of system you're using, Secured system. Here's your here's what I promised you. Or is it let's have a conversation about this and talk about what these these financials actually mean.

Blake Oliver: [00:19:06] So help me, help me wrap my head around this. What would the ideal collaborative engagement look like? What kind of client would I have? Give me an example. Help me. Help me visualize this.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:19:20] Yeah, let me let me give you an example. Let's say we have a client by the name of Sam Samuel. And Samuel has a creative video company. They do production of videos and Sam has a couple of part time and full, you know, mix of part time, a couple of part time, full time employees. And then he's got contractors that he brings into certain engagements as as he takes on these engagements with clients. So his needs look like estimates and or proposals, projects and project management time tracking because he has to pay employees and or contractors invoicing, collecting payments. And then he'll have some expenses, although expenses aren't aren't, you know, lots and lots of transactions but they exist in terms of any equipment that he buys over time. It could be, you know, pieces that he needs to have on sets. It could be office supplies, things like that. So he has all those needs and he is trying to scale his business. He wants to grow. And so he's got these front end needs that you can best believe that he's the best one to do. Any estimates proposals manage the tracking of time because he knows who went where and why and for how long. And project management managing the invoices because the invoices might be all at once. The invoices might be three three payments according to the delivery of projects. The invoices might be a retainer up front. He could have a variety of ways that he he is going to invoice and collect payments and then his expenses.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:21:05] He probably has a, you know, a company credit card that he uses. Hopefully he doesn't dip into his personals and he charges these other things to his card and so his his business is quite basic, but yet complex operationally because he's working on various projects at the same time, might go on location, might not. So so it's fairly complex inside of there. Now as he's wanting to scale, he's trying to understand what's my profit margin, should I be should I be charging more? Where's the projects that I went on overruns where I had committed to charging $20,000 and I ended up having to pay my contractors 25,000. He wants to know these things so that he can scale his firm. He can pay his people on time. He can have advice around should I be doing three payments or should I be having my clients do two payments? Should I be collecting more up front? And then, of course, he wants to pay himself and and like any business owner, alleviate the stress of should I just should I be doing this or should I just go back to being an employee? Because this is very stressful. So he's he's looking for those things from his accountant. Additionally, he wants to have his tax return filed on time and make sure his payroll is run on time. Right. And so these are the things that are most important to him. And he then can use the the system that you're going to build your collaborative accounting model inside of to do this front end.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:22:33] He can spend time in those operational tasks or if he has a part time admin or grows to a part time admin, that person can do that work. The accountant on the cadence that they agree to in the engagement takes, we call it the handover of tasks where Sam says to Wanda, his accountant, that okay, I've completed September, I'm ready for for you to to dive in there and finish this up. And I look forward to meeting on the 15th when we typically meet to discuss how I did this month and what I can do better. And so then the accountant picks it up from where Sam leaves off reconciles anything that's unreconciled, any journal entries that are required. So if there's any, say, monthly journal entries, runs a reports, analyzes, does some comparisons, analysis and it meets with with Sam to have these conversations that are built inside of of the the engagement that says okay this cadence we're going to meet and we're going to talk about what's inside of the platform in terms of the data, the finances and what they really what that really means and how that that's going to help you grow or what we need to have our finger on what you need to do to scale the business the way that you want to scale it, the way that you told me when we first met.

Blake Oliver: [00:23:51] I mean, that sounds great. That sounds like an ideal type of engagement. Let me play devil's advocate for you. I think the barrier which you mentioned earlier to this, has always been that the client is in the system, doesn't know what they're doing and ends up making a giant mess of things. And we spend all our time as accountants. Some bookkeepers cleaning it up and we don't really get time to actually, like talk to the client. It's really just trying to stay on top of cleaning things up. So like, how do we get around that issue?

Twyla Verhelst: [00:24:29] Yeah, I think that's a great question. I think I expected nothing less for than for you to be the devil's advocate and say, But here's what I've experienced. Here's what we hear. Others are are still continuing to experience the clients do mess things up or they don't get you what you need. And you know, my my question back is, why is that? Why is it that clients mess it up? Because, you know, I think if you go to a client and you say, hey, did you know that every time that you create that proposal or that project, that you're actually screwing up our side of the workflow and making us rework your work? I don't think the client would be like, ha ha, that's what I meant to do. The client would be like, I don't mean to. It's not intentional. I'm not trying to screw you over. I'm trying to do what I thought I was supposed to be doing and and there's something that's not not enabling them. And, and the, the challenge back that I would say is that as I think there's two things that that I'll call out. I'm curious to get your thoughts on what you think it is. I think that one is that when the workflows that we've designed most recently prior to this have now got the client kind of doing like this segment, small segment of the workflow and they're quite detached. In fact, when we were were really taking the research deep with with collaborative accounting, we talked to customers of FreshBooks and we said, how how did it feel when you weren't using FreshBooks and you weren't. Doing this, this what we call the pre accounting tasks when you weren't doing those pre accounting tasks, how did that feel when your client or your accountant either needed something from you monthly that felt like really detached from everything else that you know or didn't seem to align with your system that you had were working on the side.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:26:24] How did that feel? And then secondly, how did it feel to no longer see some of this this work that you used to see? And what I mean by that is that, you know, when an account, when a client starts with with an accountant, they they potentially have been doing some sort of system on their own. And we've seen this even with clients who or customers who are on FreshBooks and then they start talking to the accountant and the accountant pulls them off and says, Hey, you've got to use the systems and the software that I'm using. Meanwhile, the the the business owner lost sight of the financial heartbeat of their business. So I think that, you know, we ask them for this sliver and I was guilty of it in our firm your only job client is to upload receipts to to hubdoc and create invoices If you are an invoicing client and that's it, don't touch anything else. Don't look at anything else. And it's this very detached workflow that they're like, I just come in, I just take the pictures if that are on my dashboard or that at Starbucks or what have you. And then I do this one piece and come out and I do this one piece and come out and it's not methodical to me. It's it's far from intuitive because I'm just doing this piece. And then secondly, the technology.

Speaker3: [00:27:37] We've.

Blake Oliver: [00:27:38] We've gone so far in that direction that there are apps now that you can add on to accounting software, that there's all they do is take uncategorized transactions and send those to the client in a separate system to get them to then say what those expenses were so we can code them in the GL without the client ever going into the GL, where that afraid of letting them touch the.

Speaker3: [00:28:04] Gl.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:28:05] Yeah, yeah. And, and think about the client experience from that side. It's, it's their own business. They're trying to keep it afloat. That's what most business owners are trying to do and then hopefully scale in, in a lot of cases. And, and then there's this other burning task that they have that doesn't really seem to make sense. On the other side, I hopefully get something of value by doing this work that feels really detached and. And I may or may not see value in what you send to me at the end of the month as my accountant. And it's it does feel like a chore. It doesn't really feel like I'm involved in the process. I rarely understand why my accountant's asking me for what they're asking me for. And and often then now it's using a tool, which I appreciate why it's using a tool for efficiency sake. But now it's like, I just get this ping that comes through and says, Hey, send me these, these eight things or I'm not. I'm not sending you your financials on time. That kind of feels like one more thing that I have to do. And then, like you said, go log into this other system. So I think from the client experience that it's it's we think we're doing them a service or as accountants, we think we've been doing them a service. But I challenge us to say that speaking to our customers, we're really not. And then secondly, when we do give them access to pieces of the tech stack, it's technology that accountants are very comfortable using, often built for them.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:29:40] The accountants are are efficient in it, but clients are not. And clients, depending on the frequency of how often they actually go into the software one, they might not even remember how to log in. Or secondly, they certainly aren't logged in often enough to remember what to do. And then if it wasn't even built for them to begin with, they're literally following a step by step. Okay, first I click this and then I click that. They don't understand intuitively why they're clicking on what and what it's actually doing because the software just wasn't built for them. And the clients. I keep having to fix their data or nag them for data or correct their work. Why is that? Is it because they're detached from the workflow and it feels like and the the whole cycle and it feels like, why are you asking me for this? I feel so out of touch. But okay, I guess this is what you wanted. And then second is now I'm using the tool as a client that really doesn't feel feel good to me, and I'm certainly not inspired to go in there and complete the work. I'm really just doing it because your, your staff sent me a couple of emails or text messages to say, Hey, it got to get this in. We've asked you three times. So it's it's really not setting a client up for success with creating quality work for the accountant.

Speaker3: [00:30:56] Yeah.

Blake Oliver: [00:30:56] Well, and another good reason I'm thinking of, as you say, this is I'm thinking back on my own experience as a business owner when I started my firm and then now starting another business. I'm now a two time founder. I find it really helpful as a business owner to be in my accounting every day, and I have made it a ritual for myself to reconcile every day so that I know where I stand, what's outstanding from my clients, what I need to pay, what expenses have come through. I'm seeing that every day. I don't think I would be happy seeing it once a month. Two weeks after the end of the month. I don't I don't feel like that would help me. Right. And so for me, it's like super important to have my finger on the pulse. And you just can't you can't do that. That's the sacrifice you make when you take the client out of the books. They don't see what's going on. And for a small business where day to day cash flow can be a real challenge, like that's a that's a big sacrifice to ask them to make. You're losing something there.

Speaker3: [00:32:12] Mhm.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:32:13] Yep. Absolutely. And and the thing that to keep in mind, you know you talked about how, how comfortable you, how much more comfortable you feel by keeping your finger on the pulse and logging in almost like a daily ritual, you're significantly more financially savvy than most business owners. And so you can go into the system and understand what it means, even if it's a tool that's built for accountants. So even if you've got a business owner who you're like, okay, well, I'll let you I'll let you look in there, but God forbid you touch anything, just you can look in there. It's not going to mean anything to the business owner because they or most business owners because they just don't even know where to look and what. And then if they do see something that looks like it's in the red, it can cause them to panic because then they just don't have enough information. And often as an accountant, you're like, That's why I told you not to be in here because I'm not done yet. Right. And and so that's where business owners create their own disparate system, where they're on the side using something even like Excel, where they're like, okay, I know I invoice this, I know invoice that I know that this client said that they're going to call pay me so I can at least check my bank for my online banking and see did they that that payment come in like they're trying to do this on on the the side.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:33:26] And I think as accountants we're naive to think that they're not because how do you run a business by getting this monthly financial package that you may or may not understand two weeks after close, like it's just not a way to run a growing or thriving business or cash flow strapped business? It's impossible. And and I think that it's something that that we we think as accountants or accountants are feeling like. But I'm alleviating their stress. I'm taking away these tasks from them, too, that all they have to do is these couple of things and we have good intentions as the accountant, but we're actually doing them a disservice. And not to mention, this is something that's super interesting. When we were looking at this or doing some research for this before launch, we talked to some of our customers about their experience working with their accountant. And one of the things I found the most interesting is that we have customers who are seeking financial expertise outside of their accountant like and they're calling it financial coaching, which that's probably another word that people hate the word coaching. But my point is they're.

Speaker3: [00:34:37] Seeking it.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:34:37] Elsewhere and they're paying for it. Right? I think this is some of the pushback sometimes with the advisor, like my clients won't pay for advisory, like your clients will pay for a financial coach. So if they knew that you could offer this, do you not think that they would pay you as their trusted accountant? I, I would think that they would. In fact, it's going to be better because now you've got the person who's the one who's composing the books and potentially filing a tax return or is at least close enough to the books that they know exactly what's going into the tax return, that that's the one who's offering the coaching, that that that marries together perfectly versus another external coach coming in and taking the package that your accountant, the accountant delivered to the business owner on the 15th, turning around and taking it to a financial coach and saying, okay, my accountant gave me this package, how do I interpret this Now It's it's this big swing and a miss, right?

Speaker3: [00:35:29] Yeah. Yeah.

Blake Oliver: [00:35:30] That's that is a that is a real sign that we're moving in the wrong direction. The fact that this industry even exists, it shouldn't. It should.

Speaker3: [00:35:38] It should.

Blake Oliver: [00:35:39] If we if we as a profession were doing our job advising clients, there would not be these money coaches, right?

Twyla Verhelst: [00:35:45] Absolutely. 100%. There would not be. And the the thing that we saw from our customers is that they said, I want to know what I don't know. So what they meant by that was, I know that I'm not an accountant. I know that I'm not, you know, this financially savvy business owner. I know how to do my craft. I built a business around something that I'm passionate about or I felt I could make money at and do good work at. I know that there's pieces that I don't know, so I want my accountant to tell me those things. And that's where I think we go back to. You know, advisory can look very different for everybody and doesn't need to be this big pie in the sky. It can be just tell your client something that they probably don't already know that you know, but they don't know. And and that's the piece that our customers are looking for that then had them seeking the services of a. Financial financial coach because they're like, I'm just not not getting it. And if you think about it, this in any other professional services, you know, go into the doctor, for example, if you could look everything up on Google, which we all do, right? We we get a rash or something and you look it up or cough and you look it up and but you seek the the advice of a medical professional at some point if you're sick enough or it's hurting enough because you're like, I clearly don't know what this is.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:37:10] I don't know how to treat it. I need what I don't know, not what I already know. I know I'm I'm hurting. I know I've got a cough. Like I know the basics, but I don't know how to fix it, change it, do something about it, prevent it and. And any other profession that's part of the the offering. But with accountants we've we've kind of got a spot of like, you hired me to do a tax return. You hired me to create financial reports. You hired me to run your payroll, file your sales tax. That's what I'll do. Meanwhile, there's this whole other segment that the clients would wish wish you would do.

Blake Oliver: [00:37:48] So we talked about how the technology today is often a barrier to doing this type of collaborative work because. Clients end up making mistakes. They mess things up. We end up spending a bunch of time fixing them. We don't have time to do anything else, so. What is FreshBooks doing to help make this type of collaborative advisory type engagement possible?

Twyla Verhelst: [00:38:16] Yeah, great, great question. And we'll start with the platform, but that's only part of it. So the platform is definitely a big piece of it. Freshbooks has been around for 20 years. We actually just had our 20 year anniversary as a as a company and, and always FreshBooks has been cloud accounting and a A built for owners first platform. And now we're changing that. Now we're changing to be a built for owners and accountants platform, but we're not creating another platform. We're doing that inside of the platform that exists today, which means evolving our accounting and accountant features. And so in order for for that collaboration to happen in platform, we've built a really great intuitive, easy to use product for business owners that they can use on the go mobile desktop. And then now we're we're layering on the other side and I use this phrase often, but I promise to stop using it when it's no longer true is that we're really just getting started with our accounting features. But we have the big one that we launched this year was the Accountant Hub. That was the number one ask from accounting partners that were earliest adopters was give me the centralized place for me to set up, manage and then maintain workflows for my clients on FreshBooks. So we launched that recently. In fact, we had a fast follow with some updates to that even since the end of June.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:39:47] And the roadmap is, is is big for accountants and we're here to listen to what it is you need in order to continue to work collaboratively and efficiently inside of a platform with your clients. But it's not it's not just the tech that's the R&D team at FreshBooks would kill me if if if they heard me say that. It's like I'd say like, that's the that's the easy part. It's it's. But I say that with, with a bit of jest, but I say it with also we're not just sliding a product at the accounting profession and saying here, go use it. Because I think that's part of why we haven't been successfully able to really embrace advisory inside of the profession is the go do it. Just go do it. It's here's here it is, go do it. So the platform is is the foundation. But the the other piece that that I'm really proud of is that we've built a brand new certification that's unlike any certification that exists in the market. And what I mean by that is inside of that certification, you're going to learn the product. So if you're not familiar yet with FreshBooks, we're going to show you around and show you, you know, here's what your client can do. Well, well, and served up to do.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:40:58] Here's what you can do and here's how you're going to do that. But then it also embeds inside of there, these advisory moments. That's all throughout the workflow. And it highlights them in a way that says not just like here's an advisory moment like Asterix, here it is. It actually is like running you through examples where your client is asking you something or a bit of a, you know, an example like we did earlier in our conversation. It's like, what does this look like in real life and how can I take this and make it into a key moment to we've advisory in outside of the the two spots that we really call it out as like the the very key moments. But there's key moments all throughout the workflows. And we highlight that in a way that feels very approachable and very much like a I just might want to have this question for my client next time we talk through to this is a full advisory engagement. You can take that as you know, you can lean into it as much as you want, but it can start with next time I talk to my client, I'm going to ask this question that I've never asked before that's going to kick off an advisory Led or an advisory themed conversation.

Blake Oliver: [00:42:12] I love that.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:42:13] Yeah, I'm super, super proud of the team and what they've built for this for this certification. It's it's, it's exciting to have that that roll into the market because if there's anything I've learned about accountants more than even just being an accountant over the past really probably more like the past 6 or 7 years is that there's you can't go too many layers deep in in the how of doing something and the how of adopting something. Right. It just doesn't happen. Like I remember some of my first experiences where I was trying to share my advisory experience in our firm with others who were curious, and I would share it and I'd say, okay, but how? And I'd be like, Well, I thought I just told you how, but okay, I'm going to give you another layer, and then you go one more deeper. Yeah, that sounds great, but how and, and it almost baffled me, but I think it's because I was fortunate to have a very different career path that set me up for wrapping my head around advisory in a way that that a traditional path wouldn't have.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:43:12] And so I'm very, very much aware of that Now, in hindsight, when. First accounting job starts in an account advisory led firm. You have a very different path. So and then the third thing I'll share is it FreshBooks. This is a definitely a humble, humble brag moment is FreshBooks has top notch support. We have award winning support. We've always, always had a lot of pride on the support and the offering of support. And the support for our accounting partners is even more elevated than our existing support and that they get dedicated support, which are not just product experts, they're also people who have accounting experience. So you get access to this level of support that really is going to, you know, just be there for for you to make this successful inside of a platform that may feel a little bit uncomfortable and a little bit new, especially when you're getting started, that the support team that we've built is is there to to really lock arms with accounting professionals. And so the last thing.

Speaker3: [00:44:15] I'll show you.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:44:15] Show you one last one last thing. This one's, I think, an important one. And I know that you're part of this at large in the profession is that community is is a key pillar of us partnering with accountants and and we we have got a lot of community led initiatives so to date and then going forward because we know that accountants garner valuable insights and information from sharing with one another and that that is a key to the success. Just like we don't want clients working in silo, we don't want accountants working in silo either. And sometimes it's not the support of a tech company that you need. It's actually support of one another to say, what are best practices? Have you used this with an IT company or a plumbing company or or what have you, and have that that really enabled for our accounting partners to be able to to collaborate on those things, but to to really come together on those things that that are really, really practical and we want to facilitate that.

Blake Oliver: [00:45:21] I love that. Twyla, thank you for so much for joining me and sharing this model, this new way of thinking about advisory. I love the step by step aspect of it. I love the alternative you're presenting. Not all advisory has to be this CFO services type of model that you see being presented, you know, by by wonderful firms. But like not every firm can be doing that sort of work and not every client needs it. And it reminds me that the accounting profession is really broad. There's lots of different sized firms offering all sorts of different types of advisory services all across the spectrum of clients, and they have different needs. And you're presenting a really compelling option, I think for the the majority, the vast majority of small businesses who need to be in the books, they don't need to be taken away from it. And I think we need to get back to that as a profession is is really doing the collaborative approach. So I hope our listeners enjoyed this episode as well and that they want to learn more. So Twyla, where would you send them if they want to learn more?

Twyla Verhelst: [00:46:36] Yeah, I'll give you the most basic URL that I can, which is And on that page people can join the partner program, which then will kick off the let me into this collaborative accounting thing that they just talked about you'll get into to learning more about it inside of the that page or on that page and then once you join the partner program so

Blake Oliver: [00:47:02] And I just got to add my $0.02 and say as a FreshBooks user myself, I find it to be the easiest accounting software out there. So if you're looking for something easy to collaborate on with your clients, something that's not going to overwhelm them, that's it's a great option. So check it out.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:47:23] Thanks. I appreciate that you threw that in there. I'm glad that you're still enjoying using FreshBooks.

Blake Oliver: [00:47:28] Well, I always tell people, you know, like when I started as a freelance bookkeeper, my very first gigs, you know, my very first clients, I was using FreshBooks to track my time and bill an invoice. I did it as a as a business owner myself and it was great then. And like you said, it's been around for 20 years. Freshbooks has grown and replatformed and continued to modernize and you know, it's in there for the long haul. And so, like it's also this is rare, I suppose, in our world of technology where it's all new and changing all the time. Freshbooks has been around for a while, so you can rely on it too, which I think is important.

Speaker3: [00:48:10] So yeah, I.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:48:11] Think it's important too. Yeah, we can almost call, you know, Blake. But you're not 20. A FreshBooks. But but you're certainly you're certainly a, you know, somebody who's used it for quite some time. So I think that that deserves some sort of status, right?

Speaker3: [00:48:25] There we go.

Blake Oliver: [00:48:26] Yeah. Call me a I was on FreshBooks one, so yes, I'm a FreshBooks og for sure.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:48:31] Yeah. You're a V1 og For sure.

Speaker3: [00:48:33] For sure. Yeah.

Blake Oliver: [00:48:35] Well, Twilight, great to talk to you. Hope to have you back on the show again soon.

Twyla Verhelst: [00:48:40] Thanks, Blake. I appreciate you having me. Talk soon.

Blake Oliver: [00:48:44] Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode and that you learned something new. And if you did, wouldn't it be nice to get some CPE credit for it? Well, I've got great news. My new app, Earmark CPE, offers free Naspa approved CPE credits for listening to podcasts, including this one. Visit Earmark Cpcomm. To download the app, take a short quiz and get your CPE certificate. That's earmark cpcomm.

Creators and Guests

Twyla Verhelst, CPA
Twyla Verhelst, CPA
✨Head of the Accountant Channel @freshbooksaccts ✨Creator of the #vpdexperiment ✨YT Channel
An Alternative To Advisory: Collaborative Accounting
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