Nicole Rousseau is the Co-Founder and Head of PKF Ignite, a cloud accounting firm and extension of PKF South Africa’s comprehensive business advisory services.
Nicole is passionate about helping clients and their businesses thrive. That, coupled with the fact that the accounting industry is changing and evolving at a rapid pace, has made the switch to advisory a natural and necessary transition for her and PKF Ignite.
In this interview, Nicole shares how PKF Ignite have been helping their clients and what accountants need to do to enter the business advisory space.
What is your definition of ‘advisory’?
“In my opinion, an advisor is someone who really listens to their client. Someone who ensures they understand every aspect of the client’s business and the direction in which they want to take it. It is about being a support structure, a sounding board, and a safety net. If you provide that, then you will be able to give them the right business advice to achieve business success. As advisors, we need to protect their businesses by keeping them compliant, providing up-to-date accounts, being proactive, by presenting new ideas and suggestions. This is what we aim to achieve at PKF Ignite.”
What are the must-have tools of an advisor?
“The advisor must be able to present the financial data in an understandable way whilst guiding the business owner on what the information means, and this isn’t possible without the right tools. When we chose our core app stack, we invested a lot of time in finding the best packages that met all our needs in terms of client experience, functionality as well as ease of use.
It is also critical to be forward-thinking, so that you can assist your clients with cash flow projections or be more collaborative so that you can guide your client into making informed business decisions and planning for future projects.
In addition to having an amazing app stack or set of core applications assisting you in driving efficiency and automation, it is also important that you have the right team supporting you with the necessary experience and soft skills. The team needs to be good at communication, making a connection with the client, and to have good problem-solving capabilities.”
How do you use Receipt Bank’s data to make the right decisions and recommendations to clients?
“Using Receipt Bank has made it possible for us to engage with our clients on a daily basis and collect all the paperwork relating to costs incurred that we need to deliver the service we have promised to the client. The application also makes it a pleasure for our client to engage with us, as they can simply email the supplier’s invoice or take a picture using the mobile application. This has been a great addition to our offering, as it gives the client a great experience in dealing with us.
We are able to place reliance on the information extracted in a much quicker time frame, enabling us to make proactive decisions and spend more time on the client’s business in the areas where we are needed most. We are able to quickly identify problems within a business and address any issues immediately with the client before they lead to possible non-compliance problems or have a detrimental effect on the business or its cash flow.”
What’s your advice to accountants looking to launch advisory services? Where should they start and what should they consider?
“I think a lot of firms are probably already doing some sort of advisory function without even realising it. If you want to formally move into the advisory space, consider your current client base and identify some key clients you could possibly approach to offer this service for free, initially whilst ironing out your final processes and strategies. I would use a client that you have a very good relationship with who will give you honest feedback and tell you whether the advice has added value.
Secondly, you need to have a clear vision of what type of practice you are trying to be and what services you will be offering. Formalise Standard Operating Procedures (“SOP’s”) for this new line of service you are implementing. Without them you won’t be able to deliver the consistent service you want to.
A critical stepping stone is upfront, clear, and transparent internal communication from the firm leaders. This will be an enormous change management process for staff and all business owners need to be understanding of the fact that some good traditional staff will find it harder to make the move to cloud technologies.
Moving into the advisory space is only possible using cloud applications as you simply cannot make informed decisions if you do not have accurate and up-to-date financial information. Adopting these new technologies, will also mean that the way in which you do business will change completely and that will apply to your internal processes as well.
It is worth taking the plunge. Once you have mapped out your strategy, start with the core products and from there you can grow the offering in a phased-in approach.
Lastly, spend time on creating a comprehensive marketing strategy. Without one, your efforts and service offering will not receive the recognition that they deserve, nor will your business objectives be reached.”
What kind of advice are clients mostly looking for?
“During this turbulent time of COVID-19 we have spent a lot of time helping our clients applying for funding so it has been imperative for us to have up to date management accounts for them to go with their applications. We have also had to assist them in preparing the applications or submitting on their behalf. A lot of our clients are trying to plan for the future, so there are a lot of clients needing assistance with cash flow projections as well as scenario planning so that they can make critical business decisions.”
How do you package and charge for advisory services?
“All our pricing is value-based, but each firm needs to decide if they will package their advisory services into their monthly compliance retainers or whether to price it over and above that. We have chosen to package some of our services into our monthly retainers and then any added service or special project is priced separately based on the client requirements. It is a massive learning curve and we have not perfected this at all, we are still learning as we grow and evolve.”
When and how did PKF launch advisory as a separate service line?
“PKF Ignite is a bespoke cloud accounting solution and is an extension to our comprehensive business advisory services. PKF Ignite was launched in September 2019 and has grown and evolved so rapidly. We knew that technology, and the pace at which it is progressing, made the move to cloud-based platforms a necessity to better support our clients. We wanted to improve and build stronger relationships which are mutually beneficial. SMEs are the backbone of the economy, but are largely overlooked, when in reality, they probably need the most guidance in navigating how to run a business and how to stay compliant in our steeply regulated business environment.
In developing our brand, we started with planning and purpose, mapping out what we were trying to achieve, what our clients needed, and what our end goal was with this offering. Once we had that mapped out, along with our strategy and core values, we set to task choosing only the best core app stack making it possible to deliver the service we envisioned. Our offering is bespoke and even though it is a complete digital offering, it is not a one size fits all. Every business is unique, and we tailor our range of services around each client’s needs.
We have seen tremendous growth in our firm since launching PKF Ignite a year ago. We offer PKF Ignite nationally and became a Xero platinum partner in less than one year. We are very pleased with this achievement and expect to see it continue as our offering evolves. “