How clients of accounting firms benefit from more precise time tracking
Accurate time tracking for accountants is a critical, yet often overlooked, best practice that can help firms prevent employee burnout, gain key insights, and make strategic decisions. When researching potential timekeeping products, firm leaders consider a variety of stakeholders — from the IT resources who need to approve and securely implement the new technology, to the timekeepers themselves who will use the software. But accounting firms often forget to consider the most important stakeholder: their clients.
Precise timekeeping translates to transparency, which clients are increasingly demanding from their accounting firms. By providing clients information around your work and hours, you can both strengthen your client relationships and discover how to better serve your clients.
Improve the billing process with detailed timesheets and bills
Accounting bills are usually fairly simple — especially for fixed-fee engagements, for which budget and timeline are already set in place. Rather than providing details on the work and hours that went into the project, most accounting firms present their clients with a lump-sum bill.
At first glance, this may seem like the most efficient method, as it means your accountants don’t need to spend extra time and effort recording their billable hours. But neglecting to track those details can cause more time-consuming problems down the line — for both you and your clients.
Settling billing disputes
If a client has a billing dispute or general questions around billing — such as whether your firm billed for travel time when it shouldn’t have — that client will likely ask your firm to provide further clarification. If your accountants didn’t properly record their work, they will need to spend a great deal of unbillable time trying to reconstruct their hours from memory — a very inaccurate timekeeping method. Meanwhile, your client will grow impatient as they wait for your detailed timesheet, and the bill will remain unpaid indefinitely.
On the other hand, if your accountants have been thoroughly tracking their hours, they can quickly gather and share the details of their work with your client. Provided with the necessary transparency, the client can then approve and pay according to your agreement, or — if there is indeed a compliance issue — they can work with your firm to resolve the problem.
Provide further billing detail
Clients also sometimes require detailed bills for accounting purposes. For example, a client’s accounts-payable system may not accept lump-sum entries — in which case the client will need your firm to break down the costs. So if your firm is working on, say, a SOX compliance project, you might need to submit separate bills (and tracked time) for the various phases — including design, testing, and remediation — while detailing the various activities.
Although tracking hours and creating detailed bills have historically been arduous tasks, they don’t have to be: You can save both time and effort by investing in an advanced time tracking tool for accountants. Technology like Intapp Time lets accountants automatically capture their hours, and can break down time into phases and activities. The software also ensures compliance to billing terms at the point of time entry, leading to fewer write-offs, faster invoicing, and increased realization.
Improve efficiency and collaboration by providing insights into your work
Time tracking for accountants not only helps clients better understand the work your firm is doing; it also helps them better understand their own business. When clients have transparency into the work your accounting firm is doing on their behalf, they may gain insight into ways they can better perform or collaborate with you.
Take, for example, a client that was conducting a financial statement review and meeting bi-weekly with their accounting firm for updates. After discovering that the firm was spending a significant amount of time cleaning data, the client realized that the reports they were providing weren’t as sufficient as they could be, and the client committed to sending better, cleaner reports moving forward. This saved the accountants hours of tedious work, allowing them to focus on moving the project along faster — which greatly pleased the client.
Another issue clients often face is that accountants must spend inordinate amounts of time managing client email correspondence. To solve this problem, a client may choose to communicate with the firm in a more efficient, organized way instead — such as via a collaboration platform where all messages and files can live in a single place. Neither party will have to go back and forth via email for edits and communication, nor worry about losing track of files or messages in their inboxes.
Similarly, your accountants can learn how to better serve their clients when they accurately track their hours and review how they’ve spent their time. You might learn that one or more of your accountants are skipping critical steps in certain processes, which could lead to errors or invalid bills. Or you might learn that some accountants are spending too much time on low-impact activities and not enough on high-impact tasks.
Discoveries like these can result in behavioral change in how your accountants manage and prioritize their time. They may find ways to speed up processes, improve workflows, or strengthen collaboration, leading to increased efficiency and productivity. By precisely capturing your hours and being more diligent with your time, you’re inherently providing better value to your clients.
Build trust and rapport through transparency
Most importantly, transparency builds trust and rapport between your firm and your client. Clients want to know that your firm is meeting their requirements and expectations, and that they can rely on your staff to provide the best service possible. Presenting your accountants’ hours in an open, organized way builds clients’ trust and confidence in your firm, and provides them with a clear picture of the value you provide.
In addition to tracking billable work, you might also consider recording and highlighting some of the nonbillable, high-value benefits you provide, such as office hours or pro bono partnerships. By sharing reports that demonstrate the benefit and value of these activities — and by celebrating significant achievements with your clients — you can boost client satisfaction, leading to improved retention and, ultimately, greater profitability for your firm.
Schedule a demo to learn how Intapp Time can help ease time tracking for accountants and strengthen client relationships.
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