Streamlining Accounting Workflows and Processes (A Guide to Efficiency)

updated on 16 May 2024

Accountants often spend too much time searching for information and doing repetitive work, which slows down businesses. But there's a smarter way to work.

Your clients are counting on you to provide a level of service that exceeds their needs to meet their expectations. But in today’s busy world, finding the time and resources necessary to provide that kind of over-the-top service can be difficult. That’s why it’s crucial for accounting firms to take advantage of anything that makes life easier for them and their clients. This includes automating business processes and streamlining workflows so everyone can get more done in less time.

By using the right accounting technology, you can automate tasks and make your accounting firm more efficient and accurate.

The Difference Between Workflow and Process

What Is a Workflow?

A workflow is a series of specific steps or activities that help us achieve a specific goal. It's like a roadmap that guides us through tasks to get things done efficiently. In accounting firms, workflows are super important for managing financial processes and making sure everything is accurate.

So a workflow is:

  • A set of smart repeatable steps and tasks
  • That allows you to organize resources, people, time, and budget in the most efficient way
  • Designed to give you a repeatable result

An example of an accounting firm's workflow would be a recurring job such as how a client is billed and invoiced.

What Is a Process?

A process is a bunch of workflows that come together to achieve a specific outcome. It's like a big puzzle where different pieces fit together. Accounting firms use processes to handle different aspects of financial management. Take the example of financial statement preparation. Here are the steps involved:

  • Gather financial data from different sources like transaction records, bank statements, and invoices.
  • Analyze and organize the data using the right accounting rules and regulations.
  • Review the financial statements to make sure they're accurate and meet the required standards.
  • Share the approved statements with clients or regulatory authorities.

Workflows guide us through specific tasks like invoice processing, while processes bring together different activities to achieve broader goals, like financial statement preparation.

How to Create Efficient Accounting Processes

Document your processes

Start by mapping out your tax workflow process. Identify all the steps involved, including the systems and software used by you and your staff on a daily basis. Determine how tasks are handed off between individuals, systems, or a combination of both. Flow-charting tools and diagrams can be helpful in visualizing the data and document flows within your workflow.

Once you have identified your current workflow tools and applications, it's time to troubleshoot and address any issues. Expand your systems inventory listing by adding a column to capture known issues or challenges associated with each tool or application. This allows you to have a comprehensive overview of areas that require

Define employee roles and responsibilities

Clear roles create individual accountability, ensuring that any issues or challenges can be promptly addressed, assessed, and resolved, thereby maintaining a smooth workflow. Avoid multitasking and employees covering multiple roles. This will only cause you to overlap tasks and burnout producing clogging in processes, especially in operation or technical roles.

To build a successful web of collaboration between these areas,  a good idea is tu implement mid-responsibility roles with a T-shaped skills incline. 

Analyze System Interactions

Examine how the different systems interact with each other within your workflow. Look for any bottlenecks, redundancies, or areas where information or data may get lost or delayed. By understanding these interactions, you can identify potential solutions or adjustments to optimize the flow of information and streamline processes.

Implement a Document Management System

A robust document management system (DMS) is crucial for organizing and storing your firm's financial records, tax returns, and other essential documents. A DMS allows you to easily search, retrieve, and share documents with your team, reducing the time spent searching for files and minimizing the risk of lost or misplaced documents. Popular DMS options for accounting firms include QuickBooks Online, Xero, and NetDocuments.

Establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Developing and implementing SOPs for your accounting firm can significantly improve efficiency and consistency in your work. SOPs should cover areas such as client onboarding, document management, and tax return preparation. Ensure that all team members are familiar with the SOPs and adhere to them consistently. Regularly review and update your SOPs to reflect changes in accounting standards, tax laws, and best practices.

Integrating Technology

Cloud-based accounting software and storage solutions enable real-time collaboration, allowing team members to work on the same documents simultaneously, reducing the risk of errors and duplication. Cloud-based solutions also provide secure, offsite storage for your firm's data, protecting it from potential loss or damage. Popular cloud-based accounting software options include QuickBooks Online, Xero, and Sage Intacct.

Most of this Cloud-based accounting software also allows you to automate and assist with tasks such as invoicing, scheduling, and data entry. Automating workflows is a great way to streamline your business process, reduce errors, and improve efficiency.

Optimize Your Computer and Software

A well-organized computer system is essential for efficient work. Regularly update your operating system, antivirus software, and accounting applications to ensure optimal performance and security. Organize your files and folders logically, using a consistent naming convention and folder structure. Regularly back up your data to protect against data loss and ensure that your team members have access to the most up-to-date information.

By implementing these strategies, your accounting firm can improve its efficiency, organization, and collaboration, ultimately enhancing client service and overall success. Remember that continuous improvement is essential in the ever-evolving world of accounting, so always be open to new ideas and approaches to streamline your workflows and optimize your team's performance.

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Kevin Mitchell, CPA

Senior Manager and CPA with over 20 years of experience in accounting and financial services, specializing in risk management and regulatory compliance. Skilled in managing audits and leading teams to deliver exceptional services. Proud father of two.

🔗 Kevin Mitchell | LinkedIn

References:

K. (2022, November 8). How to streamline accounting processes—a step-by-step guide. Tax & Accounting Blog Posts by Thomson Reuters. https://tax.thomsonreuters.com/blog/how-to-streamline-accounting-processes-a-step-by-step-guide/

CPA, A. V., & I. (2023, January 9). Streamlining Your Practice: How to Create Efficient Business Processes and Automate Your Workflow. CPA Practice Advisor. https://www.cpapracticeadvisor.com/2023/01/09/streamlining-your-practice-how-to-create-efficient-business-processes-and-automate-your-workflow/75584/

Here Are 3 Workflows To Streamline Your Accounting Process. (2021, August 31). Client Hub Blog. https://clienthub.app/blog/accounting-firm-business-development/

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