With an open outlook, the Waterford operation prides itself on developing accountant-client relationships built on trust, writes Graham Clifford
It’s the minimalist nature of the renovated offices of James F Wallace & Company on Waterford City’s historic Gladstone Street that first hits you. No boxes overflowing with documents behind desks, no clunky furniture or clutter. Instead, clients are greeted with bright open space in this new and dynamic modern office.
The company has become an institution in the south-eastern capital since 1985 when Frank Wallace first brought his accounting services, and unique charm, to the business community of Waterford.
The company has grown up with local businesses just as they have grown with James F Wallace & Company. Their paths have interlinked.
“We’ve clients with us today who’ve been with us since day one and we’re so very grateful to them for their loyalty. Right from the beginning, I took the approach that building trust was crucial,” explains Frank over coffee.
“We never dealt with our clients by giving them accounts once a year but rather meeting with them regularly and dealing with them throughout the year. If you’re having a difficulty in your business, it’s during the year that it happens – it’s not after the year ends and only apparent when you get your accounts. So our firm always knows beforehand and as a result, our clients feel free to talk to us throughout the year. They reach out to us and we welcome that.”
It’s that accountant-client relationship which has seen the company grow. Today, James F Wallace & Company has 20 staff with plans to increase this significantly over the next 18 months. Key to its success too has been its agility – the ability to notice changing trends in business and technology as, and often before, they happen.
“Business changes, it always has, and so we have to remain focused to make sure, on behalf of our clients, that we’re fully up to speed with those changes. As business consultants, it is imperative that we’re open to change, it makes us who we are,” says Frank.
He tells me of the buzz he feels when helping a business maximise its potential, turn a difficult situation into a positive outcome, and find its way through a difficult patch.
“We went for a different market from day one, perhaps not the obvious choice for most businesses in our sector. We opt for clients such as family businesses which genuinely want to work with their accountant. We couldn’t run their businesses in a hundred years, we wouldn’t know how, but with our help we believe they can run their businesses better. It is that one-to-one approach which results in the best outcomes. We are always working closely with our clients, we know their figures and they know their targets.”
Frank’s vision, and over three decades of experience, runs through the veins of this impressive firm. The mantra of working together throughout the year is the calling card of James F Wallace & Company.
Ray Wall is the director of the firm. He explains how customer care and attention to detail is so crucial to the company ethos.
“Most accountants meet their clients once a year, the clients get their accounts maybe six months after the year end and often it’s too late to deal with any of the issues that have arisen,” says Ray. He adds: “With our system, we know month-by-month if there’s a problem and we are proactive rather than reactive. Clients love that because they know what their targets are and they know how to adjust their business to meet those targets.”
And key to that ‘system’ are two new software packages which James F Wallace & Company are rolling out to help accountants and businesses stay on top of their finances and take actions to get the ship back on track if it veers off course.
“For some time, I’ve been researching the paperless approach to bookkeeping and now we have partnered with a software company called Paperless Europe. They’re a relatively young company, flexible, innovative and very much a good fit for us. This means we now have exclusive rights in Ireland to offer selected accountancy firms and bookkeeping firms this software. We believe once companies look at the system, they’ll want to incorporate it into their own systems,” explains Frank.
He continues: “Paperless have used their technology to create software specifically for reading invoices. Not only is this available for accountants like ourselves, but will be available for any companies/businesses that use the Sage accounting program.”
Frank explains the logic behind the software and in one of the boardrooms at the company’s offices in Waterford, runs me through the system on an interactive flat screen.
“The thing is people in business don’t like paperwork. We understand that. The vast majority want to close their office door and get on with running their business. It’s what they do best. And so software like this greatly removes the workload. Once invoices are entered into the system, they will be uploaded to where they need to be. The technology will take care of everything. It’s clean, it’s clear and it’s immediate,” he explains. Paperless, which originated in Oslo, Norway, has been embraced in a number of other European countries such as Britain and Malta.
“In essence, it allows us to offer a better service to our clients, especially small businesses,” explains Frank, adding that “anything which helps businesses focus on their strengths, avoid financial pitfalls and becoming aware quickly if there’s a problem which needs a remedy is something that’s needed”. Paperless, the software package, will not only reduce labour hours dramatically but will eliminate the possibility of human error.
It can be sold as a package to individual businesses and accountants, for use with a specific client at a time, and those interested in using the software will be able to attend training courses in the new state-of-the art James F Wallace & Company facilities in Waterford.
Also, it’s hoped clients will turn to James F Wallace & Company for a complete package of bookkeeping services which will include Paperless and a second software package they’ve been working on. Due to be rolled out at the end of spring, “EasyKeep” is a simple yet effective way for companies to stay on top of their finances on a month-by-month basis.
Much more than simply a profit and loss plan for businesses, it simplifies the bookkeeping system, allowing businesses to focus on how they’re faring and to see, at a glance, if they’re going to hit their yearly targets. Designed in a two-page, easy-to-read format, it cleverly shows not only your profits, or losses, for any one period in time but also your year-end targets. Again Frank walks me through the system on the interactive screen.
The system looks at sales, works out margins, brings together fixed costs and projects ahead month-by-month. In doing so, the client can see exactly which direction their business is heading in.
EasyKeep ties in completely with the ethos of the company. If James F Wallace & Company was a car, this would be the instruction manual. It, in essence, concentrates minds on the never-ending nature of business, the fact that immediate knowledge leads to the best results in the long run and the theory, so cherished by Frank Wallace, that the relationship between the accountant and the client must be maintained, cultivated and protected.
“Our mobile offices will travel to meet clients to discuss business and finances and to assist in making sure all the correct information is lodged into the EasyKeep system. This software will just be for our own clients and when used, in conjunction with the Paperless software, will give them the very best and up-todate information of the state of their companies.”
But, of course, the role of the accountant will not become side-lined – far from it, as Ray Wall explains: “The information is only useful if you do something with it and the client will still need someone to advise them. Our company has been doing that very successfully for over 30 years and will continue to do so. The system will do so much processing but the data does need to be checked and put into a language that the client will understand.”
And another problem solved by the use of Paperless software and EasyKeep is that businesses won’t have to keep reams and reams of invoices, receipts and financial documents gathering dust in boxes. The information and generated files will be saved on USB devices with both the client and James F Wallace & Company securely holding a copy.
Looking to the future, rather than standing still, the accountancy firm wants to fundamentally change and improve the way businesses interact with their accountants into the future.
“It’s very exciting,” says Frank. “I’ve been involved in this sector, of course, for so long and I really believe these innovations we are introducing can have such a positive impact on Irish business. It will quickly become best practice, I believe, and we want to be to the forefront of that development.”
Inevitably, given the quality of the systems being offered by James F Wallace & Company, the potential for client growth must be carefully managed to ensure all those businesses already on the books continue to receive the very best attention and service.
Frank Wallace is keenly aware of the need to pace development and growth: He tells me: “Initially we’d hope to take on ten new clients in the first month. These would be clients who would buy into the holistic offering, bookkeeping, Paperless and EasyKeep. Then in the third month of growth, we may look to take on another ten. In accordance with that projected growth, we will recruit staff and I would hope that our company would have in the region of 35 skilled employees by the end of 2018 to mirror demand.”
In many ways, the James F Wallace & Company approach is about combining the old with the new, the handshake with the technology, the paperless with the timeless.
Frank explains: “We can complete all our client’s bookkeeping needs, wages, reconciliations, ensuring that they have perfect records at all times and ensuring that their taxation returns are always made on time. That’s what businesses need and we understand that.”
And it’s that insight into what makes business work best which has stood James F Wallace & Company in such good stead for over three decades:
“What makes our clients successful is that they want to be the best at what they do and as a modern accounting firm, we believe that our firm is the best; that combination has worked so well over the years and will continue to do so,” says Frank Wallace.
With a twinkle in his eye, he tells me as I gather my things to leave: “You know all the best things started out in Waterford, we’re known as being a city of trail-blazers. This is just the latest chapter!”
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