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Interview with Jacqueline Steinschaden, b.rain’s Head of Digital Services.

The evolution of cloud accounting and how embracing technology is informing and transforming the nature of traditional client to accountant relationships

Hi Jacqueline, can you tell us more about b.rain and what you do?
JS: b.rain is the brainchild and represents the natural progression and growth of RAiN’s accounting and consulting services and solutions. In an ever-changing, globalized business environment, the complexities and challenges our clients face today require intelligent, responsive, relevant solutions, that are implemented in real time. Thus, on the back of the automation wave taking hold throughout the industry, we made the timely, keen decision to form b.rain. b.rain offers highly specialized solution integration services to clients across a variety of industries
As a gold tier Xero partner and in collaboration with Manthan – an industry leading, Dubai-based firm – specializing in prescriptive analytics applications powered by AI on the cloud – b.rain is able to offer best-of-breed business intelligence and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions to our clients. Our solutions are tailored to suit each client’s individual needs, and with growth in mind, we strive to ensure systems are highly responsive, robust and cost-effective.

When did the “lightbulb moment” happen for b.rain? Can you describe the chain of events?
JS: b.rain is the lightbulb moment! During our two years in business, we have seen a complete metamorphosis in accounting practices, with an industry-wide, fast-paced push to get everyone on the cloud, enjoying valuable client services and efficient communication. The market is moving at such a pace; it warrants that we cannot afford to rest on our laurels! At b.rain we are constantly looking for innovation wins both internally and externally.
More significantly, traditional methods of bookkeeping and accounting are being wholly transformed. In turn, the dynamics of client-accountant relationships are changing as technological advances in the field shape a new role for the accountant.
But, we refine our processes every year, particularly around automation & process. We don’t rest on innovation. Internal wins free up our time to do something else, which generally then results in an external win.

What are some of the results, which translate in to success for b.rain?
JS: The most important result, I think, is the paradigm shift demonstrated in clients’ reasoning and support for moving to implement automated solutions, designed to streamline their business operations. b.rain’s clients understand that automation allows us to -revise and optimise our services- to help them grow their business. The most significant, and game-changing, has been automating our compliance work. We wouldn’t be in the solid position we are today without it.

Do you have any (Sage) advice or cautionary tale for other like-minded leaders/entrepreneurs/founders
JS: Like-minded industry professionals are likely doing this as we speak! For those dragging their feet in adoption risk serious inefficiencies and simply will not be competitive or relevant, despite their achievements to date. Secondly, do not sit back once you have implemented a process, or adopted a new software, the nature of the market and of technology is dynamic and you cannot afford not to keep pushing, innovating and adapting to the ever-changing landscape.

What norms or established practices do you find b.rain is challenging the most?
JS: A long-standing frustration with regards time-based billing has been that clients are disincentivized to contact their accountant. If clients are disinclined to contact their accountant/s when such (sage) advice is most needed, for example, a client is going to make a big business decision. This is problematic and clients simply cannot be confident that they have the advice necessary to make the best, most informed decision. .
b.rain quotes on an upfront fixed pricing basis. This improves our cash flow compared to a time-based billing model and encourages clients to interact with us. This is the basis of sound relationship building. Moreover, b.rain has the structure in place and the real-time information required to empower clients to make decisions on demand. It’s a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. Ultimately, clients want more from us, they ask us to do more and this generates more work/revenue for us. In the long run, clients derive greater value from us in a relationship based on reciprocity and confidence.

Can you describe the ideal client relationship you strive for at b.rain? How are you going about designing and reinforcing your services to meet this goal?
JS: We’re looking for symbiotic relationships with clients who are confident in and empowered to contact us whenever the need may arise. These are clients who typically have a flatter (more horizontal) leadership structure (hierarchy). These clients believe in the team as a whole, and they trust us all in equal measure…not just the directors. As such we encourage clients to use technology as a form of communication to reach anyone at b.rain (Zoom, Receipt Bank, even Dropbox). And usually everyone engages in the same process.

What value do you place on the accountant-client relationship?
JS: It is of infinite value. Accountants are, in effect, the most trusted advisors. New business owners may not have an advisor other than an accountant in their network, and come to rely on our regular accounting services, but our advisory adeptness, because they trust us. In practice, as accountants we often leverage our professionals’ network in recommending our peers e.g. lawyer or broker to clients. Often, in the case of very small businesses where owners don’t have any other professional network, we become their biggest resource.
Looking forward, and from our experience at b.rain, I foresee client relationships becoming more consolidated, as accountants provide more and more professional service many of those additional services under our banner. We traditionally refer out lawyers or home loan bonds/mortgages but there exists an exciting opportunity to diversify and increase revenue streams through the deepening of both our service offerings and relationships with clients. By offering additional services under a single banner, or at the least, facilitating on clients’ behalf represents a new working model that offers a seamless “one stop shop” for clients. At the end of the day, we are in the solutions game.

In closing, what does the future of cloud accounting hold?
JS: In Australia, we are in the early stages of what I think will be a broader strategy to automate the compliance side, and its increasing use by tax authorities as well as industry. There are big things happening around payroll now, where it is automatically reported/filed. There will be more instances where our government will request to access this sort of information directly from software and in turn, the end user. This will take some of the compliance work away from accountants because software will be taking care of it. Therefore, it puts more pressure on the firm to make up the revenue elsewhere.
As I mentioned, accounting firms will become more consolidated in terms of those firms that deliver information in a way that is convenient, productive and efficient. To prepare, and future-proof, firms must have the necessary scope and systems in place to face the next stage in the evolution of cloud accounting. Also, the broader global trend to automate compliance could result in the compliance function becoming increasingly commoditized and less profitable, its increasing use by tax authorities as well as industry This will put significant pressure on firms to diversify and find new/different revenue streams.

Any final words or parting thoughts?
JS: Yes. Believe in the solution or service you want and are trying to implement. If not, you risk shifting to advisory, in an environment where implementing advisory services is extremely difficult. Primarily, and necessarily, believe in and want to drive that specific part of your business model.
Take Xero as a classic example. If you just implement it and send clients on their way, half of your clients will latch on to it, half won’t. Instead, spend 20 min with clients explaining the software, follow up after about a week and check their progress. Something new is not always easy in the beginning. However, once it has been explained, tested, and understood thoroughly there are visible, tangible benefits.