Technology Software Practice

By going paperless, this accounting firm saved money, created value

How Andrew Wall transformed CPA4IT through digital scanners

Author: Colin Ellis

TORONTO, August 1, 2019 – Canadian accountant Andrew Wall, CPA, CMA, was running his entire accounting practice on cloud-based platforms but his firm was drowning in paper. As the chief executive officer of Chartered Professional Accountants 4 Information Technologists (CPA4IT), Wall is a thought leader within the accounting profession — a frequent speaker on niche marketing and digital transformation with an astounding 72.1K followers on his Twitter account and 39K followers on his Facebook page

But his accounting firm was half-filled with filing cabinets and non-active files were housed in offsite storage. Document retrieval times naturally suffered. Wall wanted CPA4IT to go completely paperless but lacked the technology to do so. He was using an outmoded scanner with limited capabilities. 

“Our previous industrial scanner was fine with standard 8.5” x 11” sheets, but failed miserably when handling small pieces of paper, or ‘micro-receipts,’ in its sheet feeder,” explains Wall, a chartered professional accountant. The time and effort to do a job had become a concern. “Resources were confined to a central office with large overhead,” says Wall. “It was difficult to have a remote workforce. Physical documents were needed to prepare a set of books, incurring photocopying and courier charges.” 

It was also a logistics challenge to keep track of and retrieve any client document. “The office was half-filled with filing cabinets, and client files had to be archived offsite and retained for a period of seven years,” says Wall. “Document retrieval was slow and prone to human error.” As principal of a firm that combines the knowledge and experience of a 30-year accounting practice with modern cloud accounting technology, Wall knew he needed a better digital solution. 

Scanning Solutions

Fujitsu iX1500
The latest ScanSnap digital scanner is the iX1500. (Screenshot: Fujitsu)

CPA4IT purchased three Fujitsu ScanSnap image scanners and added the Fujitsu ScanSnap SV600 overhead scanner for handling difficult, stapled documents. All paper documents are converted into text-searchable PDFs (the file format standard used by CPA4IT) and are distributed to a now viable, remote workforce. The accounting workflow has not only been streamlined but document retrieval time can be reduced to only seconds. 

Scanned PDF files are first sent to a secure portal site for document sharing between CPA4IT and its clients, followed by an accounting project management app for real-time team collaboration. “We can all work on the same working paper from a single data source,” says Wall. “Everything is encrypted on a secure, cloud platform with quick access from anywhere.” 

Working paper files can be lengthy, ranging from 100 to 200 pages. Wall bookmarks key information and uses reference tags to find what he needs. He explains: “Search is critical to working papers, which act as our reference documents. When sitting down with a client, I need to be able to trace an accounting number back to its source.” 

The strong search capabilities of PDFs are particularly liked by Wall. He notes “the format is widely adopted, file sizes are relatively small, and PDFs can be password-protected.” In the past, “there was a lot of photocopying, one page at a time, putting documents into a physical file,” says Wall. “When a request came in for a non-active file, a trip to our offsite facility required a half day, rummaging through storage boxes. We needed capabilities to find the time to drive over, taking upwards of a week for file retrieval.” 

Digitization has improved file retrieval times dramatically: “With ScanSnap’s Optical Character Recognition (OCR) functionality, content is searchable within the actual transaction,” says Wall. “This is powerful and a huge time savings, requiring only seconds to find what we need.” 

ScanSnap has helped CPA4IT streamline its accounting workflows in two important ways: While the majority of clients choose to bring or courier their physical documents to CPA4IT for scanning, a growing number of clients are using ScanSnaps to perform their own scanning and uploading of PDF files to a shared, secure portal. 

“Previous scanners were considered too much work and onerous for our clients to use,” explains Wall. “We now buy ScanSnaps for ‘early adopters,’ teaching them how to scan and access our online systems. Clients are blown away by how easy the Fujitsu scanners are to use.” Wall explains that a key benefit for clients who do their own scanning is no longer needing to incur courier charges or drive over with a “shoebox” of receipts. “Let technology do the work for you,” he says emphatically. 

From bricks and mortar to remote

One of the biggest challenges for CPA4IT was transitioning from a central office, with large overhead, to a more nimble and cost-effective remote workforce model. ScanSnaps not only replaced an archaic scanner, but “made a remote workforce a reality,” says Wall. “We can complete 60 to 100 transactions, compared to only two or three in the past.” 

Better documentation is now possible: “Audits and any type of analysis after the fact, are much easier,” says Wall. “Previously, if a client needed to pull out specific receipts, we had to go back to the ‘shoebox’ and physically retrieve and deliver them. It’s only a click away today.” 

“Going paperless with the Fujitsu ScanSnap has created value, offering important insights to act upon.” Indeed, data is at the heart of what CPA4IT does. When performing data analytics, CPA4IT works with “vital financial data,” says Wall, and can offer clients a variety of consulting services, from enhanced financial reporting and business forecasting, to benchmarking and managing risk, on top of standard corporate and personal taxes. 

Consulting has become one of the most important roles for today’s modern accountant, according to Wall. “We need to be aware of how we are adding value,” he says. “The modern accountant is comfortable with technology and change — and is no longer focused on the past but the future. More importantly, we help get you there.” 

By Colin Ellis with files from Fujitsu.

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