ProAdvisor Spotlight: How Grant Thornton is Building a Cloud-First Accounting Team

In 2019, Grant Thornton launched their cloud accounting services program to help their clients streamline and simplify business administration and management.

We sat down with Martha Banner, CPA and National Senior Manager of Cloud Practice Development, to learn how she is building a cloud-first accounting team within Grant Thornton.

Tell us about Grant Thornton’s cloud accounting services program.

Our cloud accounting service offers clients the benefits of cloud accounting applications combined with the strategic advice of an experienced advisor.

It was first launched as a proof of concept (POC) in the summer of 2017. At the time, our clients had started making the move to the cloud on their own—they were signing up for QuickBooks Online and adopting SaaS software to run their businesses. Our team saw this shift to cloud as an opportunity to proactively serve our clients and offer more day-to-day advisory services.

Cloud accounting was new at the time. There was no roadmap for how to package your services or operate a cloud-based firm, so we launched the POC to help us develop operating procedures, define client services and structure the practice.

In October 2019, our cloud accounting services program officially launched—and the response from our clients and colleagues has been incredible.

What learnings came out of creating and scaling a cloud accounting services program?

The biggest learning was that solid onboarding, training and support for our team was crucial to the program’s success.

When we first started, we didn’t have legacy, in-house knowledge of cloud technology. If a team member was struggling to complete a task, they couldn’t go to their manager for help because they also didn’t have experience with cloud software. We needed to build a cloud-first team that had the knowledge to service our clients and support the growing program.

We didn’t have internal training that allowed our team to truly understand the technology—including working with live data and completing tasks—so we built a comprehensive training and onboarding program.

New team members now go through self-guided modules and tours in order to build their own files from start to finish. We created sandbox environments that allow our people to take risks, make mistakes, and click on everything. We wanted to show them you can’t really break QuickBooks Online—almost anything you do is reversible. This hands-on, low risk way of learning gives our new team members the confidence to work in QuickBooks Online and service our clients.

Having a comprehensive internal training program has reduced onboarding time for new hires. It also eliminates the need for other team members to train new hires so they can focus their time on servicing clients.

What have you learned from growing a cloud-first team?

Creating clear pathways for career advancement is critical to retain our people. This is an area where we may have failed at first but have been working hard to improve.

Everyone at Grant Thornton and everyone on our cloud team has a people manager focused on helping develop their skills, set annual goals and identify stretch projects. We’re dedicated to developing our people at every level to get them where they want to be.

We’ve developed a framework that sets clear expectations for career advancement. It outlines the skills you need, how long it will take, and expectations based on the role. Everyone at Grant Thornton has access to this framework so they can clearly see how they can move to a manager, principal or partner role.

How has cloud accounting changed Grant Thornton’s relationship with clients?

Cloud accounting technology has allowed us to build stronger relationships—our advisors have never been more connected to their clients.

In the past, we would have to wait for financial data, desktop files and excel spreadsheets to assess what a client is dealing with. Cloud accounting gives us immediate access to the information so we can jump into our clients’ books and help them in real time.

How has the cloud accounting services program changed the way your team collaborates?

Our team operates like a cloud-first firm. We love using new technologies and collaborating remotely. Cloud technology makes communicating issues and troubleshooting internally easier—our team members can look at the same information at the same time and learn from each other in exciting new ways.

What’s cool about collaborating with clients using QuickBooks Online is that we now have visibility into a client’s business throughout the year. We no longer must wait until year-end to review their files. We have a real-time view of their operations, we get exposure to major financial decisions, and we are in tune with things like payroll cycles. Accountants didn’t have insight into this before. I wish I had this when I was starting my career in accounting!

This level of access gives us many more opportunities to help our clients. Our accountants have more touch points with their clients, and it’s gratifying to see them become true advisors. They’re bold and reach out whenever they see an opportunity to help, and have built great relationships with their clients as a result.

Want to learn more about Grant Thornton’s cloud accounting team? Visit their website to read more about the work they do for their clients.

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