How digital technology culls guesswork from the business of farming

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How digital technology culls guesswork from the business of farming
By John Gibson, General Manager, Australia & New Zealand

Knowing their numbers means no surprises for Taranaki dairy farming family, the Whittingtons 

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"Forward planning and regular reporting made possible with Figured provide better transparency – and banks are incredibly happy with that. It’s a big win and certainly improved our relationship with the client and the bank."

- Ryan Stockman, Advisory Principal at BDO Taranaki, and co-advisor to John Whittington, Taranaki dairy farmer.


Cloud-based accounting and financial software has saved Taranaki dairy farmer John Whittington a heap of time. Even more valuable is how it helps John connect the dots between the decisions he makes day-to-day and his family farm’s future. With Xero for accounting and Figured providing dynamic budgeting, forecasting, and real-time financial reporting, the Whittington farming operation stays on top of its numbers and ahead of the game. 

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John Whittington is a fitting example of a Kiwi farmer using technology to sharpen his farm management skills. Running the family farm with wife Michelle, John got his first taste of Figured in 2019.

Back then he was swimming in paper invoices and statements for manual coding and calling his bank to draft a budget. Keen to slash paperwork attached to GST returns and bill payments, John adopted Xero online accounting software and document management app Hubdoc. Almost immediately he saved two entire days once put to paying bills every month.

Time is money, but dynamic budgeting and real-time reporting are priceless

Relishing his first taste of cloud services with Xero, John turned his attention to budgeting, with Ryan Stockman, Advisory Principal at BDO Taranaki, getting him started on Figured. 

In short order John switched from creating a budget in May and reviewing it 12 months on “to see how things went” to more regular sit-downs with advisor Ryan to gauge progress and understand how dynamic variables such as milk pay-out and input costs impacted his budget.

“With Figured we can set the budget and constantly review the impact of changes, such as milk pay-outs,” John said. “We can forecast our tax and cashflow positions and compare costs between both our farms to see how they’re tracking – the numbers are there, on hand, for everything we want to do.”

BDO partnership with Xero offers Figured users access to a market leading team

In 2021 BDO signed on as a Xero Global Partner, a move that formalised what had fast become recognised as a leading team providing accounting advisory services and solutions to small-to-medium businesses in New Zealand.

The partnership works well for BDO’s Taranaki-based operation, with Xero app partner Figured slotting in as the first-choice farm financial management software for budgeting and real-time reporting.

“When we were looking at products in Figured’s space, they stood head and shoulders above alternatives – they still do,” Ryan said. “Budgeting for dairy farmers is just so easy. I get calls from clients when Fonterra changes the milk pay-out and update the financial forecast on the spot.”

He said Figured’s tidy reports and reporting functions were a hit with both farming clients and fellow advisors. “Clients continue to switch to Xero with Figured because they struggle to get comfortable with the alternatives,” he said. “We used to have a small budgeting team, but it’s blown up and expanded because our people can see that Figured is easy to use and they can spend more time talking with their clients.” 

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Collaboration gets farmers, advisors, and lenders on the same page

The central beauty of cloud services is access – users are only a matter of clicks away from their data and selectively sharing it with others. BDO takes full advantage of this model, providing farmers and their lenders with secure access to online reports. It means everyone is quite literally on the same page, commenting on the same numbers. 

The idea of shared visibility is also appealing for its power to eliminate surprises, Ryan said. “Through better transparency we can see how our farmers are performing, and we have a much better understanding of their business,” he said. “So, we’re not getting to April and asking them where they’re going to find the cash – it’s there, in the budget because we’ve talked about it and factored in the big variances. It’s a whole new mindset for some of our farming clients.”

He added that this development also helped BDO farming clients to achieve better outcomes with their banks. “Forward planning and regular reporting made possible with Figured provide better transparency – and banks are incredibly happy with that. It’s a big win and certainly improved our relationship with the client and the bank,” Ryan said.


Digital technology not just a young farmer’s game 

Young farmers are often more comfortable with digital technologies than previous generations. But things are changing as the simplicity of tools like Figured make technology more accessible to farmers across the board. 

“Some of our more established business owners are really embracing this change,” Ryan said. “When they see the numbers on the screen and how quickly they can be revised to reflect tax and capital project requirements, and how it impacts the bottom line – it’s very empowering.”

He said the last three-to-five years had been eye opening for many farmers, and in his assessment at least half of his farming clients were now actively forward planning, forecasting, and reporting. “Until recently farmers haven’t had the tools – it was too hard. But next generation tools like Figured make it easy,” Ryan said. The modular format of cloud services also enables farmers to choose their level of involvement. In the Whittington’s case, John uses the Xero phone app to review and authorise invoice payments, which delivers huge time savings. Using Figured is mostly advisor Ryan’s domain, with web-based reports providing all parties with a focal point for comments and queries for subsequent discussions and more formal planning meetings.

“Some clients don’t want to touch the software, while others like to get their hands on it,” Ryan said. “But both groups still have the same aim: to get visibility of their numbers. And that’s why Figured is such an awesome tool – we can customise the technology experience for our farming clients.”


Good for business

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Ryan’s contemporary and fellow Advisory Principal at BDO Taranaki Chris Harvey said Figured had come a long way since he first started using it five-to-six years ago, crediting Figured’s close collaboration with BDO’s farming team to incorporate feedback and introduce useful enhancements. “Figured is a good software company, which gives us the confidence to push it harder,” he said.

An advisory-focused business, BDO’s view of digital tools goes beyond accounting task efficiency to helping clients grow their businesses and become better business owners. According to Chris, this vision differentiates BDO and makes it a great place to work. “We attract great people because they want variety and the opportunity to build great relationships with their clients,” he said.

Ryan agreed, adding that the opportunity to help his clients plan, set goals, plot succession, and crystalise what they wanted to achieve as a family were hugely rewarding. “That’s the kind of work I really enjoy. And clients get much more out of it, too,” he said. 

If you'd like to learn more about how Figured can help your business, send us a message through the green chat bubble in the bottom right corner to speak with someone about Figured.


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