RSM is a nationwide practice, with 30 offices across Australia, and around 1100 employees. RSM originated in WA, and it’s not surprising then that around 20% of the practice remains focused on servicing the agriculture industry. Jo Gilbert is a director at RSM’s Albany, WA, office. She joined RSM in 2000, and has a particular interest around technology, and leveraging it for the adaptation of services.
Jo says that a couple of years ago they realised an increasing number of their clients began becoming interested in cloud technology. As a practice, changes in compliance deliverables also meant that cloud technology would be a smarter, more efficient way for them to manage their client files. Outside of their agricultural practice, RSM began to take a more hands-on approach to providing business advisory to clients. However, what they noticed, was a gap for their clients in the rural sector.
“Most of our clients were using desktop, non-cloud based programmes. For a lot of them, we were seeing their files emailed through on a back up, quarterly, so we could check their reports for GST. We certainly couldn’t check them live. A lot of their budgets, forecasting etc was ad hoc, or being done once a year - and they had no ability to regularly check in. A significant proportion were only really doing bookwork to lodge a BAS form or GST, and then send files to us for year-end. They weren’t actually getting any value out of the data, and likewise, we didn’t have a tool within our practice to bring any information together”.
RSM identified that with changing generations, farm owners were less interested in data entry, and more inclined to seek out real-time information. Combine that with a climate where cashflow is critical and banks are tightening up on processes, and clients were increasingly seeking out advice. RSM recognised the need for an ag-specific cloud-based solution that would open up opportunities for more proactive, higher value discussions around actual relevant data that could project ahead for the farm’s future.
“We needed our people to get out from behind their desks to have conversations with clients face to face. They didn’t have time to do that, because they were spending their time extracting data from older systems and using quite manual processes.”
Aside from being cloud-based, RSM did have specific requirements for what solution would work for them. An existing desktop farm-specific software package had set the standard for what reporting banks now expected to receive from their farming customers.
“When we were looking to move from that programme, we needed to firstly be able to ensure that we could closely match those deliverables for the banks. A lot of farmers also have long-term relationships with their farm consultants, whose services are built around this software, so we also had to be able to prove to the client that we weren’t going to be disrupting this relationship.”
“There is also an opportunity where we can start providing regular reporting back to clients, where as soon as we start showing them this data, they instantly see the benefit in having it.”
While there will always be a need for compliance, RSM were now asking the question: how else can we bring in a tool to fulfil the need of a client?
“From a compliance perspective, we’ve always had financial statements, income tax returns and GST returns, and while they are required, by the time they are prepared they’re of no use to business owners for management purposes.”
Now, with access to accurate, up-to-date information, they can sit down with clients to produce budgets, undertake more frequent variance reporting and have discussions with clients that leverage the scenario planning tool.
“We’re seeing conversations about looking longer term to incorporate succession planning or big ticket purchases, such as buying a farm, and what impact that will have on equity. We’re seeing now that Figured will give us the ability to do that, and have those conversations with our clients.”