McNeil Farming, run by fourth-generation East Coast farmers, is one of the largest operations on the East Coast, growing from a family farm to a large sheep and beef enterprise encompassing seven farms. In the last six months they have doubled the size of their farming operation, adding another 38,000 stock units and 21,000 acres.
With this kind of growth came the need to achieve real transparency across the entire business to ensure the directors, and each of the farm managers, had a clear picture of how the farms were performing.
“As the enterprise grew, having information in someone’s head wasn’t good enough; we needed to be able to share it between the four directors without all getting different messages,” explains Tracey McNeil, who together with her husband, her brother-in-law and his wife make up the McNeil Farming management team.
Time for a change
Tracey has worked with Figured advisers, Chrisp & Davidson, “since the beginning of time”, so looked to director, Allan de Lautour for advice. “Allan has always been forward thinking and sees the big picture. He said to us that Figured and Xero were the way to go, and I knew I could trust him on this because he understands our business so well,” Tracey explains.
“Farmers need to recognise that they’ve got a multi-million dollar business and they need to be running it like one,” says Allan. “Where Figured and Xero makes it easy is that accounting seems much more accessible to clients; it’s helping to send the message that doing it properly is easier in the long run than doing it the old way.”
A shift to a forward focus
Tracey had previously been using another well-known farm accounting package but found that it wasn’t providing the insights she needed for her business. “The way we were managing finances beforehand was wrong - we were looking backwards and always catching up. Trying to keep the information relevant was a challenge. We spent the whole time trying to gather and input data, rather than actually using it properly for planning forward,” she says.
“Now with Figured, it has shifted our whole outlook on the business. I’m looking forward to using the reports to analyse and approve decisions - we’ve never had time to do that before, we’ve been too busy just getting the information.”
A more strategic approach
Tracey says having one tool that works for both her and her accountant is beneficial - and she’s looking forward to being able to also include each of her farm managers when it comes to sharing reports and budgets.
“I want to get to the stage where we can sit down with the farm manager and look at his reports, but also pull out the consolidated one. We’ll be able to look at production targets, where they’re heading, how much they’ve spent with their budget, what variances there are, and use that to really drive performance,” Tracey explains.
For Chrisp & Davidson, it’s also shifting the way they work with their clients, “Compliance is now taken care of thanks to a system that doesn’t double handle. As the admin and compliance is taken care of, we can spend more time helping clients look forward,” says accountant Bridget Telfer.
Better bank reports
The new system is also impacting McNeil Farming’s relationship with their bank. “We have a new bank manager, and once he could see the flexibility of reporting and see the difference between the profit reporting and the cashflow reporting he really came on board,” shares Tracey.
“Reporting for the bank is exponentially better,” says Allan. “The frustration historically has been not knowing what the bank wants, so to have the same information in the same tool is a significant step.”
“It also gives clients the ability to negotiate for a better margin because the risk for the bank drops; the bank can see with certainty what’s happening, and they know it’s accurate because it reconciles back to their figures,” says Allan.
Accessibility in the cloud
“Some of the farms are around two hours from town, so this is where cloud technology is beneficial,” says Tracey. “It has given us the ability to run a large business in an isolated area.”
For the rest of her management team, the transparency and access to information in the cloud has been invaluable. “I understood our position but it was difficult to try and keep the management team up to date with the information on a regular basis. Between Xero and Figured we now have a living document, and it’s become easier to have a monthly routine to catch up on the numbers. It’s now more transparent,” Tracey says.
The ability to connect with the accountants at Chrisp & Davidson online has also been a game-changer for Tracey, making it much easier to work through issues or concerns. “The key was being able to have Bridget working in the same system. Same screen, same time - that was the biggest breakthrough,” says Tracey.
“It’s a huge difference - there is no lag time, or sending off data. We can log in and go to the same screen and see what the problem is straight away,” adds Bridget.
Tracey also says that the fast online support she had from Figured’s Customer Support team has helped smooth the transition to the new software, “It was a big build due to a complicated farming operation, but having instant access to support was invaluable.”