Profile: Nathan Keeley, Finalist for the Software & Technology Pioneer of the Year Accounting Excellence Award 2018


How Accounting Excellence Award finalist, Nathan Keeley, MHA Carpenter Box is changing the face of accounting with his clear love of new technology

Nathan Keeley is a pioneer in every sense of the word. As a partner of Sussex based Chartered Accountants, MHA Carpenter Box, Nathan has been at the forefront of the practical application of cloud accounting and digital technology for the last 10  years and long before others started to see the advantages. MHA Carpenter Box was an early adopter of App-driven technology and was one of the first accounting practices to have its own App developed by MyFirmsApp.

He was hooked as soon as he began to see how cloud technology could help accountants to work more closely with their clients. “At the time, everything was so reactive, and I found it an incredibly frustrating as I wanted to be able to give clients more information at the time they need it most and help them in a proactive way to run their businesses,” Nathan explains.

The first cloud accounting software package Nathan saw was MYOB, followed by FreeAgent and Xero, all of which enabled a move to a single ledger in the Cloud. This was transformational because it allowed accountants and their clients to work together and share information in real-time.

In-house developed two-way portal improves client communication

This effectively started a change in the way accountants worked; instead of clients bringing their books in at the year end, accountants could provide useful advice throughout the year on the things that matter. Now Nathan estimates that the firm can have around 40 individual touch points with each client every year. “I don’t very often write letters anymore,” he comments. And in line with this subtle shift, Nathan has led development of MHA Carpenter Box’s own two-way communication and portal system, which clients use to receive and send data confidentially. It includes digital signatures for online approval and the firm now has a total of 4,598 active accounts and over 48,000 documents have been uploaded since the portal was introduced.

“Only about a third of our clients bring their books in to the office now and the younger generation, who are increasingly becoming business owners, cannot understand why there’s any need for paper any more. Cloud technology helps us deliver greater value as we are able to take on more of an advisory role, Nathan comments.

“There’s no perceived value in having an MOT and a set of accounts is thought of in the same vein”

“It’s how we improve that experience that matters and how we use our role to provide advice and cross-selling opportunities.”

The ROI of adopting cloud and digital technology, according to Nathan, is indisputable as the firm is keeping ‘clients longer and closer’. “Typically, we keep a client for 9-10 years instead of 5-7 and it’s down to the quality of that relationship. The client is more loyal.”

The MHA Carpenter Box App went viral in recent days

The firm has its own App and Nathan relates the story of how he was told that the App had gone viral on the App store in recent days. “If it catches someone’s interest then others follow – it’s the lemming theory.”  The firm now delivers Budget Updates via the App instead of having to produce printed cards that are posted to clients. Interacting with clients via the firm’s App will undoubtedly follow. Nathan believes this will happen as they get more used to the idea of instant messaging with advisers and not just with their social circle.

Nathan sees a shift to holding ‘virtual’ meetings with clients using Skype and Zoom, which saves both accountants and clients time. “It gets rid of the formality,” adds Nathan and makes it easier when taking on a new client. “I can simply ask to see their passport on screen and am instantly able to verify their face against the picture showing.”

Whenever the firm takes on a new client, MHA Carpenter Box likes to undertake a full system review and then suggests the software that will best suit the business and solve the problems it faces. “Clients like this focus on software and the fact that we understand their business more. We are taking the decision process away from them by suggesting perhaps 5 bits of software (App stacks) that are tailored to their business. With restaurants, we will suggest table booking software, stock control and core accounting software that are all best-of-breed and that all automatically talk to each other.”

Each personalised App stack can be retained within the Accountant’s own App, which makes it easier for the client to access the software with only a single sign in. This has benefits for both the client and accountant: the client saves time and effort and only has to remember one user-name and password and it allows the accountant to retain control of the digital relationship.

“Many of our clients find their software costs are reduced substantially and instead of paying up to £50,000, it is likely to be more like £200 per month for the same functionality.”


Making Tax Digital is the next challenge

With Making Tax Digital being the next challenge facing the profession, Nathan and the team are already ahead of the game and have communicated to the client base their recommendations. “We have segmented the client base and have made suggestions on what software we feel they should be using. We have made it clear that the issue of increased costs is driven by changes from HMRC and wherever we can, we will help by providing the best deal possible.”

Nathan is leading the development of an in-house piece of bridging software for Group VAT returns and other variations as “no accounting software can do that”, he says. With 8 firms in the MHA group, there is also a commercial potential for the bridging software and MTD portal. Nathan is full of praise for the IT Manager who he says is ‘brilliant’ and a major contributor in driving value and a valuable asset to the firm.

And what does the future hold?

When asked about what changes the profession will face in the future, Nathan believes that the biggest changes are likely in the Fintech space with the introduction of Open Banking. This will enable the sharing of information with third parties and has potential benefits for the whole business community. “As all banking information can be shared with insurers for example, it removes the potential for under insuring and will also help businesses that want funding or bridging loans as the information is instantly available. Expect to see offers being turned around in less than an hour,” Nathan adds.

AI and machine learning are also set to change the way in which business owners use their accounting software. “QuickBooks for self employed is already doing this to some extent with small businesses able to talk to their App on their phones and ask questions such as ‘what was my turnover last month?’ and they receive a visual response.”

“Accountants will need to upskill and become more focused on giving advice”

In the next 10 years, Nathan considers the next revolution in the accounting profession will come as a direct result of AI and machine learning and it will result in accountants needing to upskill and take on more of a role as business and software advisers. “Contrary to all the reports in the media, AI will mean that instead of shedding staff, firms will need the same number of staff, but they will have different job roles that are less focused on processes and more on giving advice.”

Nathan’s personal approach is clearly based on a real in-depth understanding of the technological advances that deliver practical benefits for clients.  This is what obviously impressed the judges in the Accounting Excellence Awards. That and the fact that MHA Carpenter Box has developed an open dialogue and collaboration with software providers and fellow accounting professionals, feeding back where they think products could be improved or in areas that may not have been considered.

Nathan is without question a Software and Technology Pioneer and a worthy finalist for this prestigious award. The numbers speak for themselves and with 1,550 cloud accounting clients, MHA Carpenter Box is leading the way in the development of new solutions that fits perfectly with the needs of business owners who are increasingly looking to their accountant for software and technology advice.

With the first of the major deadlines looming large in the form of MTD for VAT in April 2019, a mobile App can be used to encourage clients down the digital path with tools such as Mileage Tracker, Receipt Manager and Income Manager. In the next few weeks MyFirmsApp will be announcing a bridging tool – for those accountants that unlike Nathan, have not developed their own – to help accountants and their clients file VAT returns.

As headline sponsors of the Accounting Excellence Awards 2018, the MyFirmsApp team would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Nathan on being named a finalist and it looks forward to working closely with the firm on the development of its digital strategy in the years ahead.