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Using Xero “has meant we are better equipped to assist our clients through this new normal”

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Flaka Jasari

Jun 11, 2020

The award-winning accountants at BHP have a broad range of skills, including a variety of specialist services. They’re also always looking for more efficient ways to serve their clients. The firm recently revised its year-end accounts compliance process to take place entirely within the Xero ecosystem. The company, which employs more than 350 people countrywide, is eager to take further steps to make it a cloud-based firm. 

The redesigned system would apply to around 1,800 non-audit clients.“It’s always daunting taking on a project of this scale,” says Ellie Dignam Data Analytics Manager. However, rather than going forward hesitantly, BHP has used the change as an opportunity to reconsider and improve their whole system. “For us, introducing Xero Workpapers wasn’t just new accounting software, but an entire revamp of our current processes and workflows,” adds Ellie. 

Close collaboration

To move their processes to the cloud, BHP worked hand in glove with Xero. The process began with questionnaires, skills matrices, and interviews. This helped the consulting team at Xero to understand the challenges that BHP hoped to overcome by moving to the cloud. 

Building on this foundation, Xero offered support and advice in monthly meetings with BHP’s own dedicated project team. They also held weekly calls with BHP’s project lead to ensure the process went smoothly. These meetings went well beyond discussions about specific Xero software; Xero’s expert advisors offered suggestions on all aspects from change management to communication. 

Leadership at BHP were also keen to strengthen their in-house training capabilities. They’ve since established their own Advisory Academy, aspects of which were drawn up over coffee at Xerocon London last November. Xero was fully on board, assisting the team by providing training and helping to design appropriate support structures. 

Now that the initial move is complete and everyone is settling into a new system, Ellie is pleased with a job well done. “Our staff are working more collaboratively with our clients. We have gained efficiencies in the processing of records and have become more confident in having conversations with our clients,” she says.  

Enjoying the advantages of being cloud-first

The successful transition to the cloud has prepared BHP well for the pandemic. Chris Atkinson, Managing Director of BHP Prosper, adds that the switch “has meant we are better equipped to assist our clients through this ‘new normal’.” Xero’s Workpapers enable accountants at BHP to continue to prepare year-end statutory accounts with minimal disruption, despite now working from home.  

“More importantly,” he says, “utilising Xero products enabled us to provide the answers and reassurance for clients whose income had been switched off overnight putting livelihoods at risk”. Accountants at BHP use Xero’s integration with Float to generate detailed forecasts and predict cash burns for various scenarios.

Where necessary, BHP has used Xero’s business insight tool and COVID-19 custom reports to help clients prepare CBILS discussions with the bank. Xero add-on Calxa also made it easy to create robust three-way forecast models to determine where funding was necessary. It also helps determine how clients might be able to pay it back when things return to normal. 

Although the benefits of cloud-based systems enabled BHP to “continue working without interruption” during the lockdown, Ellie says that everyone is “really missing the office, other people and human interaction.” On the bright side, she adds that the situation has highlighted the benefits of remote working. 

Sharing the lessons learned

“The modern accountancy practice needs to provide clients with a total accounting solution and should utilise online accounting to do this,” says Ellie. However, she warns that the “process is as important as the software,” and should be considered as two sides of the same coin.  

For firms looking to follow in BHP’s footsteps, Ellie recommends beginning the process with a ‘sponsor’ within the partner group and ensuring that non-chargeable, tech-focused individuals drive its implementation. It’s also essential to prepare everyone with extensive practical training and be open to feedback during this process to adapt the system to suit the firm’s and the clients’ needs. John Warner, Senior Partner, was the BHP sponsor and key to getting this project over the line. Once there’s buy-in from everyone, Ellie says the only thing left to do is “set a deadline date to switch off the old system and go for it!” 

The new system needs to be revisited regularly to ensure that everything is working as planned. If it isn’t, Ellie advises firms to “make full use of the extensive and superb support from Xero.”

“In short,” Ellie says, moving their year-end workflows to Xero “was absolutely the right decision”. “We accepted there would be time costs involved and some initial teething problems. However, the benefits of the project have significantly outweighed them,” she adds.

The firm is now in a great position to help more clients move to the cloud going forward. They are also actively trialing Xero Tax.

Jim Leeves from Xero’s consulting team says, “It’s been fantastic working so closely with BHP over the last 12 months on this project. Taking the leap to really put the Xero platform at the heart of their practice takes great people, commitment and teamwork. These are some of the BHP values, which have really shone through working with them. Our consulting team does a phenomenal job supporting our partners throughout the UK, and even though lockdown has changed how we deliver some of that support, we’re still really passionate about helping our partners whatever stage they are at in their firm with digital adoption”.

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