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A partnership in the cloud: Working ‘with’ rather than ‘for’ your clients

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Hui Wen Lim

Mar 2, 2021

“Accounting is one of the oldest professions in history,” says Jay Shong, the Founder and CEO of Red Beak International, a cloud CFO and digital business advisory headquartered in Malaysia. He also knows that to thrive in a competitive environment, the ability to adapt with the times is not just desirable for every business, but crucial.

“Fast forward to today and accounting has evolved to become so much more than just compiling financial numbers,” Jay says. “Our clients want us to show them what those numbers represent, and where those numbers can take their businesses in the future.”

Established to meet a growing demand among small and medium-sized enterprises for cloud accounting, Red Beak is driven by a core philosophy of working with rather than for its clients. “It is critical that advisors and accountants view their clients as partners, supporting every aspect of their business and helping them to thrive,” Jay says. “We go beyond a simple transactional relationship where they are offered a fixed set of services for a fixed level of payment.”

Profit from collaboration 

Xero has proven invaluable in turning that collaborative philosophy into a practical, profitable reality. By introducing Xero’s extensive suite of tools – as well more than 800 integrated third-party apps available through the Xero app marketplace – to their clients, Jay and his team support all of their day-to-day business needs, from accounting and data automation to human resources, payroll, ecommerce and more.

“Our practice has been using Xero since we first came into the market,” he says, adding that the software has completely changed the way both Red Beak and its clients do businesses. “Now it is our company policy that all clients must use Xero for their accounts.”

The benefits of Xero are immediately apparent to all end-users, demonstrating both the reliability and convenience of the cloud and the outstanding flexibility of the Xero ecosystem. Red Beak has consequently enjoyed top-to-bottom streamlining of workflows, reducing time spent on manual tasks and allowing them to achieve significantly more in less time.

By using Xero, its efficient data capture tool Hubdoc (which reduces data entry workload by accurately capturing information from bills and receipts) and a variety of third-party apps, Red Beak has digitally rationalised every aspect of its business, eliminating paper documents and manual data entry altogether. “This translates to a 75 percent time saving,” Jay says, “allowing us to serve at least three times more clients with the same staff capacity.”

Free up time to offer value-added services

These benefits have also been passed on to clients, and improved client relationships have allowed Red Beak to extend its offering with additional services that contribute even further to its success. 

“Xero has helped our team to save time on the manual tasks, allowing us to reinvest that time saved to perform analysis for our clients and discover insights that can improve workflows and performance,” Jay says. Red Beak is now able to offer business analysis and advisory on a monthly or quarterly basis. “These value-added services contributed to at least a 35 percent increase to our margins and also brought our customer service experience to a greater satisfaction level.” 

Xero-affiliated apps have also boosted convenience and efficiency, and Jay highlights Red Beak’s extensive use of Spotlight Reporting and Fathom – apps for easily creating great-looking performance and management reports, cash-flow forecasts and more in double-quick time. “Fathom and Spotlight have helped us create wonderful analysis, data visualisation and charts for management reports,” he says. “Previously we spent quite a bit of time on those using Microsoft Excel.”

Fathom and Spotlight Reporting, and their seamless integration with Xero provide a host of benefits over Excel. “If the data changes in Xero, it also refreshes in these third-party apps,” he explains. “This means that we don’t have to build formulas, charts and macros in Excel while still worrying that the data will be inaccurate.” 

And Xero has brought advantages with online payment options such as Stripe and Paypal, so Red Beak and its clients get paid more promptly for their work. “With Stripe as a payment gateway linked to Xero, our clients can make payments more conveniently,” Jay says. “Our clients are also happier because they can earn reward points or cash back using credit cards with online payment.

A business-friendly learning curve

Jay adds that members of his own team have also enjoyed working with Xero, with both professionally trained staff and those less familiar with the intricacies of accounting becoming Xero-certified advisors in an impressively short space of time. 

When I first introduced Xero to the team, they were quite reluctant because on the previous occasion that I’d put them through the training for another type of accounting software, that training took up their entire day. To their pleasant surprise, we completed the entire Xero training in just 25 minutes. They told me that Xero was easy to use. ‘If you know how to use Facebook, you know how to use Xero,’ they said.”

Staff members have consequently become more productive, meaning that while Red Beak’s client base continues to grow, the company has not been forced to invest in additional manpower. “By scanning paper documents with Hubdoc, for example, the time they need to spend on manual data entry has reduced significantly,” Jay says. “While waiting for the documents to be uploaded, they can attend to other tasks for our clients.”

Resilience and flexibility in a pandemic

Like businesses around the world, Red Beak has been forced to navigate a ‘new normal’ in the world of work since the Coronavirus pandemic kicked in early last year. The cloud and Xero have been invaluable in building and maintaining business resilience in troubled times.

Being an early advocate of cloud, my practice has reaped some unanticipated benefits, particularly while experiencing interruptions from the pandemic,” Jay says. “Our cloud clients love that they can access real-time business data anytime, anywhere.”

COVID-19, he believes, has sped up changes in the way that modern SMEs do business. “Digital disruptions have come earlier than expected and digitisation is no longer a choice but a necessity to survive,” he says, adding that Xero has proven effective in supporting business continuity planning and remote working.

“Our practice focuses on generating financial reports for our clients and Xero has made the entire workflow smoother and easier for us. I can review the numbers and reports wherever I might be, which makes it more convenient for my team now that we are all working remotely.”

Top marks in geography and history

Xero has also allowed Red Beak to serve clients located far from its headquarters in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. “Xero has provided an opportunity for us to overcome the geolocation barrier and venture beyond Malaysia,” Jay says. “This is now one of the key differentiators in our service offering.” 

Today, 20 percent of Red Beak’s business comes from Malaysia’s bustling capital Kuala Lumpur and the northern Malaysian state of Kelantan, but the majority of Red Beak’s workload in 2021 originates overseas. “At least 50 percent of our clients are now located in Australia,” Jay enthuses.

Like accounting itself, Red Beak has proven agile in meeting the changing needs of SMEs in the 21st century. And with an eye firmly focused on the future, Jay also looks back to recall how its clients have been amazed on first seeing Xero in action. 

“I knew that Xero was right for Red Beak after a client meeting where I demonstrated the platform and showed them a new way of running their business,” he remembers. “My client was very impressed with the amount of time saved and said, ‘Wow, that’s it!’ Since then I have never looked back.”

“All the clients that I have brought to Xero have been amazed at how beautiful and simple-to-use the software is. They are also excited for what lies ahead.”

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