How to Implement and Embrace Virtual Accounting

tritch_how_to_implement_and_embrace_virtual_accounting October 27, 2020 By: Dan Tritch

As the pandemic has pushed more organizations into working from home, now is a great time to consider moving to a cloud-based accounting department.

The pandemic has forced us to work in new and different ways. It’s also given us an opportunity to rethink what the office can and should look like, and nowhere is that more true than in your accounting department. Advances in technology over the past decade have made virtual accounting a reality, with the ability to effectively and efficiently perform activities from anywhere.

Since the beginning of office shutdowns due to the pandemic, our firm has successfully transitioned clients to a virtual accounting function. In addition to helping your association prepare for an unexpected business disruption, there are a few other perks that result from implementing a virtual accounting department:

  • A virtual accounting department allows your association to expand its recruiting pool. You can consider more candidates based on their qualifications rather than the proximity to your office.
  • A virtual environment promotes collaboration and makes information more accessible. By making information accessible online, your entire management team and board can be more involved in the financial management of your organization.

Whether you are already in the cloud or just beginning to make the switch, below are important considerations:

  • Create a supportive culture. Remote environments require an open-door culture. Working from home presents unique challenges and can prompt many questions; your staff need to feel free to ask them.
  • Set aside time for learning. Foster a culture of education so that those employees who are less tech savvy feel supported in their efforts to adapt to new virtual environments. This means providing access to training resources and giving them the time to learn.
  • Have an IT professional on speed dial. A virtual accounting department requires dependable IT support, not just to ensure everything is working but also to ensure accounting information is safely stored and communicated. Whether your IT professional is on staff or outsourced, they should be accessible for those inevitable bumps in the road.

Integrate Software and Train Staff

As associations move into a virtual accounting environment, it’s important to make sure that the software and team work well together.

Integration is key. No matter which accounting program your association uses, there are some things that are difficult to be housed within your accounting software. For example, many associations utilize a separate membership management program to store contacts, track member dues, handle event registrations, and maintain member communications. There are also some transactions that might need to be imported into your accounting software, such as data from bill payment, expense management, or timesheet applications. To avoid duplicating efforts among multiple systems, be sure applications integrate seamlessly with each other and that your accounting staff is reconciling your accounting program to those applications.

Use applications to their fullest potential. In some instances, your staff may already have access to features and functions that save time, but just haven’t been trained on how to use them. For example, your membership management solution or customer relationship management solution may provide a member invoicing feature, or your bill payment solution may offer customizable workflows and user access controls. Empower your accounting staff to learn about and potentially hire outside support to help implement these powerful features.

Communicate and collaborate. Don’t underestimate the importance of collaboration tools that allow your staff—and your members—to communicate and share information across time zones. Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack allow for chat, videoconferencing, file sharing, screen sharing, and more. Other tools like Zoom and GoToMeeting, focus on video-conferencing solutions. Use of a cloud-based file hosting service—such as Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, or Google Drive—in combination with a videoconferencing tool boost communication and collaboration. These tools can be used to hold board or department meetings, brainstorming sessions, or even facilitate interactions with members.

Maintain strong internal controls

Realize that cloud accounting solutions can include features that not only maintain internal controls but also improve them. Think dual-factor authentication, encryption, different access rights for different users, real-time tracking, audit features, and approval processes.

For the changing procedures in a remote environment, it is also important to integrate key checks and balances including reconciliations of activities recorded in various software applications, segregation of duties, physical access to online accounts, and monitoring, especially of online bank accounts. Training for your staff on identifying things like phishing schemes, malware hacks, or ACH fraud is vitally important.

Many accounting functions can and will be done virtually. Whether your association transitions your accounting department to fully or partially remote or moves your accounting systems to the cloud, now is the time to embrace the change and prepare for the new reality.

Dan Tritch

Dan Tritch is manager and market leader for Your Part-Time Controller, LLC.