He leads an eight-person sales and marketing team and has more than 10 years of professional and sales management experience in confidential services such as accounting, payroll and business consulting. He joined the ICT Europe team when there was not a single client, and today the company books more than 250 companies and group businesses. We interviewed András Csősz, sales manager and consultant at ICT Europe, about his experience with accountancy changes and the challenges and difficulties he sees in this area.
Lili Takács: I hear from many company directors that changing accountants is a difficult thing. More specifically, it is a difficult decision. What is your experience? If my question is true, what are the main fears of CEOs, why is it so difficult for them to make this decision?
András Csősz: This fear is there even when the company is moving to more modern, simpler processes that are more beneficial to the company and more supportive of decisions. Nevertheless, there is a strong sign of a relationship of trust when it comes to switching accountants.
"We've worked together for 20 years..." and I could go on. In many cases, company managers are aware of the problems that exist, but often believe that the known bad is better for them than the uncertain. This is difficult to resolve.
T.L.: So we are often trapped by habits, even when we can clearly see that the old "tried and tested" accounting processes no longer necessarily support our companies as much as they used to. What are some examples you can think of that you encounter frequently?
Cs.A.: We can talk about privately owned businesses since the 90s. Company managers had to experience what they could expect from accountants. It is no use having serious professional standards of work if, on the one hand, managers are not aware of them and, at the same time, most accountants are used to working on a routine basis. We are constantly seeing medium-sized and small businesses that still think in terms of annual accounts rather than the mandatory minimum quarterly accounting cycle for other accounting items. If during the year-end closing, before May, the accountant starts to clean up transactions that have been going on for more than a year, which often puts the companies in a very difficult situation.
In our customer satisfaction surveys, we see that the biggest value that customers get from ICT Europe Finance is that they clear their books month by month; that they think about monthly closings and they feel that they can finally sit back and deal with what makes them money. And the accountancy firm supports this with the management report that is sent out at the end of the month.
The reason why it is difficult to find good accountants is that in many places the work is habit-based and not necessarily client-focused. Which is strange because at the end of the month only the client pays the accountant.
T.L.: Can you name typical "signs" when it is worth thinking about changing accountants? If so, what are the most important signs?
Cs.A.: A typical warning sign is when there is no general ledger statement available for the quarter that has just ended, you have to wait for it. The other is when the accountant cannot or does not want to keep up with the possibilities offered by IT.
Most often we see the case where the company is prospering and growing and the accountant cannot keep up. Accounting is nowadays largely an IT task, just think of the number of fintech software solutions that are appearing by the dozens, or the fact that business management systems are now available in the cloud, and are therefore being used more and more widely. Accounting in these systems is of fundamental interest to the management of a company. This is also interesting because the accountant's job is no longer to book the accounts one by one, since in these software systems the accounts are booked almost automatically on the basis of the logic set up, but to know how to set up these systems and what logical checks the accountant has to carry out to detect any errors. Administrative processes are being replaced by higher value-added services such as managing checks, accruals for more accurate reporting, joint coordination and brainstorming with the business manager or compliance with legislation.
T.L.: What about those companies without a corporate governance system?
Cs.A.: Those companies that do not have a corporate governance system, can rely on the software recommended by the accounting firm. There are already software solutions that are easy to implement, with a monthly fee, that bring the financial department, the management and the accountant on the same platform. At ICT Europa Finance, we recommend the SLM financial management software for this purpose. The advantage of this software is not only that the parties involved can chat with each other about a specific invoice, even on a mobile phone, but also that it minimises administration, as the system automatically matches the invoices received in photocopy, scanned or file form with the invoices issued to the company in the NAV database. Each participant can then add to the invoice the information of which they are aware of. For example, the customer can provide information on the location to which the item should be booked, and the accountant can provide information on the appropriate account numbers to be entered on the invoice. SLM also has a direct bank link with several major domestic banks, so as soon as a transfer comes in, it is immediately entered into the system, which matches it with the invoice issued, producing an automatic, up-to-date list of receivables. This saves time for the finance department and provides the company with error-free, secure data, because human error is eliminated as far as possible.
T.L.: Many people think that changing accountants is a complicated process. What does the process look like in reality? Is there an ideal date for it?
Cs.A.: Over the past 10 years, I have participated in hundreds of meetings with company managers on this topic. My experience is that you can change accountants at any time. Start dates of November and December 1 don't make sense, but anytime beyond that is possible. It is up to the company director to make the decision and set a deadline. That date will be the date when the responsibility for booking the vouchers issued and received will pass from one professional to another.
The relevant vouchers arising after the cut-off date will have to be forwarded to the new service provider, so that he can already handle the VAT returns and declarations. As soon as the previous accountant sends the closing general ledger, the new accountant will upload it into his own accounting software as opening data and from then on the reports will show a complete picture of the whole year. At ICT Europa Finance, a dedicated opening team is available to clients, who receive the accounting material from the previous accountant, the closing general ledger, which is checked and then corrected with the previous accountant for any errors or discrepancies, who are also partners in this.
Technically, the process looks as the above mentioned. I should add that the joint work with the company manager and the treasurer starts with a longer opening meeting, where the colleagues get to know each other personally and discuss the whole process, the specific needs and requests of the company managers and make a note of it. This discussion and meeting establishes the relationship that makes day-to-day work run more smoothly. Of course, during the first months of cooperation, we sit down again and again to discuss what could be done more effectively in terms of processes for the future.
T.L.: When should you consider internal accounting? So how long is it worth outsourcing this task completely? Are there any specific limits?
Cs.A.: At the small business level, it is not an issue, clients choose the service provider. And given the labour market situation, medium-sized companies have little choice but to automate their accounting and to contract a professional service provider to perform the general ledger tasks.
Finding a general accountant is difficult in Budapest, but in the rest of the country it is almost impossible, with companies looking for months to find a specialist.
The problem is compounded by the fact that, at the level of medium-sized companies, it is not necessarily the case that a 40 hour per week general accountant is needed if the system is well established. And these professionals do not like photocopying and administration, so it is difficult to keep them. Furthermore, in the case of an extended period of sick leave, the problem of substitutability arises. At the large company level, it is therefore safe to talk about outsourced accounting and payroll, where responsibility is outsourced in addition to the tasks.
T.L: In the last 10 years, were there any accounting assignment that you have liked the most because of its history or other circumstances?
Cs.A: There are so many success stories. We have one client where we kept a relationship for 6 years, by the time we had a partnership, 4 years had passed and it has been mutually successful.
The services provided by ICT Europe Finance are trust-based and high value-added due to the nature of accounting, so all of our engagements are very dear to me because I know that the product creates a win-win situation and that is one of the most important business values for me.
T.L.: We talked earlier about typical signs, but what would you suggest to business owners who feel that not everything is perfect in terms of their accounting but can't be specific?
Cs.A.: First of all, I would suggest that they trust their intuition.
Usually, managers only see the tip of the iceberg, as they do not necessarily have a deeper insight into accounting and taxation. When the feeling arises that all is probably not well, the first step is to start with an accounting and tax review.
We do dozens of such reviews every year. The idea is to get feedback from an external independent consultant on the accounting "health" of the client's company. As a result of the review, there are facts behind the initial thoughts, which make it easier to make the right decision. It is also, of course, worth asking the audit partner for his/her experience of the company's accounting. I strongly recommend that you take this insight into account, as it can save your company from serious problems later on.