It was good to meet Hamish for the first time, after previous telephone and cyberspace conversations. Most of the talk was about how Xero could help us with the process of converting clients from other systems, such as Sage and QuickBooks but we also discussed Xero’s broad development roadmap. Hamish revealed that one of the things they were working towards is what he described as a “One Ledger” concept.
Now, I must admit that I didn’t grasp the significance at the time but now, having had chance to think it through, it strikes me that One Ledger could have profound implications for most small accountancy practices.
So what are we talking about here? Well, the big idea (and it’s not rocket science) is to use the same data set (the client’s) for the production of year-end “final” accounts rather than what currently happens – which is that the accountant takes the client’s accounting data and transfers it into his own software for further processing and final accounts production. Using the One Ledger approach, the need for the accountant to produce separate working papers is eliminated, as is the chore of revisiting the client’s data after the final accounts are produced to make adjustments to correct the opening balances for the new financial year. The client’s accounting data IS the working papers and IS the lead schedules.
One significant development that will make this possible is what Hamish described as an intermediary coding structure which will allow individual general ledger account codes in a Xero (client’s) chart of accounts to be mapped to the appropriate code in the Xero statutory chart of accounts. It’s my understanding that, by default, this functionality will only be visible to users with the “Financial Adviser” role in Xero. Accountants typically reserve this role for themselves, where they have setup the client initially, but there is nothing in principle to stop a client using the extra functionality if they wish to. This means that, for instance, abbreviated accounts for Companies House can be generated without the intervention of the accountant. Now tell me that is not a fundamental shift in the balance of power of the client / accountant relationship.
I see this as a positive change, it allows the accountant to distance himself from the traditional compliance service and, instead, demonstrate how he can add value to the process, DURING the process – not just at the end by facilitating filing with the authorities.
Of course, the One Ledger principle cannot realistically work for desktop accounting systems such as Sage or QuickBooks, simply because the client cannot run their business without access to their accounting data during the time it takes their accountant to “do the books”. This is therefore a way of working that only web-based providers, like Xero, can offer.
I can see some potential problems – such as how to get the tax provision into a set of limited company accounts without first importing accounts information into the practice’s corporation tax software – but I can also see big benefits for both the client and the accountant. The accountant’s role will change though, to one of reviewing and correcting the client’s data before the client files the accounts, instead of owning the whole process – and charging accordingly.