In the cloud from the beginning: how System Six mastered the art of remote accounting services

  • Jeremy Allen from System Six recently joined Stuart McLeod, host of the Accounting Leaders Podcast, to discuss the state of the industry.

  • With 10+ years experience running a remote accounting business, Jeremy believes “the mobilization and flexibility of work arrangements for accounting firms is here to stay.”

  • Cloud accounting makes accessing financials quick and painless, enabling accounting professionals to serve their clients better. It’s an approach Jeremy Allen has used since starting accounting services firm System Six in 2008.

COVID sent a tidal wave of change through the accounting industry, catching many firms off guard—but not Jeremy Allen and his team at System Six.

For the last 13 years, since System Six's founding, his team has used remote practices to provide outsourced bookkeeping and accounting services. While companies around the world scrambled to set up remote systems, Jeremy conducted business as usual. 

During the company’s early years, Jeremy hustled to convince small business owners of the benefits of remote accounting. Today, the System Six team is recognized as forward-thinking masters of their craft, making services accessible to clients, regardless of location. 

"COVID has accelerated this. It doesn't matter if I'm in Holland, Michigan, Seattle, or Tahoe. Folks just want to be served well," Jeremy says in the first episode of the Accounting Leaders Podcast

You may be surprised to learn that Jeremy isn't a CPA. Instead, System Six evolved from his own experiences as an entrepreneur. Knowing little about bookkeeping, he was shocked to learn the taxes he owed in that first year of business. It was the realization that small business owners are often in the dark about their financials that inspired him to create System Six. 

Podcast host and Karbon CEO, Stuart McLeod, took the opportunity to glean wisdom from Jeremy’s 10+ years of cloud accounting experience, discussing working from home, and the future of remote accounting services.

Cloud accounting from the beginning 

As an early adopter of remote accounting tools, System Six was positioned to smoothly transition to the inevitable changes that came with the pandemic. The benefits—which Jeremy has been praising since the days when sifting through stacks of paper was the norm—have never been clearer. 

Quick results in a fast-paced world 

A measurable benefit of cloud accounting is the short turnaround time for financial reporting. Gone are the days of sending USB drives in the mail, transferring files, and long turnaround times.

With cloud accounting, financials can be accessed quickly and efficiently. 

During the episode, Jeremy reflects on the benefits of cloud accounting when his clients applied for PPP funding. The hustle proved to be a victory for System Six and their tech stack. "It's really powerful to be able to say the finances are no more than a day or two away," Jeremy shares on the podcast. 

Because of systems already in place, his team was able to get funding in the hands of their clients almost instantaneously, assuring they received PPP support before the funds ran out.

And since these systems were already in place, System Six could spend its energy focusing on communicating with clients regularly during a chaotic time for small business owners. By providing frequent updates, the team at System Six were able to calm their clients, enabling them to focus on other essential business aspects during such a tumultuous time. 

Jeremy notes that he’s seen very few casualties as a result of the pandemic, which he credits to the entrepreneurial resiliency of his clients. Despite it being a challenging year, System Six grew 17% in 2020.

Remote services allow accounting firms to adapt to current needs 

Stuart and Jeremy discuss the essential role that technology plays in allowing firms to adapt and flex. The willingness to embrace technological advancements is essential for enabling accounting firms to adapt quickly and efficiently to current needs. Plus, the ability to pivot is critical in our present, unpredictable world. 

Jeremy remembers speaking as part of a panel at a conference in Seattle years ago. 

Diehard QuickBooks desktop supporters threw their fists in the air at the mention of QuickBooks Online. But despite the resistance to change, he stood by the need to embrace modern accounting tools.

His trust in new and innovative industry resources positions his company and clients to succeed.  

Not only does cloud accounting streamline the client experience, but it also allows firms to better-serve their employees, retain talent, and recruit bright minds. As the workforce pursues work-life balance, the opportunity to work remotely has been a feather in System Six's cap for a long time. 

Of course, Jeremy recognizes that this position is no longer as unique as it once was. So he always looks at remaining competitive through building a positive culture

Recommended reading: 10 tools for remote accounting firms

Safeguarding your firm’s operations with the right tools

Jeremy says System Six's business model wouldn't be possible without a carefully curated tech stack, intentionally designed to support remote work. 

Karbon is an essential tool that allows System Six to service clients remotely. Digital communication systems and automated data collection helps to make it all possible.

When using the right combination of tools, not only are your employees able to be spread out across the country, but your client's location is less relevant, too, allowing you to provide your services to a deeper pool of potential clients. System Six currently services clients in 13 states across the US. 

Jeremy explains that Karbon changed the game for his firm, “It made it possible for us to serve clients around the country and keep ourselves organized while also keeping our sanity.” 

Having the right tools at hand allows Jeremy to move forward confidently, knowing that his team is prepared to tackle the next inevitable storm.

How and when to pursue growth 

When asked where he sees System Six in the next three to five years, Jeremy offered up a simple answer: 

Incremental growth.

Jeremy has always been a believer in base hits. Continuing to do what his company does well, supporting their clients, but always with the goal of moving forward.

To move forward, you must look forward. Jeremy is always on alert for future innovations that can support his business's accounting services. After all, he was an early adopter of cloud accounting, which has proven to be a massive success. He stresses the importance of keeping your finger on the pulse of the industry. 

“You know, for example, Bill.com just bought Divvy… [you have to be] looking at new tools and new partnerships and figuring out if there’s a way to further-improve how we work and how we serve, and the value we bring to our clients,” he says.

Asking the hard questions

Jeremy and Stuart both know that finding answers to hard questions is one of the most important steps in ensuring profitability—a topic of conversation they explored on the podcast. 

But some questions can feel arbitrary without access to the right data. For example:

  • Who are my most profitable clients?

  • Who are my most productive employees?

  • Can I raise my prices?

  • Do I need to employ more people?

  • Can I bring on more clients?

  • Who's taking up the most emotional energy in our practice?

  • Who is most likely to churn?

Jeremy and Stuart spoke frankly about the challenge these questions often present to firm owners.

System Six works hard to find answers to these questions, but the process involves constantly tinkering spreadsheets and data. Stuart believes that Karbon may soon have a more comprehensive solution to all that time-consuming tinkering

He shares that Karbon hopes to provide clear, data-driven answers to complex questions like Jeremy’s in the near future. Answers that make life easier for accounting firm owners—and more profitable. 

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