How Chris Hervochon CPA CVA Elevates Client Relationships to a Higher Level with Cloud and Automation Technology
If you missed our recent podcast episode with Chris Hervochon of Chris Hervochon CPA CVA, you may not have heard his personal journey to how being focused on accounting automation led to his ability to drive value for small businesses.
Luckily, that’s where our blog recap comes in. Watch, listen, or read this episode, where Vic.ai’s podcast host Joshua Feinberg asked Chris to provide our audience with his favorite Bill.com best practices and lessons learned.
Find out how efficient technology workflows and processes allow outsourced accountants and CFOs to gain back time and money, all the while laying the foundation for them to provide deeper and richer accounting data access and insights to their clients.
Helping clients get through tough times is at the core of client advisory practices. And the only way to get there is through better accounting data and access to that data.
This episode has been lightly edited for clarity
From Golf to Accounting
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: I am here with CHRIS HERVOCHON, from CHRIS HERVOCHON CPA CVA, based in southern South Carolina near Savannah, GA, and we're going to be talking today about Chris's favorite best practices around Bill.com. Thanks so much for joining me today, Chris.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Excellent. So I usually start out by asking each guest where this all started for you. How did you decide that you wanted to be a CPA? How did you get into accounting? How did you build up your practice? What was your journey that led you here?
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Good question. I didn't start out with the intent of being a CPA. I graduated college with an accounting degree, but I was very much into pursuing a golf career and that lasted about five minutes. And so here we are.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: But really when I left the golf business that was late 2007 or early 2008. It wasn't a great space.
I decided I was going to go use my accounting degree. I went to work for a forensic accounting firm and the partners and then the managers in that firm really kind of pushed me to want to pursue the CPA. Just because it gave me more career opportunities and things like that. So I went and did that.
I worked there a few years and then eventually got into corporate accounting and finance. I worked my way up the corporate ladder, so to speak. A lot of the stuff that I was doing in those roles was building automation and automating processes.
I basically had an epiphany one day where I thought that I could drive value for small businesses by doing that for them. So that's really kind of what started my thought process around, going out on my own and how I decided to focus my practice really.
Data Automation Leads to Accounting Work with Better Visibility
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: That's really interesting. So that had to be super early, like thinking of automation and workflows and processes, especially for smaller companies like back in 2008- 2010.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON, CPA, MBA, CVA: That yeah that would have been like 2010-2011. I started out with just writing Excel macros and just figuring out how to automate some of my job because at that point I was, a low level staff accountant and particularly at that point that meant a lot of data entry. I do not like data entry at all.
And then, before you know it you're figuring out how to do forecasting and tech data sources and things of that nature to create greater insights for the business. And there's a lot of benefit that comes from that. It’s high visibility type of work and generally accountants aren't coders and things like that. So it really kind of worked out.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: But then when I went out on my own, it was a side hustle and I started out with cloud software. So that was the early days of QuickBooks Online. That was the very early days of ProConnect Tax Online, which at that point was Intuit Tax Online. The early days of Bill.com. That was my tech stack. When I first started out 2011-2012. And it's basically just kind of grown from there.
And that's really early days of cloud accounting, too, and now where we are, you can connect all sorts of apps. I'd never heard of Zapier at that point, or any of the new apps or any of the new cloud software that you can connect the API's. That didn't exist, but we're certainly in a different spot now, and it's been a lot of fun.
A Modern Accounting Tech Stack Looks Very Different Today Than Yesterday
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Yeah, it's interesting when I talked with some of our founders about what people think of with modernizing their tech stack. And people are like, ‘Oh, you mean we need to do cloud accounting where we're really happy with (QuickBooks) Enterprise.’ If you're just now getting around to cloud accounting, there's like three or four leaps and generations for what's coming next.
But yeah, it's all a mindset issue. It's a culture issue. It comes down to the thinking of all firms, whether they want to be really progressive digitally, or whether the clients are pushing them.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Yeah, for sure. I mean, at that point it was only really (Sage) Intacct and QBO. Now you've got a whole host of options. You've got Intacct, obviously, Sage is coming on strong, and Xero. Obviously, it's kind of the second tier. I've even got people coming to me now saying that they like Zoho and Wave and that marketplace certainly opened up much more than it was even five years ago.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Yeah, so a lot more choice. Most people that do outsourced accounting or client accounting services pick one, maybe two platforms to standardize on and if clients want to work with them - this is what they’re going to use. So it's interesting how strategic the tech stack has become to outsourced accounting.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Absolutely. The connectivity is the way that we deliver our services. And so whenever we're bringing on another client or whenever we're considering what our workflow is going to look like, it's got to be centered around data connectivity and what apps are going to connect with what.
Outsourced Accountants Need to Teach Their Clients The Value of Their Time When it Comes to Cost and Efficiency
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Cool. So that brings us to the focus for this episode around Bill.com, especially with being an early adopter of the platform.
What do you tell one of your clients who is brand new to using Bill.com? What's your favorite tip for beginners on how to get the most out of the platform?
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: It usually starts with the sales process. A great example is I brought a client on maybe two years ago now, when I was very early in my practice. And they've got a retail store and they're just writing tons and tons of vendor checks, and you know the conversation starts with ‘Well I spend eight hours every single month writing checks and I've got one of those big binder checkbooks with the stack checks, you gotta rip them off.’ And that's just crazy.
I mean, as a business owner, eight hours of your time is worth significantly more than whatever it is you're going to pay for Bill.com or pay to do electronic payments. It's a whole entire day out of your month and that's 12 days a year gone – basically just vanished into thin air. So that's usually where the conversation starts.
Larger type businesses have more employees and get started there with the conversation to start around approval workflows.
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But yeah that's one of the next selling points is approval workflows putting controls around your business, putting controls around cash and how cash moves and, from there, it's generally a pretty easy conversation. But, once you get agreement on that, you've got to think about well, it's a whole new world, it's a whole new workflow. How are we going to get data into Bill.com so we can efficiently process it, and efficiently get payments out. So we're not necessarily just shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic. We actually are creating efficiencies and that's one of the tricks to it.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: It sounds like a combination of thinking through their sales process, reminding your client entrepreneurs probably wearing a dozen or more different hats, that their time actually is a lot more valuable than they’re probably getting credit for.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Create efficiency, and put controls in place.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: So it sounds like a lot of it early on is mindset and business issues more than just using the software out of the gate.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Absolutely.
Removing Data Entry and Scaling with Software Allows for Greater Accountant/Client Collaboration
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: What do you tell somebody who's at the other extreme? So you're at an accounting conference and you're sharing war stories with somebody else who's got a similar practice in another part of the country, and you're talking about like your favorite stuff that you use Bill.com for, and you're trying to one up each other on who's got the best power user tip.
What's your favorite power user tip for Bill.com?
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Lately, I would say it's the automated invoice entry. That's a fairly new feature to Bill.com. Prior to that we were using another software where we would actually send the invoice to an inbox, kind of like what you would do with Bill.com; it would do the data extraction for the bill. And that's something that Bill.com has moved toward.
That's something that we're not fully there yet as far as replacing our old process, but that's something that's very powerful. It removes all the data entry, does the data extraction, and puts it into an automated workflow to do the approvals and all that stuff. It's just super powerful.
That's probably the best tip – anything that you can do to remove the data entry, whatever software we're talking about.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Yeah. It's interesting in larger firms, where they have the headcount in theory to be doing this – you’d think there'd be an enormous incentive to be thinking about this all time, and in a smaller firm the decision is do you hire a part time resource or do you hire a piece of software? And it's like efficiency. With software you can always scale so much more gracefully.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Absolutely. Software is vastly less expensive than hiring another resource.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: And just work from home, COVID-19, all this stuff is just forcing speed, 24/7 always on. It's just kind of forcing these issues.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Yeah, it is. We've seen a lot of that over the last month or so. It's really been interesting to kind of see how my business has shifted me. I started working from home. We have a virtual practice. This is how we operated. It is what it is. We haven't changed a bit.
And the last couple of years the conversation on occasion has been, ‘Well we're cloud-based and work from home’ and you get a little bit of pushback; folks want to come by the office and they want to see you and they want to bring you the thumbdrive with the QuickBooks desktop file on it.
And now it's almost like we have an excuse, like, ‘Well, you can't do that.’ Social distancing being what it is, we can't even take the thumbdrive now. So it makes the conversation a little bit easier. But I think now it's also accelerated the conversation quite a bit.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: As far as how we're going to operate going forward, and how we need to operate going forward, and why the way that we operate is so beneficial with cloud-based applications, the accounting data connectivity and the ability to work collaboratively, but be worlds apart, basically are key.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Yeah, if you think about a traditional CPA practice as recently as 10 years ago, there's always been a strong local bias. It’s why so many CPAs get on the board of the Chamber of Commerce and go out and do a lot of networking and golf tournaments and things like that.
But yeah, between cloud accounting and what's going on now, you gotta wonder, like how radically this is going to change everything? And there were already a lot of the building blocks in place around automation and machine learning and thinking about tech stacks.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Yep, absolutely.
The Biggest Tip for Bill.com Users: Maximize the Platform
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: So on Bill.com, when you have taken over clients that have worked with other firms in the past - are there any big mistakes that you see people making with how they're using Bill.com?
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Vendor naming conventions - that comes up quite a bit. One of the most common ones that I see, which is kind of interesting, when we talk about Bill.com we’re often talking about payables. But we don't talk about receivables.
And the reason why I bring that up Is I actually have a really interesting use case right now - a client uses Bill.com to pay vendors. They’re on QBO. QBO does not send automated invoice reminders. And when we're talking about invoices, we're talking about invoices that you would send your clients and the naming conventions get a little weird, depending on the software.
So invoices that you would send to your clients on the AR side don't do the automated reminders. They don't do the automated late fees or anything like that. So we've actually built automation for our firm that handles that on the QBO side for clients who do not have Bill.com.
Now, if you're a larger company and AR is something that you struggle with - you’re struggling to bring on that cash conversion cycle.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Bill.com’s a really great opportunity on the AR side, because it will do that automation, and it will nudge your clients and say ‘Hey look, you've got this outstanding invoice’ and you don't have to necessarily worry about it. Whereas if you're using just QBO, you've got to actually log into QBO, see what's outstanding, and then click the button. Anything that we can do to reduce the number of clicks or the amount of tasks that you have to remember to do on an ongoing basis - it's enormous.
So number one, naming conventions – we just see duplicated vendors, duplicated clients, really messy situations with sub vendors and sub clients and things like that, and Not utilizing AR.
And then actually the third thing that I'll say is just not understanding credits - vendor credits.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: They don't sync over, so you have to enter it on both sides. And we've seen a lot of issues with that. And that's one of the things you can help clients with immediately. Just making sure that they're utilizing it and making sure that data is syncing between the two.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: So these are refunds or overpayments or...
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: So vendor credit would be - really common examples, you receive an invoice for let's say it's $100. And then for whatever reason the vendor gives you a credit. So you're only going to pay $98. So you make the $98 payment, you put a credit in for $2. That credit for $2 doesn't sync between. I see that all the time.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: So it doesn't get into QBO or Intacct or whatever, right, unless you manually put it there?
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Yeah, vendor credits are the exception where you've got to enter it in on both sides.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: So vendor credits are something people overlook a lot. I hear very often that people are using Bill.com primarily or exclusively for AP and they don't even think about how it can help on the receivable side, and then really basic things with organization and naming conventions.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Yep, a lot of folks don't even realize that Bill.com does the AR side which is crazy. But it's a great feature to point out. I mean, you're already paying for the software, and you're already on the platform. You just get many more features on the AR side for Bill.com than you do with other accounting platforms.
Creating Insights for Your Clients Starts with Access to Accounting Data
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Cool, it's good to know. The final thing I want to ask you about today has to do with where you see the overall opportunity for using Bill.com and growing an accounting practice.
If you think about it like in a tech company, there'd be a product manager and product marketers and they're constantly talking to clients and trying to figure out untapped opportunities; they play with product roadmaps, pricing, and the product matrix.
If you had to wear that hat and think about being at a conference where people are on a panel asking, Where's the future? Where should outsourced accounting firms, outsourced bookkeeping firms, and CPA firms be thinking about utilizing Bill.com as a big part of their tech stack? Where's this all headed?
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: I'm going to give you hopefully an answer that's not too nuanced, but that's a really good example of why utilizing a digital AP software is important: Forecasting cash flow. And one of the big things that we've been talking about with our clients through this COVID-19 process - and just more broadly, one of the things that we talk about on a regular basis, is cash flow. And you've got to be proactive about forecasting cash flow through this, because you have to make sure that you get to the other side of this crisis, and the only way to get to the other side is to have cash.
Now how does that tie into Bill.com? If you've got paper invoices sitting on somebody's desk in your organization and you say to your accountant, ‘Well, we need to know what our cash flow is going to look like and who we’re going to owe.’ You’ve got to forecast all the outflows or for that matter the inflows if we just talk about the AR side.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: You're not going to know that unless you've got data sitting somewhere digitally. It's not like I can just come to your place of business, pick up the stack of paper off of the desk, and bring it back to my office and sort through it and stuff like that. Plus, it's going to be a couple days later before you've gotten any sort of a meaningful forecast. You can't do that.
If you could just run a simple report out of Bill.com and know who all the vendors are, because they've been sending their invoices to the mailbox, they're getting imported automatically and you know what your expected timing of the outflows is going to be, it now becomes incredibly easier to forecast cash flow.
So I'm hoping that that's not too nuanced of an answer. But I think that just the access to data is enormous. And it comes with a lot of benefits and opportunities. And that's not just on the Bill.com side, but more broadly.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: The tech stack for firms and for businessesneed to have that data connectivity. You need to be thinking about what kind of data sits in the various applications that you have and then how you can leverage that together in order to create more insights for that business, like a cash flow forecast, or an accurate cash flow forecast.
That’s going to actually help a business to get through a crisis like COVID-19.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: So from what I'm hearing, it sounds like it's a combination of real time access to data, and having data from all the sources of being totally digital, so there are no lag times, and there's nothing that's getting lost, especially when there are multiple locations. This enables you to get much better insight analysis recommendations, especially around something as sensitive as cash.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Yes. You said it much better than I did.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Sometimes it takes talking through some of these things to figure out the positioning and the strategy, but we know Bill.com is really a popular platform. But at the end of the day, you're doing things that work best for your clients, to deliver value to clients, and it's thinking through how to best explain that. Because they're not up at two o'clock in the morning worried about the tech stack that your firm is using. They might give you unsolicited opinions on it, but...
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Exactly. They want to see the baby. They don't want to be in the delivery room. And all that we’re hearing now as practitioners is ‘advisory advisory advisory.’
And one of the ways that you get to advisory, is having good data and understanding and being able to understand a client's business very quickly, and where they are, and what their concerns are. And if you can, cash flow forecasting. That's part of client advisory.
Helping a client understand their cash position - that's part of advisory. And helping them get through tough times, that's part of advisory. The only way to really get there is through better data and access to accounting data.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: It's all about the data. If you look at who’s dominating the economy right now - you've got Walmart and Amazon hiring 10s of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, and Facebook. If you look at who the next blue chip companies are going to look like over the next five to 10 years it's companies that are controlling data.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Data is the new oil. Right.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Yeah, we were talking before that Zoom’s the new ringtone. This has been excellent. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today about your favorite Bill.com tips and best practices and how it fits in with your accounting practice, and how it fits in with delivering more value to your clients.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Absolutely. I appreciate you having me on. It's been a lot of fun.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: What's the best way for somebody to learn more about your firm and to get a hold of you if they have any questions or comments?
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Email Chris at BetterWayCPA.com. We're out there and we are available and we're generally pretty good about getting back and following up with people, so you can reach out to me on any of those platforms and we'll be able to get back to you pretty quick.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: Oh this is awesome. Again, thanks for sharing so much great advice with our viewers, with our listeners, and with our readers; it’s been super helpful. I wish you great success in growing your practice.
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CHRIS HERVOCHON: Absolutely, appreciate it. Thanks so much.
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JOSHUA FEINBERG: You're very welcome.