Tim Sims has over 20 years of experience as an operational accountant and controller for companies in many different industries. After receiving his B.B.A in Accounting from Texas A&M University, Tim started working in QuickBooks by chance after encountering it in a client’s account in the ‘90s. From then on, Tim started working in QuickBooks and realized that he wanted to build his practice around the software.
Until 2010, Tim grew and worked in his own firm, where he went on to co-found Impact Financial Solutions and began to leverage technology. In 2018, Tim’s company merged with Whitley Penn, and he received the role of Accounting Services Senior Manager, working to build the CAS practice called “WP Edge”.
At Whitley Penn, Tim Sims specializes in accounting system design, accounting system implementation, financial reporting, and business process analysis and design. Tim has a passion for mentoring business owners to reach financial success.
In this episode, Tim Sims discusses his 20 years’ worth of experience, from starting his own firm, which began very CAS-centric, to merging with Whitley Penn, where he continues to help companies grow and excel in their financial reporting. Tim Sims shares where he thinks the future of outsourced accounting and CAS is headed!
In this podcast episode, you’ll learn how to:
- Go back to the basics of accounting fundamentals, which are critical to success;
- Focus on what you are good at when starting in outsource accounting;
- Discover what you don’t know to fill out your skillset;
- Learn when to say no to opportunities that are not right for you;
- Understand some of the barriers to figure out your tech stack; and
- Prepare for the future of outsourced accounting and CAS in a post-COVID world.
Watch the Podcast Interview
Listen to the Podcast Interview
- “I started working in QuickBooks, and it became apparent to me right away that that was going to be the tool that I was going to build my practice around.”
- Tim Sims’ advice for starting in outsourced accounting: “I'd ask them what they're good at. When I say, ‘what you're good at’, in terms of accounting, what types of businesses are you comfortable serving? And if there's one or two or three, is there a way to basically focus in on the types of businesses that you're really good at?”
- What Tim looks for when staffing the team: “I'm looking for specific skillsets. I'm looking for folks that have had experiences in some of the stuff that we're headed toward.”
- “It goes back to if it's something that I don't think we're going to be good at, or we don't think as a team that we're going to be good at, we will politely say no; we will politely direct them to another firm or to another place that they can go get the expertise that they need.”
- “We're right in the middle of it. Aren't we? If you think about COVID, and where we all are, there's been a push for some clients that were on the fence about moving to a more technological-friendly environment.”
A lightly-edited transcript follows below:
Joshua Feinberg: Hi, it's Joshua Feinberg from the AI in Accounting Podcast, and I'm being joined today by a very special guest, Tim Sims, from WP Edge, based in Texas—all over Texas!—Fort Worth, Texas, and Tim is the Accounting Services Senior Manager. Tim, thanks so much for joining me today.
Tim Sims: Yes, sir. Thank you for having me, Josh.
Joshua Feinberg: The way I usually like to start out with these interviews is to kind of understand your journey. How did you get to where you are career-wise? How was your team built within WP Edge, within Whitley Penn? How do you fit in with your team? Can you just give us a little bit of context as a foundation before we roll up our sleeves and talk a little bit more about outsourced accounting?
The Path from Discovering QuickBooks to Outsourced Accounting at Whitley Penn’s WP Edge
Tim Sims: That's a great question, Josh, and I love to tell that story, and I'll do my best to try to encapsulate it in a decent amount of time here. I started doing small business accounting coming out of controllerships out of the ‘90s. Basically, I tripped on an account that had this neat tool called “QuickBooks”, and I started working in QuickBooks, and it became apparent to me right away that that was going to be the tool that I was going to build my practice around, and it was cool to get to do that for a number of years on my own, as all the solo practitioners who are listening out there, they'll appreciate, you know, doing stuff as easy as you can, using technology, and so that was fun to get to do as a solo artist until about 2010, when I ran into a gentleman named Irfan Dossani, and we hooked up and kind of started a firm, and began to kind of leverage technology with, you know, the few staff members that we had, and our clients, and start trying to build something out of this, and technology really helped us. It allowed us to do some things that, quite frankly, big firms weren't doing for small businesses, and it allowed us to work on some very large accounts all over the world, as a matter of fact, from the little old shop we had in Dallas. How we got to Whitley Penn, where we are today is, we merged up with them in 2018, and so we've been with them for two years and working to build out their CAS practice—what we call “WP Edge”—and doing that the same way. Now, we have more people, so now, you know, we have more clients, more people to do accounting, and so we're continuing to basically frame out our tech stack such that it makes sense, both with what our clients are doing, what we need to provide in service to our client, in addition to what we have in terms of talent on the team.
Joshua Feinberg: That's excellent. So, when you were originally building the team, what were kind of the key pieces to ideally have for providing the kind of services you do to your clients?
Tim Sims: Well, I think the key members along the way that we tripped on—or, you know, we've merged with, or whatever we did—that were the best ones were the ones with the most accounting knowledge. Now, they were not typically the ones that had the most technological knowledge, but they were the most seasoned members, and they had accounting knowledge, and we'll talk about that in a minute. We're going to talk about a couple things, and one of the areas that was necessary was, it's one thing if the robot's doing something for you, but it's another thing to know what is the ultimate purpose of what that robot is doing? And so, having accounting knowledge is obviously first and foremost in doing that, and then adopting the skill of being able to say, "Well, if I know what the robot’s gonna do, if I know what is supposed to be said in the financial statements, and then I know how to get it in there, then how can I leverage the technology? Just make it easier for me to do that.” And so, that's where, along the way, technology will help you. You still need to have the accounting base knowledge of, you know, the assets equals liabilities, plus owner's equity. That never goes away.
Joshua Feinberg: Yeah. It's funny you mentioned that. We were doing a breakfast seminar in the fall, and that specific discussion question came up as the idea of, like, “Okay, we're hiring interns right out of school, and they're coming out, and they totally know the software, but do they really understand enough of the fundamentals of where all this is coming from, so they have the skepticism, the awareness to be able to question, like, ‘Is this correct? Does this make sense?’” Kind of like the old story of you go into the fast food restaurant, and the cash register's down, and you give them a 10, and they can't make change from it.
Tim Sims: That's a good analogy, Josh. I hadn't tied those two together, but that's really good.
Advice on Starting an Outsourced Accounting Practice
Joshua Feinberg: But yeah, fundamentals of accounting are critical. So, what advice would you give to somebody that is brand-new to starting in outsourced accounting or CAS practice on best practices if this is just kind of the foundational step?
Tim Sims: I'd ask them what they're good at. When I say, “what you're good at”, in terms of accounting, what types of businesses are you comfortable serving? And if there's one or two or three, is there a way to basically focus in on the types of businesses that you're really good at? Because if you can really do good accounting in a specific vertical—whether it be doctors, or lawyers, or whatever you're super familiar with—because some people are good at manufacturing accounting, or understanding inventory, and how that stuff moves around, but some people aren't, and so if you can focus on a particular practice, a vertical. I can't say that enough, quite frankly, and we're going to talk about that over and over again, I'm sure, on the call. But yeah, that's one of the first things that I would say is, “Focus on what you're good at. What are you good at?”
Joshua Feinberg: It's actually really interesting that you bring that up because in reading through websites of a lot of accounting firms, for starters, it's an education process just to see what real estate the CAS practice gets on the home page, how easy it is to get to in the navigation, how many different pages. But then it's not only really interesting to see what they call it, there's also—you're right; I've seen a lot of generalists, and then there's people that are running practices or at a senior level in these practices, that are specializing in a particular vertical. I imagine that's a big part of the efficiency and success out of the gate.
Tim Sims: And I realize, you know, in a bigger firm, you have lots of partners, and lots of different kinds of business coming in. But at the end of the day, a lot of times, that can be a detriment if you get somewhere, and all of a sudden, you have all these different, you know, clients, and it takes different skill levels and different expertise—different tools, even! And so, you might have one or two clients that are in these tools over here, but then you have 20 that are in a standard kind of situation, and so it really helps to do that. I'm not saying it's easy. And especially, when you're starting off, if you're a brand-new practice and if you're small, you want business, right? And so, you think, “Okay, I'm going to get it,” but you definitely don't want... well, I guess what you would then do is, okay, don't pick one you're not good at. You know what I mean? We’ve serviced them, and I have some other ladies on my team that service them better than me. But me, personally, when I was by myself, I don't want to touch inventory. I don't want to touch manufacturing. It's like, “No, I don't get that.” You know what I mean? It's just something that's not… I'd rather do a service-type-oriented business or whatever. But it's important to be able to say no to something if you feel like you're going to do it and really bomb out on it. If you're going to do it and learn it, and you're very good at doing that, okay, try it. But if you're going to bomb, you don't want to do something and then fail miserably in front of the client. That's for sure.
Joshua Feinberg: The person setting up the practice should kind of do some introspection, be a little self-aware, look at their resume, look at their LinkedIn, and see the verticals they're at. Do you also feel that's critical, as you're staffing up the team to apply the same lens? Or do you feel that it's only vital for the person leading the team to have that vertical experience?
Tim Sims: That's a great question. I think we're blessed right now and to be in a mode of, “If I'm hiring today, I'm looking for specific skillsets. I'm looking for, you know, folks that have had experiences in some of the stuff that we're headed toward.” And so, if it's strictly data input, you know, when you're hiring the kid out of school, and they don't really even know that they're using the accounting equation every day of their life, and you're going to have to teach it to them in the first place, then I would say, you don’t necessarily, you know, that's a different model, right? But if I'm hiring somebody with experience today, I would like relative experience. Does that answer your question?
Joshua Feinberg: So, it's kind of a nice to have, but you can't always hold out to get the perfect match.
Tim Sims: And sadly enough—I mean, I'm going to say this, and a lot of people might be listening to this and go, "Oh, you're wrong, Tim"; I might be—but CAS practice experience is not easy to find. It's not as easy to find, it seems, as audit skill practice, tax practice, tax department, that type of stuff. CAS department stuff is, so far, unique to me because frankly, the tax, and the audit kids, and the other groups, they don’t even know they don't do accounting. They don't do CAS accounting. I think the field out there is a lot smaller, and, if you think about it, if you go to a college curriculum, they don't teach CAS. You know what I’m saying? They're not focused on that; they're focused on tax department audit kids.
Joshua Feinberg: Yeah. No, it's pretty insightful. What I've seen, too, is a lot of larger firms don't provide it at all, or it doesn't get a lot of visibility, and then even in really small firms that provide it, there seems to be a lot of different definitions of what it actually is, depending on their size, and the client’s size.
Tim Sims: And that goes back to the focus. It's usually because we don't have a focus. So, we don't really talk about it that much because we just do this here, and we do this there, or the bigger farms are saying—it's so disparate that they're like, "Okay, we don't want to do that. We'd rather focus on the stuff that we can crank out.” Bottom line is that's not bad; we want to do what we're experts at, like I was saying earlier. But as far as CAS goes, that's all I've ever done. So, I don't know the others.
Joshua Feinberg: So, I imagine that drives a lot of standardization, which is good for efficiency and profitability. Is it something that you find a lot of CAS clients are asking you about, also? Like, "Hey, Tim, we're thinking WP Edge would be a great solution for us, but we're concerned. Have you ever worked with restaurant chains? Have you ever worked with utility companies? Have you ever worked with law offices?" Is that something they're asking about as part of their diligence?
Tim Sims: The astute business owners do. I mean, you got to think, in CAS practice, a lot of times, you get business owners that, they're just business owners; they don't know what they don't know, in terms of they know their business, and they just need accounting help. But being in a larger firm now for a number of years, you know, the clientele, the prospects that we get are typically on a larger size, and guys that have been there, done that in businesses, and they're redoing businesses. They're redoing things, and they ask those questions, you know? As far as looking for our expertise that we have. Again, being in a larger practice, we're blessed; we got a lot of experience, and so we can answer that question yes to a lot of that. But again, it goes back to if it's something that I don't think we're going to be good at, or we don't think as a team that we're going to be good at, we will politely say no; we will politely direct them to another firm or to another place that they can go get the expertise that they need because again, I don't want to fail miserably.
What CAS / Outsourced Accounting Looks Like 10+ Years In
Joshua Feinberg: So, shifting gears from somebody that's brand-new to CAS to somebody that has been in the space five, 10 years or more, what do you think is the most important insight or lesson you've learned over the years that would benefit them, as well, that may not be known as “widespread”?
Tim Sims: If you've been doing it for 10 years, and I'm going to go out on a limb here, and I'm going to say, “Okay, then you've been doing it in about the first 15 years of the concept.” You know? And I'm not saying it wasn't done back in the past, but it's been the past 20 years since it's really been—15 especially—the focus of outsourced accounting, so that means you've done it in the beginning, so, if you have, and you're there, if you haven't already done this, what it would be is organize your tech stack. What tools are you using? And organize your offering because you can do both of those: Organize your tech stack and your offering kind of together, and really look. You can gain so many efficiencies. And then, of course, that gets you to, as you gain efficiencies, if you haven't already gone to the model of the fixed-bill, you know, pricing versus variable pricing or hourly pricing, creating those efficiencies and creating that focus allows you to be able to do that, and you talk about being profitable; that's the best way to become profitable and still give your client fair pricing because fixed pricing is fair pricing. No matter how efficient you are on the backend, market pricing is market pricing. The service that we're providing our clients is worth something. Did I answer your question?
Joshua Feinberg: Yeah. So, standardization with both the tech stack, standardization with the offering, and how you package your services together drives efficiencies, and that's what’s allowing you to do fixed pricing, value pricing, as opposed to billing by the hour.
Tim Sims: I put a lot in that, didn't I?
Joshua Feinberg: In the details there, what tends to come up that trips people up with figuring out their tech stack? What tends to come up that trips people up with figuring out their offering?
Tim Sims: The client communication and adoption is one of them that happens that tends to be somewhat challenging. So, say you have a client; they've been doing business for a long time, and maybe they've been a client a long time, or they haven't been a client a long time, but they've been doing business a certain way in a certain tool, whatever tool that is—and I don't want to name one because that'd be disingenuous—let's say they're on an on-premise tool, and they're trying to get outsourced accounting. Well, if they're on an on-prem tool, and you're trying to do outsourced accounting, the first thing that's going to come up is, “Well, how am I gonna get access to the data? You know what I mean? Am I going to have to come to your office? Am I going to do the old-world thing?” And so, getting a client to change, being able to convince them that, “Hey, if you'll help us, and we can develop a process and a mechanism for you that's as good or better than what you have, and we can provide you a great service at a great price, and hey, guess what? You won't see us that much, either. That might be good, too, for you.” It's convincing the client that's okay. I mean, accountants aren't particular salespeople; you know what I mean? They aren't forward-pushing people in terms of being able to convince somebody to do something. So, that's one of the things they hate to do. Well, the barrier to that sometimes is getting both the people that have the relationship with the client, getting everybody to kind of adopt that, “Hey, we need to move toward these technologies and stuff.” That's been a big, major component of our growth, and then getting your staff—if you have an older staff—getting that staff to adopt new practices. You know what I mean? Going, “Hey, we're going to go this way now. We've been using all these tools, and we've got all this stuff going on, but now we're going to go to these more, you know, technologically-savvy tools, and we're going to start getting smarter.” And those are some of the barriers.
Joshua Feinberg: It sounds like a lot of behavior modification, or the business transformation that people talk about all the time, changing the culture.
Tim Sims: Your words, not mine. You said “behavior”. Sorry. But no, you're right. It is. That's clear. You heard that correct.
Joshua Feinberg: I did some interviews in the spring with specialists in Sage Intacct, and what I kept hearing across the board is nobody wanted to give up the spreadsheet, and there was such an enormous opportunity for them to figure out a way to, “Send me a screenshot; send me the spreadsheet because I'm certain that there's a better way to build it into the dashboards and build it into the reporting.”
Tim Sims: Yeah. That's definite.
Joshua Feinberg: Like the old pair of sneakers nobody wants to give up.
Tim Sims: Right, right, right, right. But they're so comfortable still! They have no support, but okay. Whatever.
Keeping the Accounting Equation Top of Mind to Avoid Missteps
Joshua Feinberg: So, when you have been taking over new accounts that have come from other firms, do you see any particular mistakes that are being made across the board that are just really cringeworthy that you're like, "Oh, here we go again"?
Tim Sims: You know, Josh, I would have to go back to what we talked about earlier—and I'm sorry to repeat myself; no new material here yet—the accounting equation never fails, and it's interesting; sometimes you would be surprised when you take over something from another professional, you're amazed at the lack of understanding of the accounting equation, you know, as it relates to financial statements and the financial reporting. That's a big one. A lot of clients that we get still, we get from antiquated software, or antiquated processes. Right? But often, with that comes antiquated processes, and then bad accounting. But we pride ourselves on fixing that and doing that, you know, with as much dignity as possible.
Joshua Feinberg: That comes down to better hiring decisions and keeping your technology stack current?
Tim Sims: Yep, and training. We've got to make sure our team is accounting-savvy. I'm pushing hard, you know, to keep that relevant. I don't want us to just get so used to the robot. We got to understand the reporting, and what it's saying. So, yeah. Definitely. That's the interesting mix that you really have today. You can find maybe some seasoned people that are really accounting-savvy. Man, they've been doing accounting and bookkeeping forever. They know that stuff; they know how to do it. But you put them in front of an Intacct, or QuickBooks Online, or something, and next thing you know, it's like, “What happened?” So, that's an interesting balance.
Joshua Feinberg: So, you mentioned something, too, with training I'm curious about. What's your take on CPE? Is that something where you think the framework in general fosters the right culture? Are people measuring the right tasks? How do you approach figuring out the right amount of professional development, or the right approach with your team?
Tim Sims: Well, that's funny you asked that question. We are working on, right now, just kind of rolling out some other new platforms in our firm, and it involves a training tool that we've adopted, and I've been impressed, and I just got to say this now: I'm not a CPA. So, not being a CPA, I've kept up with training by virtue of just being a video game player. I like technology. So, I'm going to go learn whatever's new. So, that's always been my thing. But the CPAs have to do the CPE, and I'm impressed by the way they seek out, "Hey, can I get CPE doing that?" And they'll learn something new, and they get to do CPE. So, we're working with a platform to where we're providing that tool to them, and it has a CPE component in there because we're trying to create a kind of a lifelong-learner mentality in our firm, and, by doing that, the CPE ties into that. Did I answer your question, Joshua?
Anticipating the Next Big Shift in Outsourced Accounting
Joshua Feinberg: Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So, the final area I wanted to ask you about today is where you see outsourced accounting, where you see client accounting headed in the next two, three years or so. Do you think there's any big change that's manifested itself in the last 6-12 months that we're going to look back now and be like, “Yeah, that was the big inflection point”?
Tim Sims: We're right in the middle of it. Aren't we? If you think about COVID, and where we all are, there's been a push for just some clients that were on the fence about moving to a more technological-friendly environment and moving to it. I think that there'll be a turn of accounting departments in certain types of businesses. In my opinion, again, I'm an outsourced accounting shop. I've been an outsourced accounting shop for—what? What'd I say? 15, 18 years now? So, obviously, I'm biased. But there's no more efficient way to do it then than to hire an outsourced accounting shop and get most of the work done efficiently. There may be some operational accounting, and some operational stuff that you need inside your business. But for the profession, I think we're just really just now getting to the really sweet spot of what's happening with Intacct, and what's happening with NetSuite, and what's happening with all these fun tools out there, and all this AI that we're getting to take advantage of. Outsourcing makes a lot of sense, I think, for any business, and that's what we're seeing. Prospects that are coming in. The savvy guys? They're like, "Oh, I won't do it any other way." They're just emphatic about it. They're like, “Oh, I won't do it any other way. I won't have my own accounting department, ever,” and they'll have controllers, which is good. We work well with controllers; we work well with CFOs, and it's often good to have that internal person to work with us. But at the end of the day, a lot of the legwork that we can do so much more efficiently, I mean, for the profession, I think the bigger boys are going to be in it, you know, and I mean, we're not a small firm by any means, but I think we're—what, top 40? And so, it's like, we're all-in. We're purposeful about it. It's fun for us, and we enjoy the client relationships, and so, with COVID, you know, it's like, everybody's realizing that, “We got to get to the cloud; we got to do this; we got to do that.” We had clients thanking us for you know, having had moved them to the cloud before: "Golly, we're so glad because we'd be just so lost without you." That was nice to hear; that's 15 years of work, 18 years of work. "Okay, good. That's good stuff. I'm glad to hear it. Let's do it for another 20. What do you think?”
Joshua Feinberg: So, that was the big accelerant for anyone that was still on the fence, thinking that cloud wasn't critical, and you think along the same lines that the outsourcing argument is even more strong than ever with the business interruption efficiency?
Tim Sims: Yeah and think about it: Your staff gets sick. You know? I mean, our staff gets sick, but we have redundancy. So, in an outsource model, that's the way it works.
Joshua Feinberg: It's like the sports team. Our hometown baseball team, 18 of the 30 players on the team got COVID, and then somehow, they managed to have a minor league system to bring them up and backfill all of that, and I guess whether it's employees that are going out on vacation, out sick, leaving, churn, what have you, or just protecting against more routine things: hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, all that good stuff.
Tim Sims: Selling for me, Josh.
Joshua Feinberg: Yeah.
Tim Sims: You're making my case, man. No, thank you.
Joshua Feinberg: Yeah. So, if we think about if we're to go back and take a snapshot of how a firm like Whitley Penn positions CAS on its website, and similar kinds of firms, and look ahead two, three, four years out, it's entirely possible that you're going to get a lot more visibility in general because firms are going to realize what we've been saying for a couple of years is a lot of firms see it as a really great foot in the door with startups in growing firms to be able to offer more complete services, some even getting into a lot of IT services. But just in general, there's a stronger argument for outsourcing than ever in the past.
Tim Sims: And, as you said, just to tack onto stuff that you said, there are other things, I think, that the accounting practices can outsource, and we have a strong technology shop in our business for our back office. But there are some things that we're going to be creating internally that ultimately could be used in an outsourced kind of capacity in the team, be used that way. So, that’s going to be interesting as to what-all gets outsourced via an accounting firm because again, it's a trusted profession. So, getting something outsourced from a CPA firm is trusted. Bottom line: It's a trusted profession, and so what services can we provide to those clients in the future? That will be interesting, and we're already having those conversations, you know, internally.
Joshua Feinberg: Yeah, and it's interesting, too, because that's a little bit more of my background is in managed services, IT services space, and we've seen for the last several years, they're becoming a stronger argument, and that totally makes sense, as accounting firms get into consulting on mid-market ERP, that, “Oh yeah, by the way, we should also talk about your cybersecurity plan and application development,” and then before you know it, you're running IT services, and you're right; there's enormous efficiencies where the sweet-spot clients that you want are, for the most part, the same sweet-spot clients that a managed service provider wants.
Tim Sims: We'll bookmark this, Joshua, and we'll look back on it a couple of years from now, and we'll see if we're right.
Joshua Feinberg: That's another very fragmented space where 80-90% of really, really small firms aren't great at scaling process efficiency, sales, marketing, and again, the hardest part is establishing the trust, the trusted advisor relationship. Tim, what's the best place for somebody to follow what you're up to on your team, learn more about you, learn more about WP Edge?
Tim Sims: You can obviously go to our website, WhitleyPenn.com, and WP-Edge.com is the best way to find us. We're on all the major LinkedIn, and Instagram, and all of those. There's a podcast that you can find at our website that we've been doing updates with the PPP program, et cetera. Find us that way. Research Whitley Penn, and we'll pop up everywhere.
Joshua Feinberg: Fantastic. Well, Tim, I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the AI in Accounting podcast with me today and share all your lessons learned from 15-20 years’ experience in originally growing your own firm that began very CAS-centric, and then merging in with Whitley Penn in 2018, and where you see the whole future of outsourced accounting and CAS headed.
Tim Sims: Thank you for having me, Josh. I appreciate it.
Joshua Feinberg: You're very welcome, and thanks for sharing.
Tim Sims: Sure.
What's your favorite outsourced accounting tip? And what did you find most valuable from Tim Sims's podcast interview? Let us know in the Comments section below.
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