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[Podcast] Outsourced Accounting for Nonprofits Best Practices with Faizan Younus at NCheng

Posted by The AI in Accounting Podcast on Feb 10, 2021 7:30:00 AM
The AI in Accounting Podcast

In this episode of the AI in Accounting Podcast, you will meet Faizan Younus, Senior Manager at NCheng LLP, based in the greater New York City area. NCheng LLP was founded in 1989, and they are dedicated entirely to serving the not-for-profit community.
They provide a full range of services, including audits, accounting, and financial management support. Their mission is to help lead their clients to long-term growth and success using sound, strategic management decisions. Their innovative use of cloud-based accounting has made them a respected leader in the not-for-profit community.

Faizan gives some great advice about client services and likens his relationship with his clients to that of a doctor and patient:

[Podcast] Outsourced Accounting for Nonprofits Best Practices with Faizan Younus at NCheng

“We are typically the doctors, and the clients are bringing us in because they need us to prescribe a solution for them, and … we need to be able to assess the situation at a higher level, and I think … what the main focus needs to be early on is to … separate what the client thinks they need, and what in reality they in fact need.”

Faizan also praises the use of cloud-based technology our current, socially distanced business climate:

“Don’t be afraid of technology. I think … what’s been highlighted by the pandemic is technology is going to be your greatest friend in these times. … Don’t be afraid of change. … Let technology work for you and just keep exploring what’s out there.”

In fact, Faizan is so impressed by the widespread adoption of cloud technology that he believes it will be a major player in changing the landscape of client accounting services, even in a post-pandemic world:

“I think we’re in an extremely special point in time, where technology and accounting are converging at an alarming rate. I think AI is a leader in that space … we are able to take AI and really use the data that we’ve been accumulating as accountants over time to drive automation. … The convergence of … data science and the accounting world is going to really be a game-changer … I see data science playing a bigger and bigger role in accounting in the coming years.”

Listen to the episode in full to learn more about the importance of:

  • Treating your relationship with your clients as a doctor-patient relationship by assessing your clients’ situation to understand the problematic finances and workflows they are currently experiencing, then prescribing them a full solution to help fulfill their goals,
  • Embracing change and the power to function remotely by using tools like vic.ai and Intacct, as well as project management tools, such as monday.com,
  • Taking a “nosedive” into how your clients operate and looking for things you can standardize and processes you can make more efficient right off the bat, and
  • Using your clients’ chart of accounts as a guideline to build the core competencies of your team and better service your clients in the long-term.
All this and more is discussed in this episode of the AI in Accounting Podcast. To learn more about Faizan Younus and contact him with any questions about client accounting services, you can check out his LinkedIn page.

 

Watch the Podcast Interview

 

Watch on YouTube: [Outsourced Accounting for Nonprofits Best Practices with Faizan Younus at NCheng]

 

Listen to the Podcast Interview

 

Listen to Apple Podcasts: [Outsourced Accounting for Nonprofits Best Practices with Faizan Younus at NCheng]

 

A lightly-edited transcript follows below:

Faizan Younus:

We are typically the doctors, and the clients are bringing us in because they need us to prescribe a solution for them, and more often than not, we need to be able to assess the situation at a higher level, and I think that's really what the main focus needs to be early on is to really make sure that you can separate what the client thinks they need, and what in reality they in fact need.

Speaker 2:

Welcome to the AI in Accounting podcast, which helps accounting, bookkeeping, and finance professionals prepare for the future of outsourced accounting and accounting technology. Plus, you'll learn how to use artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and machine learning to scale your accounting practice. Now, here's your host, Joshua Feinberg of Vic.ai.

Joshua Feinberg:

Hi, it's Joshua Feinberg from the AI in Accounting podcast, and I'm being joined today by a very special guest. I have Faizan Younus with me, who is a senior manager with NCheng in the greater New York City area. Faizan, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Faizan Younus:

Thank you for having me, Joshua; it's a pleasure.

Journey to Outsourced Accounting

Joshua Feinberg:

Pleasure's all mine. The first place I'd like to start today is to understand a little bit about your journey of how you ended up in your current role at NCheng. Did you go to school for accounting? Did you always know you wanted to be an accountant? And how does that fit into what you do on a day-to-day basis?

Faizan Younus:

I think I would love to say that I was that little boy that wanted to be an accountant when he grew up, but I think no one's that little boy. But I think I just fell into accounting. I went to school at Hunter College, and surprisingly—well, I guess, less surprisingly—NCheng was my first job out of undergrad. So, I started my career at NCheng. I would love to say that I stayed there for all these years, but I actually left NCheng early on because I wasn't really sure if public accounting was the “sexy” career that I wanted to be in, and after living in Shanghai, I did “corporate America” for some time. I worked at a Geller and Company, where I worked on BI solutions for Bloomberg and reporting around that. Then I left Geller because I wasn't sure if “corporate America” was as fun as working in a small shop, or a small PE fund, where I worked in oil and gas and just building out data models for acquisitions, and really working on efficiency building for a small PE fund based out of the Caribbean, and over that time, I really stayed in contact with everyone at NCheng. The managing partner in NCheng has been a mentor to me from the early years, and, at some point, about a year-and-a-half ago, they found an opportunity that really fit the skillset that I brought and really excited me. So, around September of last year, I came back to NCheng, and the rest is history.

Joshua Feinberg:

It's actually really interesting that you bring that up because I found in the course of hosting a couple of dozen podcasts interviews on client accounting service and outsourced accounting, that it actually is a fairly common pattern of starting out in public accounting, going out to private industry for a while, and then coming back into public accounting. The only big difference that I see is I usually see the people that are answering that being towards the middle-to-later parts of their careers, as opposed to early on, but it does seem to be a really powerful combination to have started seeing a little bit of it, gone out and worked in a handful of other companies, and then come back, and then—wow! A real powerhouse combination for advising entrepreneurs. And I know you do a lot of work with nonprofits.

Faizan Younus:

Yeah. I think the main, primary reason that I came back to NCheng is because the team is awesome. I mean, I've never met a group of people that want to give back to the clients the way the team at NCheng wants to give back, and it ends up really exciting you about the work, right? It excites you when people around you are so excited about really going above and beyond to make sure the clients are happy, and that's really the collaborative nature of that is what brought me back to public accounting. People think I'm crazy a little bit for coming back, but it's been such a joy, working with a team that's so committed to the missions of their clients, and, as you mentioned, we work primarily with not-for-profits. So, you get to work with a lot of different things that people are passionate about. I think that passion is really contagious.

Joshua Feinberg:

Yeah, and I imagine the year that we've just gone through has really tested the importance of having sound accounting and financial advice to keep nonprofits afloat in these times.

Faizan Younus:

For sure.

Advice for Outsourced Accounting Practices

Joshua Feinberg:

Yeah. So, the first big area I wanted to ask you about is for someone that's starting an outsourced accounting business, an outsourced finance business—either on a standalone basis or as part of a traditional CPA firm—what advice would you give to them to be thinking about in the first couple of years? Maybe it's someone you went to school with, and they want to pick your brains over coffee, or the virtual version of what we're doing now. And Faizan, what should I be thinking about to build a sound practice around this?

Faizan Younus:

Yeah, I think Nerou Cheng says this to me often, to everyone at the firm. So, I'm sure if this rings true for all these things, as we are typically the doctors, and the clients are bringing us in because they need us to prescribe a solution for them, and, more often than not, we need to be able to assess the situation at a higher level, and I think that's really what the main focus needs to be early on is to really make sure that you can separate what the client thinks they need, and what in reality they in fact need, right? As being in the field, it's really important to really assess the situation and understand the finances, and the workflows that you're coming into and separate that from what the client believes that they need to really be able to provide a full solution that helps them fulfill the goals for which they called upon you.

Joshua Feinberg:

Yeah, no, that's a really common thing I hear—not just among accounting, but just professional services in general—is the importance of that doctor-patient relationship, and not allowing the clients to self-prescribe themselves into a corner.

Faizan Younus:

Yeah, it's a challenge, and I think it's also a human approach. I think most often, we know what we want to achieve. And taking a non-accounting background and letting that dictate the direction; at the end, that creates some issues. But I think it's really important to be able to have open communication with the clients and really help them understand the bigger picture. When I used to speak to my clients, my focus is always entirely on empowering them so that each meeting that I have with them is helping them learn a bit more about accounting in a way that lets them differentiate, similarly to how an accountant would, really start bringing the forest from the trees, help them be better leaders in their space, and make really data-driven approaches and decisions.

Joshua Feinberg:

Yeah. I mean, that's another big area that just has become so important in the last couple of years is to see the accounting come together with technology, and data, and the critical role that's playing, and how the whole industry is being reshaped.

Faizan Younus:

It's my favorite part about this space that I'm in. So, after I left NCheng, I actually wasn't sure if accounting was for me. I got a Master's in Data Science because I loved data from early on, and then I got an MBA, focused on business analytics, also really driving that data-driven approach home because I knew that there was a balance, that a shift that was happening in the space, and really where we're heading is the need to really explore data at a higher level, and I think that's why we partnered up so closely with Vic.ai because it's allowing us to do things that aren't typically possible using the data that's already in-house.

Joshua Feinberg:

Yeah. It amazes me, too, when I think about it. I used to do SMB check consulting fairly early on in my career, and it was very common at the time that we would bring in a specialist on mass 90—which eventually got folded into Sage, and probably more of that has morphed into the Intacct tech stack over time—but it was very interesting that way back then, there was a whole separate discipline; they were usually former non-practicing CPAs who were getting involved in implementing ERP. Now, it's become a very core skillset that the same accountants that are helping with all the outsource to manage work, and client accounting services, are very heavily involved in selecting and implementing the technology stack.

Faizan Younus:

Yeah. I think accountants were the original data scientists. We've been doing this since the very beginning, and I think that it's all coming together into these times.

Getting Your Outsourced Accounting Practice Back on Track

Joshua Feinberg:

So, that's great advice for someone that's just getting started—especially focusing on the advisory relationship, the doctor-patient relationship. What about someone that's been trying to grow an outsourced accounting business, or an outsourced accounting practice, and maybe they're eight or 10 years into this, and it's been a really tough year; maybe they're heavily dependent on some verticals, some industries where their clients were really hit hard this year; they're feeling a sense of burnout, and they're trying to figure out how they reboot their practice. How do they get themselves and their team back on track? What advice would you give to someone in that situation?

Faizan Younus:

Yeah, I think, “Don't be afraid of technology.” I think that's really what's been highlighted by the pandemic is technology is going to be your greatest friend in these times—especially my firm on March 6th; we picked it up, and we went remote, and we haven't felt any bumps in the road. We were able to go remote because we had this technology means to be able to function remotely, using tools like Vic.ai and Intacct, and so, really let that dictate how you operate and really use those efficiencies that are built in. We use monday.com for our project management, and that's how we're communicating; that's how our workflows are being done, and that's how we do our work plans. But really, let technology work for you, and it's tough to shift gears—especially how you operate. When you operate a certain way for a number of years, you think that's the only way to operate. And don't be afraid of change. You don't reap in change. Let technology work for you and just keep exploring what's out there. Now, I think the data approach that I mentioned earlier is really the way to go; it’s to take a nosedive into how your clients are operating and look for things that you can standardize, right? Looking at the chart of accounts, really nailing that down to the things that you do in fact need, and not things that you don't need and using that to build some economies when it comes to working with different clients and building the core competencies of your team.

Joshua Feinberg:

One of the common themes that I tend to see is that most of the people that I've talked to for this podcast generally were ahead of the curve on cloud accounting, and cloud technology, and I've wondered: Is that because the industry as a whole was largely there a year ago, when they were really well positioned to be able to weather this? Or I'm wondering whether it's an adverse selection. And who would naturally want to go on a podcast to talk about AI in accounting? Generally, those that were on the curve on that technology. What are your thoughts, when you look at other outsourced accounting firms, other CPA firms? Do you think most groups were in really good shape for cloud themselves?

Faizan Younus:

I think cloud-based accounting has been happening for some time now, and Intacct has since shifted their pricing, but early on, it was a really good value for the clients. So, I think there's a shift happening. I think cloud-based accounting has been happening for some time now, but I've seen a shift amongst my peers that they're beginning to use some more tools to help them locate the work: tools like Vic.ai, tools like things for project management. I think the base layer has been cloud-based accounting, and people have been in this space for some time, but to think past that has been a challenge for most of the firms that I've been in contact with.

Joshua Feinberg:

In other words, they consider that because they moved to Intacct, or because they moved to QBO, or something like that, that they were all set, and there wasn't more work to do.
Faizan Younus: Yes. People think that they're disrupting technology industry standards by being on a cloud-based solution, which may have been the case about a decade ago, but things are so nimble now; they're shifting so fast.

Joshua Feinberg:

What do you do to keep your skills sharp with all of this?

Faizan Younus:

I like learning; I really like going into it. It excites me to look at new innovation in this space, and I'm always thinking about, “How can I use this to make my work more efficient?” and, “How can I use this to empower my clients firstly?” Secondly, my staff. The general idea for me has always been creating efficiencies for both my clients, as well as my team, and when I see a new technology, that gives me ideas. The excitement is really what keeps me doing this space.

Joshua Feinberg:

It's keeping you and your team more efficient and being able to deliver more value to clients.

Faizan Younus:

Exactly.

Joshua Feinberg:

Yeah, definitely two fairly simple criteria—or at least, in theory, seems simple—and then just figuring out after you evaluate the tool, and the platform, and the value proposition, how well it does.

Faizan Younus:

Yeah.

Mistakes in Outsourced Accounting

Joshua Feinberg:

Cool. Another area I wanted to ask you about today is when you take over a new client—either where they're handling accounting and bookkeeping internally, or maybe they were working with another provider—what's the biggest mistake you see across the board when you're onboarding new clients that you're often trying to correct as rapidly as possible?

Faizan Younus:

I think, usually, the biggest mistake I see is trying to fit their existing chart of accounts, or the existing books, into the new books, and really leaving your mark on the books, right? So, when I onboard a new client, I typically try to move them into a new accounting system. Typically, our tool of choice is Intacct because it's so efficient, and when we are intervening at that partner’s firm for a very long time, that really allows us to assess what's gone in the books for, let's say, how many years, and curate. I think the user experience is really relevant here. So, I want to curate the viewpoint for the client and really give them the tools that they need. So, well, more often than not, over history, over time, you end up having 500 chart of accounts that are not relevant but switching systems allows you to fix that issue and really curate the user experience for the client and give them the four revenue counts they may need. Let's say about 50 expense accounts so that they are more focused on the things that matter, and we're not getting lost in detail.

Joshua Feinberg:

So, it sounds like there's an analysis and decluttering exercise that goes on with their chart of accounts to help them focus on what matters most, and probably something that whoever was overseeing their accounting and finance before just didn't pay enough attention to.

Faizan Younus:

Yeah, typically, we get called in because there is an issue with how the books were being handled before. So, it's a part of our core onboarding to really take a deep-dive into how the books were being maintained and adjust that before we go live with a new system so that we can really train up the client to make better data-driven approaches and focus on the things that they actually want to stay.

Future of Outsourced Accounting

Joshua Feinberg:

That's great. So, the final area I wanted to ask you about today is to get your thoughts on where the future of outsourced accounting, outsourced financing, client accounting services, where it's all headed. Is there something that you see going on right now that we're going to look back in 12, 18, 24 months from now and be like, "Oh, yeah, that was the big inflection point that changed everything?” Have any thoughts on that?

Faizan Younus:

Yeah, I think we’re in an extremely special point in time, where technology and accounting are converging at an alarming rate. I think AI is a leader in that space, right? We are able to take AI and really use the data that we've been accumulating as accountants over time to drive automation. So, if you think about the things that accountants have been doing historically over the last decade, most of them are data-driven approaches, right? When I first train someone to do a bill, I say, "Look at how the bill was paid last time and use that to drive how you pay it this time." We're doing that with Vic.ai Library, having the system look at how the bill was paid last time; they only got drive-outs paid this time. So, just the convergence of the data science, and the accounting world is going to really be a game changer: how we are managing our file storage, how we do reporting, how we do our accounts payable. So, I see data science playing a bigger and bigger role in accounting in the coming years.

Joshua Feinberg:

So, at some point, in 10, 15 years out, there's not going to be anyone who even remotely remembers green ledger paper, adding machine tape, spreadsheets. It's interesting; I did a series of interviews on Sage Intacct back in the spring, and two or three people said one of their most important things they do early on is they challenge clients to send them their trickiest Excel sheet, or Google spreadsheet, and they say, “I want to make this relevant by figuring out a way for the dashboards and the reports to handle it right in Intacct.”

Faizan Younus:

Yeah. I love Excel, so hopefully Excel never goes away, but we'll see.

Joshua Feinberg:

Got a lot of rich history there.

Faizan Younus:

Yeah.

Joshua Feinberg:

Going back to the early 1990s, and the early days of 16-bit Windows. I think maybe even an early version of the early stuff was even happening prior to that.

Faizan Younus:

Microsoft's been doing a lot to keep relevant stuff, building out their Power BI platform—which I'm a big fan of—and the Power Suite, and I think they're doing their best to stay relevant in the data space. So, I'm excited to see what they bring to the table because they're really focused on the finance use cases, and they've come out with some really nasty things in the last couple of months.

Joshua Feinberg:

Yeah. They've gotten a lot of really great feedback in the last year or two for reinventing themselves on a lot of fronts between data, cloud, mobile, gaming, who would have thought 25 years ago that Microsoft would have been a leader in gaming?

Faizan Younus:

Who thought?

Joshua Feinberg:

Cool. Faizan, what's the best way for someone to learn more about the work that you do at NCheng, or if they have any questions and want to reach out to you? Got any particularly good websites, or social media, LinkedIn, anything like that?

Faizan Younus:

Yeah. I love to have conversations about accounting, or data, so I'm sure, Joshua, you'll send out my LinkedIn URL, so they'll have access there. Reach me on our website. They're focused on the nonprofit space, and we are 100 employees strong, and again, it may be fluffy, but really, it's a group of people that really care about the needs of the client, and we actually hosted the webinar. We'll be hosting more soon, so I'll be sure to forward that to you, Joshua, and maybe you can forward that to your list.

Joshua Feinberg:

Yeah, I saw that. It looks like a couple of weeks ago, you had a great webinar on the state of thoughts on technology, a virtual event. I saw it at a segment, too, on the benefits of outsourced accounting.

Faizan Younus:

Yeah, the pandemic has opened up communication in some ways, and that's exciting, to be able to address a larger group of people without really needing to be there in person. That's also a disruption in the space.

Joshua Feinberg:

Yeah. Whether it has been five or 10 years of progress in e-commerce and digital transformation in the last seven or eight months, and everyone's speculating, “Is this going to roll back when this is done, and it's safe to go back out and about again?”, and it's anyone's guess, but I remember after the real estate recession, after the dot-com bubble burst, after 9-11, all of these things drove a lot of change in personal habits, and professional habits around travel and communication, and yeah, there's definitely been some silver lining to all of this, as well.

Faizan Younus:

For sure. I, for one, can't wait to meet you in person, Joshua, so hopefully, one day, we can plan that out.

Joshua Feinberg:

It's been overdue. I think it's been the better part of a year now since I've been in Manhattan, so I'm looking forward to getting back into the city again soon.

Faizan Younus:

That's for sure.

Joshua Feinberg:

Cool. Yeah. Excellent. Well, Faizan, I really appreciate you taking the time to join me today on the podcast. I've been speaking with Faizan Younus from NCheng, Senior Manager, based in the greater New York City area, and I really appreciate you sharing all of your wisdom with us on the podcast.

Faizan Younus:

Joshua, it’s my pleasure.

Joshua Feinberg:

My pleasure, as well.

Speaker 2: Thanks for listening to this episode of the AI in Accounting Podcast. To subscribe and leave a review, check us out at blog.vic.ai, or wherever you like to consume podcast episodes, including Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, and YouTube.

 

What's your favorite outsourced accounting tip? And what did you find most valuable from Faizan Younus' podcast interview? Let us know in the Comments section below.

Learn even more about client accounting services (CAS) when you download the free report: The State of Client Accounting Services and Outsourced Accounting.

 

Download your free copy of The State of Client Accounting Services and Outsourced Accounting.

 

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