Putting financial controls in place to successfully outsource the finance function of a PR agency

This is a story by the founders of App Advisory Plus: Will Farnell, Founder of Farnell Clarke, and Frances Kay, Client Services Director at Farnell Clarke.

Farnell Clarke is a technology-focused accountancy practice based in Norfolk. As we offer digital services our clients can be located anywhere, but most of them are based in Norfolk and London. This Chartered firm provides all the essential accounting services (such as payroll, bookkeeping, annual accounting, tax, personal tax return, management accounts and forecasting) but has quite a niche personal tax team as well. We also do software implementation, including training, and deliver consultancy to other accounting firms.

Essentials for outsourcing the finance function

Farnell Clarke has a lot of clients that have outsourced their entire finance function to us. We make payments for them and do their bookkeeping. This scenario absolutely demands a system which ensures that all proper approvals and controls are in place. For this, ApprovalMax is our go-to tool. It lets us collect client approvals for payments remotely and fully digital. Perfect!

Sorting out finances for a PR agency 

The first client who entrusted us their whole finance function is a PR and communications agency based in London. They spend money mainly on creating and placing marketing materials related to their customers, hiring venues as well as organising event catering. All these costs need to be assigned to the individual customers, in order to keep a close eye on the budget.

When we took over, our client was working with Access Dimensions – not a cloud accounting software. Someone from the accountancy firm they were using at the time came in every couple of weeks to do the bookkeeping and raise purchase orders. But nobody in the agency really knew what he was doing, or why he was raising those purchase orders.

Setting up an app stack for bill automation

It soon became obvious that the PR agency’s spend control process required optimisation. The company just had a credit card lying around in the office for everyone to use, so nobody knew who made which purchase. When Farnell Clarke had questions regarding who would approve payments, the client’s administrator was not always able to give an answer. They just didn’t have a spend approval process in place, and no tracking either.

To solve that, we replaced the credit card with Soldo and implemented Xero, Receipt Bank & ApprovalMax. This app stack became the foundation for building a transparent, convenient and efficient bill automation process for the PR agency.

There was some initial training required to get things going smoothly because, now, it’s the agency’s team who raise the purchase orders and they had to learn how to select the right codes and suppliers. But they soon got the hang of it. 

Spend control along with easy purchasing – a new era

With ApprovalMax, there is a streamlined and clear approval process for purchase orders that get authorised by certain employees of the agency, depending on which customer the purchase is for. 

Approval levels are based on bill amounts and particular managers on the client side. If a certain amount is exceeded, the director needs to approve. Their processes are also not linear because each employee can make purchases for different customers. 

This is where ApprovalMax is great – it adds the inventory element to Xero and enables tracking, which brings much better control to the approval workflow. It also enables matching of purchase orders and bills.

The agency’s director just loves the audit trail – if something is not quite right, they can easily find out why and get it sorted.

Top benefits achieved

For our client, regaining control is the key benefit. They can see what’s been ordered at any given time and have a clear policy of who can buy what, and when. ApprovalMax makes both this process and the rules work. Plus, the setup is very simple.

For Farnell Clarke ApprovalMax is truly awesome because it enables us to be an outsource function. We would not be offering clients supplier-payment services if we couldn’t get their internal approval beforehand. So, in this respect, it’s down to ApprovalMax that we can extend our offering.