Partner Pages 2020: Accounting for farming’s future

Welcome to Partner Pages: a magazine made up of stories from the Xero Partner community, for the Xero partner community and shared as part of Roadshow Australia each year.

By Simon Groth, Director, Rawson Baker Advisors, New South Wales

Having grown up on a cattle farm in regional New South Wales, accountant Simon Groth knows the trials of working on the land better than most. And while he may not have followed in the family footsteps, he’s able to bring insights from his background to his role serving local farmers through technology-enabled advisory services.  As his home town of Tamworth and the surrounding area enters its third year of drought, Simon is helping his clients find big support from a small and somewhat unexpected source: the phones in their pockets. 

Sometimes, you don’t find your niche; it finds you. At least, that’s what happened to me a couple of years ago after resigning from a large regional firm. Together with my business partner Andy, we knew there had to be more we could be doing to support our stressed out and struggling agricultural clients. Informed by our own personal experiences, we spotted a gap in the market for cloud-based accounting services that catered solely to farmers and regional businesses. 

So, we went out on our own and started Rawson Baker Advisors. Complete with a first-hand understanding of the unique pressures our clients face, we haven’t looked back since. 

With the majority of people who work the land in this country feeling in equal parts overwhelmed and concerned, being mobile makes a real difference. Clients tell us that the financial forecasts and cash flow updates they get on their phones have proven invaluable when planning under pressure. And they say that Xero and its integrated apps are quick and simple enough for those who aren’t ‘overly computer literate’ (in the words of one our cattle graziers).

Cash flow in the cloud

While media images of drought focus on parched yellow-brown fields and sun-bleached animal skulls, a lower crop or cattle yield is only half of the equation. The cost of inputs also soars. Which means that farmers are having to pay more for scarce water supplies and buy grain or hay to replace the withered grass in their paddocks – all the while finding a way to make regular debt payments to the bank. 

As a result, their main challenge is managing cash flow. Thankfully, cloud technology has been an enormous help. To provide our farming clients with the support they need, we’ve connected them to both Xero and the agricultural app Figured. 

Figured is a cash flow, forecasting and planning tool built especially for farmers. It tells them where their revenue is coming from, where it’s going, and what cash flow will look like over the next 12 months – all the while integrating with powerful farm management software AgWorld (for cropping) and AgriWebb (for livestock). Figured then pushes that data into Xero where farmers get a 360-degree view of production and finances on their phone or computer. And because the data is stored remotely, it can easily be modified while they’re out in the middle of a paddock.

Safe to say, it’s a far cry from the method that my father, a cattle farmer in Rocky Creek, used a generation ago. 

A niche in need

Today, our accounting firm in Tamworth has about 50 clients farming cattle, cotton and other broadacre crops – everything from barley to wool and livestock. Our innovative business model has attracted the attention of national accounting firms, which have consulted with the team on how to best serve the farming sector.

The thing is, it’s not just farmers who appreciate the cloud-based tools we’re connecting them with. Lenders like them too. Banks typically want a 12-month cash-flow forecast when they perform a debt review. These forecasts are a pain point for many farmers, and most accountants lack the agricultural expertise to create them. 

Many of our clients have debt, and some of them have no choice but to go back for more. The intuitive technology we provide allows them to have a proactive conversation with their lender, rather than waiting until things reach crisis point.

City experience, country service

The key to our success is providing big firm experience complete with warm, country service. Our advisors always visit new clients at their farms in order to gain a thorough understanding of their operations. They then sit down with them every quarter to discuss the numbers captured in Figured, Xero, and document management software like Hubdoc.

We actually get out on the road, go on a farm tour, and stop for countless cuppas and scones along the way. Our clients stretch from Walgett to Walcha, and we draw on our vast experience in the sector to offer every single one of them a tailored and comprehensive array of services. 

We figure we’re a few years ahead of any other firm in this region with our tech-based approach. Late last year I took part in a workshop with larger firms after an AgQuip field day (something like the Xerocon of the farming industry), where we discussed how to best implement farming-specific software with clients. 

This may be our competitive advantage, but we’re more than happy to share our insights. It’s a tough time for the region, and I genuinely believe that our work helps local farmers sleep at night. As long as they know that their finances are in order, then that’s one less thing to worry about.

My tips on finding a gap in the advisory market

  • Read up on apps: Few of my farming clients knew about Figured, but now they tell me they couldn’t survive without it. It’s up to you to find the apps to fill the gaps in your clients’ business models.
  • Hit the road: There’s only so much you can accomplish from the office. You’ve got to get out and visit clients on site to really understand their business. This way, you’ll discover opportunities to add advisory services you might not have otherwise considered.
  • Learn from others: If you’re a smaller boutique firm, attend events with the bigger players. And vice versa – larger firms can learn from smaller, (sometimes) more nimble ones about emerging trends that escape their notice.
  • Always look to the future: Try and see technology as something to be embraced rather than feared. With this approach, you’ll be able to dream up all-new ways to support your clients.

Help your clients cut costs where it counts

The Small Business Energy Check is on hand to help you support your clients at times when every cent counts. It’s a free, independent online tool commissioned by the Australian government and based on aggregated, anonymised data from Xero Small Business Insights (SBI). Stop small businesses paying more than they need by comparing their energy spend with similar players in their industry and location. You can find it at the Check your energy spend website: https://checkyourenergyspend.com.au/.

 


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