When Nick Cheng joined the Hong Kong-based accounting firm Fresh Accounting (Fresh) in 2015, accounting software was a relatively new concept in the Asian region.
“It’s funny thinking about it now, but back then we’d actually have to educate clients about Xero, about Spotlight Reporting, and the huge benefits of using these systems,” remembers Nick.
Since then, he and the team at Fresh have been leading the accounting software charge, and have been pioneers of digital transformation in Asia. They embed software like Spotlight Reporting into their clients’ financial processes, completely transforming the way they strategise for the future.
“When we present their data in a graph or a dashboard in Spotlight, clients better understand what we’re trying to present,” says Nick. “Having pie charts, graphs, the different colours lets them visualise what’s happening behind the numbers. They get way more information through a Spotlight report and that gives them a better feel for the data and ultimately what’s really happening in the business.”
Pioneers of Asian Cloud Accounting
Fresh Accounting, founded by veteran accountant Paul Gardner, was designed to be cloud-first—so much so that they were the first Spotlight Reporting users in the region, and one of the first 10 Spotlight users globally. They’re a pioneering firm for cloud accounting in Asia, and specialise in embedding accounting software in their clients’ financial processes. As such, they’re in high demand.
Throughout his career, Nick has been an integral part of the rise of accounting software. Where once he and the Fresh team would have to persuade reluctant clients to make the switch from hardcopy reports, they’re now seeing their clients save time and grow exponentially off the back of technology like Xero and Spotlight Reporting.
One of Fresh’s biggest digital transformation stories involves a multinational company called Design Worldwide Partnership (DWP), a global architectural and design firm with 16 studios in 11 different countries. DWP’s CFO had a big problem on his hands – it was taking him two weeks to compile a 50-100 page monthly consolidated report in Excel—a messy and untenable situation. He knew there had to be a smarter way to compile his consolidated reports, so he began looking for better ways to create efficiencies, reduce manual labour, and ended up engaging Fresh to help with the transformation.
“People need to realise that they need to abandon the old ways of thinking, like doing things in Excel, or even just ignoring the need for consolidated reports.”
Nick and the Fresh team travelled to DWP’s headquarters in Hainan, where they spent several days workshopping tech solutions for the CFO’s various pain points. Once they understood DWP’s objectives, they presented Spotlight Reporting as a solution: Spotlight Reporting’s capacity for multi-currency consolidations meant that DWP’s CFO could compile reports with the same information as before, and save him 35 - 40 hours each month, compared to doing it the slow and manual way. The time-intensive, manual Excel process was replaced with Spotlight’s automatic calculations, leaving the CFO free to focus on analysis and business strategy.
“The good thing about Spotlight was that it was flexible enough to accommodate all their needs,” says Nick. “The Spotlight team collaborated with us. They were very helpful in customising some of the pages we couldn’t format ourselves, and the resulting report was very good.”
As for DWP, their new streamlined monthly reports are well-received. Instead of a hundred pages worth of spreadsheets, their board now receives a clean, clear, and concise Spotlight Report, with all the information they need to make crucial decisions.
The Future of the Region
“People need to realise that they need to abandon the old ways of thinking, like doing things in Excel, or even just ignoring the need for consolidated reports,” says Nick. “Accountants need to focus more on advisory and communication; how can they communicate the financial information to their clients? It’s not just about accounting anymore, it’s about meeting expectations.”
“Having pie charts, graphs, the different colours lets them visualise what’s happening behind the numbers. Clients get way more information through a Spotlight report.”
As a former tax accountant, Nick is all too familiar with the Excel drain on time and energy. He made the switch to advisory, and joined Fresh Accounting, because he’s always wanted to support businesses in reaching their goals. Through Spotlight Reporting, he’s able to realise his vision: businesses are able to visualise their financial situation clearly and precisely, leading to more informed decision making, and better outcomes.
“It’s been a really crazy journey, seeing how Spotlight, Xero, and Fresh can morph from smaller companies into much bigger companies, with far more users,” says Nick. “The last six years have given me lots of opportunity to see how the system works, and how the accounting industry develops. It’s been a very good experience, and I’m looking forward to what comes next.