NH Semmens & Sons Limited is a fourth generation dairy farm located in the far west of Cornwall at St. Levan where the family has farmed for more than a 100 years. The business produces 1.8 million litres of milk from a herd of 200 cows which together with followers (young stock intended as replacements for the production herd), and some beef cattle brings the livestock total to around 550.
The three directors comprise husband and wife Adrian and Ann Semmens and their daughter Emma who handles the bookkeeping and accounts. In May 2018 the business appointed PKF Francis Clark to manage their company accounts, tax returns and personal tax returns for the three directors. In addition, the firm introduced the farm to Xero cloud accounting and a much smarter way of working.
We spoke to Director Emma Semmens (ES) and Georgina Stephens (GS), an Agricultural Senior and cloud accounting specialist at PKF Francis Clark, about how cloud accounting has transformed the way they do business.
What triggered you to consider cloud accounting?
ES: “As a business, we want to move with the times and be proactive in anticipating and accommodating new rules and regulations so we needed a better ‘real-time’ picture of where we are. We were looking to change accountants. We had been with our previous accountants for a number of years and the business had expanded quite quickly and we had outgrown them. We spoke to Brian Harvey at PKF Francis Clark whom we have known for a number of years through the farming community and the Young Farmers. We knew about the firm and the quality of their agricultural practice and we knew of a couple of farming colleagues who had recently switched to them.
“At the time we were using two different bits of software, one for farm management and one for the accounts and Brian suggested using Xero. Georgina came down and showed us how it works and we were really impressed with it. We haven’t looked back since.
“We wanted to simplify what we were doing. We wanted to have something that combined the two bits of software we were using, to make VAT returns easy, do the payroll and to be more up to date with what we are doing. I was personally taking our VAT details to our accountant in Penzance and Xero cut that out completely.
Did you have any concerns about cloud accounting?
ES: “Not really. The way that Georgina showed us how it worked answered all the questions that we had and the subsequent support they have given us has been fantastic.
How long was the process between being introduced to the software, the training and implementation?
ES: “Not very long at all – I’d say a couple of weeks. Georgina came down and we did the first VAT return together and the next one I did myself and, being cloud based, I was able to get Georgina to check it in no time at all. It just saves so much time and makes it so much easier. The information is up-to-date all the time.
Is the remote access important to you?
ES: “On a simple level, knowing that we can access our accounts from any computer anywhere is massive for us. It’s also immensely useful when you’re out and about and need to check a figure. I was once able to check and verify a figure for HMRC while standing on a cliff edge.”
Has using Xero proactively improved what you do?
ES: “Absolutely. All the data is there. It’s in the right boxes so we can ask the right questions. Francis Clark’s time is spent advising us instead if inputting all the figures. It has easily more than halved the time we used to spend on paperwork.”
How would you describe your relationship with Brian and Georgina?
ES: “It is different but much improved on the type of relationship we had with our previous accountant. There is strong trust in the relationship. We are on the same page and we know where we’re going. There are, in fact, less conversations because there is less need to talk. When we do need them, even if it’s something not directly related to the accounts, Francis Clark has such a wide range of specialists that can help us.
“I find Francis Clark to be very forward-thinking and proactive. The information they provide is absolutely trustworthy and solid and that gives us immense confidence in the decisions we have to make. Brian’s wealth of knowledge of the sector is well-known but he also brings up things which are off-topic but relevant to us and he will pass these on which is fantastic because it is often something we haven’t even thought about.
How else has Francis Clark changed the way you work?
ES: “Dairy farming is very volatile at the moment and we wanted the ability to forecast and plan, to take a look at how the business would be without subsidies and whether we would have the resources to purchase anything we needed. So Georgina introduced us to Figured, a farm management software that’s compatible with Xero and helps us to budget, monitor, forecast and produce cash flow analyses and this has helped immensely especially in establishing what’s viable and what’s not. It has made us more confident in our decision-making.”
Georgina, what for you is the big advantage for farmers using Xero?
GS: “Farmers are not too interested in paperwork and bookkeeping is often over-complicated. I really like showing them that using the right software can make bookkeeping and accounts relatively straightforward and non-stressful. Software queries are just a phone call away where previously we would have booked an appointment and driven down to St. Levan to have a face to face meeting. It keeps time down, reduces costs and is quick and easy.
“From Francis Clark’s point of view, we are utilising the time our clients are paying for within an agreed budget much more effectively. Safe in the knowledge that the figures are correct, we can utilise the time to provide more advisory work such as potential tax savings. “
Does PKF Francis Clark learn something from introducing cloud accounting to clients?
GS:”Without doubt. No two businesses are ever the same. There is always a slight quirk that differentiates them and there are always individual barriers to overcome but this makes it very interesting. What we learn with one business is often transferable to another one.”
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Call Georgina Stephens on 01872 276477 or email email@example.com