PKF Australia grows their Hospitality business with specialised advice and technology for the industry

PKF Australia have been using Lightyear with several hundred hospitality clients throughout Australia since Lightyear was launched in September 2018.

We spoke with Anthony Sullivan, Lead Partner of Hospitality at PKF Sydney to get the lowdown…

Anthony Sullivan

Lead Partner Hospitality Division

What is your business, and why has it become so successful in the Australian marketplace?

PKF Australia is a group of like-minded, independent firms focused on providing quality service to decision makers in business.  In total, we have around 100 partners, and 750 or so staff located in most of the major metropolitan in Australia, which allows us to get very hands-on and involved in our client’s financial lives.

How did you hear about Lightyear, and how long has your team been using it?

We first met Roger and Chris back in 2012, through their previous Accounts Payable automation product, invitbox. Back then, PKF were engaging with our customers (and other industry leaders), and together re-imagining what a modern accounting and advisory practice would look like. We very quickly realised that Accounts Payable processing was one of the major burdens that was impacting our client’s bottom-line. Back then, paperless solutions demanded paper-handling and scanners. The Lightyear approach to AP automation challenged the accepted norms, which first and foremost transformed the customer’s AP lives, but also allowed us as a firm to become incredibly efficient at working with the clients. That mindset of ‘change the way you do things’ resonated with us.

Outsourcing Accounts Payable and other back-office support/advice services has generally been labour-intensive for the professional services firm offering them.  How has Lightyear helped you and your clients get so efficient?

Every firm has their own way of providing services to their clients, and the services they offer are driven by the expertise of their team. PKF are no different in that regard, but we put a lot of effort into continually building out our own expertise, and passing on that expertise to our clients. That’s not only by continually training in new programs such as Lightyear, but also by working closely with hospitality owners and managers, and getting a really deep understanding of the challenges they face. Lightyear doesn’t only give PKF efficiencies, but it saves the client a lot of time and money, and that’s important. As soon as the client sees the immediate benefits of Lightyear to them, their buy in and adoption is guaranteed. Lightyear’s data-extraction is so accurate, that neither we nor the client need to worry about data-entry anymore. The price-checking allows venue managers to keep on top of GP without spending hours checking off prices against a price list. And the approvals workflow means there isn’t paper-shuffling, and lost bills. It’s a series of small things, that adds up to a lot of efficiency gains.

I think it’s fair to say that you are growing your client base very quickly.  What do you put this down to?

I have focused at delivering services specifically to the hospitality sector. That focus has allowed us to build a very deep understanding of the industry and the businesses that benefit from working within it. The more our client base grows the better our intellectual property becomes.

How many clients do you have using Lightyear, and what industries are they in?

I don’t have an exact figure, but it would be many hundreds, and that number is growing fast. There are tens of thousands of hospitality businesses in Australia, and whilst there are some notable success stories, the market is tough. A lot of businesses are struggling, and to date the sort of expertise that PKF can bring to assist just wasn’t affordable to most. I would expect that number to double in the next 12 to 18 months. Our own division specialises in the hospitality space, but there are also PKF clients in retail and service sectors using Lightyear.

How has Lightyear changed how you process payables bills with your clients?

The actual workflow of a bill hasn’t actually changed much, but the speed and ease of processing has. For instance, Chefs still get kitchen bills for approval, Marketing Managers get marketing bills (and so on). But they are now simply clicking an Approval button of a PDF on a screen instead of scribbling a signature onto a piece of paper. Those bills then get immediately transitioned to our team, for further checking and Sign-Off, before export into NetSuite and Xero. I think that is one of the beauties of Lightyear - adoption of the new workflow is a breeze because Lightyear mirrors the traditional workflow of a paper bill through an organisation, but it does it without allowing paper to contaminate the process. The Lightyear guys keep saying, ‘If you start with paper, you end up with rubbish’, and they are right.

The line by line data extraction of Lightyear, and the automatic GL-coding also allows us to get each row of bill data in the Accounting Software as opposed to just a summary, allowing for greater granularity from a GL-code sense. 

But the main change is in speed. It is not uncommon for bills to be approved by venue management, and then appear in the accounting software on the same day. That allows the clients to avail of early settlement discounts, which is another win.

How much time do you think Lightyear saves your team per week?

As a percentage of time...probably around 80% - 90%. That’s comparing the process to handling and processing paper bills on their behalf. But it’s fair to say that the clients probably save around 80% to 90% too.  Lightyear is eliminating the price-checking for them, and the manual entry of stock into POS systems. Each client is obviously slightly different, but it would be around that level.

How do you use the payables insights generated by Lightyear?

Well, it’s not just PKF using the insights, but that is very much a PKF-approach. Part of PKF’s job is to get our clients to be more efficient, and better at understanding the details of their business. We’re not just here to report at month-end and do BAS. Our job is made easier if the client has the knowledge and data in real-time to allow them to steer their business in a better direction daily. But, the ‘insight’ that delivers the most immediate benefit is the price-checking tool. Lightyear automatically price checks each product billed in real-time, flagging any overcharging to the person whose job it is to approve the bill. 

What other software do you use, along with Lightyear, in delivering your services?

NetSuite, Xero, MYOB, KeyPay, Deputy, we will use any software if it makes sense for our clients.

What’s one piece of advice you would give someone in the hospitality business out there?

You focus on the customer, and together we’ll focus on the costs and margins.