True Stories: A number-crunching success

2 Feb 2004

Casey McGrath & Associates has developed an expertise in IT that is unique in the accountancy sector.

Casey McGrath & Associates (CMG) came into being in March 1992 as a partnership between Con Casey (pictured) and Fergal McGrath. Almost 12 years on, the practice has grown to employ 26 people and has taken on two new partners.

“Basically our suite of services would be similar to most accountancy practices,” explains Casey. “That would include business consultancy, taxation advice and statutory audits. We also do a considerable amount of corporate finance work and over a period of time we have developed a unique niche in that we also deal with quoted PLCs (public limited companies) that is quite unique for the size of the firm.”

CMG may not be Ireland’s biggest accountancy practice nor is it the oldest but it is certainly one of the most forward looking when it comes to IT. Not only was it one of the first businesses in the country to install wireless networking but it has developed an expertise in IT that is unique in the sector.

“When we set ourselves up in 1992, in addition to our practice we were running a share registration business and that was our first introduction to IT,” recalls Casey. “In a previous incarnation we computerised a share registration operation for a client. That operation originally involved very old longhand ledgers that required an extraordinary amount of detail but took forever to get the information in and then out the other side. And it was on the back of that work that we computerised the practice and we developed the share registration business which we sold in 1998,” he adds.

Despite selling the share registration business, CMG held on to the expertise it had developed in-house and formed a separate four-person business, CMG Interactive, with the mission to design and install networks for accountants, insurance brokers and members of the legal profession, all of whom have requirements similar to CMG’s own.

IT also plays an important role in the running of the core business. Management of the business is based around a package called Time & Fees from Sage. Casey’s relationship with the package stretches back to before he founded CMG and before the application was called Time & Fees.

Time & Fees began life as Model Office from Orchard Software. However, Sage acquired the company and renamed the product Time & Fees. Casey was familiar with Model Office in his previous business and so when he started CMG he used the same package, upgrading to Time & Fees when it was released. Every day, users record the time they spend on clients, broken down by project and task, in an electronic time sheet. Time & Fees then consolidates this information to produce monthly reports or to keep track of time spent in real-time.

“It’s an absolutely critical tool for us,” he says. “It monitors the time our staff is putting into particular assignments. It monitors the type of work that they do on each assignment so obviously it monitors the staff. It also ensures that if we have a dispute with a client over billing for instance, we can easily return to the core record and demonstrate how the time has been accumulated.”

The software is flexible enough to allow different rates for different members of staff and even to assign different rates to the same people. CMG uses four individual rates, according to Casey: a normal rate; a premium rate for high-risk jobs; a travelling rate; and a low rate that is applied when a senior partner is required to perform a task that would ordinarily be carried out by a junior member of staff.

Casey points out, however, that the software is simply a business tool and not, as he puts it, gospel. “Ultimately the partners make a decision what to bill,” he says. “It’s not always what’s on the clock. You take a commercial view as to what fee the job might warrant and so, therefore, the time is just a tool to review how you got on.”

So how does Time & Fees compare to the paper-based systems in use when he first entered the profession? “There’s no comparison,” says Casey. “Way back then time sheets were filled in by pen and then sent to a company in Wales. Several weeks later we would get back a big series of reports on the old pyjama paper, reams and reams of it. Today, I can view the state of affairs on a real-time basis. Because we enter our time sheets on a daily basis, if I want to know any accumulated time on any client I can get that at the touch of a button and the information is, at most, a day old and I can break it down to whatever level I want.”

By David Stewart