Four things I learned from Accounting Live!

An Accountant’s Exhibition that set the pulses racing….

On Wednesday I popped over to Glasgow to attend the inaugural Accounting Live! Exhibition at the SECC. Aimed at accountants and financial professionals, it had a whole host of software and service providers as well as a stellar line up of presenters including

  • Steve Pipe (AVN)
  • Gary Turner (Xero)
  • Ed Molyneux (Freeagent)
  • Rudi Jansen (The Highly Profitable Accountant))

I had been to software centred events like IRIS Live and XeroCon, as well as the huge Accountex jamboree in London. So, full marks to the organisers for bringing this event to Glasgow.

Here are four things I learned.

(1) If you want my attention – do something different to get it

There were around 80 exhibitors at the show, some who had a large budget for a prominent stand (Freeagent, Sage and QuickBooks), and some of whom didn’t.

Walking around the stands it was disappointing some to watch some folk on the smaller stands sitting behind a desk staring at a screen, or worse, fiddling with their mobiles. If you are proud of your product/service then at least be standing up and make eye contact with the smartly dressed guys and girls who are walking past and just might be running an accounting firm. Opportunity missed.

Balance that against the two separate people who grabbed an empty chair at my table at lunchtime, engaged in some small talk and then talked enthusiastically about their service. One even managed to walk me back to his stand and demo his app!

And if your budget runs to it – having a bright orange stand with folk handing out sticks of rock will normally work as well.

(2) Equine dentistry? There’s an app for that

The expansion of the Xero app marketplace is phenomenal. There are now more than 600 separate apps that connect with Xero. Our client base use 39 apps between then, so there are at least 561 for One Accounting to discover!

Gary Turner, UK MD of Xero tells us there is a Xero app which can be used by Equine Dentists. They fix horses teeth! This is tangible evidence of how many entrepreneurs are ‘scratching their own itch’ by developing an app to solve their own specific challenge, and then monetising it.

(3) The Robots Aren’t Coming To Take Over The World (Just Yet)

In my opinion, the two people we should be listening to about the future landscape of accounting are Ed Molyneux of Freeagent and Gary Turner of Xero. Both gave presentations around how the accounting landscape might look in the future.

Ed talked about automation, AI and the rise of the mobile phone as the primary search tool for the under 30’s. Despite the rise of automation of low level tasks like data entry, it’s not certain that technology will reduce the total number of jobs in the profession. Ed gave the example of the banking industry. There was an explosion in the number of cash machines in operation in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Yet the number of bank counter staff also increased during these decades – proof that customers still want to deal with humans. Technology makes it easier for a bank to open a branch in say a shopping centre – all you need are a couple of counter staff and a cash machine. Accountants will need to make the shift from data processing to providing strategic advice.

Gary Turner of Xero confirmed that location is no longer a barrier to trade for service businesses. An accountant in Inverness can easily work with a client in Exeter through Skype, GoTo Meeting, Electronic signatures and Dropbox.

(4) The two ways to make money

What really resonated for me in Gary’s presentation was a quote from VC Marc Andreesson, founder of Netscape “There are only two ways to make money in business: One is to bundle; the other is unbundle.”

For example, go back 20 years and a newspaper would carry classified adverts, articles and yesterday’s football results. That has been unbundled into Gumtree, Blog Posts, and a Sky Sports app. And the newspaper industry is dying as a result.

On the other hand, streaming services like Spotify and Netflix take a vast vault of music and picture content and bundle it into an easily accessible monthly subscription service.

The accounting profession started off with an unbundled model – charge by the hour for each service the client wants. This has moved into a bundled model of fixed fee services which include the annual accounts, tax returns, payroll, management accounts and VAT that our clients want and need to help their businesses grow. However – businesses owners can now bypass the accountant in a way, by linking their own suite of Xero apps to run their payroll and cashflow models. And very soon Freeagent users will be able to file their own company Accounts and Corporation Tax returns which is one of the biggest disruptions to the accounting profession in recent years.

However – this doesn’t mean the end of the accounting practice. Instead, our clients rely on us more for our experience, judgement and moral support, something that a robot or AI machine will never be able to provide.

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