A force for good: Accountants and tech vendorsby
Star Wars and accountants’ attitudes to accounting software may not appear to have much in common, but Jake Smith argues they may not be as far, far away from each other as they seem.
As head of branded content, at AccountingWEB, I’ve been working with all the tech companies that publish content on the site and exhibit at AccountingWEB Live Expo. Over the past two years, I’ve hopefully managed to tread the fine line between producing content that is of interest to our audience, as well as helping tech vendors and other partners reach their target audience.
May the fourth be with you
So, for my first opinion column for the hallowed tome that is AccountingWEB, I was wondering what to write about, when I realised that the date I’d been given as my copy deadline, 4 May, was quite a meaningful one for a Star Wars geek like me.
I’m old enough to have seen George Lucas’s first masterpiece in the cinema when I was in primary school and I still remember the sense of awe and excitement. Since then I’ve dutifully spent more time and money than I care to admit on seeing every subsequent film at least once at the cinema, owning the various versions on VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming, and still have a fair collection of the Seventies characters that I passed on to my children.
I still love most of the films and spin-off series, though I’ll admit not everything is quite as groundbreaking as the first film seemed to me all those years ago. It’s not that they’ve got progressively worse, just that there are so many of them and there’s so much else dragging my attention away that I don’t think they have the same effect on me anymore. However, I can see a lot of effort goes into them and they still seem to be making a lot of money!
What does this have to do with accounting tech?
Well, I’m glad you asked. Please forgive the tortured metaphor. But, my theory is that most, if not all, accountants have been excited in some way by the first bit of accounting tech they saw that they genuinely thought would help them do their job. Whether that was a programmable calculator, the joys of Excel, cloud accounting software [insert your favourite variety here], or the latest, greatest app.
But I wonder if, a bit like my addiction to Star Wars, accountants are less wowed and amazed by software tools these days. Either they’ve seen it all before, or at least something pretty similar, or perhaps they’ve been initially excited by all the hype and marketing around a new tool only to be let down by the actual experience (*cough* Phantom Menace).
Over the years I’ve been attending accounting events like AWEB Live Expo, Accountex and DAS, and following the great and good of the accounting world on social media and I’ve seen first-hand that there are thousands of accountants who absolutely love their tech. I’ve also been on the shortlisting panel and a judge for categories at the Accounting Excellence Awards, and I’ve seen the impact the right software tools, used thoughtfully, can have on a practice and its clients.
But I’ve also seen that there are those who are very suspicious of the motives of software developers, especially the cloud variety. It’s not that I find their lack of faith disturbing, it’s more that I wonder if they’re missing out on opportunities to improve their processes and tech.
I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of a software subscription model vs outright purchase in this column. But most tech these days, from phones to broadband to TV services and accounting software, does seem to be moving to the subscription model and surely the pandemic has shown us that the cloud can be useful in lots of ways.
Difference of opinion
So, why is there such a difference of opinion about how accountants feel about tech?
I think it probably comes down to simple differences of opinion and different approaches to challenges. Maybe, as Qui-Gon Jinn says, your focus determines your reality.
Certainly, there are a number of accountants who have concerns that the software firms are trying to take away their business or steal their clients. In spite of repeated denials from the big players, once a software firm has all your clients’ data, is it simply the next step for them to offer even more services and ultimately own the power in the relationship? Is the worry that once you start down the dark side (of accounting software), it will forever dominate your destiny?
But working closely with tech vendors as I do, I really don’t think that they are the evil empire. Without exception, all the people I’ve met in the vendor space are trying to build the best tools to help accountants help their clients. Yes, they all want to make money out of it too, but we all need to make a living. Maybe as Luke Skywalker said, it’s time to “let go of your hate”?
Collaboration is the way forward
A large number of tech firms are set up by accountants, who have spotted a problem they then build a solution for. And if even they aren’t set up by accountants, they certainly speak to accountants all the time and respect their opinions. In my experience, they need accountants just as much as (most) accountants need them. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
Within the tech space, there is also a lot of collaboration and cooperation. Vendors often rely on each other for infrastructure or tools, think of the number of accounting tools and apps that partner with Xero, Intuit QuickBooks or Sage (and others) in order to help accountants be more efficient.
When I joined AccountingWEB a few years ago I was genuinely surprised at how helpful and supportive our accounting and bookkeeping industry is. I was genuinely heartened by the fact that all the people I encountered saw their fellow professionals as colleagues rather than competitors and helped each other out. Maybe it’s because, as in a number of other professions like financial advice and the law, there are more clients in need of advice than there are professionals.
A new hope?
But all these professions have another thing in common – there are a huge number of potential clients who are simply not profitable, either too poor or too much hassle. So what’s the answer for them?
Well, perhaps that is one thing that tech can try to solve. While it won’t be the answer for every client, it is likely to mean that the limited number of professionals are able to service more clients and more people can get the kind of advice they need to set up and grow a business.
So maybe that’s the way forward – try to be more collaborative with tech vendors. Treat them as partners, work with them to find ways to be more productive, and find new ways where possible to expand the reach of their services. As The Mandalorian might say, this is the way.
Until next time then, may the force be with you.
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AccountingWEB’s Head of Branded Content joined the team in July 2021 to work closely with vendors and clients to help deliver engaging, original content for AccountingWEB members. As an experienced digital marketer, Jake understands the value and power of content to drive engagement and results. If you're looking for help creating compelling...