Looking at the cloud with new eyes

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For AccountingWEB’s John Stokdyk, the US Xerocon event in Denver last week presented a rare opportunity to travel back in time and space.

Arriving at the Denver Xerocon made me feel like I'd just stepped out of the 'Back to the Future' Delorian sports car. It wasn’t just the ubiquitious 1980s soundtrack synthing away in the background, or the hint of 20th century urban decay hanging around the city centre convention hall, but the composition and attitudes of the delegates. 

Xero can safely claim to be the most disruptive force in the global cloud accounting market, but its profile in North America lags behind the adoption rates in its native New Zealand, Australia and even the UK. While the US population and accounting profession is at least five times bigger than the UK’s, the 750 attendance at the Denver event was on a par or slightly below that of the London Xerocon in February.

What was most noticeable, however, was the number of young accountants and non-CPAs at the event. The digital native generation is leading the charge among US Xero users into cloud-based advisory practices while their older, more qualified rivals are reviewing the possibilities and considering their response.

Suzanne Morter, an older CPA from Edmonton AL commented on how the demographic pattern of Xerocon reflected that you no longer have to be a CPA to be a business adviser. “It’s almost a detriment. These kids are so savvy - it’s intimidating.”

Xero’s chief marketing officer Andy Lake, touched on this point when he explained how Xero was making inroads into the segment of the accountancy market serving tech start-ups and other mobile, virtual organisations: “We’re catching a demographic shift.”

Xero’s Accelerator education programme was explicity designed to encourage knowledge transfer from younger to older accountants, added Xero head of education Amy Vetter.

Fortysomething accountants were in evidence at Xerocon Denver, and many of them headed to Vetter’s Accelerator seminar sessions to find out more about the steps they needed to take to get on board Xero’s “connected practice” bandwagon. “They’re saying, ‘Don’t count me out because I’m older. Let me figure it out.’ They’re trying to figure it out and are open to learning from younger pioneers,” Vetter said.

Another sign that things were a little bit different in Denver was the role of the event compere, Greg Kyte, a qualified CPA and stand-up comedian who runs Comedy CPE. Like many of the delegates, he found it hard not to mention the legalisation of marijuana that has turned the mile-high city into a destination for dope tourists.

“There have been more drug references at this conference than any accounting conference I’ve been to,” he said.

Adopting a more advisory tone, he added, “We’ve got what it takes to serve the new recreational weed market. So here’s a bit of info you need to know.  A 10-dollar bag of marijuana is called a ‘dime bag’.

“Most accountants would call it a damn $10 bag of marijuana. Otherwise we’d spend the rest of the day trying to work out where the rest of the $9.90 went.”

About John Stokdyk

John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight

AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.

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