Some people have to kick and scream to stand out from the crowd. Some just do it. Some accountants will have to ‘learn’ about how to service the Facebook Generation – others just have what it takes instinctively.
On this blog I chronicle the rise of Accountants for the Facebook Generation. I’m always intrigued to learn more about what people are doing to push the boundaries. Guy Pearson is a fascinating case study. Many, many accountants to some degree or another are conditioned or even inhibited by their training and experience – and even when throwing off the shackles of the Ebenezer Scrooge era Accountants, they still retain a little bit of the old school way of doing things. I’m no exception.
Guy Pearson is the exception. Guy’s firm is Interactive Accounting Ltd based in Sydney, Australia. Viewing Interactive Accounting’s website you get the immediate impression that you are somewhere different – this isn’t for everyone – those that love it, get it immediately, this is how they are now accustomed to accessing products and services.
According to Guy, the Facebook Generation wants “value for money & real-time information. With the acceleration of information from source to end reader (social media, the news), the Facebook generation is less patient and expects automation rather than time and cost with their accountant”.
To give demonstrable value, Guy has created 3 distinct and clear packages, clearly positioned, clearly priced. This is how people expect to procure services in the Facebook age.
Real-time information is all about online accounting. Quite simply for small businesses the world over, the only way to get real-time information about your business is online – whether this is online accounting, online CRM, online KPI tools like Geckoboard. For online accounting, Guy’s clients get Xero; the firm, Interactive Accounting Ltd, was awarded the 2011 Xero Partner of the Year Award earlier this year (see below centre with Xero's Rod Drury, right)
It’s not just about the tools or the software though, as I’ve said repeatedly before, this is a mindset thing. You speak to Guy and it’s clear he’s about getting stuff done and moving on to the next thing: “there’s so much unnecessary fluff associated with the Accounting industry and the archaic nature of doing business”. Guy breaks the traditional accountancy model by transforming the traditional accountant-client/expert-layman relationship by putting the emphasis on the accountant to deliver (rather than just show how clever he/she is). In the Interactive Accounting model, the accountant is focussed on delivering real-time information and KPIs: “This leads to a greater focus on systems knowledge and integration pieces. So, in essence, accountants are becoming the business advisor, coach, IT specialist and compliance expert: which, to me, makes perfect sense”, says Guy.
Clients will have an emotional reaction to this way of working, and to this approach. Everything about Interactive Accounting says ‘Rock Star’ – I can’t tell you why, it just does, it makes you want to be a client and that is the magic. You can’t quantify the allure of Mick Jagger, Axel Rose, Kurt Cobain. I’ve known Guy for just over a year now and everything he does is more Rock Star than Accountant: the language used in communications, the alarming immediacy of action, the office dress code, the meet-ups for local entrepreneurs, the promotion of his clients.
This emotional reaction will be evidenced in how people interact with their clients. Traditionally, clients didn’t talk about ‘loving’ their accountants or the work they did, now they do. Guy is getting an emotional response from his clients: “Some love it, some don’t. I think we are very clear with our messaging and what we are about. It appeals to a sector of the market (non age dependent) that is keen for replacing repetitive non value adding services with better technology, real time financial information and proactive advice”. Surveys of clients consistently confirm that this is what clients want: (1) value, (2) meaningful information, (3) proactive advice.
Looking to the future, Guy sees the process element of accounting being almost nullified: “The big thing over the next 5 years will be automation and the focus on the value add, not the process. Outsourcing focus, although, I think that technology may end up automating the processes (which are easier to control and more scalable). The world will get even smaller and the old time cost model in the SME market will slowly fade away”.
Of course there’s still a place for the traditional firms, but everyone needs to sit up and pay attention to the likes of Guy Pearson and Interactive Accounting because, as he says himself, “we are not changing how the game is played, we are, CHANGING THE GAME ITSELF!”
[Part 2 of this story has some practical tips from Guy on being a Rock Star accountant]
About Paul Bulpitt
Co-founder of The Wow Company. Head of Accounting at Xero.