Are Australian firms really more progressive than UK accountants?

Businessman with Jetpack
Trent McLaren
Head of Accounting & Sales Development
Practice Ignition
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Australian accountancy firms are often held as more progressive than UK firms. Having experienced both markets, Trent McLaren disagrees.   

Since arriving in the UK last month, I’ve heard and read how unprogressive UK accounting firms are. But I don’t agree. UK firms have scope to be as innovative, if not more, than both Australia and US accountants over the next couple of years.

The data tells a different story

The perceived lag starts with the data used to measure the growth of cloud accounting software licenses per region as a percentage vs the number of small businesses incorporated in that country.

Based on the 5.7m companies registered in the UK (of which around 2.5m are trading entities) I would hazard a guess that the UK cloud accounting penetration or adoption rate is around 14% - 18%. This means over 770,000 registered companies use a piece of cloud accounting software to manage their financials.

In Australia, this number is closer to 45% - 50%, with 2.1m registered companies and just under 1m companies using cloud accounting.

Typically you would assume that there are more accountants in Australia on average using cloud accounting in their firm, which then leads you to believe that they are using a range of apps and add-on solutions to extend that functionality.

Whilst the numbers as a percentage would suggest Australia as a country is further along the curve, I would argue that there’s roughly the same amount of accountants and nearly the same amount of registered companies using cloud accounting in both markets (770,000 in the UK, compared to less than one million in Australia).

UK has a big opportunity

It’s just that the UK has a bigger opportunity to have a larger number of accountants and small businesses using this technology; therefore, their overall adoption rate is much lower, for now.

From first-hand experience, there are accountants in both countries that are just as progressive as each other. They have a strong focus on delivering better client outcomes, better team environments using the right mix of technology and process to deliver on these outcomes.

This is the story we don’t hear enough about in the UK. Raedon, Soaring Falcon, Kinder Pocock, Gascoynes or The Wow Company are all shining examples of digital lead accounting firms that made choices to focus on providing the best client and team outcomes.

Your choices determine your future

It’s not your country or the amount of cloud accounting subscriptions sold in your region that determine how progressive your business is or will be. It’s the choices you’ve made for your clients, your team and your infrastructure.

Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote “We are our choices”. In the context of the accounting industry, your firm and everything it represents is a result of the choices you make – whether that was 10 years ago, last week or anytime in the future. Your choices determine what makes you successful but also whatever is holding you back.

When evaluating the health of your firm consider your choices that have directly affected:

  • Your clients, the ones you love and the ones you like least
  • Your team and the environment you’ve created for them
  • Your technology and the processes that you’ve built around it

If you’re unhappy with any of these three elements, remember your current situation is based on past choices but it doesn’t need to represent your future.

If you decide not to invest in team training or giving someone more responsibility, then you would be surprised when you have a toxic culture or a business that nobody wants to work in or buy from you one day. Every result whether good or bad determines the make-up and mix of your firm.

The same could be said about the technology you’re using in your firm. If you’re using outdated technology then there’s a good chance you’re giving outdated advice, which isn’t helpful to a business owner that needs all of their information today. Not in a month, or 3 months – today.

What really matters?

But are we really concerned about which country is deemed more progressive? Is there a trophy or an award I’m not aware of? Who cares?

Is it your goal to be a progressive firm? No. Your goal should be to empower your clients to give them better visibility over their financials, to help them make better decisions and ensure they’re compliant.

You can be the difference between a business that can go bankrupt or survive for over 20 years, which will feed families and employ staff in your community. It’s in your best interest to make the best choices for your team and your clients to keep this cycle thriving.

About Trent McLaren

Trent McLaren

Winner - AccountantDaily Thought Leader Of The Year for 2017

I lead a team of spirited people looking to make a difference in the accounting industry as we know it. Elimination of debtors, automated invoicing and the thought of never having to touch your firm's billing again is a reality we deliver to accounting firms all over the world.

I believe that in order to achieve your goals, you must be a leader and a believer. Your peers need to feel part of something real and exciting in order to succeed. Turning up to work is just not enough.

I believe in creating a positive environment that stimulates and motivates people. An environment that allows people to grow, develop and most importantly enjoy their work.

I am the head of accounting at Practice Ignition, a Sydney based start-up born out of an accounting firm, Interactive Accounting. We eliminate debtors and automate your invoicing through our digital proposal and engagement letter builder solution. We service 1000's of accounting firms around the world including the United Kingdom. 

In prior roles I have extensive history with Intuit QuickBooks, Xero, eWAY (online payments) as well as the retail sectors.


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29th Mar 2019 10:09

Are you the "Greatest Showman" on earth then?

Thanks (3)
to johnjenkins
29th Mar 2019 10:40

I've been mistaken as a younger less good looking version of Hugh Jackman before. So I'll take it as a compliment thanks John!

Thanks (1)
29th Mar 2019 10:17

Wise words from somebody, who has the experience to quote from a position of strength.

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to LangdonHamblin
29th Mar 2019 10:23

"position of strength". I'm in awe to know how not having the up to date technology can make you give out of date advice.

Thanks (3)
to johnjenkins
29th Mar 2019 10:39

Thanks for the straight-shooting as always John. It's people like you that encourage me to keep writing ;-)

I actually don't care what technolog you want to use. Just give you clients, good real-time advice. If that means using a system that allows you to that, than I'm for it.

If you believe you can give the best advice possible and you're genuinely helping your clients with the obstacles in their business. That's awesome and that's actually all I want for every accountant and their clients.

Use tech, don't use tech. I don't care. Just do a good job.

My comments and experience are always from firms who have found their success in adopting new methods, that doesn't mean it's going to be sound advice for everyone.

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to Trent McLaren
29th Mar 2019 10:53

Answer the question and stop waffling, Trent.
Sorry Trent you look nothing like Hugh Jackman more like Alf Stewart with hair (joke).

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to johnjenkins
29th Mar 2019 11:13

I appreciate the jokes and I love a good Alf Stewart reference, if you had a profile picture we could compare who actually has more hair!

Simply put, I believe, it's very hard and difficult to give real-time advice to a client if you're using a solution that doesn't provide you with real-time information.

Let me know how much you need me to elaborate before you think I'm "Waffling".

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to Trent McLaren
29th Mar 2019 11:43

"Waffling" is the art of saying the same thing but in a different format. You can't go into politics or sales without having "the art". What you said was that you can't give good advice if you're not up to date with technology. Or as you have just changed it to "real time information". "Cobblers", with experience comes the ability to advise. Technology in Accounting is only there to allow you to give that advise slightly quicker (perhaps).
You certainly have more hair. Now if you used modern technology you could actually look like Hugh Jackman or Kylie (whatever your preference).

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to LangdonHamblin
29th Mar 2019 10:40

Thanks DH!

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29th Mar 2019 10:24

Nice article, Trent.

Thanks (2)
29th Mar 2019 10:33

All we need now is Bob to pop up.

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29th Mar 2019 11:59

"It’s not your country or the amount of cloud accounting subscriptions sold in your region that determine how progressive your business is or will be. It’s the choices you’ve made for your clients, your team and your infrastructure."

Great comment Trent. UK accountants can be up there with the best. In my experience, I've found that the Australian mindset seems to mean an earlier adoption of ideas and a more relaxed approach to change but, here in the UK, once we are onboard, we embrace development with a passion.

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to rich brewin
29th Mar 2019 12:10

Your first paragraph is spot on. However your second indicates that the reason we are not up there with the best is because we are too slow to embrace change. Well I'm sure we are up there with the best because we are cautious about change, especially when it doesn't appear safe, as has been proved with "the cloud" many times.
Quite honestly I can't see the point in this article.

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29th Mar 2019 20:33

I thought I had fallen, somehow, into a black hole type time warp... and, by mistake, somehow, migrated into a typical 1980s motivational rah rah spiel!

Now what on earth is "Real Time Advice"???

"We eliminate debtors and automate your invoicing through our digital proposal and engagement letter builder solution. "


Eliminate debtors, eh. Well, the old "Day Sales Outstanding" metric, which dates back to the 1970s, allows any operation to measure its absolute penalty cost for running a sales ledger, badly.

Seems to me, ignoring all the BS ersatz "Management Speak", the writer is conflating Management Accounting with Financial Accounting. In any case, Enterprise Accounting Systems (which are old hat in any case; holistic systems such as SAP, encapsulated EA years ago.), ought to be the Gold Standard; but aren't. Anymore than has been (but very much ought to have been!) Integrated Front-Back Office Systems. Etc...

And, then, of course, we finish up with the Cloud Myth - once again. The Cloud: a combination of the Philosopher's Stone, The Touch of Midas and the Golden Fleece.

I am losing the will to live...

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to Michael C Feltham
30th Mar 2019 18:25

You missed out opening Pandora's box and unleashing what lurks within.

My doubt with the zeal for tech solutions is that the tech, in itself, does little to improve the users' analysis of the data, it merely gives them the data ,possibly sooner than otherwise.

And tech has an alarming ability, as seen on A Web, to reduce individuals' understanding of matters, the reliance on tech seems sometimes to reduce analysis- the machine gives x so it must be correct.

Hands up who is still 100% comfortable doing tax computations without software, I will openly admit that there are odd occasions I need to look at a worked example to determine why a machine gets x tax due, I , like others ,have come to rely on the software most of the time and am far more rusty re this than say twenty years ago.

I see this first hand at work where staff cannot/do not do a sense check with something so trivial as y divided by z, the calculator relied upon has reduced the ability for fast mental arithmetic- if I add up a column of figures with a calculator I tend to have a rough idea of the total as my brain roughly adds as I key in the numbers, not so with most staff these days, they accept rubbish because it comes from the machine.

So embrace tech, fine, but if it leads to less frequent , that does not look right, pauses, as reliance has overtaken critical thought, be very wary of the data.

As an example my son was working on wealth management software for a large bank, whilst writing parts he noticed that the software, re the reports it was to produce, was wrong, the price data being used re securities was being extracted from the incorrect data field and an investor could, on paper ,have bought x thousand AA today and by tonight have a 20% profit on them, this was software being developed by a large team, lots of developers working on it, had seen it,yet none had spotted the obvious flaw until he applied a little commonsense

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01st Apr 2019 09:58

Well, DJKL, since the earliest days of EDP (Electronic data processing) as it was called and the roll out of IBM Digital Business systems and the archaic, today, System 360 Digital Mainframes, what we used to call Magic Black Box Syndrome has grown and grown. It is the contemporaneous equivalent of The Emperor's New Clothes.

Since few were or are suitably qualified to offer any valid (Technology Based) critique.

As each new Quantum Leap in memory and processing power (Usually expressed as MIPS - Millions of Instructions per Second) has rendered earlier systems and approaches redundant, then hardware and system vendors have proliferated with their product offering Snake Oil! Additionally, young coders and system developers always burn to exploit the latest technologies.

The "Content Rich" websites of today are an excellent exemplar; brain curdling images and interactive drop-downs, pop-ups etc, make users heads spin and are bloody irritating when one simply wishes to carry out a simple task!

The true raison d'être, or if you like, objective has been forgotten, in a blizzard of some spotty faced nerd trying to out-do all the other nerds...

The core problem, of course, is that the executives tasked with commissioning a new mega-billion ICT project, haven't a wee clue about such systems, nor a focused vision of precisely what the desired outcomes should properly be. MTDfb is a wondrous example!

Missing amongst the plethora of Programme Managers and the Project Manager is a rare beast: A Systems Architect (SA): a demanding discipline, since the SA must possess real knowledge and developed skills in the subject area AND the Hardware-Software systems areas, too.

Thus in the final event, the old adage still rules true: G.I.G.O. Garbage In - Garbage Out!

Add the final immutable component: Sales: High Pressure blathering from guys who don't actually REALLY understand the nuts and bolts of their supposed product offering/s, flogging "Solutions" to the gullible, for a "Problem" which actually doesn't really exist!

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to Michael C Feltham
02nd Apr 2019 15:14

Michael C Feltham wrote:

Add the final immutable component: Sales: High Pressure blathering from guys who don't actually REALLY understand the nuts and bolts of their supposed product offering/s, flogging "Solutions" to the gullible, for a "Problem" which actually doesn't really exist!

I think that's more or less exactly how we ended up with MTD.

I only wish I was joking.

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