What we learned at: Accountex 2018
Accountex is often billed as accountancy's version of London Fashion Week, where designers flock to show their wares to an expectant public.
While the garments on show at the ExCeL tend to be less avant-garde, both events serve as interesting barometers on the trends shaping their respective worlds.
Last's year's Making Tax Digital delay put a bit of a dampener on Accountex 2017, but this year the news that the VAT programme will go ahead as planned turned the dial up a notch on practice preparations and coupled with the GDPR deadline served attendees a heady legislative cocktail. Talks on both subjects were packed to the rafters.
Away from the legislative environment, several interesting trends emerged from the practice space, including outsourcing and consulting. Here's what the AccountingWEB editorial team learned at the show.
It’s all about IRIS
At times during Accountex, it seemed like the king of the desktop practice scene just couldn’t stop itself from trying to be the centre of attention. For those in practice, the most significant bit of day one news was the acquisition of Taxfiler. After failing to stem the growth of low-end, online rivals to its mid-market practice tools, IRIS did the next best thing and bought the pack leader.
But there was more going on behind the scenes. A statement circulated like a photocopied samizdat newsletter on the show floor confirmed that IRIS had received a chunk of investment from listed asset management outfit Intermediate Capital Group (ICG) valuing the company at £1.3bn.
That will explain some of the acquisitive talk coming out of Datchet about more acquisitions in the pipeline. The practice software market looks like it’s going to get a lot more lively over the course of 2018.
Outsourcing is back
Step aside reporting and forecasting, one of the big trends at Accountex this year was outsourcing. A number of outsourcing firms returned to the ExCeL after taking a breather from the trade show in recent years.
Making Tax Digital (MTD) is providing the outsourcers with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to crack the UK market, and among those hoping to capitalise at the show were Global Infosys, D&V Philipines, Essentia Global Services, Mindspace, Outsource Accounting Solutions AdvanceTrack, Lanop and Outbooks.
Practitioners AccountingWEB spoke with at the event predominantly saw outsourcing either as a solution to plug recruitment gaps or help with the anticipated excess of work generated as a result of MTD. Stay tuned to AccountingWEB as we will be examining this trend in more depth in the coming days.
Women in Accountancy
Cheap Accounting’s Elaine Clark took her Women in Accountancy roundtable to London's Docklands after its successful debut at Accountex North. Female attendees shared similar stories of being the lone female voice in management teams and letting the occasional “don’t worry your little head” remarks from senior partners slide.
Of course, conversation turned to the 22% gender pay gap in accountancy findings. The group discussed a multitude of factors that may have influenced the results, such as parental breaks in their career, but another aspect brought up was how men are more forward in asking for pay rises or promoting the work they’ve done.
Reacting to the roundtable on the No Accounting for Taste podcast, Clark said: “There is a train of thought that said you shouldn’t highlight women as an issue because men will react badly to that. But when you want to bring change about, you’ve got to do it through some way and I haven’t seen anything out there at the moment that is highlighting these issues.”
What was there for business accountants?
With some justification, one of AccountingWEB’s Twitter followers asked if Accountex was only for practitioners. That’s not the case, but the business and finance side of the event is still a work in progress.
Practitioners have management and regulatory challenges in common, and although finance people have to subscribe to the same standards and generally go through similar processes, the focus of their efforts are so diverse it can be harder to find common ground.
Nonetheless, finance teams have been just as concerned about the General Data Protection Regulation as practitioners, and are just as interested in finding ways to become more efficient and improve profitability.
On that front, a lot of expenses management apps were shown at the event, ranging from SAP Concur at the enterprise end of the spectrum, to Compleat, Expensify, webexpenses, practice “ecosystem” favourites Receipt Bank, AutoEntry and newcomers like Hubdoc and Pleo.
The Access Group is one of those mid-market accounting software developers that has had an expenses management tool available for years but now offers it through the web-based Access Workspace environment. It seems the software fashion fad all the developers are talking about won’t just be confined to the practice arena.
A ‘window of opportunity’ for practice growth
“You’ve got a window of opportunity to sign up more clients and make some money,” AccountingWEB regular Glenn Martin told AccountingWEB. In a trade show quiet on the MTD front, the marketing and growth opportunities at the show were able to cut through the usual cloud chat.
One accountant at Accountex helping his accounting brethren embrace these opportunities was the digital doyen and Accounting Excellence pioneer Will Farnell from Farnell Clarke. Teaming with IRIS, Farnell has taken the leap from accountant to consultant. Farnell and IRIS’s chief evangelist Steve Cox will be running regional and in-house workshops to help firms understand the digital opportunity beyond MTD.
“IRIS has a ready-made marketplace and I want to get the opportunity to speak with as many firms as I can,” said Farnell. “We've made a load of mistakes along the way, and we want to help other firms not have to make those mistakes.”
Bag the swag
While some accountants come to trade shows to attend keynote talks, speak to their account managers or network with peers, others head straight for the vendors to scoop up as many free goodies as they can carry. AccountingWEB braved the crowds to highlight some of the items on offer in this video:
Image credit: Aidan Synnott
Video credit: Floating Harbour