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Xero launches new bot-powered accountant directory
Xero HQ
Xero launches new bot-powered accountant directory

New tools help clients find cloud advisers

14th Dec 2016
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New directories are appearing that are designed to lure ambitious entrepreneurs to cloud-based accountants. John Stokdyk looks at two of them.

There used to be a time when accountants would compare the functionality of different accounting systems to find the one that fitted their needs. But this is the old-fashioned, desktop way of doing things.

As 2017 dawns, new frontiers are opening up for software competition, most notably around the promotion cloud accounting engines offer their practitioner partners via online directories.

Xero HQ

Xero has a good track-record here, providing a steady stream of tech-savvy clients for practices that embraced the New Zealand-developed accounting engine - and its profusion of add-on applications. But the old Xero Advisor Directory was not keeping up with the times and last week the company launched an overhaul as part of a wider “open platform” project called Xero HQ.

The Xero HQ brand has been kicking around for several years. Since early in the year, however, the company has been talking up the concept as a symbol of its renewed enthusiasm for reaching small business clients through their accountants.

Rather than trying to build its own practice application platform, Xero accepted that it was easier to build an infrastructure that supports accountants and their relationships with specialist providers, said UK managing director Gary Turner when he introduced Xero HQ at Xerocon London in February. Alongside that announcement, the company also revealed its integration plans for linking to Thomson Reuters (Digita) and Wolters Kluwer practice and tax applications.

The new interface is available as a free opt-in and includes an activity feed and enhanced client listing and reporting tools, plus menu options to access your report templates.

The bit that offers the most practical use to accountants is probably the Advisor Directory. According to Xero, more than 13,500 accountants and bookkeepers from its pool of 100,000 practice partners migrated to the beta version of the new directory in its first three days.

At first sight, it’s difficult to see much to get excited about. There’s a bigger space for clients to type in their location and industry sector and aided by geolocation, the director offers up a list of suitable local firms.

What really excites Xero is the Facebook chatbot Hey Xero that accompanies the new directory, heralding the era when artificial intelligence will help you find new clients.

It’s a “seamless” way to help “millions” of small businesses with the right adviser, according to Xero global partner marketing vice president Doug LaBahn.

Hey Xero joins the parade of chatbots that have graced our screens this year, but the chatbot’s capabilities are somewhat limited at the moment. It is able to ask clients (or deduce from location data) where they live and what industry they work in, and then refers them to the web directory results.

It’s easy to make fun of over-excited marketing claims, but machine learning means that new features and behaviours will appear over time.

Xero’s Gary Turner told AccountingWEB: “It’s obviously early days and not meant to be the only means by which businesses find service providers. The new main directory is the primary tool.

“Also, partners do have to update their own entries and specialisms inside Xero HQ before anything more granular than location search can be meaningfully used in the queries. So we expect it to become a richer once all that tagging has been done by accountants and bookkeepers.”

Exact: 'LinkedIn for accountants and SMEs'

Dutch developer Exact has been working away in this area too. At its Exact Live event in Utrecht in November, Exact Connect manager Edgar Wieringa gave AccountingWEB a preview of the prototype accountant directory Exact is describing as a kind of “LinkedIn for accountants and SMEs”.

Exact research rather unsurprisingly found that the thing most clients want is more clients.

“We were inspired by the research to help accountants meet that challenge - and to find the right customers,” said Wierniga. “We have made a model that finds the best fit on a personal level.

The website is being beta tested with accountants in the Netherlands and asks a sequence of six personal questions, including do you prefer coffee/tea; do you see yourself as a listener, fixer or visionary personality type and so on. Based on the responses, Exact Connect suggests a few matches with advisers it recommends meeting at a convenient café.

The software also asks clients to review their accountant. These will be managed by the Exact Connect team. Like AirBnB two-way reviews will help to build trust on both sides and “help accountants appear at their best” on the platform, Wieringa said.

Although there’s a light touch to the questioning, “What we’re doing is deep,” said Wieringa. “Our goal is to make the personal connection and get them to the meet.”

Other accountant directories are available from leading cloud accounting players including Sage (3,600+ UK accountants listed*), QuickBooks (2,000+*), KashFlow (494), FreeAgent (250), ClearBooks (233), Zoho Books (95) and Liquid Accounts (28). With Xero and Exact raising the stakes with new innovations, the question now is how these rivals will respond in 2017.

* Figures estimated from national online maps - follow links for further details and see comments below.

Replies (3)

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By Si_Woodhams
14th Dec 2016 11:50

Hi John

Are you sure those figures at the end are correct?

I know we advertise on both Xero's and Quickbooks directories and there are over 400 Quickbooks accountants listed just for Kent......

Thanks (0)
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
15th Dec 2016 15:55

Thanks for alerting me Si. I discovered that my mistake was to enter "United Kingdom" in the search box.

There are some other oddities in the search results, so I'm going to need a bit of time to work my way through the counties to come up with a more accurate estimate.

Like the Sage directory, it doesn't necessarily tell me which firms support the cloud edition.

Thanks (0)
Replying to John Stokdyk:
By Si_Woodhams
16th Dec 2016 10:22

you can filter down the left hand side by the certain certifications taken

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