Insights From An Insider: Xerocon South 2016

On 7–9 September, thousands of accounting professionals, entrepreneurs and industry leaders met and mingled at the southern hemisphere’s largest tech conference. Here’s what we took home from this year’s Xerocon South.

Earlier this month, Brisbane hosted Xero’s annual conference for the Asia–Pacific region, with three days of workshops and presentations focusing on tech innovations in cloud accounting. With close to 2500 attendees, the event was also a great opportunity to take the pulse of the accounting industry across Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.

Members of the Count team were there and had the opportunity to talk with James Solomons, Xero Australia’s Head of Accounting, and Director of Aptus Accounting and Advisory, authorised representative of Count Financial .

“The mood was full of optimism and everyone is looking forward to the future,” he said. “There is also a strong focus on community: it’s about working together to help business owners manage their firms and move forward, especially now that technology is really starting to shape how accountants interact with their clients.”

Leading the way

While the rapid pace of technological change is causing concern for many accountants, one of the insights from Xerocon is that the Asia–Pacific region is ahead of the game — with a faster adoption rate than the rest of the world.

“Australia alone has over 300,000 customers on Xero, so we lead the charge when it comes to technology uptake,” James said. “But from a global perspective, small businesses are still in the early stages of moving to the cloud. So every Xerocon event is also an educational process about how to use this technology as a new way of running a practice.”

Rising to the pricing challenge

Although investing in cloud technology can help accountants to become more efficient, the challenge is in translating these efficiencies into tangible business benefits. For many firms, the answer lies in moving from traditional time-based pricing to a value-based pricing structure.

“Many accountants are just beginning to understand that they need to change the way they price their services,” said James. “With a hybrid pricing model, firms can establish baseline pricing for their compliance work and then price their additional advisory services on top of that. The key is to be very clear to clients about what’s included within each scope of work.”

Discovering new opportunities

While the concept of ‘digital disruption’ has been causing accountants anxiety for some years, James says the conversation is starting to change. Instead of thinking about how technology is disrupting their business, accountants are now exploring the ways that technology can push their business to the next level.

In a keynote presentation by Rod Drury, CEO and founder of Xero, he spoke about the endless potential of artificial intelligence and machine learning. For example, as data processing becomes faster and more efficient, accountants and advisers can take advantage of new data-mining capabilities so they can better understand future economic trends based on past data.

By harnessing key metrics and analysis, firms can also work out which clients will be affected by future trends. This provides valuable insights into where accountants should focus their time and energy.

James commented: “Five years ago, you’d have to mine your own records to work out which clients needed attention. But now technology can do the heavy lifting and tell you which clients you need to contact and for what reason.”

Designing the firm of the future

This year’s Xerocon proceedings started with a ‘Uni Day’ — a selection of full-day workshops for accountants and bookkeepers, hosted by James and other senior members of the Xero team. James’s workshop showed accountants how they can build the firm of the future by streamlining their workflow and compliance services, as well as identifying niche opportunities they can promote to existing and potential clients.

According to James, accounting firms who are successfully putting cloud technology to work are the ones who are moving ahead in leaps and bounds.

“People don’t buy services, they buy experiences — ultimately it comes down to using technology to improve the experience at every touch point,” said James. “If you don’t embrace technology, your clients will eventually look for a better experience somewhere else. But if you embrace it in the right way, you’re setting your business up to be successful for many years into the future.”