3 Critical Lessons Accountants Can Learn from Tech Businesses
We live in a time of huge digital transformation. The current pace of change, as fast as it seems, will be the slowest we encounter for the rest of our lives. New businesses are rising whilst old ones fall, and the market is dominated by nimble tech businesses who are setting the bar for the highest levels of service.
In 2021, the average person engages with more tools & services daily than ever before, and as consumers, we’re fickle. If we receive poor service, we’ll switch providers, and if we’ve had a bad experience, we want to talk about it. The high standards of service that SaaS businesses offer now set the bar for all service providers, accountants included.
The high standards of service that SaaS businesses offer now set the bar for all service providers, accountants included.
As a consequence, accountants & CFO’s need to fundamentally redesign how they conduct themselves if they want to survive and thrive. They need to take a more proactive approach and learn from leading tech businesses if they want to improve their own services. And what better way to do that than to focus on three areas that tech businesses place the greatest value in:
- Building products with the user in mind
- Focusing on driving simplicity
- Providing quality user support
These concepts won’t appear in most finance degree programmes or professional accounting exams, but if they’re implemented well, they can greatly increase the value and level of service that accountants offer.
1. Increased empathy: Accountants need to adopt a more user-centred approach when designing and delivering services
Tech start-ups dedicate a huge amount of time to ensuring that what they’re building works for their user, and works well. Whether that’s identifying user pain points, conducting beta-testing, or focusing on UX at the design phase, tech businesses grasp the value of empathy. Every decision is made with the user in mind, and offerings are constantly tweaked, tested, and improved to provide even higher levels of service.
At Ashton McGill, we recently conducted some research into tech start-ups and the relationships they have with their accountants. The biggest frustration we found was that accountants delivered a one-size-fits-all reporting to tech startups, with no consideration for the nuances of their situation.
Understanding your user’s needs, their frustrations, and their current level of financial understanding doesn’t form part of the typical job spec for most accountants. It’s hardly surprising, then, that organisations in every sector around the world are presented with a boilerplate P&L and Balance Sheet to read.
With all that said, what does empathy look like for accountants? Here are a few ideas:
- Taking time to talk to everyone who engages with your output to define what they understand and don’t understand about what you produce for them
- Defining the critical success factors for the business you’re reporting on and bringing clarity to these areas
- Making it your responsibility to explain accounting terminology well, or to find a more relatable way to communicate the information
2. A focus on simplification: Accountants should manage great software to simplify the accounting process for everyone
If we look at ‘accounting’ from a bird’s-eye view, one of the biggest trends over the past decade has been the explosion of accounting tech products. Great news: technology is helping to automate the inputs as much as possible, whilst making the outputs as valuable as possible.
But the more technology available at our fingertips, the more danger there is of overcomplicating things.
Keeping on top of product developments and critically assessing the quality of ‘painless’ integrations are relatively new aspects of an accountant’s job, but vastly important ones.
Managing your company’s tech stack and simplifying the accounting process needs to become part of the value that every decent accountant brings to the table. Spending the right amount of time keeping on top of product developments and critically assessing the quality of ‘painless’ integrations are relatively new aspects of an accountant’s job, but vastly important ones.
At Ashton McGill, we have a policy of being software agnostic. We can’t afford to sign lifelong commitments with any accounting software provider because things are moving so quickly in the space. (See the changes to Xavier last month!) As well as chatting with the app providers themselves, we try to speak to other accountants to keep abreast of what is working well for them.
3. Placing value on user support: Accountants need to improve communication skills and the resourcing of support functions
What does the support function look like for an accountant? For us, it’s about letting our clients know that we want to hear from them, whether it’s by Slack, email, or call. It’s about having a catchup with every single client at least once a quarter to give them space to troubleshoot and to help us understand what’s happening with their business. It’s about using Loom whilst we’re tidying up their Xero to show them where they’re going wrong with posting.
It’s important to see the financial literacy of your team as your own responsibility. Create an environment where founders are increasing in knowledge on all things finance and accounts, where curiosity and the desire to learn and improve are baked into the company culture.
I have received many payslips from many different accountants, but never once has my payslip been accompanied by a note explaining what was going on with the tax calculations. The onus is always on me as the user to understand the technicalities of income tax. Improving the level of your service always starts with the user, and providing them with proactive communication and support on all accounting services.
With the rise of tech-led accounting and the increasing stack of software tools available, the world of accounting and the world of tech are more intertwined than ever before.
Accountants are becoming software specialists, helping businesses implement leading technology to streamline their functions and processes. As these worlds become more closely entangled, there are key lessons accountants can learn from leading tech companies if they want their services to step up to the mark.
They need to prioritise empathy, clarity, and user support by looking for innovative ways to simplify their services, help their users, and improve their support functions. In order to thrive in this changing landscape, accountants need to think like tech companies– be nimble, adaptable, and responsive to changes in the industry, with a resolute focus on the user.