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CFO Yeah! Podcast

Empathetic Accounting & Why Finance Leaders Should Learn to Code with Dave Sellick

Patrick Whatman, Spendesk
Patrick Whatman Spendesk

“When I look at finance and accounting teams, I think ‘wow, we’re one of the biggest bottlenecks here.’ The way we interact needs to be the next significant evolution of workflow and optimization at work.”

Dave Sellick believes the finance and accounting world could use more empathy. In his view, accountants have been stuck with dehumanizing processes for too long. Technology can free them from repetitive, machine-like tasks, and help them bring more value to their organizations.

But what exactly does the future look like for finance professionals and accountants, if their heads are no longer buried in data and Excel spreadsheets? For Dave, it promises more creativity, innovation and human connections. We just need to learn how to better interact with machines, and then each other.

In this episode CFO Yeah! podcast, we discussed the need for more empathy and human connections in finance and accounting, and how automation will get us there. But first we  need to learn to code.

Listen to the full episode on Apple, Spotify, or RSS.

From corporate auditor to empathetic accountant

I originally trained with PWC in the corporate audit department, working with banks. Although I didn't massively enjoy the job, I had some great managers and learned a lot. Then, I moved into advertising as a management accountant, working for a company that is now part of the Global Media Group.

Quite quickly, I made another move and started scaling startup businesses. I spent around six years as a number one in finance at several startups. I found that particularly on the accounting side of things, in terms of my relationship with external accountants, I didn't feel like we were getting the right support. I could see there was a lot which could potentially be done better to support small businesses. 

This led me to found Sidgrove, which was started like a content project. But then, it evolved into a firm! 

Today, Sidgrove focuses predominantly on early stage startups. I work with around 50 businesses of different types, and accountancy firms. I believe small businesses are at the most vulnerable stage and I’m trying to promote more creativity, more innovation and more human connection in the accounting scene for them. My driver was to help people having gone through the experience of having bad service from accountants, and realizing how detrimental that could be for early stage businesses.


Particularly, for those that couldn't get access to someone like me as a Head of Finance on a full time salary. I just couldn't see a service in the market that was providing that. 

Outside of accounting, I DJ, I'm a creative, as well as a qualified yoga instructor. And I've just been on a six month coding bootcamp with Le Wagon

Bringing more empathy and care to accounting services

To be honest, I didn't really enjoy accounting too much when I qualified. When I was looking at the other departments, like sales or marketing, it felt like they were having a bit more fun, and had what looked like better human relationships. 

I feel like we could be changing the way that we do things. In order to enjoy what we do more, to be more engaged, more inspired, more creative. And of course, have a more humanized way of doing things. This may be controversial, but that's what I believe!

Besides, I think this positive change also comes from delivering significantly better value to clients. The early stage is where businesses are the most vulnerable - it's an emotional rollercoaster for founders. As accountants, I just don't think we’re anywhere close to tapping into delivering the right service. 

External accountants are incentivized to maximize revenue for their practice. And ultimately, they will put that first. They're not really incentivized to truly understand the business and this leads to a quite detached relationship. But today, expectations are starting to be different. Accountants need to understand the business to a certain level, in order to support the founders and their team.

The question should be: how do we deliver more value, how do we do it in a more human way? Enjoying what we do more, and working on more innovative ways to deliver better services at a more affordable, achievable price point to early day startups should be a strong focus for accountants. That’s where we can start moving the lines.

Creating harmonious workflows

I believe one of the problems in finance is that we do a lot of stuff. One of my focuses currently is on this idea that we need to move more towards what I'm referring to as a harmonious workflow. 

This means having a better understanding of where humans sit, and where technology sits. We need to find ways of pushing more work towards computers that they do better, like repetitive work, storing data and regurgitating it with precision.

And on the other side, humans can tap more into connecting with each other, using empathy and creativity, and dealing with more visual and tactile things. 

I think in finance - disproportionately compared to other departments - we do a lot of things that computers do better. We can often get stuck in these processes, which involve looking at technology and numbers and doing repetitive work. This is part of a dehumanizing workflow and we should strive to avoid it. 

Perhaps in other departments, there's less process involved to get to the stage where you start talking about things that tangibly help the business. By the time accountants get there, they're exhausted and sometimes a little bit dehumanized.

However, in a startup, it's a blank canvas and you can be both creative and a numbers person, and you'll be making key decisions every day whose impact on the success of the business you can tangibly see. 

Boosting efficiency with technology

The other specificity of Sidgrove is the tech we’re using. I've been discovering a lot of new technologies. I now use several devices to trigger many on-the-fly automations in the work that I do daily. 

This has had a massively transformational impact on the quality of the work I'm able to deliver, the way I'm able to work, how efficiently I work. I believe the technology that I'm using surpasses anything that exists in the SME space currently. 

And when people ask me about the tech we use, wondering how much time we save and how efficient it is, I love that question. Because I can tell them that it doubles my output! It's significantly more efficient, but tech is also making things more enjoyable, visual, tactile.

But when I look at finance and accounting teams, I think “wow, we’re one of the biggest bottlenecks here.” More specifically, I think the way we interact needs to be the next significant evolution of workflow and optimization at work.

Why finance leaders should learn to code

When I started my coding bootcamp, I had no specific idea as to what I expected from it. I just thought I couldn’t start a tech company if I didn’t have an understanding of the tech environment. Or at least, knowledge that is good enough to be dangerous! Since then, I've taken on more and more projects working with APIs, relying on my knowledge of code or things like VBA. 

In finance, you don't necessarily need to know code. But when you do, you’ve the potential ability to do little things here and there that are just of so much disproportionate value!

Knowing code is going to become a real secret weapon for accountants and finance team members. We’re in the interconnectivity stage now, and particularly regarding things like open APIs. We need to move data around and use code to automate tasks. 

With a new generation coming through who learn code for fun, finance professionals are going to find the relevance of their skillset overshadowed by these guys who can do things twice as quickly, just because they know code.

So, I think people should be definitely curious about it. I'm definitely starting to see huge benefits in knowing it. And the best part is, it doesn't take huge amounts of time to earn it.  

However, it’s essential to learn with a purpose. Don't go and learn code if there aren't problems that you experience that you need to solve using it. Simply learning random coding languages is potentially taking you away from learning other things that could be more valuable.

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