Tech CEO: Clarity, the Airbnb of accounting?
In the latest edition of the Tech CEO series, Accountancy Age spoke to Aynsley Damery, CEO and founder of Clarity, a global business advisory platform that wants to make business simple and transform the relationship between small businesses and accountants.
All of the founders were accountants. We all had niche advisory firms. We were all very early adopters of cloud. And we had started to [do] business advisory which was probably the primary elements of each of our practices.
In the UK accounting space particularly, there’s a lot of small firms that are doing very innovative, nimble, flexible, agile things. But together, they struggle to scale that. And as accountants ourselves in business, we struggled to scale advisory.
It’s all very well for the managers and partners in the firm and those that have experience and knowledge and insights to be able to deliver advisory. But when you get the frontline team, supporting small business owners at an appropriate cost, at their size of business, it’s really, really tricky.
It was us saying, ‘well, as accountants, we struggle to scale advisory, how would we do that better? How would we fill in the gaps that we saw in the market?’ We know the problems, how do we create a solution that actually fits both for the small business and the accountants?
We have a massive vision, but from my perspective, it’s really about making business simple.
We explain it as a global advisory platform. What we’re trying to do is enable small businesses to have more understanding of their business and their data and allowing that bridge between them and their advisor – whether it’s a bookkeeper or accountant or advisor – to be able to communicate together and deliver actionable results that are going to drive the business forward. And we’ve made it a lot easier for accountants to be able to explain to small business owners how to make a more successful business.
The first element is around numbers. We’ve simplified the numbers, brought it down to seven key numbers that affect any business. Accountants know those numbers but because it’s boiled down from a set of financial statements into seven key numbers, then it’s much easier to have that conversation.
The platform is a proper business development programme that’s built around online data. So what we’re saying to the small business owner is here’s the value of actually working with us, here’s what we can do for you, here’s what you can do for yourself.
And then ultimately, what we want to do is use those two things to connect people to funders, investors and lenders to be able to get access to the cash they need. Because if you look at it from an investment perspective, or from a funding perspective, they often don’t want to get involved in small business, because they don’t trust the data. If we can make that accessible and easy for them to see, track, measure and monitor, then they’re more likely to get involved in smaller deals.
Well actually, a lot of people are saying it’s like Airbnb. Airbnb bridges the gap between people who’ve got houses to rent and the rental markets. Clarity is probably bridging the gap between small business owners who want success, and accountants who want to help them do that. It’s giving them the way to talk to one another, and the support system and mechanisms to make that transaction function properly.
I think it’s really going to make an exciting time for accounting. Technology is going to take away all the heavy lifting. It’s going to enable accountants and free them up to spend time doing what small business owners really want from them. Because small business owners don’t want to do accounts and tax trials. They didn’t get into business to do tax returns. That’s not where their world is focused. They want accountants to be able to help them with their knowledge to be able to make a better business.
I think the technology will give them confidence. I think a lot of accountants out there have great skills that they don’t realise they have. It’s like any, in any industry, right? People have the power, but maybe they don’t realise what they’re sitting on. They’re looking to the next thing, or they’re looking outside their industry. But in fact, accountants – because of their knowledge of numbers – are going to be helped by AI, machine learning, blockchain. All those things are going to help those accountants to have better visibility, a better understanding of those numbers, and to be able to interpret those for small businesses, to be able to help them help themselves and hold them accountable as well.
I think there’s been massive competition in the accounting space. It’s those low barriers to entry. So we’re now seeing smaller firms being able to compete with the bigger boys. Because with cloud technology, the power of outsourcing and offshoring, I think there has been a huge downward pressure on pricing from a compliance perspective.
I think, getting their heads around where technology is going, and how they can make the most of it in the firm to power, not technology for technology’s sake, but power – real added value, driving customer experience and customer and client change.
I think how they harness that is going to be that they’re challenged in the short term. I think long term, accountants are going to need to be collaborating across the board with business development experts with marketing experts with the legal profession. I think we are going to see potentially move to more integrated service offering.
“We couldn’t have done this business five years ago. The technology wasn’t around to enable us to do it, the cloud technology. We integrate with QuickBooks and Xero, for example.
The ability to have accurate financial data going in to be able to get an actual summary of good financial numbers, to be able to have a good conversation to start, to then be able to make decisions in there and create a plan from. We could not have done that.