Tech: prioritising impact over function

Tech: prioritising impact over function

Float’s Colin Hewitt has written an article for Accountancy Age, considering communication within technology

As the founder of cloud accounting software company Float, I have a foot in both camps: tech and accounting.

I was struck by a major difference between the two industries recently, and how they communicate to their employees and the outside world.

While tech startups love to use the language of impact and change, the accounting industry generally talks about function, tax, and the day-to-day actions of accountants.

Consider how the rest of the world traditionally sees accountants: as bean counters, number-crunchers, and spreadsheet slaves. These nicknames are all characterised by functions not outcomes, and they are all pretty undesirable to say the least.

In stark contrast, the tech industry hails its developers as disruptors, its CEOs as visionaries, and its marketers as evangelists. These terms may not be to everyone’s taste, but they are indicative of an industry that wants the world to know about the work it is doing, the problems it is solving, and the talent it has at its disposal.

This contributes to the perception that tech is an exciting and rewarding career to work in. If accounting wants to change its perception accordingly, it should take a similar approach.

The accounting industry desperately needs to communicate the ways in which savvy financial advice translates to business success—both internally and externally. This starts with creating firms that prioritise advisory over compliance and give young people roles they actually want. It also means ensuring staff are empowered to offer real insights to  clients using technology, while fostering the sense that they play a vital part in the success of ambitious clients and growing businesses.

Creating more interesting roles

Everyone wants to find a job they are good at, which also gives them stimulating and meaningful day-to-day responsibilities. When someone is just part of a compliance process or a cog in a machine, as accountants are often made to feel, this is difficult to achieve. Again, tech companies are good at making every employee feel important by creating flexible work places and introducing employee wellbeing schemes.

To replicate this sense of importance, the accounting industry needs more firms that prioritise advisory services above tax, which most currently do not. We need to highlight all the ways in which accounting offers opportunities for people to engage in critical thinking and creative problem solving; this kind of savvy financial advice is integral to business success.

In many cases, it also helps to offer more opportunities for junior employees to engage with clients so that they develop more confidence and a vested interest in what they are doing. Increasingly, junior members of staff need to feel as though their work is important, and that means understanding how their work has positively impacted the client.

A lot of firms struggle with this if they do not totally understand the needs of their clients or are too distant in their traditional accounting capacity to know what is going on day-to-day.

Compare this to the tech industry, in which companies like Apple and Netflix have made their success by knowing the needs of their users before even they do. They are fantastic at communicating this value to users and staff at every opportunity.

Finding desirable clients

I also see a lot of traditional firms prioritising established organisations, rather than taking a risk on startups and young businesses. This makes practical sense in the short-term, since they offer more stability (and ability to pay higher fees!), but this ignores the prospect that these small companies might get much bigger.

Startups are much more than just a bet on growth and future income; being part of a business’ journey to success can be incredibly rewarding. By only going after clients of a certain size and maturity, firms are depriving their staff of this variety and satisfaction.

All firms should be actively seeking work for small businesses, startups, and innovative business leaders that will genuinely excite their employees. It is also where accountant advisers have a real chance to make an impact.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is something I see a lot in the tech industry, where being associated with exciting fast-growth businesses is a goal for everyone. Finding the next big thing is more than just an ego boost or financial calculation. Balancing risk and reward is inherently exciting, it makes people want to get out of bed and go into work in the mornings.

Utilising the latest tech

The tools and technologies that people use from day to day are enormously important.

We are not going to inspire a diverse mix of people and skills to get into accounting if they are expected to use Excel all day every day. I know that some people genuinely love Excel, but for a generation that has grown up with smartphones and who use far more intuitive applications regularly, spreadsheets can be a killer of enthusiasm.

Instead, firms should review the extensive variety of tools available on the market today that process and present financial data in a far more immediate and intuitive way. Their use means that accountants can spend more of their time using data to present new insights to their clients and offer better advice.

Again, it is all about shifting focus to results and the impact of the work, tools, and technologies involved, rather than their function.

The future

We all know that our industry can provide an extremely varied and rewarding career, and that accountants can increasingly make a huge positive difference to the success of businesses.

The fantastic atmosphere at Xerocon London recently was a great demonstration of how exciting this industry is and how quickly it is changing.

It is vital that this sense of excitement and dynamism is communicated to the outside world and next generation of cloud-accounting advisers, too.

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