We spoke to Paul Gardner (PG), Founder of Fresh Accounting and Matthew Li (ML), CEO and Founder of Nova about what it means to them to be a Platinum Partner. They discussed their views on the shifting landscape of accounting, and how Xero is driving their growth and success in Hong Kong and beyond.
Why did you first decide to sign up to Xero?
PG: When I first moved to Hong Kong to launch my practice in 2014, Xero was completely new to me. However I started getting inbound enquiries about the platform from a number of interesting small businesses. After a short time scoping out the system, I was completely hooked. Our first client wanted to move all four of her businesses across to Xero. This really put us on the right path to becoming a Xero Bronze Partner.
ML: There were two key reasons that triggered us to sign up to Xero. Firstly, we were facing difficulties using offline software based accounting systems for bookkeeping service as a CPA firm. Data was bouncing around on a USB stick, which was totally inefficient and not safe at all. Secondly, we had been working with ERP but it was both expensive and didn’t live up to expectations. It didn’t give us the flexibility we needed to customise. Furthermore it lacked business automation and we ended up spending a lot of time and resources on what should be simple tasks. As soon as we discovered Xero we knew it was the answer to these problems. It has enhanced our business operations and we haven’t looked back since.
How has Xero helped you grow your business in Hong Kong and beyond?
PG: The halo effect of Xero and being able to provide tailored services to our clients has helped Fresh Accounting grow at an astonishing rate. When clients recommend Xero to other business owners, they recommend us as well. Most of our clients have businesses across Asia. Consequently we are regularly involved with implementing Xero and relevant add-ons for clients with offices in more than two countries. We’ve now not only built an accounting business which is 100% powered by Xero in Hong Kong, but have also launched in Singapore to service existing and potential client.
ML: Xero means I can store all my data in the cloud. The costs are minimal and I can work anywhere, anytime as long as I have internet access. This mobility has been a key feature in helping us develop our overseas market as potential clients can search for advisors with location and industry filters using Xero’s advisor directory. We’re now featured as a Platinum Partner, and this has already led to more opportunities for us – with no geographical limits.
What does going Platinum mean for your business?
PG: Our primary goal has always been to build a successful accounting firm in Hong Kong that provides a bespoke service to clients – we didn’t set out with the goal of becoming a Platinum Partner. Looking back however, going platinum after just three years with Xero is something we’re really proud of. It’s a recognition of our hard work, and all that our incredible team has given to grow the business. This is a great stepping stone as we continue to expand across Asia.
ML: This means a lot to our team. I remember when I first introduced Xero to them and they were all beyond excited. We still believe Xero is ‘gospel’ for small businesses – and as it frees up so much time for us, we can provide far more value-added services for our clients as we’re no longer limited to focusing solely on compliance work. Going Platinum is a total game-changer and boosts our value in a really unique way. We’ve worked hard to achieve this goal, and the ranking shows our efforts have paid off.
What are the key opportunities and challenges facing the traditional accounting industry?
PG: We’re starting to see the accounting sector in Asia start to keep pace with the rest of the world, and we can see real progress in businesses wanting access to real time information. It’s early days, and there is still a huge opportunity for accounting firms to grow using cloud based services. We believe that a younger generation of accountants will drive this change as they seek to explore and learn.
ML: The industry is changing rapidly, but there are still incumbent issues slowing things down. From disorganised data kept on desktop bound spreadsheets – or worse on paper, to inflexible software that doesn’t lend itself to specific industry requirements, many of our clients have come to us to us for advice on how to improve capacity and efficiency. Xero tackles all of these challenges.
What does being an accountant mean to you, and how does Xero help you do your job better?
PG: As a qualified management accountant, my focus is on current trends and the future. We only rely on the past to make appropriate budgeting decisions and to make insightful forecasts for our clients. Xero allows us to look at information in real time. When we’re running more than one business for a client we can even use add-ons such as Spotlight reporting to consolidate account information. This means we can much more easily provide relevant, value-add advice to our clients.
ML: Many people think accountants are old-fashioned, and simply gate-keepers to the company bank account. In the ‘big data’ age, the modern accountant needs to be able to use different systems and smart technology to collect this data and analyse it. We need to aggregate financial and non-financial information. Then we can provide businesses with the strategic advice that will help them make the best decisions for their business. Xero’s ecosystem of add-ons including payment solutions, reporting and analysis tools mean we can easily collect data and give our clients this counsel. It’s genius!
What are your thoughts on the evolving role of the accountant?
PG: Accountants need to be more proactive. Rather than producing historical accounts, it is becoming essential that we can discuss what the numbers actually mean. Accountants need to position themselves as partners to their clients. Furthermore they need to help them to understand their financials by providing greater analytics of the performance of their business.
ML: We need to be gearing up for a changing industry model and adapting to new trends. The cloud generation is happening, so we need to keep an eye out for how the latest technology can help both our industry and the businesses we serve.
What are your business objectives for the next 12 months?
PG: Our focus is on continued growth in Hong Kong and Singapore. Nick Cheng, who was the first member of the Hong Kong team is now overseeing the Singapore business. We believe this highlights the opportunity for our young team to realise their potential.
In the future we see opportunities in China, as well as Japan and Thailand. I think we’ll set up a third office in the next 12 months as we continue to work with more international SME’s.
ML: As a Platinum Partner, I believe it is our responsibility to educate businesses using Xero. We are currently going pan-regional ourselves. We will be establishing a number of offices across Asia-Pacific this year. Our team are very much looking forward to supporting our global clients. And we know that we can provide excellent service to them wherever they are! We’re also keen to collaborate with more add-on providers across Asia-Pacific to find the best solutions for our clients.