South Africa fielded a strong contingent at this year’s Xerocon in London, with 57 partners attending the event. One of those present was South African technology commentator and award-winning journalist, Arthur Goldstuck. He spent some time with the Xero leadership team and also attended a number of keynotes, including one from Anna Curzon, Xero’s Chief Product Officer. I sat down with him after the event to get his perspective on Xerocon London 2019.
In a nutshell, how did you find the event?
My overall impression of Xero is that it’s a company that is punching far above its weight. The quality of the keynotes, the overall impact of the event, and the quality of the expo itself has been amazing.
Walking around and talking to Xero partners was just as illuminating. I found the vast majority of them to offer real solutions to genuine business problems. The expo not only reflected the quality of the partners, but also the practicality of meeting the needs of their target markets.
What were your highlights?
Getting the chance to sit down with Steve Vamos (Global CEO), Gary Turner (UK and EMEA MD) and Colin Timmis (SA Country Manager) was fascinating. It was more than an hour of a real deep dive into their thinking about what Xero does, what accountants do, and what the accounting profession will be like in the future. The keynotes were also very inspiring, mainly because they were so unexpectedly personal.
I know that was the intention, but there was an authenticity to it, that you often don’t get when people deliberately try and get personal.
Anna’s story about her isolation while growing up in a small town in Zealand had a strong authenticity. It illustrated how experience shapes understanding, and in a sense, these stories shape what Xero is. The connection between the personal and the corporation was genuinely tangible in all these stories, something which I’ve never experienced before in a large organisation.
Was there anything you think South African accountants could learn from the event?
One of the things that stood out for me at Xero for some time now is the functionality available in the app marketplace. Any accounting practice wanting to automate processes, or enhance capabilities and improve its service to clients, would do exceptionally well by exploring that marketplace.
What does the future hold for accountants?
There are quite a few possibilities, but as Steve Vamos was saying, the one key role in the economy is going to be as a business coach.
It’s hard to phrase it, but the accountant of the future is going to have data at their disposal that will enable them to make better decisions or guide their clients.
Data capturing and data extraction that is now becoming possible is giving people data on a level that was never possible before.
In the African context, Colin made the point that there’s still a massive gap between those who are adopting and embracing cloud accounting and those who aren’t. The latter needs to be persuaded and educated on why it’s important to embrace cloud accounting, but the actual strike rate is still low.
At the Xero roadshows in Johannesburg and Cape Town, you could see that there’s undoubtedly enough practitioners who want to embrace the cloud and the new apps. But I think many of them will adopt a wait-and-see approach until they’re forced by their competition to respond.
But because the majority of accountants haven’t crossed the divide yet, there’s comfort in numbers. Ironically, the achilles heel of the profession is that you have that comfort in the crowd. But it should be comfort in the cloud, not the crowd!