I’ve always been a little dubious about accountants as business advisers. Most accountants I’ve dealt with in the past have been very reactionary and much more interested in compliance than in being a true “embedded adviser” to the business.
It was for this reason that I was initially sceptical about Xero’s strategy of using accountants as channel partners, doubtful as I was of the chance of many accountant actually being ready to make the leap into a truly collaborative relationship. This doubt was somewhat ameliorated by last years announcement of the Xero accountants edition which gave practice managers the opportunity to manage their clients all from one central place.
In these difficult economic times however it is not only businesses themselves that need any added advantage, so too do professional advisers. The release this morning of My Xero Accountants Edition gives accounting practices the ability to provide an added service to their customers and in this way differentiate themselves from the competition.
I can imagine that accounting practices would prefer to be able to acquire Xero as a "white label" item that they could then brand themselves – white labelling has been very prevalent in other SaaS sectors (learning management solutions for example) but hasn’t come to the fore yet with Accounting apps.
I’m not an accountant so for a practice centric perspective of what this means, check out Dennis’ post. However from an end business perspective it’s obvious that the move allows for businesses and their customers to really collaborate in real time.
It’s a way for Xero, with no huge additional expense, to lubricate the on-ramp to their product. With buy-in from both the end users themselves as well as the advisers, the chances of a closed deal become more likely.
However it’s the opportunities that these sort of moves open up that interest me more than the direct effect they’ll have on the sales pipeline.
There are many more opportunities that accounting software can take advantage of to provide added value for their customers. We’re already seeing the creation of communities around a business and its financial adviser – I’d like to see that community grow to include other advisers. There are plenty of other advisers out there from manufacturing to legal to IP to employment – they too should be facilitated to collaborate with their clients – better to do it in one beach-head application than across multiple channels.
I’d also like to see accounting software become the beach-head through which businesses collaborate with each other – as an aside a recent (admittedly New Zealand centric, but I’m sure the statistics are borne out in other jurisdictions) study found some things that I’ve contended for years. The NZ Centre for Small and Medium Enterprises research project had two findings of relevance;
- The biggest hurdle to managerial upskilling for SMEs is the time constraints of their business
- The sources most likely to be utilised for upskilling in SMEs are family/friends or hard/soft publications
It’s these very reasons that saw myself co-found a New Zealand small business community that seeks to leverage the power of the peers. I believe that accounting software could become the portal through which this sort of collaboration and information sharing occurs. Accounting software can be the beach-head through which formal leadership and management training can occur – in a neutral but enabled way.
Another area that some players have grasped firmly is that of benchmarking. While as a concept it has been sexy for many years now, a move to SaaS business applications enables the quick and easy collection and analysis of industry data to allow small businesses to benchmark themselves against their peers. This and some business intelligence functionality, formerly the bastion of mega-prices solutions suddenly becomes accessible to even the smallest player.
So the opportunities are nearly endless, and the changes we see today are but a foundation stone for what we’ll be able to do in the months and years to come.