It’s becoming more and more clear that technology underpins the majority of accounting firms who’ve experienced massive growth in recent years. We’ve dubbed the term Accounting Technologist to describe the people who are driving this change through their understanding of tech stacks, integrations, automation and other accounting technology.
We’re seeing that many people are falling into the role once firms realise they need someone with expertise in both accounting and technology. Recently, we interviewed Steffen Hoyemsvoll, an Accounting Technologist from Ecommerce Accountants. He shares how he grew the firm significantly as well as his thoughts on how an Accounting Technologist is becoming key to the future success of any practice.
How did you end up at Ecommerce Accountants?
“I studied Physics at Oxford. I did a Master’s there, but went into finance,” said Steffen.
After graduating, Steffen was working as a trader and eventually moved into algorithmic trading. He’s career always steered closer and closer to automation, and he ultimately ended up in software and financial management.
Ecommerce Accountants was started by Joseph Cox, Steffen’s school friend. He had started an e-commerce business himself and wanted to outsource his accounting but ended up realising that there were no firms specialising in the e-commerce industry.
At the start, Steffen would help out here and there, “I had always been giving him Excel advice and a little CRM advice.” However, the business started to grow through word of mouth and organic search since there were no other accounting firms that were similar. Joseph asked Steffen if he wanted to come on board and since then, they’ve had exponential growth.
Why did the firm need an Accounting Technologist?
“I never guessed that I’d end up being an Accounting Technologist.”
Steffen attributes his position to, “Half desire, half good fortune.” There was a clear need for an Accounting Technologist at Ecommerce Accountants and he was happy to fill the role. However, he wouldn’t have been able to do the role if he hadn’t pursued software development that intersected with finance for 5 years.
As the firm grew to 40+ clients, the use of tech internally was crucial. Steffen explained, “I put clients into a proper CRM, started to codify some of the processes he already had in place, made everything a little more robust and scalable.”
In the past 3 to 4 years, he’s been able to put in place processes and systems that they wouldn’t have been able to do without a full-time developer. These have helped to make work significantly more efficient for the accountants. They now have 500+ clients and 18 employees. In fact, to maintain quality, Steffen said, “We’ve got some self-imposed caps in terms of how quickly we can grow to make sure we can maintain the same high service level for all clients.”
Who defines what you do as an Accounting Technologist?
Steffen takes a proactive approach to figuring out tech-based solutions for problems tangent to accounting. Building trusted relationships and being a strong communicator allows him to explain the value of a potential solution. Typically, clients are happy to take on the recommended solutions, especially if it saves them time, and is a good fit.
However, for the most part, clients are driving the demand for certain solutions. Ecommerce Accountants capture what clients are asking for on a Kaizen board, Slack channel and knowledge bank. If there’s a popular request that they feel they’re in a position to fix, they’ll work to find a solution. “We’re focusing on a number of different problems, finding tech providers and a inventory management solution are the two main problems.”
On top of the external services they offer, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. “From the client’s point of view, it’s seamless, but in reality, there’s a fairly deep tech stack behind it.” For example, in e-commerce, there are a bunch of different transaction types. In order to simplify data entry and data flow, using different integrations and tools is absolutely necessary.
Does accounting tech really improve profit margins?
“The value internally is very easy to ascribe.”
The conversation around tech that accountants use internally is evolving. It’s one of the main topics you’ll hear about in Facebook groups and other accounting communities. Steffen encourages any firms who haven’t embraced tech to do an exercise to see how many more clients they could handle if they used tools that sped up administrative tasks.
“Helping customers create efficiencies in their business, that’s the part more often ignored. It could create a lot of value, but is harder to estimate, requires good communication, and there are barriers to entry, but those who do embrace it, they generally see huge benefit.”
There’s not yet enough of a conversation about tech stacks for customers and how to communicate their value. Steffen loves the idea of people spending less time on boring tasks. Once they have more accounting technologist resources in the team, he will definitely be pursuing this revenue stream further.
What will happen to firms that don’t embrace tech?
The move to cloud-based accounting software at the very least is inevitable, even if it’s not welcomed by everyone. For example, after the UK introduced the Making Tax Digital rules, many accountants were “dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.” Talks of similar changes are happening all over the world.
Steffen believes it will become extremely difficult for accounting firms to remain competitive and profitable without technology. In particular, any accountancy looking to grow their margins or clients will need to adopt it. For Ecommerce Accountants, being an accounting-led and a tech-led firm are interdependent. “We’re led by what lets us save clients time and stress, and being tech-enabled lets us execute on that mandate.”
How can a firm hire an Accounting Technologist?
“There is an education piece to be done. There are a lot of people, hiring managers, that don’t know this role exists, or that they need it.”
No one bats an eye when a firm hires a part-time payroll manager. However, “The idea of hiring a full-time, in-house developer, that’s pretty scary.” Hence, a potential stepping stone could be to hire a part-time Accounting Technologist. “It’s effectively like having an in-house consultant.”
There are a few key traits that Steffen recommends firms look for in an Accounting Technologist. Though development experience is ideal, it’s hard to find and very expensive. “Accounting software, cloud-technology, that’s a given. That alone, wouldn’t make you a technologist. What makes you a technologist is if you can work with new solutions, understand it, figure out how it can add value to processes.”
“A large proportion of the tools I use are ones that I learned about within the last two years, so I don’t need specific skills, I need flexibility and a willingness to move with the times.” For example, one of the team has a computer games design background. She’s able to look at problems, figure out a framework for the solution and evaluate potential tech providers that would work well.
How does tech expertise help to filter out marketing fluff?
“Distinguishing yourself based on apps, that actually has a pragmatic difference in the day-to-day accounting and bookkeeping interaction between the professional and their client.”
There’s been a positive shift to a greater focus on expertise in tools. In the past, people would communicate their expertise based solely on verticals. Though an accounting firm might have decades of experience in a certain sector, it’s all marketing fluff if they don’t understand the best tech stack that would make a client’s life easier.
How can we drive the accounting tech conversation?
“Accountants are generally pretty hungry to learn, to upskill and to add value to their clients.”
There are a lot of ways that different players in the industry could be driving the conversation in accounting technology. For example, accounting software companies are in a strong position to educate accountants on business development, adding value with tools, and tech stacks for certain industries. “I think this type of education would be very well received,” said Steffen.
Where is the Accounting Technologist role moving?
“We’ll have to turn our focus to the additional things customers consistently express demand for, and there is a clear appetite for tech advice.”
The responsibilities of an Accounting Technologist will mostly be shaped by their client’s demands. As a result, the role will become more defined as time goes on. Plus, with the no code revolution, there is now an abundance of tools that can be leveraged. With more structure and lower barriers to entry, the role is bound to become more prevalent.
He hopes that more people embrace it as it grows. “It pains me when I see people do repetitive tasks that should be done by technology. That’s time wasted that they could be spending out skiing, or walking in a forest, or fishing or whatever!”
“If you’ve got a logical mindset, you like playing around with problems and solutions, testing and experimenting, and these are concepts that come naturally to you, this sort of role could be really lucrative.” He encourages anyone that might be interested in the Accounting Technologist role to reach out to him to chat.
For Steffen personally, he’ll naturally be moving into a more managerial role. He expects to be overseeing a whole team of people who will be implementing tech for the firm and for clients. In the next 1 to 2 years, he expects to pursue more structured technology advisory as a revenue stream.
About Steffen Hoyemsvoll
Steffen Hoyemsvoll is COO and tech lead for Ecommerce Accountants. Before this role he studied Physics at Oxford, went into finance as a trader, then as a developer of financial software for wealth managers and financial advisers.
His main focus is client success which roughly translates to: Ensuring our processes are designed to save clients time and stress; this is enabled in large part by efficient use of technology. He also holds the Chartered Wealth Manager Qualification and is passionate about helping people gain knowledge and feel financially empowered.