The Rise of the Accounting Technologist: Float on end-to-end accounting

The rise of the Accounting Technologist role, someone at the intersection of both accounting and technologist, is being observed across all kinds of people in the accounting industry. After interviewing accounting firms, we’ve started interviewing accounting apps to get a deep insight into what’s going on behind the scenes in the accounting technology space.

Last time, we spoke to Practice Ignition, a proposal and relationship management app. Today, we’re speaking to Dylan Burgess, the Country Manager (APAC) at Float, a cash flow forecasting app. He’s had years of experience in the accounting industry, including at one of the Big 4 Accounting Firms before stepping into the cloud accounting space.

In this interview, Dylan discusses the first-hand exponential growth that he’s seen in the accounting apps space, the thought leaders in this new wave of Accounting Technologists, the next big thing he expects to see in the accounting industry and where the accounting profession is headed.

How has the transition to accounting technology looked from your perspective?

“The accounting industry has undergone a rapid shift in the last few years. The number of apps that connect to accounting software is growing exponentially, with Xero recently announcing that they have over 1,000 connected apps. It gives a strong indication of the rising adoption of technology and shift towards a digital-first approach to bookkeeping and accounting.”

“Previously, I worked for one of the data automation companies, Hubdoc, as one of their first Australian employees. When I joined Hubdoc, it only had around 30 people globally and this more than tripled by the time it was acquired by Xero recently.”

“To achieve this growth, accounting software solutions like Hubdoc have done quite a lot of work to try and help bookkeepers understand that this technology wasn’t going to take their jobs, even though software solutions were still very much in the early adoption phase. Realistically when I joined Hubdoc, most bookkeepers didn’t have a data automation solution at the heart of their workflows – that only really started a few years ago.”

“The rate of adoption over the past few years of data automation solutions is crazy. We’ve now transitioned to a world where every bookkeeper has some sort of data automation tool in place now – whether that be Hubdoc, Dext, EzzyBills, AutoEntry. Whatever the case may be, this is just one example in a category of apps that I’ve been deeply involved in, with so many more stories like this in other categories.”

How does the new wave of accounting firms differ from traditional firms?

“Now what we’re seeing is a cohort of firms who are building their business model on a foundation of technology. Rather than coming from a mindset of fearing it, they’re seeing technology as an amazing tool that can free up time to provide greater value to their clients.”

“These early adopting firms use the technology to provide a higher value of service from the get go. We’re no longer just digitising compliance, we’re looking at how we can support and digitise the advisory side of accounting and bookkeeping with tools like Float, Spotlight and Fathom really starting to gain momentum and traction. The early adopters of data automation tools are already ahead of this curve and have been using these tools to provide their clients with an end-to-end solution.”

“Rather than looking at technology as a specific function, firms are looking at it as a workflow. They’re asking – what does my end-to-end service offering look like? What does it look like as a workflow? And how can I plug in specific solutions to have a digital-first approach, as opposed to providing a standard service and then digitising some parts of it?”

What have been the biggest drivers in removing the fear of technology?

“Xero has done a really phenomenal job of removing that fear and creating an atmosphere that encourages the adoption of apps, particularly through events like Xerocon and Xero roadshows. They’re really investing in the ecosystem and ensuring that the software solutions available through the Xero platform are at the heart of those events.”

“Businesses are starting to have a higher demand from their advisors as well. Gone are the days where they’re happy to take an MYOB file, put it on a USB stick, and take it to an accountant who then starts work to review it at the end of the quarter or financial year. Millennials starting up new businesses and this new age of digital-first business owners are expecting a digital-first solution when they approach accounting professionals.”

“And finally, the other side of the puzzle is other professionals and practices that already exist in the accounting and bookkeeping industry. Like Guy Pearson, CEO of Practice Ignition, and Founder of Interactive Accounting, one of the first fully Xero accounting firms when it was first created.”

“The industry has looked at these examples and thought, ‘Well, they’re not getting put out of a job, they’re getting better outcomes, not only for their practice, but also for their clients’. The same goes for amazing thought leaders like Andrew Van Der Beek from Illumin8, and Aly Garrett from All In Advisory. These individuals have built their practices around software, not for the sake of using software, but using software to provide an end-to-end workflow that enhances their relationship with clients.”

“There was a recent podcast from Aly & Andrew, covering all the technology they used and the list was probably 30 or 40 apps long. That just shows how embedded software is into their workflows and into the solutions that they offer their clients. There’s so many stories of these forward-thinking Accounting Technologists that have solved workflow issues and friction points.”

How does technology allow accounting firms to acquire customers and avoid churn?

“The demands of clients are definitely increasing. We’re seeing businesses that embrace technology, shifting away from more traditional accountants or bookkeepers and gravitating towards those that have taken this digital-first approach. There’s a need for an end-to-end solution because they want all of their needs solved by one practice and technology is making this possible. That’s why we’ve seen the emergence of the Virtual CFO or virtual finance function.”

“Software companies are excellent at demonstrating the value of their solutions to the business owners as well. For example, you see industry verticals where business owners might not be able to get the most out of complex tools such as simPro and Unleashed and they gravitate towards financial professionals that have implemented these in their industry because they can see the value in these solutions.”

“Bookkeepers and accountants that have adopted technology and understand some of these more complex tools are also seeing the benefits of this. They can organically attract clients as a result of having that understanding of technologies.” 

How have the Bookkeeper and Accountant roles changed?

“What business owners are definitely starting to see, and what the industry is starting to shift towards, is that bookkeepers and accountants are the backbone of the cloud accounting industry. They’re in the best possible position to be providing these solutions to their clients.”

“The majority of bookkeepers I know essentially work alongside the business owners and run it as if it were their own business, which is quite amazing to see. COVID really showed the resilience of the bookkeeping industry. Despite all the changes, they were able to get everything through with all the technology like cloud accounting, single touch payroll and data automation. I think as a result of this business owners have started to place a new level of value on their bookkeepers and there’s an opportunity for bookkeepers to use this to provide high-value services.”

“Accountants traditionally have always enjoyed this kind of prestige in the industry but what I think we’re also seeing in the accounting industry is that they’re realising that they need to stay ahead of the curve. A tax return at the end of the year or a management report at the end of the quarter doesn’t cut it anymore.”

What’s the next big thing coming to the accounting profession?

“We’re starting to see the emergence of an end-to-end virtual finance function, this comes in the form of many titles including virtual finance director, virtual financial controller, or virtual CFO. SMBs don’t have $200,000 a year to spend on a CFO in-house but they’re starting to realise that they need that level of support. Bookkeepers do the books and accountants provide strategic advice but there’s still a missing piece.”

“Business owners need to understand their cash flow – whether they can afford to hire an employee, what to do if they want to upgrade a fleet of cars, and other similar operational business questions. Neither a bookkeeper nor an accountant is in a perfect position to answer these and so there’s this new friction point.”

“The virtual finance function can provide the end-to-end solution for these businesses and reduces or removes a lot of these friction points. I think that’s the direction business owners are moving towards. We’ve already seen that shift over the last five years and it’s becoming more and more prevalent.”

What does the future of the Accounting Technologist role hold?

“The role of the Accounting Technologist has already emerged. Firms like Clarity Street have been created with the core focus of helping firms and businesses implement cloud technology. Others like SMB Consultants have extended this further with their introduction of cloud integration partners as an arm of their company. And they’re already getting traction in that space to help bookkeepers or accountants in providing technological solutions to their clients outside of the scope of traditional bookkeeping and accounting.”

“What we’re seeing in larger, more traditional firms, is that teams are being created within them to act as an Accounting Technologist for the wider firm. If you look at RSM, one of the large mid-tier accounting firms for example, Laurel Grey does an amazing job with the RSM digital team. There becomes a specialised component that focuses on digital solutions for the clients under that umbrella of bookkeeping, accounting or financial services.”

“A lot of firms that I speak to now have a cloud accounting specialist or cloud consultant as actual roles in their team. They can then lean on that person to refer technological solutions to their clients so that they’re still able to provide the services that their practice was built on, whilst being able to cater for these new demands that come from software.”

“We’re at that tipping point where these roles are starting to emerge more and more. I see an opportunity for those that are new to the industry to come in and start firms focused on the Accounting Technologist role, just like what we saw 10 years ago when Guy Pearson built an accounting firm using solely cloud accounting technology.”

About Dylan Burgess and Float Cash Flow Forecasting

Dylan is the Country Manager of Float Cash Flow Forecasting here in APAC and has been in the accounting industry since the start of his career, originally with one of the Big 4 Accounting Firms before transitioning into the world of cloud accounting technology. He has spent the past few years working closely with Financial Advisors to use technology to streamline their workflows and transition towards high value services.

Float is a cash flow forecasting add-on for Xero, QuickBooks Online and FreeAgent. It gives businesses and their financial advisors an accurate picture of the company’s past, current, and future cash flow so that they can save time, make more informed decisions and plan for growth.