Accountex London 2024: Here’s what we learned from day two

The very future of accountancy and finance was under the spotlight on day two of Accountex at London’s ExCeL.

The iplicit team were there, demonstrating our award-winning accounting software to accountants and finance professionals in business.

Taking place around the exhibitions were a host of talks and discussions about how the profession is likely to change.

Here are some of the messages we took away.

Accountex 2024 Day 2

Different generations respond to different incentives

How do you blend a team from different generations, with vastly different experiences of life, work and technology?

That was the theme of a talk by Becky Glover, Finance Director at Yutree Insurance and the inaugural winner of the iplicit-sponsored FD of the Year title at last year’s Accounting Excellence Awards.

“Humanness is what’s really important and it’s going to set our businesses and ourselves apart in a world where technology is coming in thick and fast,” she told the event, titled The Generational Shift of the Finance Department.

She considered how to best attract and retain the talents of different generations, from Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) to Generation Z (1997-2012) and the emerging Generation Alpha, or ‘iGEN’ (born 2013-2028).

For boomers, the key to retaining talent could be letting them be seen, giving them an office to work from and allowing part-time and flexible work as retirement approaches.

For Generation X (born 1965-1980), it might be allowing plenty of face-to-face interaction and offering flexibility to accommodate family life. For millennials (born 1981-1996), regular feedback, implementing new technology, encouraging downtime and offering autonomy and flexibility were all important.

With Deloitte reporting that 46% of Generation Z workers feel stressed out, an employer needs to offer purpose, flexibility, a clear progression path, technology and instant feedback, Becky said.

Generation Alpha, growing up with huge leaps in AI and other technology, would be a new challenge. “They haven’t really been in a world without large language models,” said Becky.

She urged employers to provide “bigger and better” training budgets, allowing people to learn in “bite size” formats such as podcasts and pursue knowledge that might not immediately pay off.

“Change has never been this fast – but it will never be this slow again,” she added.

Leadership might not be what you think it is

The people with lofty job titles are not the only ones who qualify as leaders. That was one of the ideas behind a session called Leadership Is Not a Position, It’s a Disposition.

Grace Hardy, founder of Hardy Accounting; Alexis Charkiw, CEO of Right Click; and Yash Selarka, Vice Chairperson at the AAT’s London Branch, told host Jonathan Gorvin of the AAT about their experiences of leadership.

For Yash, the most challenging time of his leadership had been the pandemic, which happened during his term chairing the AAT London branch. Support for members had been moved online and it was important to keep “checking in” and engaging, he said.

It’s important to “grow your team when the sun is shining”, he added. “Once you’ve got that as a foundation, you can give them a sense that we’re here for you.”

For Grace, the biggest challenge had been attitudes to a young woman finishing an apprenticeship and starting her own practice.

“It’s about finding that community. I’ve met so many amazing people on my way who have really helped me to be the best person I can be,” she added.

Alexis had also run into stereotypes about women business leaders. When her brother joined her established firm, people assumed he was the boss.

“I’m really passionate about the fact that we do need to think about the leaders coming up,” she said.

There are things you can do to improve diversity

There’s plenty of evidence that diversity and inclusion are good for business as well as being the right way to operate.

Kayleigh Graham, Head of Partnerships and Growth at Telleroo, set out to offer some practical advice about how to work towards diversity, without necessarily spending a lot of money on consultants.

“When I started working with wonderful accountants and bookkeepers, one of the things I noticed when I started coming to shows like this was that there was a really diverse mix of people walking around,” she told the event, called The Practical Guide to Navigating Diversity and Inclusion in 2024.

But that diversity had not always been represented in public – and the online response to an article she wrote for AccountingWeb, called ‘Not Being Racist Is Not Enough’, was dispiriting. “That’s exactly why I had to be talking about this,” she said.

She gave advice on improving job descriptions and careers pages, defining the interview process for candidates, setting up staff for success and offering benefits that really are benefits.

She urged employers to ask people what they wanted and deliver it. Businesses should set out their values and live those values in their hiring and firing practices, she said.

“I don’t think we have a talent shortage. We have a real mismatch between talent and the work available,” she added.

The accountant of the future will embrace digital

An Accountex audience was introduced to Lorna, an accountant of 2028, who takes advantage of artificial intelligence and takes cyber security very seriously.

Mark Lee, of BookMarkLee, urged people to harness the potential of artificial intelligence. His talk was called The Future Demands Different Accountants to Those of Yesterday.

“We are not going to be replaced by AI or by AAI – that’s augmented accounting intelligence,” he said.

“That sort of story is typically touted by people who don’t understand what accountants do.”

But he said AI was developing so quickly that “the accountants that embrace AI and start using the tools that it’s embedded in are going to zoom past their competitors and colleagues and managers”.

He added: “You have to get on the bus.”

Value is about more than money

CFOs have a lot coming at them – and their increasing responsibility for non-financial subjects has led to calls for the role to be redefined as Chief Value Officer.

The topic was the subject of a session called Chief Value Officer – The Important Evolution of the CFO, with Clive Webb of ACCA interviewing Tauni Lanier, Director of BDO’s ESG Hub; Tannyth Bush, Director at BDO; Sarah Whale, Managing Director at Profit Impact; and Yutree Insurance FD Becky Glover.

Tannyth said value was “more than just profit”.

“It encompasses other factors such as customer satisfaction, social responsibility and sustainability as well,” she said.

Tauni sounded a note of warning about the longer term. “When we talk about value we’re not talking about just creating value but we’re also talking about avoiding value erosion,” she said.

“How does value impact you as a company – the good side and also making sure you don’t erode value on the bad side?”

Becky said it was important that the idea of value was communicated outside the finance team.

“We understand short-term and long-term costs and benefits but we need to be able to tell that story to the other board members and stakeholders,” she said.

Sarah raised an issue that she said many people would be “fed up of hearing about”: the gender pay gap.

“It’s not changing, things aren’t moving, and there’s a whole host of reasons for that,” she said.

“How can businesses do something within their business that’s going to lift society?” she asked.

“It’s probably going to cost money in the short term but it will add value to you within your business and outside your business in the longer term.”

She said short-term thinking was a large part of the challenge when it came to creating value.

“There are 300m businesses in the world which are focused on profit. Probably 280m are looking at short term profit,” she said.

“That’s why we’re not taking the step up, because we haven’t got the confidence to make those long-term decisions. That’s why the CFO role is essential.”

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