Key takeaways from Accountex 2023

Thousands headed to London’s ExCel to gain both inspiration and practical knowhow from Accountex 2023.

iplicit was there with its own good news. We welcomed the former Regional  Chief Operating Officer of Xero, Damon Anderson, as a strategic advisor, leading an advisory board of accountancy practices. And we announced a partnership with Lightyear to provide a solution which can drastically cut time and costs in the accounts payable process.

With more than 250 fintech companies present, and a programme crammed with expert speakers, there was more at Accountex than anyone could take in. But here are some key takeaways and trends we picked up on.

1. Gen Z really is “tech-obsessed” – and with good reason

There’s a lot of discussion in the industry about Gen Z (usually defined as those born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s) and what it takes to engage them with the industry.

One event at Accountex was titled Work-Shy? Entitled? Tech-obsessed? The Misconceptions of Gen Z and What They Really Want.  Its speakers acknowledged that Gen Z might really be tech-obsessed – but that there’s nothing wrong with that. 

“Having a good app stack, being able to do the work as efficiently as possible, is really important,” said Tom Wardle of Myna. 

“I wouldn’t go to a paper-based firm, so technology is really important to me.”
Tom and his fellow Gen Z-er Alex Willoughby, of flinder, were asked by host Maisie Poskitt of BHP LLP whether they’d switch to a paper-based firm for triple the salary – and tempting as the money might be, they said no.

2. Your choice of software is important for growth

There’s a bewildering choice of applications for running all aspects of a business. The key is to match the software with a client’s aspirations – and it was clear that entry-level accounting packages will not be a long-term solution for growth-focused businesses.

At one event – titled What’s Right For You? Custom Versus Bespoke App Stacks for Accountancy Practices? – Lara Brennan of Mazars UK spoke of the need to align apps to the required outputs. 

“We will always say to clients: where do you want to be in three years’ time?” she said. “For a lot of the fast-growing ones, they want to exit.”

It’s important that new software has enough of a track record for you to be confident it works as intended.

“I think it comes down to not jumping at every shiny new thing that comes out,” said Graeme Morrison of Empowered By Cloud.

“I worked in the oil and gas industry and we used to have a saying: Everybody wants to be the first to be second.”

3. Equality and diversity are good for business – and that means flexible working

Pursuing equality and diversity is not just the right thing to do. It’s also good for business, as an ever-accumulating pile of evidence shows.

That’s one reason why rigid office working is an increasingly out of date practice.

Caroline Plumb of Gravita posed a good question for accountancy practices at An Interview With Top Female Leaders Within the Accountancy Profession.

“How do you think about caring responsibilities as an organisation – and the work that happens outside work?” she said.

She urged firms to think of policies such as parental leave, menopause leave and family-friendly working.

“You’ve got to set the organisation up at the start so that it’s possible for people from different backgrounds to be successful,” she added.

ICAEW president Julia Penny talked about some “really damaging cultures” she had heard about and pointed to the organisation’s strategic theme of “attracting talent and building diversity”.

Natasha Frangos of Haysmacintyre LLP told host Rob Brown of the Accounting Influencers Podcast: “Firms have to go out of their way to hear that variety of voices, so it’s not just the loudest and most confident voice that gets heard.”

4. ESG is important – and it needs measuring 

ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues are an increasingly important part of accounting. 

“As accountants, measuring and reporting things is what we’re good at,” Ian Pay of ICAEW told Accounting for the Future: Sustainability and Technology.

“Financial reporting – we know exactly what that looks like. But when we move into non-financial reporting, it does get a bit harder.”

The pressure on large businesses to report meaningfully on ESG performance has an implication for everyone who deals with them.
Ian, speaking alongside Esther Mallowah and Sarah Reay of ICAEW, pointed to the old adage that “what gets measured gets managed”. 

Outlining an approach to measuring carbon emissions, he said software could help.

“If you do it once a year, it will be horrible, it will be the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life,” he added. “If you can turn it into a routine, it will become much easier.” 

5. Old-fashioned bookkeeping is crucial – but software should be doing the boring parts

For all the inspirational messages at Accountex, it was standing room only at an event with a very practical title – The Importance of Getting the Numbers Right: The Hidden Cost to Business of an Inefficient Month End Close. 

Host Gaye Prime, VFD Pro admitted: “It astounds me that this is such a problem.”

What are those hidden costs? For one thing, “you’re going to end up paying more tax”, warned Marie Ralph of Jo Wood Virtual FD.

“Down the line, you’re going to pay somebody to unravel that data and put it right,” she added.

Gaye added: “If you get fairly well-paid people having to do that day-to-day work that’s not appropriate for them, that becomes not a great place to work.”

Chris Gascoyne of cloud accounting practice, Acumist added: “If you don’t pay your suppliers promptly because you don’t know who you owe money to and don’t do your bank reconciliation, it’s very easy to watch your credit rating slide.”

But while traditional bookkeeping tasks such as bank reconciliation are important, software can take the labour out of them.

“With technology that links bank accounts with accounting software, it’s very easy to integrate,” said Chris.

"Automation has given us a lot of time back,” he added.

“Automating the repeatable processes which are very much the boring part of job, which nobody likes to do, would definitely play a part.”

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