As technology rapidly evolves to make our lives simpler through ease of communication and automation, so comes the fear of redundancy as more people wonder if they will be replaced by "robots". But if we can learn to leverage automation to reduce the burden of manual processing, we allow ourselves the opportunity to expand our personal service, thereby maintaining the human connection.
Intuit is one company whose goal is just that: through the development of its automated accounting systems, QuickBooks, it aims to take the grunt work out of bookkeeping, freeing up accountants to be more than just "number-crunchers".
At the recent QuickBooks Get Connected, I chatted with the company's team - Dominic Allon (SVP and GM, International Intuit QuickBooks), Brandon Wilson (director of marketing - Global Expansion at QuickBooks) and Peter Harris (head of partnerships at Intuit QuickBooks) - about the future of the accounting profession and why every business can learn by following you home...
Tell us a bit about the Intuit journey so far and what you believe makes the company special?
Intuit was started 35 years ago by our founder, Scott Cook, at his kitchen table (which can be found in our offices today). He wanted to develop a solution to help individuals and small companies manage their finances. Today, we are a global operation with 3.2 million QuickBooks Online subscribers and 700,000 accountant partners around the world. We have a fantastic heritage in South Africa, having worked for many, many, many years with accountants and small businesses here, particularly through our desktop solutions. Last year, we introduced QuickBooks Online in South Africa and this was the first market in the world that we did so led by accountants.
What makes our company so special is our sense of purpose – powering prosperity around the world by helping accountants and small businesses stand on their own two feet. We are driven by our customers and our aim is to understand them better than anybody else. We have over a thousand engineers to drive innovation and put their needs first. This philosophy of customer driven innovation was established by our founder.
How does Intuit differentiate itself from other competitors in the industry?
89% of small businesses say they are more successful when they work with an accountant. We bring accountants and business owners together and, as a result, have a three-way partnership that empowers and enables clients’ success. We even have a matchmaking service to enable this.
In addition, we provide our customers with a market-leading support service with a team of over 100 expert, trained staff who are dedicated to taking calls from our clients. They are briefed to take as much time as it takes to solve our clients’ problems. We also offer training and certification in cloud accounting and provide tools to help our clients become more comfortable in the online marketing space.
Stepping into the fourth industrial revolution, there's been much discussion and unease about automation and robots taking our jobs - especially in the finance and accounting sector. Do you find your software solutions are ever regarded as a threat? How do you reassure your potential professional accounting clients in this regard?
Admittedly, there has been some trepidation from both accountants and their clients, but to help them see new solutions as an opportunity and not a threat, we provide them with training via in-person events, like Get Connected, webinars and our collateral.
While a great deal of the work that bookkeepers and accountants do will be automated, that’s a great thing because it takes all the tedious work away from them so they can spend more time giving their clients advice and helping them grow their business. This work is not only more valuable to the client, it’s also more fun and rewarding to the financial professional. Plus, they can bill more for it – it’s a win, win, win. This enables professionals to move from compliance to consulting.
The reliability and cost of internet access is only getting better and if there are problems, these professionals can access everything they need on the mobile app via cellular data. While they do need to pay a subscription and internet fees for QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Online Accountant, they can save 8+ hours a week by no longer having to manually key in data by automating bank feeds and importing slips and statements. Not only will they save lots of time, but they’ll more than make up for the cost of the subscription and internet.
Every now and again, a rising technology comes along and fundamentally changes the way we work. Artificial intelligence, or AI, has been at the forefront of recent discussion...
Farren Roper 13 Feb 2019
What should finance and accounting professionals be doing to remain relevant in this industry?
These professionals should be adopting a more advisory role and work alongside their clients, adding value for them by providing expert advice and helping them to grow their businesses. They should be trying to understand their clients better and customising their service offerings around their needs.
What other changes / emerging trends are you seeing within the industry?
With advances in technology freeing up accountants to focus on advising their clients, this is affecting the way they price their services. Now, these professionals can bill their clients based on the value they add to their business, rather than for the high volume, low value-adding tasks that they used to.
The shift to app-driven banks like Bank Zero and the increase in people using cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, will undoubtedly impact the industry. This will necessitate the development of products that can make the integration of these innovations into mainstream accounting that much easier.
Compliance with industry bodies is vital - and, I imagine, quite a process working within as many countries as Intuit does. How does the company ensure each country-specific version is compliant with industry best-practice?
In each market that we enter we have a team of legal experts who ensure that we are compliant with the laws of the land. In addition, with customer-driven innovation being at the heart of everything we do, our platforms are built to be flexible so that customers can tailor them to fit the needs of their businesses and country, including its accounting standards.
Tell us about the "follow you home" concept and what businesses across all sectors can take from it?
This was developed by our founder, who would literally ask customers who were purchasing the software if he could follow them home from the store to see how they used it in a ‘real world’ setting and what challenges they encountered so that any improvements could be made. Unlike other businesses that might conduct a survey to gauge customer satisfaction, this allows us to get first-hand feedback and enables us to tap into insights that a survey simply can’t reveal. We have done about 40 of these in the past year. This concept is vital in understanding clients and how they interact with your product in the ‘real world’.