An Era of Authenticity and Opportunity

Xerocon_Atlanta2018@2x

Returning back to the office and a busy inbox after a whirlwind conference can make it all too easy to dive back into business as usual. That's why I've made it a ritual to reflect on the event, and to consider which topics made the most impact among attendees. Looking back at last week’s Xerocon in Atlanta, there are several major things that come to mind.

A more powerful product

It wouldn’t be a user conference without updating the captive audience on what’s new in the product and the development pipeline, and the Xero team had plenty to show off. In addition to an announcement from Xero Americas’ President Keri Gohman about a new integration with Citi, there was plenty of new functionality demonstrated that brings the platform even closer to a world of 'code-free accounting'.

Xero Americas VP of Products and Partnerships, Herman Man, walked attendees through the new automated bill entries, Xero projects with integrated time tracking, speedier bank reconciliations, 'Ask' functionality in Xero HQ, and hinted at a new 'Relationships' feature to help firms better manage client contacts. All of the new functionality visibly stems from the needs and feedback of both small businesses and their accountants alike, with a focus on automating easy, yet time-consuming tasks to help businesses get paid faster and to free up time for firms to be working more closely with their clients.

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Standing out is a good thing

While some may come to Xerocon to learn about what’s new from a product perspective, many come to the event to learn directly from their peers, and Xerocon Atlanta provided a ton of opportunities to do just that. While some breakout topics centered on somewhat familiar themes of implementing apps and understanding automation, I noticed that many conversations at the conference focused around the idea of authenticity and how it can be a major differentiator for businesses. It was refreshing to hear both keynote and breakout speakers talk about owning the things that set them apart and using them as a competitive advantage to attract the right team members and clients.

In a particularly pertinent panel discussion, Jina Etienne, CPA, CGMA, of Grant Thornton, talked with CEO of Faire Design, Kate Watts, and author Elaine Pofeldt, about how mixing authenticity, empathy, and technology can be key to setting yourself apart and attracting clients that are tailor made for you. Another valuable session featuring Sasha Hryciuk and Tracy Simmons of Loft Technologies also touched on the idea of differentiating by 'Nailing Your Niche'. In this session, the conversation focused on the benefits that firms can reap by specializing their services towards a target market, and how authenticity and expertise can be key to helping your firm stand out in that particular space.

Connecting apps creates community

A consistent theme that surfaced was the power that comes from piecing together a suite of applications for your practice. Will Lopez, founder and CEO Advisorfi and Kenji Kuramoto, founder and CEO Acuity spent time in their noteworthy breakout talking with Nicole Dunn, Head of Partner Success Xero Americas, about the apps that help them enhance their engagements with clients, and David Emmerman of Emmerman, Boyle & Associates, LLC took time to show of the power of Xero HQ integrations.

Beyond working with apps within a practice, it was also evident that adding applications is a crucial part of powering the wider Xero experience and key to creating community. The Atlanta conference brought back the appearance of dozens of industry apps, with partners testifying to the vital role that apps play alongside Xero. We even got the chance to revel in the community we’ve helped to create, as we hosted an amazing dinner with fellow apps Hubdoc and Practice Ignition. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate some of our partners, with the evening being full of non-stop conversation as firms shared their experiences of working with the Xero ecosystem to scale their practices.

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An era of opportunity and advisory

Reflecting back on Xerocon Atlanta, there is one main message that resounded louder than all the others, and it was probably the most important one for the event’s attendees to hear. In a time where all eyes are resting warily on automation and wondering what it will mean for the future of the accounting profession, Xero assured the audience that we’re not in an era of uncertainty, but rather entering one of opportunity. Both Keri Gohman and Ben Richmond (VP Partner Channel at Xero Americas), expressed the fact that accounting jobs aren’t going away anytime soon. Instead, they focused on the fact that new tools and technology are presenting opportunities for firms to be more valuable than ever before to their clients.

Xero tapped into this concept by focusing attendees' attention on what small businesses want and need - and the answer seems to be advisory. On the mainstage, this was highlighted by Xero sharing the stats that 72% of small businesses want a more proactive relationship with their accountants and that firms that implemented advisory services saw a 29% jump in their growth. The message behind these metrics was loud and clear: firms can help small businesses and in turn grow their own businesses, by leveraging technology to automate tedious tasks and free up time for them to focus on high touch advisory services.

This message was no doubt music to my ears, because it’s the tune we’ve been singing to firms for some time now here at Fathom. We have seen the valuable impact that advisory services can have on client relationships, and the growth it can drive for a practice. It’s exciting to see the wider industry embracing this as well, and to see key partners like Xero encouraging the profession to propel their practices forward by providing more advisor-centric offerings. There’s no doubt that the core services of firms are shifting, and we look forward to working with even more accountants who see cloud technology and authenticity as key to setting themselves apart in the space.