Xero’s big conference is known as Xerocon and was held in Sydney on 23 and 24 August 2023. I attended both days in my role as an accounting firm coach, consultant and mentor to keep up to date with what’s going on in the tech space. Here are my takeaways.

Xero know how to put on a show!

From the opening welcome to country and contemporary dancers, it was clear that a lot of time and money had gone into it. I didn’t go to the wrap party at Ivy but I hear it was excellent. My guess is there were maybe 3,000 or more at the opening plenary session, a very healthy number.

There were a variety of pre, post and during events after hours hosted mostly by software vendors. I attended precisely zero of these opting instead to meet with clients.

There wasn’t anything earth shattering announced by Xero. In the plenary session I attended the biggest cheer was for the announcement that Amex card feeds will now be available. I didn’t realise they weren’t!

Xero also announced that HQ, XPM and tax would be truly coming together with single records single source of truth achieved for the first time. This will be available now for new firms to Xero and conversion for existing firms by the end of 2023. It’s been a long time coming.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) dust was sprinkled everywhere!

There were talks about it and just about every vendor of software made sure they mentioned it.

A little known product called Aider was showing a new tool to allow accountants or bookkeepers to input financial statements and have an AI engine run an analysis and write a commentary. I see this as being on the right track to be a useful application of AI.

Senior Xero People presented some keynotes

Xero CEO Sukhinder Singh Cassidy spoke a couple of times and she certainly appears to have the credentials to be a good leader for Xero. We’ve already seen some notable changes in senior roles. One of those was the appointment of a Chief Revenue Officer to replace an outgoing Chief Customer Officer. That doesn’t feel quite right to me and I worry that Xero may be heading in the direction of Qantas which has a greater focus on short term satisfaction of shareholders at the expense of customer satisfaction. I hope that is not the case.

Australia Country Manager Will Buckley presented what was possibly the best of the keynotes. His two key messages were very much aligned with what I’ve been talking about for quite some time:

  1. The accounting profession has an image problem
  2. We don’t do enough to nurture talent

Will sees accountants as financial story tellers and relationship builders. No disagreement from me on that.

There were some interesting sessions away from the main stage

One session I attended on the use of tech in firms had an interesting mix of panel members and some rather good quotes.

Jarrod Morris, Principal at Pitch Labs said every firm should have an innovation code for timesheets. He also wondered who will be the first accounting firm to admit an avatar as an accounting firm partner!

Jason Cluer from NZ firm Wallace Diack said he is not an accountant but is now part owner of the firm and was amazed at how convoluted processes were in the firm when he arrived. He also had perhaps the quote of the day when he talked about “Gangster Accountants”. By that I believe he was talking about accountants who spend time with their clients and make them offers they can’t refuse!

Tiffany Bloomquist, the NZ Manager for AWS said when it comes to innovation firms would benefits from adopting the following mantra:

Think big…….Start small…..Scale fast.

Vendors of note

FYI Docs continues to be the flavour of the month so to speak and has announced practice management functionality being added to its product. It’s rapidly looking like a product that can meet a lot of needs within a small to medium firm.

It didn’t get mentioned in any session I attended but a couple of vendors told me Xero have anointed 12 software applications as making up the preferred tech stack. I understand Xero account managers have been told to point people to these products as the default place to start. I believe this includes FYI Docs, Suite Files, FuseSign, BGL, ATO Smart Docs, ATO Mate and a few others.

Dashboard Insights seems to be on the ascendancy as a tool to use for better reporting out of XPM and more broadly. Interestingly the two main competitors for this, (at least that’s my feeling) Etarni and Link Reporting, did not have stands.

I met one of the founders of Bluesheets. Not sure I fully grasped what it’s capable of but it seems like it has some capability a bit like Xpert then a whole bunch of smarts and automation possibilities beyond that. Particularly if you have a bookkeeping business it would be worth a look to understand more.

A great forum for catching up with people from across the country

Talking as I did to lots of people in attendance, a common theme was they came not just to hear Xero and others talk or to see software apps, but also just to catch up with peers and others. I agree. Having been a little disappointed by one presentation I attended I opted instead to focus on catching up with people.

Xerocon 2024

In 2024 there is not a Xerocon in Australia. This is probably not that surprising given the apparent focus on the UK and USA. In the UK Xerocon will be in London on 12 and 13 June It is in Nashville from 14 to 15 August 2024.