On Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 March the second Accounting Business Expo was held in Sydney at the International Convention Centre. The program listed 153 exhibitors and 8 small theatres with a continuous stream of speakers. I decided to focus mostly on visiting exhibitors as I am not a big fan of short presentations, mostly given by people who have paid to get on stage. I’m sure some of the presentations were good but a couple I sat in were pretty poor. I’d be interested to hear what other attendees thought.

I want share with you two broad observations that came from my attendance.

Relationships are important

I was on a panel for a short session in one of the theatres and with only thirty minutes we barely got started in talking about innovation in firms. There was one key thing however that came out of the discussion that all four of us on stage agreed with. That thing is that despite the importance of technology in the accounting profession it is the relationship you build with your client that is the most important thing. If you are great at building client relationships that may be the differentiator that helps protect you to some extent from your competitors. One of my fellow panel members was from a Big Four firm and even she agreed that despite the massive resources her firm has available, it is often the smaller firms that can build stronger relationships with their clients.

The second way that the importance of relationships was reinforced to me was in respect of my own business, which can then be applied to yours. As an accounting firm coach and consultant, I work exclusively with accounting firm owners and managers. ABE was a great place to bump into my clients or potential clients and to catch up with other providers to accountants who are or might be referrers. And it was a great place to continue to refresh y knowledge of the industry. If you have industry specialties in your firm what is the equivalent of ABE for each of those industries? Perhaps you need to be an exhibitor or at the very least attend as a delegate to learn what is happening in the industry and build relationships with players in it. We love our technology but there remains something special about the face to face interactions we have. The shake of a hand, a kiss on the cheek, a slap on the back and a face to face conversation can be so much more engaging  than an email interaction.

Managing risk in a connected world is critical

The vast majority of exhibitors were software companies and we all know how important technology has become in our day to day lives. It is having a huge impact on the accounting industry and with our reliance on software applications I was reminded of the importance of being on top of effectively managing your risks.  Most recently we have seen all sorts of revelations about Facebook as a reminder that sometimes we don’t really know as much as we should about what we do online.

A few exhibitors that I took note of in this area were:

  • Accountancy Insurance
    Best known for its Audit Shield product which is the must have for most firms to help their clients in the event of audit activity from the ATO, and PI Insurance.  Now providing cyber insurance for accounting firms.
  • Business Fitness
    Famous for the HowNow suite of tools including workpapers, templates and document management and offering a portal for client document collection and delivery with digital signatures. We understand email is inherently insecure but many firms still use it to send and receive highly confidential documents.
  • Nimbus Portal Solutions
    Well know for it’s portal with digital signatures and also a document management system. Has integrations with all the main practice management systems. Again, trying to encourage less use of email for sharing confidential documents.
  • Practice Protect
    An Australian business building a following amongst accounting firms for its tools to protect cloud data. It includes, but goes beyond, password management.
  • iPractice Apps
    The latest from Ron Drost who was the brains behind Paper Buster. Has a great tool for processing of ATO digital documents and for sharing and signing of returns, amongst other things.

As always, it’s up to you to look at any tools I mention and make your own assessment of what will work for you. I’m always interested to hear about accountants’ experiences with software so share feedback with me if you can.