Accounting Business ExpoThe Accounting Business Expo was held in Sydney on 20 and 21 March. It is self described as “the big free expo and conference for business and money”. I was there for most of the two days and enjoyed it.
On offer were 160 + short information sessions, typically of about 30 minutes each, presented by a broad range of people. The ATO had some of their Deputy Commissioners in attendance which speaks volumes about how keen they are to engage more with accountants. In addition there were about 130 providers of various products and services each with an exhibition stand. Lots, but not all of them were software providers.

Why I attend

There are three reasons for me attending:

  1. I get to catch up with many of the industry providers that I know – it’s nice to see some friendly faces and chat about what is going on in their world.
  2. I gather information for myself and my clients – trends, new or updated tools and even a bit of industry gossip! In some cases my clients don’t attend because they know I am here looking on their behalf.
  3. I see a number of my clients or in some cases perhaps accounting firm owners or managers who may become clients.

For accounting firm owners your reasons for attending could be much the same – connect with people and see what’s new.

What caught my eye

I had half a day doing MC duties in one of the theatres so that reduced my time a little but did get the chance to sit in on a few other sessions and talk to people about sessions they attended. As is often the case the quality of the sessions varied – hardly surprising given that a large number of the spots went to sponsors. Not a lot really jumped out at me this year, but perhaps that is because I had been at the sister event, Accountech Live in Melbourne in October. A few things of note:

  • MYOB, Xero, Intuit (QuickBooks Online) each had substantial displays and plenty of people to talk to about what they are up to. Intuit now has an Australian Tax option via a third party and it appears they are wanting to attract micro and very small firms who don’t need a fully blown practice management system. MYOB is very bullish about how good the realisation of its “connected practice” vision is going to be and Xero is proud of the ecosystem it has around it.
  • It’s now not a new product but Ron Drost’s ATO Smart Docs, iPractice App and some of his other tools are things that I can imagine every firm in the country using. The efficiencies in processing NOAs from the ATO and solving the MyGov problem are great reasons to have a closer look at this.
  • The table talks sponsored by Intuit Quickbooks were very popular – a group of business owners and managers around a table facilitated by a chair talking about specific topics. People sharing their real-world experience with each other was useful for participants. Those of you who participate in one or more of my TAP Groups know the value of this sort of interaction.
  • The Receipt Bank stand was probably the largest and busiest stand of the show with an army of orange helpers to answer questions about their product. Receipt Bank is a good example of a product designed to generate significant efficiencies in the capture and management of data. It seems to me that if you are not already using tools like this it is time to have another look and understand the benefits you and your clients can get. The benefits being reported by those who have already implemented such tools are significant.
  • South African firm GreatSoft attracted much interest for its practice management system which has been in the cloud for years. They are finalising an arrangement with Xero for integration with Xero Tax and Accounting and that could be enough to tempt some firms to shift from their current provider.

What were the buzzwords or popular themes

It’s a big event so a lot of ground is covered by the 160+ sessions and 130 + exhibitors, but there were a few things I noticed:

  • For the first time I saw the word “preaccounting” being used. Seems like another word for bookkeeping to me! There were quite a lot of bookkeeping focused sessions.
  • “Advisory” continues to be a popular topic but I think it means different things to different people and there is no shortage of software vendors happy to tell you they have the answer to delivering amazing advisory services. I still hold the view that there is a lot of value to be added to clients through discussion which may or may not involve using some additional tools.
  • Some times linked to advisory, but of great interest on its own is the topic of compliance. There were sessions on how to get smarter about delivering it and making it profitable and certainly the ATO is trying to make things better for tax agents. Clearly compliance is not dead, as some may have once predicted, but it is looking a bit different and accountants are getting smarter at delivering it.
  • Automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are referred to often although again I think there are varied views of what they are. Regardless these are important things which have already significantly changed some aspects of bookkeeping and accounting and will continue to do so. Keep your ears and eyes open and keep up with the opportunities these offer.
  • If your software product is not cloud based it is the odd one out. That race has been run and won, and while we see some hybrid products around, (sometimes to benefit the regional customers where internet remains an issue) the possibilities with cloud based tools are so great that you just need to be there.

Should you attend?

The short answer is yes. For most firm owners who are in or near Sydney I think it is time well spent. For 2020 look at the agenda ahead of time and plan what sessions you want to attend and fit in a walk of the exhibition space around those.