This week we sat down to have a chat with Reckon’s partner of the year, Clayton Oates.
Clayton is the founder of QA Business, a leading accounting professional and a prolific keynote speaker.
Focused on educating other accounting professionals and adept at building partnerships, we wanted to hear Clayton’s thoughts on how to foster great professional networks and how he views the technological future of accounting.
Morning Clayton, can you tell me a bit about your major career focuses and the kind of services you provide?
Sure, we set up ‘QA Business’ to train and support SMEs, accountants and bookkeepers in accounting technology. That’s the core business.
While I still run that business 25 years later, my personal focus is really around education and communication with accountants and bookkeepers in terms of helping them build better, stronger, more fulfilling, businesses.
This is largely based on curating partnerships with technology companies to help our clients. That’s been something that’s worked incredibly well for us over three decades now. And teaching others (accounting professionals and software vendors) how to do that – how to partner well – is something I focus on.
As a seasoned keynote speaker in the accounting space, are there any recent ideas that are receiving particularly strong traction with your audience?
I think the thing that I’m seeing is choosing partners well. Who you partner with matters.
There needs to be a symbiotic relationship between accountants, bookkeepers and tech vendors. Ultimately, we have a mutual client / customer that we should genuinely be focusing on. So, how can we all work together to engage and empower the small business community?
I’m seeing accountants and bookkeepers really wanting to work out who they’re going to partner with and why. Then determining a curated set of core apps that are appropriate for their firm and clients businesses.
What it’s actually about is first discerning who you’re aligned with from a values and cultural point of view, who’s got a good product that’s getting better, and who you can work with to be in that feedback loop to improve their solution.
From there, we can take what our clients are telling us what they need and bring it to fruition by partnering with vendors to deliver on that promise. It’s almost come back again like it was 30 years ago – we’re seeing an iteration of collaboration.
In terms of recent audience feedback, have there been any noteworthy learnings from the accounting professionals you meet?
I’m seeing more professionals discerning that quality of life is a key part of this journey, rather than a fixation on profit for profit’s sake, or the frenetic pace of growth.
This is reflective of society at large as well I suppose. Some were all about growth at all costs. But now we’re saying, ‘hang on’, we need to run sustainable profitable businesses that are serving others, delivering real value and bringing innovation.
I’m now seeing both tech vendors and accounting professionals embracing that approach.
With the pace of software automation now quickening and the advent of generative AI, what advice would you give younger bookkeepers and accountants in terms of future career prospects?
The headlines talk about things like ‘AI is here to take your role’.
It reminds me a bit of what the introduction of cloud was like 10 years ago. It’s being driven by fear really and some people drive that fear-based narrative because it suits an outcome that they want to deliver.
I’m seeing this renewed confidence that we’re ultimately in the relationship business. We just happen to do accounting or bookkeeping. So, I would say to double down on your professional and personal development. Learn the skills that AI can’t.
We need to be able to reveal the story behind the numbers and communicate that story to small business owners in a way that relates to them.
Our skill is in being the connector and the bridge between information and actionable insights. I’m seeing people put more effort and energy into things they can control.
That means using AI tools, as exactly what they are – tools to enhance your (and your clients) efficiency and productivity.
So, try not to look through the lens of fear that says, ‘it will take something from me’. But rather, ‘how can I use that tool to enhance the client experience?’.
We do have a lot of hype around AI. We’re way up in the hype cycle of overinflated expectations and we’ve got a trough of disillusionment coming before the productivity plateau.
But we’ve seen this before with various iterations of technological change in our profession and we will see it again.
I think accounting professionals are very well placed to embrace change. Accounting and bookkeeping professions have been in flux for a long time. We’ve successfully navigated change before and will continue to do so, which means that we’re in a very good position by being adaptable and resilient.
But stay curious. As new things come along it doesn’t mean you have to go all-in with them on a whim or stop doing what you are currently doing. I see people say, ‘oh that’s finished and this new thing’s happening’. You can sometimes be too early on these waves and run out of energy paddling before the wave arrives.
As Reckon’s partner of the year, how exactly do you work with Reckon and what does that partnership look like?
It started out nearly 30 years ago as an employee in an accounting firm. We wanted to get involved in training and supporting small businesses using accounting software. Back then we were migrating people from manual systems to desktop.
We wanted to get involved in becoming part of the solution, which basically meant adopting a ‘learn, do, and teach’ approach.
So, at first I decided to undertake some due diligence so I went out and interviewed a number of software vendors as potential partners.
We just didn’t go with whoever was leading the market at the time or anything like that. I wanted to work out ‘who do we know that will work with us in a way that supports our relationship with the businesses that we’re serving?’
There was a lot of emphasis on values too – do we have shared cultural values and trust?
It was also about participating in the feedback loop. We’d discover things that needed enhancing or new opportunities and wanted to be a part of making that happen.
While we partner with multiple vendors, Reckon has been a stand-out partnership for us over those 30 years. Why? Because there’s cultural alignment, but also, we’ve been able to work with Reckon to bring new innovation to the small business community and accountants and bookkeepers.
For example, I remember working with Reckon back when they were bringing a software subscription model to market in the early 2000s. We knew that businesses need to be always up-to-date, and accountants needed the latest version.
Recently we collaborated on things like webinars to communicate changes in the industry such as JobKeeper and Single Touch Payroll. Then there were the ‘Roadshows’ and other events where we toured an educational industry seminar all over the country to present new knowledge and strategies.
In essence, partnerships allow you to learn something specific, teach it, and importantly amplify it. Reckon has a great amount of reach into the SME community so we can use that to broadcast information.
To me it’s always been ‘how can we work together to help someone else.’
How would you advise a new business owner or advisor on the best ways to go about developing meaningful partnerships?
Try to make sure there’s a cultural alignment (as much as you can discern that) and ensure that you feel that there’s trust there.
If you’re going into a partnership, bring as much value as you can to those relationships. It’s really up to you to do that. You want to create more value than you capture.
You need to get your head in the game and think ‘I just want to keep creating value. How can I help that other person or organisation?’
Sure, it’s a commercial relationship too, and money’s a part of it, but that shouldn’t be the first consideration. Your first consideration should be creating value through new ideas and innovation.
Put the focus on the mutual customer you’re trying to serve, then the partner. You’ll then naturally get a share of that success. A good partnership will benefit all parties.