Last month I headed to Brisbane for Xerocon South – an innovative conference for cloud accounting leaders in Australia, NZ, and Asia.

In his keynote address Rod Drury, Xero CEO and Co-Founder, shared Accounting 2020 – a vision for the future of the accounting industry. The key themes in Rod’s keynote were machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Other keynote speakers covered topics such as conscious accounting, reputation capital, and leading with respect.

Below are my 7 highlights from the event.

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#1 Machine Learning and Artificial intelligence

Have you ever wondered how Google finds relevant websites to recommend to you based on what you type into the search field?

How about how Airbnb’s price tips for hosts or Amazon’s similar product recommendations works?

This is all thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning focuses on the development of computer programs that can teach themselves to grow and change when exposed to new data. (source: Whatis.com)

The impact of bringing machine learning to Xero is that the majority of data entry work can be automated. Some of this automation we can expect to see in the next 1-2 years. I’d been aware of the impact of machine learning on the accounting industry, but the speed with which this technology is coming caught me by surprise.

What this means for entrepreneurs and business owners

The trend towards automating bookkeeping and accounting is a great thing for business owners. The potential benefits are:

  • Decreased time and costs to capture accounting data
  • Improved accuracy in data which should result in better decision making

I’ve also put together a more detailed article with my views on the future of the accounting industry and the impact for small business.

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#2 Finance for businesses

It is an exciting time for small business!  Here at Bean Ninjas we work with entrepreneurs running business online.  Historically it has been a painful process for these entrepreneurs to access bank loans.

This is all about to change!

The ‘old way’ of getting a loan  – paper application requiring verified forms and signatures and the whole process taking weeks.

The ‘new way’ of getting a loan – connect your online loan application to Xero where your business data sits, speeding up the approval process and removing the need for signed documents and driving out to see your bank manager. Moula is one such tool and we can expect to see more options from banks in the future.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs and business owners

In order to take advantages of innovations in the financial services industry such as this one, you’ll first need to be using a cloud accounting platform like Xero.

Additionally, you’ll need to keep your data up-to-date and accurate.

#3 Chat bots

Imagine being able to access information like who owes you money, how much you owe to somebody, or where the nearest accountant is right from inside Facebook chat… well in the near future this will be possible!

Rod gave us a live demo of using a beta version of a Xero chat bot connected to Facebook Messenger. The chat bot could message key information like the names of outstanding debtors.

What does this mean for entrepreneurs and business owners?

You’ll save time and hassle by being able to access specific information right from within your chat apps.  

If you want to see this in action make sure to check out the video of his keynote below. The chat bot section starts at 45:05.

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#4 Productised services

It was exciting to see Rod refer to the future of the industry being ‘productised services’.

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I’ve been harping on about productised services for a while now! In case you’re not familiar with the concept of productised services here’s some background:

A productised service is a service which has been packaged up in way that can easily and consistently be delivered at scale, rather than offering a custom solution to each client.

The web development industry gives us a great example of productised services in action. When a business decides they need a new website, they have two options before getting started: they can choose a pre-packaged theme, which is a fixed template that can be customised a little bit, or they could choose a custom-built platform that is completely unique and created for the specific needs of their business.

For a small business owner, the end result might look pretty similar — they both work, and they both look good — but choosing the pre-packaged theme is a much more economical option than the custom build.

If you’d like to dig deeper into this we provide further explanation and examples of productised services in our detailed analysis of the future of cloud accounting and financial services.

We launched Bean Ninjas as a productised service back in July 2015.

Here is a post we wrote about why we chose a productised service back when we first launched.

Here is a more recent article we wrote for the Xero blog on ‘how to productise an accounting or bookkeeping service’.

What does this mean for business owners?

Productised services provide far better value for money than custom solutions as the productised service has been created to deliver one result in a highly efficient and systemised way. If you can’t find a productised service that delivers what you are after then a custom offering might be your only option, but I do recommend exploring productised services first.

The trend towards productised services in the accounting industry is only new, so it might be difficult to find a provider offering exactly what you are after.

Over time I expect this to change and eventually a large part of the industry will be productised. By then, it will be much easier to find what you are after.

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#5 Conscious Accounting

Dandapani, former monk turned entrepreneur, shared that “conscious accounting” is more than just managing money. It’s about managing one of life’s greatest finite resources: energy.

Energy is finite – so consciously direct your energy towards things that matter!

Dandapani stresses the importance of being conscious of where we direct our awareness because “where our awareness goes, energy flows.”

Throughout the day we invest our energy into people or things until we have no more energy left. We sleep to replenish.

We never evaluate who and what we are investing our energy in, and this is a major problem because our time and energy on this planet is finite so we need to make sure we’re investing both in people and things that actually matter to us.

dandapani

How do we manage energy in our daily lives?

  • Treat energy the same way you treat money – both are finite resources that need to be wisely managed, reallocated and invested.
  • Get clear who and what is important in your life by asking yourself “If I only had 6 months to live, what would I be doing and with who?” (when you shrink your time window, you increase your focus)
  • Identify who the “energy vampires” in your life are and practise the art of being affectionately detached from them (always be kind, gentle, sincere and loving but don’t engage with them). Practise saying “please excuse me, I have somewhere to go and something important to do”.

“If you allow someone to take energy away from you for negative purposes then you are denying the people and things that truly matter in your life, that you could have invested that energy with them”. -Dandapani

Another great tip from Dandapani on how to protect yourself from energy vampires is this:

“Place the burden of responsibility on them. If someone is asking for advice or insight give them a task at the end of it. 

So if you find that you’re an expert or a leader in a certain area, and people are always wanting to pick your brain (even if they’re a really close friend of yours), give them a task to do. Make them prove to you that they are actually deserving of your finite energy. Because for every ounce of energy that you give them you’re denying the people and things that really mean something to you.

Say ‘finish what I’ve given you then come back and see me, because what I’ll give you next is dependent upon you finishing the first task. I’m more than happy to meet with you but please complete your task first.’”

Dandapani also suggests that every year, evaluate the people in your life. Then reallocate your energy between people who uplift you and those who don’t.

Finish what you start

The other part of Dandapani’s presentation that resonated with me was the concept of ‘finishing what you start’.

This is the practise of developing willpower.

This is important because, as Dandapani put it, “with developed concentration and willpower you can truly accomplish anything that you want.”

3 steps to developing willpower:

  1. Finish what you begin.
  2. Finish it well, beyond your expectations.
  3. Do a little bit more than you think that you are able to do.

This can be as simple as washing up your breakfast dishes or making your bed everyday.  

These become habits and we get ourselves in the habit of finishing what we start, which is a powerful way to develop willpower.

Dandapani set us all the challenge of ‘making your bed everyday’.  I do this so I’ve set myself the challenge of creating and following a morning routine for a month with the intention of then making this a habit.

There was no video of Dandapini’s Xerocon South keynote available online at the time of writing but you can watch Dandapani’s full keynote from Xerocon San Francisco here:

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#6 Reputation Capital

Rachel Botsman, global thought leader and author the concept of “collaborative consumption”, shared that in this age of transparency the currency of the new economy is trust.

Reputation Capital will become more powerful than our credit history.

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(source: rachelbotsman.com)

From Rachel’s website:

Rachel believes we are at the start of the shift from trusting people more than corporations or government. This new era of trust needs a measure, namely reputation capital.

She defines the theory of ‘reputation capital’ as the ‘the sum value of your online and offline behaviours across communities and marketplaces.’ It will transform how we think about wealth, markets, power and personal identity in the 21st Century.

rachelbotsman

 

A case study of how trust can play a powerful role in growing a business is TransferWise. Born from a desire to remove hidden fees and a lack of transparency around exchange rates, TransferWise provides a money transfer service that “removes all the wrongness, letting people send money abroad at the lowest possible true cost.”

To be successful, TranferWise first need consumers to trust their promise to facilitate transfers. A large part of their early strategy was building their reputation as a trusted ‘money transfer service’.

Here’s a short interview with Rachel on this topic following her keynote:

What does this mean for business owners

  • Focus on delivering a great service / product
  • Customer service and support becomes more important
  • You need to encourage your clients to leave positive reviews on platforms like Facebook / Google and LinkedIn

#7 Leading with respect and no triangles

Rachael Robertson led the Australian expedition to Davis Station, Antarctica – the second female to lead a team at the Station and the youngest ever leader.

Rachael spoke about how great leaders build and invest in those around them and turn “moments into momentum” by paying attention to the little things. This is all about showing BIG leadership in SMALL moments.

My two favourite quotes from Rachael’s talk at Xerocon were “no triangles” and “respect trumps harmony”.

No triangles

No Triangles is the practise of only having direct conversations. If you have an issue with “John” and you discuss it with “Anna” you have created a ‘triangle’ as there are now three people involved. The term ‘no triangle’s means that you would discuss the issue directly with John.

Rachael believes that when we create a ‘triangle’, we create a new set of problems.  As shared on her website:

Firstly, we are telling the other person that we don’t have the courage to face them, which is bad for us. Secondly, we are telling the other person that we don’t trust them to have an honest and open conversation. And thirdly, we involve other people who may not really want to be involved in the first place. There is also the chance our words can be repeated, out of context, which can compound the issue.

When a team practices No Triangles, that team has more respect and is more innovative and productive because they have the courage to have direct, and sometimes confrontational, conversations.

If you want to try this out in your business you can grab Rachael’s free No Triangles implementation pack on her site.

Respect trumps harmony

This idea is all about understanding that your team might not agree on everything and in fact different opinions can result in innovation. So rather than looking for harmony, encourage all of your team members to treat each other with respect.

Productivity consultant Derek Winter shared a detailed explanation of this concept in his Medium blog post:

“A focus on harmony in any team or organisation doesn’t end dysfunctional behaviour or conflict. It will still continue, however it will go underground. The illusion of harmony might occur, but the issue’s will fester under the surface. The consequence will be that seemingly innocuous things will blow up into significant issue’s as a release. The second result of a focus on harmony is that innovation is quashed. People become reluctant to put their hand up and offer a different view, a new suggestion or their own opinions because they don’t want to rock the boat.

A culture that promotes transparency and trust based on a respect for individuals creates an environment that allows direct conversations about difficult situations and stops people going behind each others backs. This practise allows leaders to spend their time and energy on conversations that matter. Those that have the most impact on their organisations, not handling personal disputes that simply burn energy.”

Rachael created a ‘no triangles’ policy for her diverse team in Antarctica (individuals who were chosen by somebody else), and coupled with the belief that “respect trumps harmony” that’s how her team were able to truly support each other to greater success.

What does this mean for business owners?

To develop a high performing and innovative team in your business implement a ‘no triangles’ policy and develop a culture of “respect trumps harmony”. This can also be used to develop deeper and more productive relationships with your clients.

Watch a short interview with Rachael about her talk:

Conclusion

As you can see above Xerocon South 2016 was so much more than just another business conference.

There were some really powerful insights with regards to where the future of accounting and business is going in the spheres of technological advancement and social trends, how that will impact small business owners going forward, and also some practical tips for living a more conscious life, becoming a better leader, and building a high performance organisation.

What has been your biggest takeaway? Let us know in the comments below!

(Featured image source: Xero @ Flickr)

Meryl Johnston

Meryl Johnston

Co-founder at Bean Ninjas
Meryl is a Chartered Accountant, entrepreneur and surfer!

Prior to Bean Ninjas she ran a cloud accounting consulting firm, worked in both commercial accounting roles, as an auditor (BDO), and as a lecturer in accounting and audit.
Meryl Johnston
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