The 2021 NSW & ACT Public Practice Symposium Panel Discussion
Ceezar General Manager Luke Sullivan was invited to take place in a panel discussion at the 2021 NSW & ACT Public Practice Symposium. Below is what was discussed.
Automated Transcript Below.
We’ve got an opportunity to talk about where we are heading a small business community importantly, but, but also, what does it mean for us as a profession and how we can resource those conversations. And I’m really delighted to be facilitating a conversation now between three industry experts.
And from a range of different perspectives. One is Sam Allert, who needs probably very little introduction to you. But Sam is the CEO of the Reckon group. And today, we’re in the head of representing IPA books plus, and so Sam will be joining us in a second, it’s great to have Sam and we do very much value patch that we have with Reckon, and Sam and the team, and multi plus, we’ve got Alex review deck, who’s here from the head of partnerships of Prosper, as well. So it’s great to have Alex with us. And importantly, also Luke Sullivan, who’s managing director of COG Branding. But Ceezar is here today, and Luke is going to talk about platforms to assist accounting practices. So please join me in welcoming Sam, Alex and Luke to the stand.
So what we’ve got in the next little while between now and lunch, which is looking at how we, as a profession, as a small business community, importantly, prepare for what’s ahead. And what I’m going to do is ask each of our experts to give us their sense as to what they’ve noticed in the last 12 months in their own neck of the woods. So obviously got from a financing side crossed over. We’ve got creative and marketing side with Luke and obviously, IT companies take digitization with Sam, just from each of your perspectives.
How have you navigated your own businesses? importantly, what have you seen in the various markets you’re running with. Sam, let’s start with you.
Yeah. Okay. Well, good morning, everyone. So I’m going to start with very quick story. Just prior to obviously, this time, last year, my groceries were getting cancelled and locked down for starting, and we’re all freaking out. And at least I was, because the last time I was actually at a conference on stage, that was an IPA conference. So can I just say congrats to the IPA. Congrats to all of you. It is wonderful to actually be attending a face to face conference with people in the room. So awesome. I think you’re the only industry body that is actually running face to face conferences. We ran a couple of points last week in the technology company. But all around the country in IPAs running these face to face conferences. So I’m just thrilled to be here. I know the team are very happy.
What would you say now the last 12 months?
I think it’s been a obviously, disruptive is a word that I think I’ve never used as much as I haven’t in the last 12 months disruptive and unprecedented. And I think if I think about the accounting profession and small businesses, and every we were talking about this is how is how are small businesses going to come out of on COVID.
And what’s the economy looking like?
Reading the recent economic outlook and business confidence, believe it or not we’re at the 10 year high of business confidence. So this is my view, what we’ve got is you’ve got some businesses that apply for job keeper. Things were really bad and may absorb March, April, May. They got job keeper. But then a lot of businesses around the world were aware of a government stimulus. And I think our governments did an amazing job to the government stimulus do exactly what it meant to do it stimulated the economy. So if your business is turned around, you’ve actually got more cash coming in, and the things like job keeper etc.
So I believe that what we’re seeing is we’re seeing real optimism to get back to face to face conferences, less lockdowns, better health situations. And there’s cash in the economy. And I think that’s a really positive thing. I’ve got to speak on behalf of all the cafes and hairdressers in North Sydney, because there’s also still an underlying current of a lot of businesses that are struggling. And we can’t we can’t forget them. So I think as a country we’ve come through amazingly, I think the government’s done a great job. There’s a lot of optimism out there. But we can’t ignore that. Retail. We were joking the other day about my hairdresser in North Sydney.
Very quality hairdresser, I must say. But Thanks, Luke. Your point of view dealing with small businesses, you say your clients are coming through giving them advice on branding and positioning and transitioning, digitalization many good things. But what have you seen in terms of small business Have you had in the last four months?
Yeah, it’s a it’s a good question. So a little bit more about our business. We’re a full service branding agency in Sydney that assists SMEs across Australia with their technology, their brand, help businesses with survival, growth, performance. We have a diversifying their client base, so we cover small, tiny businesses right through to the larger enterprises. And as our own business were up about 15% year on year, which is pretty crazy, considering the times we’re in. Without the tourism and hospitality sectors, our client roster has gone from strength to strength. So there are businesses out there that hadn’t been affected.
And as businesses being diversified, it’s enabled us to double down on what we do best. And that’s provide value.
A lot of our clients have come to us from the confusion, specifically around technology and services that are directly in the wheelhouse of accountants, which is my primary purpose of being here is to try and connect. Because there are similarities.
Lot’s of small businesses doing okay through COVID, there’s all this influx of new technologies, you’ve got to go to ecommerce, you’ve got to communicate, you’ve got to work from home – this influx of technology, especially big tech, the big five – Google, Facebook, Amazon, and so forth. It’s an overwhelming amount of information to take in, and they’re really good at taking the money out of your back pocket. And so one of the things we’ve been dealing with is having clients slow it down, and monitor decisions in a time of great stress, and not, all of a sudden, think “I have to shift my entire business process to digital and then make it perform straightaway”.
Inherently digital is technical. Hard to understand, hard to onboard, and while it removes humans a lot, it actually needs smart humans to get value out of it and have technology work properly.
And our end goal is to build brand to service the business to build equity and sustainability in any small business, which ends up being better clients for accountants. But if you don’t have smart humans to communicate that stop the really powerful big tech businesses taking money out of your clients back pocket quicker than they can put it in. It just adds to the to the anxiousness of “Oh, we know we have to do it. But we don’t really know where we should go first”. Because any referrals usually to the big tech, are you going to do this on Facebook, we’re going to do something on Google, we’re going to go to Salesforce and they’re all US dollar companies with US bucks. Last year the Aussie Dollar v’s US dollars was 60 cents or something. And so generally, it was actually quite expensive. So to answer the question, there’s a lot of giving astute advice to slow it down and try and apply the right technology to your business to get results in the long term and not disrupt any further use it as a solution not a more confusing Avenue.
There are a lot of points that it’s that technology is one thing but it’s it’s still requires people of course, sometimes is that assumption that a tech solution is the is the answer but actually the why was just not there with with completely independent artificial intelligence. But a good thing that I mean when people don’t need collaboration and partnerships to nurture that through.
Like everybody knows how to run a business doesn’t happen overnight. It takes 10 years in anything considered to achieve a successful business and to implement new systems and processes. It’s about collaborative efforts and partnerships together, which is I guess, you know what I’m trying to influence you guys with.
So Alex, you’ve seen your organization Prosper and gets to see businesses coming and get a sense of the growth that’s taking place, you’ll see probably firsthand those green shoots taking place across the economy. What’s the last 12 months been for you? And what do you see emerging now?
Yeah, it’s funny when I’m already picking up things. And we talked earlier about, you know, just bouncing off each other. But between Andrew finding time to learn AI, during everything you’re doing is just phenomenal.
Of course, with the devices that Luke said around in it, and what smart means, because I think, you know, in parallel with the technology, but those that don’t know, prosper is our organization or our product solution. Here is recognized today and fantastic partnership with recommending it. But we leverage the best of data that’s available, which is why we’ve been referred to. Basically, that means a finance company lacks legacy. So we embrace them the best of the best technology data that’s available to assess risk and do it fast. Now, that’s been a huge blessing over the last 12 months.
But nevertheless, what we went through was unprecedented even for us. So, we had the ability to analyze at the border 50 data points in seconds. What data can we draw upon? In an unprecedented situation? So we need smart humans. And by smart means common sense logic, you know, when you’re adapting risk in an unprecedented environment, what is the hairdresser doing to navigate the waters now, you’re not alone in a business solution. And often they’re turning to the accountant says the trusted advisor, you know, counts on everything else. They’ve been expected to do as the last four months to work out solutions.
So we’ve seen the lending landscape across Australia close, like the hairdressers did, one of the cafes did. And that’s exactly what shouldn’t have happened. Now the government stepped up with, you know, initiatives in place to help support lenders. And we’re really fortunate to be called out as one of the first to be part of that program. The differences were in the business of farming solutions. So AI technology coupled with smart humans, getting the ability to put money out. And that’s what helps small business owners. So now we’re starting to see we are starting to see some good gradations.
But I do overlay that with, we’re not out of the woods yet. And there’s certainly some sectors that are even seeing the light at the end of the tunnel here. And they’re saying it could be still a year away until international borders become open, and certainly more fluid in terms of tourists coming in and out. So you know, the depths in place for that review, we’re certainly advocating for those industries and hospitality, tourism, especially places like North Queensland that are still struggling.
But when we’re busy, it generally is a good sign that the economy is starting to really bounce back. Because we genuinely play in areas where there’s opportunity. So our our product helps for some time. And we know through crisis comes opportunity, an opportunity requires capital. And, you know, what we’ll want to get to here today is how all of us play a role in helping to stimulate and, and really fast track some of that growth so that we can do more face to face events. Thanks. Thanks. So obviously, the profession we’ve heard around the transition we’re going through and all that so wonderful to be talking like that. But when we think about his discussions all today a bit about your role facing clients and the important role to have in terms of being at the front line. We’ll say Firstly, we’re in the frontline of economic recovery. We’ve had obviously the health profession that the front line of the pandemic but now we’re looking at what our role is collectively to help resource that Recovery Center.
I wonder what your thoughts are in terms of that notion of the accounting profession leading that recovery. Are we ready for it? And if so great, but if not, whereas an area would be enhancing?
Yeah, great question and great acknowledgement. I think the profession in in our in my view, is we are ready for I really think this this is an opportunity. But it’s not going to be easy. And just look at the last 12 months we’ve had and this is what we saw. So we we serve a small businesses with we product like IPA books plus recommend. And we serve as accountants with profit products like record label and record IPS. And the minute lockdowns happen and government stimulus happen, we saw a big spike in inquiries, information and interest in things like books plus, because imagine being a business that didn’t have your accounts up today, how do you show the government that the revenues and how to do submit single touch payroll information, like every business should be on single touch payroll, but there’s still, there’s still the lag, it’s a couple of 100,000.
So we saw a huge spike in businesses and advisors contacting us saying, This is the time I need those for my free books plus licenses to get my get my businesses back online and get their accounts up today. And then we saw them saying, I think I need to be in the cloud, because they’re gonna go work from home, go to go and work remotely. And that’s a very logical point clinical interesting what we saw now, APS and OLED cards is an infant, the firm’s that are what went to say a leap online or IPS alone. But even the things that weren’t 100% in the cloud, were able to go home and have their staff connected to their infrastructure and work. So all of a sudden, we saw the accounting professionals say that one of the benefits of cloud was work anyway, we’ve actually got that really cool technology, flight networks and posted infrastructures, etc.
And then the next thing we heard from accountants was we need help. I’m too busy to talk now. And by we need help. We want it to be accounting professionals saying to us, we want to streamline our processes, or streamlined my party processes. But we are just simply too busy. And I believe you would have felt at all in this room, you’re busy because every small business in Australia, needed help, needed advice, needed support needed to comply, to get government stimulus. Who did I go to? When I go to their trusted advisor? And we’ve spoken about that. He said our partnership, Ariel have spoken at IPO events for seven years. And was actually looking because I knew I’d said this, I looked at it a presentation I did five years ago on the Gold Coast. And the first slide was,
there’s never a better time to be an accountant.
That’s what I said five years ago, I think I was five years old. Because my point was, technology can streamline processes, businesses and individuals and high net worth individuals are screaming for help. Advice. And you are the trusted advisor, you’re the professional that is there to support us. So we’re very lonely, the website isn’t professional ready, I think Yes. Is it going to be easy now, why not there’s too much work nor enough skilled labor to handle the demand on the profession. However, I would say that equals opportunity. Because if there’s more work, then as a whole professional we can handle. There’s opportunity in it not easy to take advantage of.
And the technology, Andrew is on that point. So we often say that even as a technology provider, you can’t be technology lead, unless you are very clear on what problem you’re solving or one opportunity to take advantage of. If you just implement technology, because we tell you, it’s a good idea. You’re basically putting in what we’re suggesting, not what you’re designing what your goal or your clients or your ambitions.
So that’s an absolutely critical point. It’s it’s something that all components work. And so they’re forming partnerships and collaborations that now we do not just a believer.
With the accountant every time something goes wrong with the numbers – go to the accountant, it’s sort of like, it’s your time to shine. You’ve got some rock star brands out there on the ASX like Afterpay etc. As an accountant, you guys have centerstage right now to go there at the time. And we don’t have to be that stereotypical accountant. I’m not in a cubicle farm anymore. You guys can be the rockstars if you want the opportunities there. If you said these five years ago, then I’m saying it, I say this, the opportunity to get busy. We don’t have to be experts. There’s partners out there to help us get out clients that directly benefit from a little bit of knowledge in some products. And it actually probably differs in relationship to a more positive way instead of just a busy. Yeah, everyone’s suffering side. It’s more now there’s a solution for this.
So in terms of the advice, giving advice, what we’ve clearly saying is businesses have to comply. First of all, there’s another thing we’ve been saying For five years, commentators have been saying compliance is dead. In fact, the accounting profession is going to be replaced. It’s just not true. Compliance is not going anywhere hasn’t been going anywhere for ages, every time. The current government sits down a budget, they’re tweaking policy, tax, superannuation, capital gains. And then the state governments chipping, who is the it was not the best industry, they know that it’s the accounting profession. So there’s a real the last year, in my view, has proven the importance of that fundamental layer of compliance, which is your bread and butter, which only once you build that rock, can you add on advice? And, and really that as a value add, obviously, it doesn’t have to be too complicated. I think. You guys live in a world of complexity, and then the advisory pathways specifically for what were the brand and marketing theorists, and they used to make that a client, you don’t have to be an expert in that particular area, you just have to know what your partnerships are about and what they can offer. And if that’s the front of mind, for solutions, you can start to live in a positive diet, then you guys one of the most trusted professions in the core decision making for an SME, kind of use that power.
So I’ve asked these the presenters that you’ve just, you know, a couple of things or some takeaway. So let’s just apply, let’s say, for each of you as we as we, when we come to the end of the session, but the challenge I s’pose is accounting as a brand. And, you know, we’ve mentioned within the discussion now around the external perception of accounting or accountants themselves, those obviously engage accountants or people who come to argue against that it’s just not the case at all. But the provision does have a brand issue, in a sense. So how do we combat that? And we took a look around the the notion of a mountain view is a sense that an accounting practice themselves, whether it’s a sole practitioner working from home, should be thinking about themselves as curated platform like a partnership platform. Is that part of the way? And how do we help I saw practitioner in the Broken Hill, understand the brand value?
Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think, always important to include, everyone’s got their specific way to run their business. And they built their business on, you know, history of processes and changes. Putting brand on top of that, I think is important because it provides longevity to the business. And it also provides a value add, and you got to remember, you’ve got client retention. And then you’ve got a bunch of new people who start businesses every year, those nice new people, they’re going to be switched on to looking for more dynamic businesses to work with. Now is the time to put people into your business, the new sort of startups that are going to come out of COVID. In situations like this, you’re not going to be the choice. COG Branding is lucky enough to be supported by a really dynamic account, who’s quite aware of those brand new elements and how they create leverage for your business. If you don’t have that you’re competing on a immediate referral and your legacy clients. There’s no growth opportunities outside of your own legwork and doing the same thing, which is okay for some businesses, there’s nothing wrong with that. But you can look into providing a bit more dynamism in the market and sort of tap on some of these opportunities out there. And a brand on top takes away from the personal sort of position and build equity in something else that can achieve far more than just one individual.
For everyone, that’s maybe an interesting thing is think about how many businesses have had to go on on websites, ecommerce, etc. And I really don’t know how we’re gonna go here. But why don’t we just get a show of hands? How many of you in the room for your practice, have a good online presence that you’re proud of? Like a website, maybe show of hands on online presence?
I’m gonna say 50%…
You get a website, you get a website You get a website!
My point there is take stocks or businesses, they are thinking online first, not just because of the pandemic, but actually because of what we’ve seen in the pandemic. When they’re thinking online. First, they’re going to be looking for online service and support. It doesn’t change what you do in your business. It is just marketing or branding or proposition.
And also what needs to be funded. So what have you, what are you seeing in terms of businesses coming forward to actually seek finance to actually, you know, anything that you can practice even saying, before I got to give advice to my client or make sure that I’m the my business?
In my own businesses? Right. And you’ve seen that coming through by context impossible. Yeah, So a couple of moves in a few different things, but they sort of all come together with a common goal, which is, have a survival mode survive or thrive? And it’s definitely saying both ends of that spectrum. There are things some industries are all COVID that I tell you what.
Don’t okay. Right, in the best thing ever, today, business, arguably, you know, this industry, if you weren’t busy during the COVID. While you’re here, because the reality is there’s opportunities for businesses, especially through ecommerce, and, and are probably liked, it not just echoes, but reinforce that point, because I reckon within the next 10 years, you have to have a digital strategy, you have to have a digital presence. Because what we’ve seen over the last 12 months, is people have adopted go, what would typically be a 10 digital transformation journey in 10 weeks,
Right, just 10 of 10. And that was a case of only one slide. And I think it’s businesses like Luke said that, you know, be there to help people navigate, how, what do I do? Where do I start?
So, again, you know, these opportunities require capital, and that’s all been coming in. And we see these opportunities where, where some businesses getting access to 50 grand to get the stock, the name of the stock, because they didn’t have a shop plan anymore. But they worked out either an e commerce strategy solution, or they were trading for some restaurant, they’re all mass production takeaway, right? Uber Eats was going bananas.
So, but they needed that capital where the cash flow was coming in to get that off the ground. So there’s a lot of different different scenarios where we really come to life to deliver that solution. But I also think we’re not there yet. You know, you talked about talking about opportunity five years ago, and we talked about opportunity now. And in five years, we’re going to be talking about whatever that new opportunity again, it’s like the people who are renting and trying to look at winning the right time to get into the property market and buy their first home.
My answer is now. Now, always now, because tomorrow never comes in tomorrow, there’ll be a different talents, different opportunity, that you’re always going to get stuck at least voted.
Whereas we know about the getting down to 10 years, you’ll be okay. It’s always a doubt, I guess this one person making all the decisions, this works with a perfect triangle, perfect advice through the accountant funding, why someone like us to manage and facilitate and make sure that sort of what, what gets lent gets spent or why you can’t use again, at the core of it management going on. It’s for me, it’s a collaborative thing that I think is the most empowering thing for that accounts to perhaps take away from this. So you’re not in it alone. There’s other businesses that really understand the mind the language of how to get it to a show. It’s not like it’s a direct competition.
In fact, for some businesses, the right solution was to shut the door temporarily, or the office down unfortunately, correct. Because alone would not get him out of trouble. Ability partner, which is Correct, correct. And that’s why the overall compensation studies and I said there’s just so much going on, we’ve talked about frontline economic recovery. I personally feel you know, you should have held them well, he should have given you that opportunity early to do the shopping as well. essential services, the unsung heroes, you know, we’ve talked about that. The unsung heroes comes to me, because you’re not getting that out. You’re not getting that recognition of all the things you’ve had to do complying. red tape, schemes, subsidies, like all these things that you’ve had to not just navigate change in a significant manner change
So that you can help support your client, which is big enough that you have to feel the same inquiry and offer the same counselling professional or personal to every single client almost every day, every week, every month for now.
I think it’s really interesting. So we as you know, we’ve hired the International Federation of accountants, which has 119 member bodies. And the big discussion, I think, is having on the back of the globe, the global pandemic is the professions very much at the serve, triple fork in the road. And that either we’re going to keep doing the same things that have always done, we might keep doing the same things we’ve always done, but using different tools and resources to do. Or we might fundamentally do new things. And there’s a hell of a lot of excitement around those last two about yesterday, your point saying right, compliance not being dead. And in fact, in many ways, compliance has probably been a saving profession in the last four months. And we know that’s not the what’s the says you’re sincere in terms of those new tools and resources to do the same jobs. And then what are the new jobs that accountants might be doing?
To grab first of all compliance, saving the professional Ivan compliance side of the coin, because if we didn’t have single touch payroll, as painful as that was, for a few years, if we didn’t have a single touch payroll, the government had no real time access to data to see what people were working. If we didn’t have up to date, BAS and GST and tax returns, the government had no access to data to make the decisions deal with the 15 $100 category.
Yes, the average hospitality work. They made that quick. And they said, I sat on a panel with the ATF for a webinar panel. And and and they were getting hammered about the amount. How did you work that out? I say if we just looked at the most impacted industry took the average salary, pick the number, we could have taken months trying to try to work something out, I can only do that because of the level of compliance and access to that. So I think it’s not only saving the profession, it saved our economy.
We look when you think about do the same things we’ve done the same way, do the same things a different way, we’ll do completely new things, I probably go to the moon, personally, my view, I think we’ve been reminded of the importance of the profession, and reminded of the job, the profession downs. And therefore, we don’t actually change our fundamentals what we do. But if we can improve how we do it, how fast we can do it, and how openly how we can make more money and live a better life ourselves as the professional then that would be my my recommendation. So it’s a question to the to members, even How well do you think the professions got attracting talent?
Who’s got a position going in their practice? And if you had if you had the capacity to employ someone who wouldn’t want to be employing someone right now, my graduate present?
Who’s had graduates approached them who’s employed the regiment? But what’s that’s encouraging? Some of the feedback we’ve had has been many graduates coming through that are just not ready.
They come in the door, they might have the technical skills, but there is no way nine we put them in front of the client. No common sense again. This gets back out. Yeah.
Sorry, how was that different before two years ago?
As you recall back to when you came in?
Typical stuff, he had no skills. Yeah, I think the challenge we’ve had the typical pen for some years in other parts of Australia has been that the quality of graduates coming through the grinder very good technical skills, generally, but the bit of the country Be confident in putting it in front of the client from day one. No, but the expectation some employers how does that apply get that they’re expecting universities enticing produce students who are on day one? Absolutely. job ready. Now, that’s never been the case. But I think so I think what we’re going to do is manage this expectation and read the supply chain we have as a profession and obviously step up. So I suppose not the point the reason I’m asking the question, it speaks again to the brand of the profession and how we go about attracting talent.
And what can we be doing within our own practices to try and boost that? And does that look, I think come and form part of the value proposition. The actual practice itself has a built in very small scope.
To make it really obvious example, you look at what’s called the Googleplex, right? In our industry, there’s a reality of that it costs a lot of money. And there’s this vacuum towards those businesses that have a huge amount of funds to pull smart people that has been taken off market, because they’re at the forefront of so many things which are changing industries. There’s huge gaps in the smartest, traditional industries, because big tech has the ability to pay these really smart people ridiculous amount of money. And there’s a vacuum, that’s going to continue to happen, because logically, it’s still unregulated.
You’ve seen in the news about Google News and social media and all that, that’s not going away. And that’s going to continually be a place of appeal for people because one of the money’s there, and the conditions are great. And it’s all it’s not necessarily smoke and mirrors, but you need to provide a workplace that is stimulating. And if you’ve got smart people ready to make a decision on what they should do their career is accounting and what you guys do still have a considered for me, I have no knowledge on that. But I only know when people come to send their CV to our business, their vision I ever considered doing strategy, digital design, most disciplines.
Not sure what was the what is the kind of work life balance look like, there’s tons of data that says I get paid is not necessarily the most important thing. And so again, put brand at the top, that removes the principle of the accounting firm away from the conversation, and the people looking to go, I’ve chosen accounting is this line with this brand touchpoints thing and the stimuli that I think can make hiring more easy, because the brands that we leverage to go, I like that, they speak my language, they looked like a leader, they do Park days, we do some crazy stuff fun stuff that’s outside of what we do daily. That’s all part of the discussion of branding and finding smart people, to do smart things.
Time in the saddle for young kids, it’s what it takes. But you need to get smart people in the business to show them that pathway through the business to learn those things. And you got to pay attention, you got to stick around. If you look at the data, the data suggesting suggesting within the next five years 50% of small business owners in Australia are millennials just pop up that low percentage, and we talk about lack of common sense.
In whatever digital journey you’re contemplating or going on why things started. They’ve narrowed in probably vesting in some of these people in the early game, because if you’re not that way inclined, I can tell you they will probably you will teach them how to do reconciliation. And they will also be managing your online chat rooms for your other millennial files. At the same time of doing a reconciliation was updated in social media. Right? But so they definitely made bold and you might know what I’m doing while on social media, but they’re actually capable of doing parties and rock.
We previously discussed in an opinion piece on the Public Accountant that It’s all about the numbers, so make that commitment. and in the previous article we arranged a Hot Date For The Accountant. I’m happy to report the Accountants Professional did in fact go on a date with the Branding Agency. It was all with the intention of investigating new relationships that will assist their evolution into the advisory role.