Part 1: The Chasm Between Accountants and Startups

As compelling insights kept surfacing, the most glaring gaps and frustrating problems around adopting new tech solutions in the accounting industry emerged. Revealing some fascinating insights as well as some more startling discoveries that as Jon Jenkins going through the first cohort of startups put it, "if those apps could hear the things that we've heard these past few weeks, they would be mortified".

Some startups have genuine success and admiration behind them from accountants, but despite appearances, many others are not doing as well with their user base as it would appear. Undoubtedly, there is growing frustration from many accountants about many software vendors, perhaps the biggest one- they don't listen.

Accountants use the software day in and day out and grasp the complexities and nuanced intricacies of working with their clients, which others can easily miss. So how come they don't have more of a say in the direction that product development takes?

And it's not your average accountant that feels this sentiment. It's the most progressive and tech-savvy innovators in the industry. Those carving a path for the more conservative majority, leveraging technology to transform the way they work with clients.

What accountants say

Many accountants agree that a new tech solution will often do 60% of what they need it to do, and the remaining 40% can become quite frustrating when they have to find workarounds to get what they want.

In a special closed and unrecorded webinar conducted with four of the leading accountants in the UK and Australia Alastair Barlow, Joe David, Andrew Van De Beek and Dave Sellick, it was possible to unearth perhaps where that 40% gap originates.

Trying to be a bit more impartial, perhaps some of that gap is due to accountants having demands from the software that is not always realistic. Accountants want ultimate control and flexibility but with complete automation and high accuracy, which is simply impossible. This expectation helps explain the inability of even the most sophisticated accountants to part ways with Excel. But building a new Excel isn't the solution to what accountants need, and isn't feasible. Other than Google, few competitors dare to challenge it seriously, and for a good reason.

Quoting Andrew Van De Beek on this matter, as he justifiably said in his trademark Aussie bluntness:

"Many accountants cannot fathom the benefits of tech at times and often stymie the development that we need. It often just feels like after a while accountants just bitch and moan about tech not doing what they want, when in reality... it never will - because everyone wants it to do something different."

Having said that, the remaining gap between accountants and startup can confidently be attributed to the lack of input from the right accountants at the right time. Alastair Barlow agreed with Andrew's point and added:

"I feel there is a big chasm between 'accountants' and 'tech company leaders', with the possible exception of those founders who have an accounting background that has a heavy influence on the solution getting to product-market fit".

In his impassioned and honest way, Dave Sellick nicely articulated:

"It's so important that these startup tech companies need to get the right people inputting into the tech from an early stage. This idea that VC money will help them create the product that will solve the market's problems is probably ambitious thinking - they need to have that vision and that product largely nailed before they approach VCs. Honestly, I think fintech companies can also be quite passively patronising to accountants when they are creating and selling these tools; to think, that they know better than very experienced accountants working day to day with founders/ business owners is a fairly bold mindset."

Weighing in with his perspective again, Andrew emphasised his experience with tech:

"One of my biggest frustrations is that tech isn't developed to be complementary, it's often trumped as this big huge "this will change your life" piece of tech when in reality it never will be. Some of the most successful and impactful tech I've ever used is simple and effective. It takes something, makes it easier/faster/smoother, so I can then invest my time on more important matters."

Finishing the discussion nicely, Joe brought a realistic compromise to the debate that "a joint approach with the more 'sensible' accountants is needed if startup founders want to build successful long term solutions".

How did this chasm evolve?

While small in scope, this specific discussion is indicative of the broader sentiment repeatedly heard, shared by many forward-thinking accountants.

It appears that there is something more fundamental in the tech startup DNA that often is out of alignment with the accounting industry.

Which leads to the question answered in the next article: What's the origin of this chasm between accountants and startups?

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