From Antarctica to Amazon to NSW Parliament – The Future of Accounting Has Arrived

The latest Unstoppables event on the  25th of May, Forging An Accountable Future, at NSW Parliament saw industry leaders and accountants come together to face the future of accounting and look at how their profession will not only survive disruption but also prosper and help grow the Australian economy.

The formation of the event, though, actually took place many thousands of miles away from NSW Parliament when Unstoppables founder Julio De Laffitte observed accountants in action during an Unstoppables think tank for over 100 entrepreneurs to Antarctica in 2015. During the journey Julio observed the unique role that accountants play in linking many different industries together and their extraordinary perspective in understanding the lessons and potential collaborations that different industries can bring each other.

This was further enforced when on a follow up trip to the Amazon, Julio observed the same role that the accountants on that trip took within a group of Australia’s brightest entrepreneurs.

Julio’s experience was captured in his keynote speech at NSW Parliament where he also warned Australian accountants of other industries that have faced disruption and have not realized what their true business was. A condition he described as a Kodak Moment.

“While for years Kodak was making millions from manufacturing film, it is important to note that was never actually their true business. I wonder how many people thought that Kodak’s business was about cameras, films and labs? Their true business was helping people to hold onto a moment worth remembering. They actually had a better shot than anyone of following the evolution of technology and continuing to dominate that business.”

Julio’s speech followed on from The Hon. Anthony Roberts MP NSW Minister for Industry, Resources & Energy’s opening address which described Australia’s entrepreneurial history and congratulated Julio for helping drive future innovation in the Australian economy.

After the event’s hosts kicked off the proceedings, an incredible line up of panelists took to the stage to address the true value that accountants can bring to their clients and the economy.

The line-up featured:

JANE STANTON – Vice President, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand
ANDREW CONWAY – CEO, Institute of Public Accountants
JODIE SANGSTER – CEO, Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising
JO BURSTON – Founder and CEO, Job Capital and Inspiring Rare Birds
GLEN SEALEY – CEO, Maserati Australia, New Zealand & South Africa
JUDY REYNOLDS – Founder and CEO, Opening Gates
PROFESSOR MANDY CHENG – Head of The School of Accounting at UNSW Business School

While the panel was made up of a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences there was strong consensus in terms of not only the disruption that accountants are facing but the unique opportunity that they have.

“The fact that clients and employers inherently trust the accountant is the absolute cornerstone of us as a profession. The reason that we exist is that members of our profession and members of professions in general have information and knowledge that their clients and others don’t. And that’s not being elitist about it that’s a fact.” Andrew Conway

The panel also pointed out that as well as leveraging its trusted foundation, there was also a responsibility for the profession to think about what their business really is and what they really provide to their clients.

“It’s all about defining value. So if we talk about the Kodak moment, where is the value? What value are you offering and it’s the same for us as well. As Maserati, what are we offering? We’re not offering a car; we’re offering a lifestyle. It’s the same for the accounting profession whether it’s in a corporate environment, what is the value that you are offering?” Glen Sealey

Defining this value is also really important in terms of selling that value.

“The whole purpose of data driven marketing is to really understand your customers. So really getting down to who are your customers? What do they want from you? What is the knowledge that they are trying to get from you? And understanding where they are and how you can reach them in a way that is relevant to them not relevant to you. So there’s this huge shift now in marketing that’s gone from, ‘I’m a company and I want to tell you my message and please buy what I’m selling you,’ to ‘I’m a company and I can provide you value and I can provide you knowledge and I can provide you insights and I can help you get to where you want to go.’” Jodie Sangster

This is important in not only the perception of the profession but also its core role in terms of actually helping clients achieve their goals.

“Trusted advisors used to be trusted because they are conservative and risk adverse we also have to shift that thought. We are trusted advisors because we know our clients so well that we can connect and collaborate in a way that enables our client to take their business and life journey.” Judy Reynolds

While the panel agreed about the change facing the industry and the forces of disruption facing the industry from both technology and legislation, there was also a strong sense of optimism in terms of the potential of the industry to really harness their place in the Australian economy.

“There is a unique opportunity for any consulting at the moment. There is plenty of bad publicity in terms of the banks and financial services and that trust is all gone and that is such a unique opportunity for you guys. You have an inherent trust built in. if you can work on that advice side everything that’s out there today is almost gone. You really can make a good living out of this if you can capitalize on this moment and I don’t think you’ll have another moment like it.” Glen Sealey

Within the diversity of the panel and the example of new ideas that can form from collaboration, the panel in itself created a live example of how accountants can actually drive collaboration to help their clients.

“It’s really interesting that from such diverse backgrounds we actually have a lot of consensus on the panel and to me that’s the beauty of this business, is bringing together that diversity but a big part of that is actually listening and mutual respect.” Jane Stanton

Unstoppables is an entrepreneurial movement committed to driving growth in the Australian economy and it sees accountants as being central to this. There will be more communication and tools coming from this event and others so stay connected and bring your colleagues onboard to help drive this conversation.

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