What can accountancy firms learn from tech start-ups?

  • February 20, 2019
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“If you don’t disrupt yourself, someone else will.� This is a phrase that drives a lot of innovation in the technology industry.

It implies that, if you don’t continuously improve your product and come up with new ideas, then someone else will. And if someone else does, they’ll drive you out quickly.

It is why the big tech companies bring out new products every few months, products that only offer a marginal improvement on the previous product.

We are now starting to see this hit the accountancy industry—some firms are completely cloud-based, and practitioners can work from anywhere in the world. Larger firms are driving forward with artificial intelligence, whilst others are even making use of drones.

I am lucky enough to work with several technology start-ups that are at the pinnacle of innovation. Whilst their practices can sometimes be far from perfect, there is a lot that we, as accountancy firms, can learn from what they do.

Here are some of my favourites:

Tech companies are obsessed with culture

They understand that culture is more than just a fad. They appreciate the importance of having a well-defined culture that spreads through every fibre of the company. They will even hire and fire people based on how they fit within the culture, irrespective of how great their performance is.

A corporate culture is unique to the company and its industry—you wouldn’t expect a well-established accountancy firm to try to recreate a culture that is identical to a 6-month-old tech start-up, because it just wouldn’t work.

It is true that individual accountancy firms already have their own culture; it is more a case of understanding and refining, rather than trying to control its direction.

Once the culture is identified, trying to enhance it boils down to much more than simply getting a ping pong table or beer fridge, and it needs buy-in from the whole organisation.

If getting a ping pong table is an essential part of improving your culture, then you need to make sure employees are not made to feel like they are “slacking� when they use it.

Some people simply will not adopt the ‘new’ culture at all, which is why it can be hard to change a culture that already exists. This is where hiring people based on their fit within the culture becomes vital; flood the organisation with people that embrace the culture and eventually those who are resistant will either accept it or move on.

Being open minded and trying new things

“Fail fast, fail often,� is a saying that almost every tech start-up lives by. The idea being that, if something new isn’t working out, then don’t be afraid to end it and try something else.

Employees should be encouraged to try different ways of doing things. For example, not being afraid to try new ideas or new processes and challenging the status quo.

It is often better to try six different approaches in six months to find a solution, rather than to try and struggle through one approach in the same time-period—especially when it might not work long-term.

Accountancy has stereotypically been a very reserved and compliance-driven industry, but some firms are starting to change this by exploring alternative platforms, such as Slack and Trello.

Having a designated ‘Head of Innovation’ is going to be the norm in a few years (for firms that can afford to do so). This person’s job is to be an advocate of new software and products—they scour the market for new ideas and report back on the most promising ones.

Tech companies have a purpose that extends beyond profit

Simon Sinek coined the concept of starting with “why?�—the idea of knowing why you do what you do.

When I visit various technology start-ups, you can feel their passion when they talk about why they do what they do.

Their goal can anything from trying to change society to making a tiny improvement to people’s lives. For them, the “why?� is clear, and they have so much passion when they go about achieving it.

As accountants, we live and breathe the profit mantra. Whether we are looking at recovery internally or advising clients about their own profits, it often always boils down to: “Are we making enough money?�

Of course, accountancy firms need to make a profit, but existing only for that reason isn’t going to be enough.

People are much more attracted to working for a firm when they know that what they are doing is contributing to a wider purpose—more than just putting extra money into someone else’s pockets.

In summary…

Accountancy firms operate in a completely different world to tech startups; we have a lot more regulation and compliance to work with, amongst other things.

It’s not about trying to imitate them, but rather looking at what they do well and considering whether those traits can be transferred into the accountancy industry.

This ability for adaptation will be the decider as to whether a firm remains successful. They need think ‘outside of the box’ for solutions, rather than just relying on what they have always done.

After all, if you don’t disrupt yourself, someone else will.


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What can accountancy firms learn from tech start-ups?

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