By Miguel Paulo Serrano, Training & Development Manager
After attending Xerocon for the first time this year, I understood that it was more than just a promotional event for a software company. Xerocon Brisbane 2019 was also a social gathering of thousands of exceptional accountants from New Zealand, Australia, and Asia to discuss how the accounting profession can make a huge impact on the economy, society, and the well-being of humankind.
Beyond the colourful exhibitions, overflowing food and elaborate networking parties (after this conference, I will never see accountants as ‘boring’ ever again!) were remarkable on-stage speeches that didn’t just open the eyes to the latest trends in technology but also opened the heart to push one’s self to start making a difference.
With this in mind, I have chosen five essential keynotes from the Xerocon Brisbane 2019 that illustrate one of the themes of this year’s event: will artificial intelligence replace accountants in the near future?
It all starts with a debit and a credit
Trent Innes, Managing Director of Xero Australia, stressed an accountant’s significance to the community by taking the concept of accounting’s most basic foundation – debit and credit – to a higher level: for us to create a thriving community, we must help the small business economy to thrive by guiding businesses in understanding their debits and credits.
This can only be achieved by reducing the friction that hinders business owners’ use of real-time knowledge provided by their accounting data and allowing them to make quick and intelligently informed decisions critical to their growth.
Every debit and credit represents a story – a decision, a disposition – that influences the direction of a business. These stories, captured by an accountant, pave the way to job creation, economic progress, and societal welfare.
And, quoting Rod Drury, founder and former CEO of Xero, Trent reminded accountants that by delivering these stories to owners of small businesses in an effective and efficient way through the use of technology, “we can build better schools and hospitals” for the community.
Transforming data to solve real-world problems
“You are probably the world’s first data scientists,” said Ros Harvey, founder and managing director of The Yield, an Australian agricultural technology company that uses artificial intelligence to manage crops with the aim of promoting sustainable food production.
“Accounting has been around for millenniums, and what you’ve been doing in all these times is actually working with data to create insight and value for your clients.”
“Data is the new oil, but unlike oil, data can never be used up. You can use it again and again and again; you can combine it with other data; you can create more data, and it’s never used up. It’s this characteristic of data that makes it incredibly special and makes your role and your profession (where you are working with your clients as custodians of data) incredibly important. It is essential that you understand this and engage with your clients to help them prepare for this new future.”
“Using technology, we can turn data into information and into knowledge, but we will only thrive when we turn it into wisdom, and wisdom is fundamentally a human endeavour. As accountants, you have a really special relationship of trust with your clients. They want some of that wisdom and advice that no computer can give them.”
Cybersecurity for a better society
Understanding the critical role of accounting information in building a better society and protecting this data from cyber threats that accompany technological advancements is a critical task for accountants.
Jaya Baloo, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of KPN Telecom, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the Netherlands, shared her expertise on cyber and information security.
“The financial impact of cybercrime is increasing year by year, and cybercriminals go where the money is, which is the financial sector,” said Jaya, demonstrating on-stage how easily cyber-attacks can be executed and showing existing methods and sites being used by hackers.
“We need to be able to enjoy the benefits of technology without having to fear it and the only way to do that, is that we all demand security and privacy from every single brand we trust.”
As a valuable tip for accountants, Jaya also shared some practical and easy-to-execute security advice as a safeguard against cyber-attacks:
- Know yourself, what you have and who is interested in it. This is where to start protecting yourself.
- Install updates and patches on every device that you are using, because every update and patch contains a better security feature that protects you from more advanced methods of cyber-attack.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) carefully especially if you travel a lot, to prevent access to your data whenever you use public Wi-Fi.
- Make sure that ALL your devices have anti-virus.
- Always, always back up your files, to save you from the hassles of file corruption and ransomware, where a hacker locks you out of your files and asks for ransom money to unlock it.
- Don’t have a simple, dumb password. Using Jaya’s hilarious words, “Passwords are like underwear; you should change them often, don’t share them, and don’t leave them lying around. Also, size matters, so the longer, the better.”
Being custodians and protectors of accounting data is just the first part of the job; the art of communicating this valuable information is another important skill that an accountant should master. During his extremely comical speech (the audience were in tears laughing for the entire 40 minutes), Nigel Latta, author, TV personality and clinical psychologist, described how to effectively communicate with people based on understanding the fundamental principle of influence.
“If you’re in a situation where you are trying to communicate with someone and achieve something, you can get yourself pushed around emotionally and the real skill is learning to manage yourself; it’s to calm yourself and get yourself out of that little Chihuahua brain when you start sinking into it,” said Nigel.
“The real art and skill of influencing people is being able to step back inside your head and say ‘just be quiet for a moment.’“
He stated that humans don’t like friction and that the brain is always looking for ways to conserve energy. “Reduce friction. It isn’t the complex stuff that works; it’s the simple things. How do you make it easier for these people who are here? I’m always trying to make it easier for the people around me because they just like you more.”
“We are social creatures. And so because of that, we want to connect with and be with other people. Your job is to make people’s lives better. Fundamentally, if it makes people’s lives better, it will succeed. If it doesn’t, it will eventually fail. But the stuff that makes people’s lives better – that’s the stuff that works.”
Digging deeper into human psychology, Craig Hudson, Managing Director of Xero New Zealand, tackled the importance of understanding human emotion by bravely sharing his personal experience of mental health and depression.
“He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people,” said Craig, quoting a Maori proverb.
“If we don’t intimately care about every single one of the people that we get to work with every day, we’ll continue to get the same results and the same numbers that are terrible statistics for mental health.”
Although accountants are exposed to a highly technical world aided by artificial intelligence and machine learning, Craig reminded and challenged us all to exercise genuine care towards the people we meet, the people we work with and those we work for.
“Naku te rourou, nau te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi. From your contribution and my contribution, the people will prosper.”
Craig received thundering applause and a standing ovation after sharing his own personal journey.