We’ve got some clients that have been going with us for over six years now and their team members are equally as good as any manager in Australia because they’ve been working for six years. One of our clients moved their Philippines team member who was doing SMSF work to Australia to be the head of the SMSF department. So now they have five Australian accountants who are reporting through to them locally.
Nick Sinclair TOA Global
Today I am speaking with Nick Sinclair from TOA Global. In this episode we talk about
* What outsourcing and offshoring are, and what they involve
* The different size business models leveraging offshoring
* The importance of building offshoring into your people strategy, and incorporating ongoing training for all staff
* Why TOA Global choose to base their operations in the Philippines, and how they prepare for natural disasters.
* The ethical concerns people have about offshoring.
* The typical life cycle of a practice utilising offshoring
* How to maintain a healthy work-life balance when over a third of the year is spent travelling
Heather Smith: Nick, thank you so much for joining me here today on Cloud Stories. I’d like to start off by asking you…
If you could have dinner with someone who you’ve not met yet living or dead, who would it be and why?
Nick Sinclair: Definitely Richard Branson. I’ve been a fan boy of his since I was a teenager. He was probably the person that got me inspired into wanting to ever run a business. And I just think he’s a fascinating person, he’s a showman. He’s one person that’s able to successfully run multiple companies. So yeah, he would definitely be one that I’d love to meet and chat to.
Heather Smith: Absolutely. You can join those Necker retreats that he runs.
Nick Sinclair: Yeah, $10,000. I’ve always had the carrot and the stick though. I’ve always wanted to do it, but then I’ve always gone, I just haven’t done it. Maybe I should.
Heather Smith: Yeah. Don’t let those opportunities go away. The thing is I’m from airline industry, so I’ve met him several times.
Nick Sinclair: Lucky you.
Heather Smith: Yeah, so look, he’s amazing and interesting chap and I hope you arrange to meet him before the opportunity is not there. So thank you for sharing that with us Nick.
Can you explain to our listeners what your business TOA Global does?
Nick Sinclair: So we are a offshore provider, so the easiest way to think about it is we’re a labour hire company and like how we work so we provide the facilities and we provided the talent and the labour. So our model is slightly different to traditional outsourcing where you send a job and get a job, we provide a full time dedicated resource to your business.
Heather Smith: And is this primarily accounting and bookkeeping practices or is it beyond that?
Nick Sinclair: Yeah, so we specialise in, we call it accounting and bookkeeping, but we also have accountants and bookkeepers that have financial planning or mortgage broking or related businesses. So any of our clients that have any of those related services, we definitely provide them with talent.
Do you see there being much of a difference when someone references outsourcing to when someone references offshoring?
Nick Sinclair: I think there’s a big difference and the big difference is really where you’re outsourcing you’re sending a job or a task to be performed and you’re getting that back. So it could be reconcile 20 transactions or it could be complete one tax return. So offshoring you’re basically building that as part of your people strategy where you’re building a global team. This team just happens to be within the Philippines or another location where offshoring is typically done.
Heather Smith: So many of your staff, well I think primarily the staff that we outsource or offshore to are based in the Philippines. Why did you select the Philippines?
Nick Sinclair: It’s an interesting one. So, there are several reasons, but I’ve tried India, I’ve tried Sri Lanka, I’ve tried Vietnam. When I had my own accounting and financial planning, I tried a lot of the different countries. And the model traditionally in those countries is outsourcing it wasn’t offshoring where you had your full time dedicated resource. But the number one primary reason why majority of clients choose to go with us in the Philippines is the English language. So when you are having a full time dedicated staff communication is critical that you can communicate and understand and Philippines is ranked one of the top ones across Asia for English language, but the benefit is there from birth they’re taught American English, their curriculum through university and schooling is American English, American accounting.
Nick Sinclair: So they’re very much westernised from that side of it, right through from when they’re born through to when they’re working. So one of the key benefits was that communication was the critical factor, but also the accounting standards that they follow are also westernised within that as well. There’s also a significant talent pool, but there is in other countries like India as well.
Can you describe what a typical accounting practice who is engaging and outsourcing, what they look like? Just sort of like a typical one. What does their business model look like?
Nick Sinclair: So we’ve probably got three types of clients. We’ve got our solopreneurs or the sole practitioners or sole bookkeepers. So someone that’s basically it’s just their own business. It’s them they don’t have any team members. They might have one or two team members, but they’re new in their journey or they’ve always chosen to have a lifestyle type of business, but they want to not have to work the hours that they work. They don’t want to have to be swamped with the volume of work and the key is doing the right type of work. So typically a solopreneur or a sole practitioner is one type of client that we deal with. The second is probably what 80% of the market is which is the two to five partner firm with up to 20 staff. So that’s realistically where 80% of our clients sit within that realm. It’s also what 80% of the industry is. So we have a bunch of clients like that.
Nick Sinclair: So two to three is typically the different mix of partners, typically they’re one to two offices all based within one area or if it’s a regional firm across a few different regions. The third type of client we deal with, which is a small percentage of our client base from a client number, but a large amount from a state or from a number of employees is the larger firms. So 50 employees plus and you can have significant amounts of partners. So we have some of our clients, 900 plus employees across Australia and in the US it’s even more. So the larger firms are only a small client number, but a significant amount of head count within our team.
If we talk to the small and the medium size practices, what sort of activities are they passing across to you?
Nick Sinclair: It’s an interesting one. I mean, at the start, when we started this journey six years ago, it was more of the basic type of reconciliation and basic type of work. But as more and more people have been doing it and we’ve been running for over six years now, the level of work being done over there is anything that’s pretty much being done by an accountant bookkeeper in Australia, even some of the client facing work which has done remote. So it really comes back to when we’re talking to accounting and bookkeeping businesses about this, we really talk around what’s the work that your local team’s doing that they shouldn’t be doing based on their hourly rate. So it’s all about getting the right people doing the right work at the right cost.
Nick Sinclair: So while reconciliation is, it’s a high value task because accuracy is critical. It’s a low value task when it comes to dollar cost for paying someone to do that type of work. It doesn’t add significant value to the client. So that type of work is typically where we would start with the businesses is basically how do we get all of that lower value work that’s critically important, but it’s lower value. And when your time is worth 30, 50, 100 dollars an hour or more that type of work, you can get someone doing that for anywhere between $6 and $11 an hour, which will allow you to do the next level of work. So to answer, I suppose the questions in a backwards way, it can be anything, but that takes time in the journey. It’s really around initially at the start, it’s how do we help you save the most time we can with you and if you have the time already? Locally, how do we help take work off them so that they can move up the value chain and add more value to the business across all areas.
Heather Smith: So essentially freeing up capacity in the firm.
Nick Sinclair: Yeah, definitely.
What should accounting and bookkeeping practices not outsource to you?
Nick Sinclair: That’s a good point. I think that the key thing I say is the relationship. I think that across the years as cloud technologies come in and as we’re able to have a more remote working lifestyle I think, and this may sound controversial, so I hope it doesn’t offend people, but I think we’ve been sold to really well by the industry around cloud accounting and the lifestyle it can create and that we set up our businesses to be based on what our needs are as opposed to our customers. And I think that what you can’t outsource is that human element. You can’t outsource the relationship, the customer experience. You can certainly enable that with an offshore team. It can certainly help in providing a better and higher level of service. But that personalised relationship is really what I have always had a big belief that it should be done locally. It should be done face to face. Not all the time, but some of the time and the relationship is the key.
Nick Sinclair: And I think that’s really, I think we’ll say in the next, my prediction’s the next five to 10 years we’ll see a lot more focus around customer experience, not customer delivery. And I think we deliver well and I think cloud technology’s enabled us to deliver more effectively, more efficiently, more cost effectively. But I think it’s also swung where we’ve gone right, where we’ve wanted better work life balance and we forgot about the customer experience. You can still have both, but I think that the focus will really be around customer experience and then it will be around obviously the balance that that gives the business and its team members at work for it.
How does having capacity in the practice impact the client experience?
Nick Sinclair: Well it is and I think what really separates accounting firms and bookkeeping firms and a lot of it when you put it down to what is the human element, it’s the relationship that you can build with your clients. It’s being able to deliver before they expected and over-delivering, under promising over delivering. So I think building capacity gives you the ability to have the time to when you go and sit with a client to say, “Hey, we’ve also had a look at all these numbers and we’ve noticed that your data is sliding out,” or whatever their example is, to proactively be able to have conversations or to actually ring your client and say, “Hey, I just want to drop by your workshop. I just want to see how things work. I want to understand that and I want to understand some of the external pressures that I don’t get to understand by only seeing the financial numbers. I want to see the nonfinancial part.” So it all comes back to the ability to have time as opposed to being buried and missing deadlines that are compliance driven, government driven. And when we don’t have the capacity, we’re so focused on getting that done and trying to hit those executions. We don’t have the time to think about the customer side of it.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. How fantastic would it be that accountants couldn’t go into the actual place of business and have conversations that are data informed but driven by what they can actually physically see and feel and the ambience of the office and what’s actually happening there?
Nick Sinclair: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. So I have sort of a two sided question here.
How do you successfully implement this in your accounting practice? But I’m also interested in knowing what are people doing wrong when they’re implementing outsourcing or offshoring into their practice because you do see people going, “Oh, I tried it. It didn’t work for me. It will never work for anyone.”
What are the practices who did it wrong, doing wrong and what are the practices who are doing it right doing right?
Nick Sinclair: I think there is a clear framework and I think the difference between people who succeed and people who don’t is that the people who succeed make it part of their overall business strategy. So it’s the people strategy within their business. So they really identify the people that they have today, but what are the people that they’re going to need over the two or three years? And then it’s looking at the second part around the process and technology in the steps of what is the work that the local team are doing and then identifying the right people to do the right work. And then the secondary part is investing the time to actually try and build a global team. And it can be a remote team or a global team. But I think where people fail is that they think the offshoring solution or outsourcing solution is going to solve all their problems and they ring us and say, “Look, I need an accountant,” and we give them an accountant. And then they talk to the accountant once in a week, they do no training, they go, “Here’s our technology and good luck.”
Nick Sinclair: These are, like any team member, you need to continue to evolve and develop them. And that’s in, I say two aspects is how to do their job, but also why they’re doing the job. So there’s two elements to it that we really need to focus on training. So the ones that don’t succeed are the ones that don’t invest in the strategy. It’s a long term strategy it’s not going to solve your problems today. Yes, it’s definitely going to solve some capacity challenges. But I think that what we also see by going there six years with we’ve got over 500 firms now globally that are successfully doing it. We’ve seen firms go through waves. So at the start is a big investment in time and obviously training and onboarding and getting the team member up and running.
Nick Sinclair: Then the second swing comes where the offshore team are then producing too much for the local team to be able to review it and turn it around. So then you go through a second wave, which is really around the local people are not spending the right time doing the activities. They’re still busy doing work, but then they’re trying to review and trying the global team and there’s too much work coming at them. So there’s a real blockage. So that’s where firms really get aligned with, get all of the work that they shouldn’t be doing locally off the desk and really focus on getting that work out. When we say KPI that a lot of firms move to in this phase being jobs out. So how many jobs out or how many clients out the door are they getting every day and every week?
Nick Sinclair: And then the third phase is where it becomes business as usual. So where they’ve gone through and they’ve worked out, I suppose the rhythm between the global team and the local team who does what, it’s a finely tuned process. And then it’s really an evolution of time where the more time that their team globally have been working with them and the more higher challenging work they’re doing, the more experienced they become. I mean we’ve got some clients that have been going with us for over six years now and their team members are equally as good as any manager in Australia because they’ve been working for six years. One of our clients moved their Philippines team member who was doing SMSF work to Australia to be the head of the SMSF department. So now they have five Australian accountants who are reporting through to them locally.
Nick Sinclair: So he’s now living here with his family. So it’s a journey of time, much like if you bring a graduate in, it really is. So where firms succeed I think in summary is where they invest the time to make it work versus where they don’t, where they just treat it as an outsourced worker or job where they send it to them, but they don’t really treat them like another team member that just happens to be in another location now.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. I really like that you talk about the importance of team, you talk about the importance of people strategy and treating them as part of the team and I did notice on social media the other day, Lielette Calleja put up the photo she’d sent. She’s based here in Sydney. She arranged for her team member in the Philippines to get a birthday cake. It looked like there was balloons and a present there as you would potentially do for the person sitting beside you in the office. She was treating her the same way and it was a really lovely and personal gesture by her, but demonstrating that she’s part of the team.
This is why I use @TOAGlobal – apart from my great team, they ensure I never miss a staff birthday! It’s a reminder that #allthatcounts are the little things that bring a smile like this. Happy birthday Farrah 🥳 #offshoring pic.twitter.com/jgoB3lGF6p
— Lielette Calleja (@LieletteCalleja) February 7, 2020
Nick Sinclair: And I think that’s a critical thing is that, and this is I suppose not just with the outsourcing and offshoring evolution, but it’s also with remote work, it’s making people remotely feel part of your culture and part of your team. And I think a lot of bookkeeping businesses and accounting businesses focus so much on the output. Like what are the revenue targets that I actually a lot of the time sit back and go, “What’s the actual capacity of people power and technology power to deliver that result?” They’re so focused on top line revenue and it’s no wonder that so many firms are working, their staff are working so many hours because they just haven’t managed the people plan. They’ve never thought about it. It’s just like, we’ll just drive our people harder, we’ll get more work in, we’ll just drive them longer and the output will be there.
Heather Smith: Yeah. It’s interesting isn’t it? I always I’m kind of like, I think that was a mistake I made early on in my career just to try and attract more little fish and now I’m kind of the opinion have fish and fish being clients and grow them larger, like with all of your existing clients stop taking them on, just sort of grow them and try and enable them to actually be larger and spend more time with them. So I know this because I’ve spoken with you before, but I’d be interested in you sharing with our listeners
What does a typical table setup looks like for one of the staff team members that you have in the Philippines?
Nick Sinclair: Yeah. So, I mean, it’s a very all conceived idea that people think that these are in really small offices. I mean, our typical work area that the desk that they have are one point, I think they’re 1.2, 1.4 metres wide, 80 centimetres deep. It’s a dual screen set up. They’ve got cameras, they’ve got headsets. It’s pretty much exactly the setup that I’ve got in our Gold Coast office. So they are working on desktops but dual screens, cameras, headsets, good sized desk. While we have a large amount of people in offices, the distance and space between our team members are at least a metre or a metre and a half, which is, it’s no different. I’ll walk into most of our client’s offices in Australia and I think our setup in the Philippines is significantly, it’s a better work environment than most environments here.
Nick Sinclair: The other thing is, I mean we have about 30% of our floor space as what I call nonproductive space. So it’s all about breakout rooms, we’ve got cafes, we’ve got medical clinics, we’ve got chill out areas. When they’re in their work area they are in partitions. I’ve got that in my office in the Gold Coast. I sit in a partitioned area but they’re soundproof partitions. I mean you can’t hear anything around me now. It’s the same within our Philippines office. So it’s very similar to the setups that we have in Australia but I actually think we’re planned and more structured over there with how we build it. Like I said, I went into a client the other day and there was just people everywhere. I’m like, how is this productive or effective? It’s just not set up for productivity.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. You need a space to work, but you also need the space to chill out. And it is interesting because I do see people on the forum suggesting, oh look, don’t go through an offshoring organisation, they have high admin fees. If you just go and find someone on her own, on his or her own, they can do it at home. They don’t have all the expense of those admin fees. But I think it’s important to recognise they don’t have the support of team around them. They don’t have the support of structured environment around them as well, which can be very important for them especially when they are doing such important work and you’re relying on them as you would a team member.
Nick Sinclair: I think there is, I mean there’s certainly elements of it. I mean cheaper isn’t always better. And when you look at things like the risk, I mean, we have three internet connections, so if one goes down, we’ve got another two that are, we’ve got back up. We’re not only, as the building got a backup generator, we’ve also got power back up. I call it a $100,000 room. It’s a room of basically power backup that if the generator doesn’t work, those power batteries work for another three hours. And then the docile also have another further backup at another house. So we could almost run over have a half a day without power through our backup systems. And when you look at security and risk, I mean we don’t have USB drives, we don’t have state aid drives, we don’t have any of those items.
Nick Sinclair: But it also comes back to what happens when government throws a spanner in the works, like with my government and the ITA changes that are happening. I personally know because we’ve been involved, we’re the only offshore provider that our team members are going to have access to the majority of items. There’s a whole bunch of regulations that don’t allow people that are non-residents to be able to access things. But we’ve been able to be part of, I suppose, the project team with those areas and we’re basically getting our own sign off with them for our team members to be able to do that. If you had someone at home, they’re not going to have access to any of those things anymore. So there’s all of these other things as well as security protection, there’s the training, there’s the elements. Yes, it’s cheaper, I’ve definitely had people that have worked from home before, but there’s also a lot of downside and risks to that as well. So it’s really around what works best for your business.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. And I think certain activities it’s completely fine for not necessarily bookkeeping and accounting activities. I know I have someone who does graphic design for me. For me it’s only graphic design. I’m an accountant, I’m not generating any exciting IP, that graphic design. I don’t care where he does it and I don’t need to worry about any security over it. But thank you for touching on that risk because I know one of the other issues that will, unfortunately the Philippines has a number of weather incidences that come through every so often. And you did recover, I know you were hit badly. One of your officers was hit badly. And can you share with our listeners how you recovered from that?
Nick Sinclair: Yeah, so I mean, we had an earthquake last year. So the Philippines unfortunately sits on a fault line, much like New Zealand and much like America it sits on one of the primary fault ones and we had an earthquake happen in one of the regions where we were which affected two of our offices in that one location. So about 800 staff, but we were lucky enough that we’ve got disaster recovery plans. We’re spread across three major locations in the Philippines. So if we were to have a major incident, historically it’s never happened in all three, like it hasn’t wiped out the whole country at once. So in the event that a major incident did happen, we could relocate our whole team. We’ve got backup centres in each location to relocate our whole business.
Nick Sinclair: So we didn’t trigger that when we had the earthquake last year. It was probably one of the more challenging things we’ve never had that happened before but we were fitting out an office next door. We were fortunate that we had over a hundred trades people there. We had a lot of the supplies that we needed to recover. We got up one office operational within 30 hours and then we double shifted the Australian shifts so that all team members were back at work within 48 hours. And then we had the second office completely operational again, I think it was within four days. So if I was just to show you photos, I mean it’s a two and a half thousand square metre fit out that the roof was completely destroyed internally. The walls, glass walls were over.
Nick Sinclair: For us to be able to get, we had 100 trades coming in and clearing out and then 120 trades coming through and repairing. It was a phenomenal site to do that. But I think the reality is with any of these, I mean, New Zealand’s the same, America. We’ve got an office in San Diego, it’s the same thing. We had an earthquake there a couple of months ago. As long as you have a processing place and that’s one of the key things is that having a disaster recovery plan and a very clear plan around if and when this happens, this is what we’re going to do and you practice that. I mean we you practice earthquake drills, fire drills every quarter. We can get 450 people out of an office in two minutes 40 was the time last month. That’s in the fire, if it’s an earthquake, and this is a tip for anyone, if you have an earthquake, you jump under a desk and you protect yourself, you don’t run.
Nick Sinclair: But I think that typhoons are common in the Philippines as well, but all that is, is a tonne of rain in a very short amount of time. So it doesn’t normally affect in the locations where we are, it doesn’t affect us from that capacity. But having strong plans in place that if you do, and we had the same we’ve had unfortunately some of our clients who are involved in the bush fires happening in Australia and it affected their ability to be able to run their businesses here. And a lot of them had not thought about, well, if the office physically wasn’t able to go on, what do we do? How do we give them laptops and how do we have them working remotely? So I think we’re fortunate that that’s our business we have to think about it. But equally locally, a lot of businesses don’t think about that stuff until it happens.
Heather Smith: Yeah, no, you raise a really important point in terms of it’s one of those don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Having that separation disperse workforce can actually be of benefit when some things like this happen as well as having the very difficult crisis management in place. And like you know we have been impacted, a lot of businesses have been impacted by that. And I’ve dealt with people over in Christchurch who again were impacted by the earthquakes and even a decade later they’re still a bit shattered from it and their whole business model changed over it. Interestingly, fortunately, a lot of that meant adopting cloud technology kind of because of a weather incident or mother nature incident, et cetera. Yeah.
Heather Smith: But thank you for sharing that with us and I’m really pleased that you were able to recover and you’re also able to put money back into the economy both through the recovery process and keeping those people employed because I know that when disasters do strike, it really can have a massive impact on the economy and it’s really important to sort of keep that going. So to that question when outsourcing offshoring is talked about in some circles, people have very, very strong opinions about it.
What are some of the ethical concerns that people potentially raise with you? And what are your thoughts on them?
Nick Sinclair: Yeah, look, I think, I mean, it’s interesting. I’ve been doing this now for over seven years. And I think one of the … and I’ve seen every comment in every forum, I’ve spoken on stage a lot globally and I’ve had everything told of me. I think the biggest one is, and we get it on our Facebook ads that we put up. People are always, “Are you’re taking jobs away from Australia?” And I think that’s always the first thing that people, I would rather keep a job here than take one overseas and I always challenge people around. Well if you’re needing this job but why aren’t you employing someone locally then? Why don’t you employ more people locally? If you’re so pro Australia or wherever you are, why don’t you? And so I can’t afford it.
Nick Sinclair: When anyone understands outsourcing and offshoring they understand that businesses are doing it to free up capacity. In a lot of cases, they’re doing it to be more profitable and in a huge amount of our client’s cases, they’re actually paying their local team members 10 to 20% more because they’re using the additional increase in profit to put back into their local team members. The other part of it is that the unknown fact, and this is something that we’re looking at, how do we get these data out into the market a lot more, is that, the majority of our clients actually grow their local team while growing a global team. So it’s not a, and if, it’s not a, I’m moving everything offshore because I want to make more money and it’s so much cheaper and easier.
Nick Sinclair: The reality is they’re doing it to build capacity, getting the right people doing the right work so they can invest more into their local people. They can grow their business locally. The other side of it is if they’re making more profit, guess what happens? Government tax you more. That means you’re contributing more to the local economy. So I think a lot of the preconceived ideas around taking jobs away or the quality of work is bad. And that could have been because I tried it five, 10 years ago or they’ve tried it with a provider where it was more outsourcing as opposed to offshoring. I think a lot of these misconceptions from people that are either ill-informed or had a bad experience or had a friend’s friend had a bad experience, it’s not actually they’re not well educated comments, it’s normally, particularly the one about you’re taking jobs away from Australia and there’s so many arguments around that.
Nick Sinclair: But we’ve also got plenty of data that shows that our clients grow locally, both in profit, but more importantly, they pay their local team members more and they also grow their business meaning they’re employing more people locally, than they would have if they didn’t go down this path.
Heather Smith: Yeah. And it will be interesting for our listeners to hear this because while your referenced Australia several times there you do actually service New Zealand, Canada now, I’m not sure if you’d enter the UK but, but the US you’re definitely servicing a lot of different countries and hearing the different perspectives of that. I know that I was recently in a regional New Zealand and during my time there, people were telling me, well, one staff member had worked in every single accounting practice in that region because there’s so few people there and they can just keep moving around for whatever reason to get what they need at the next job. And you actually lose a lot of stability if you can’t find staff. And if you have people moving like that, your clients are like, “What’s going on? Why does the key staff member keep changing?” So it does give you some security in that respect as well.
Nick Sinclair: It also, I think from that point of view is that we also look at it and I talked to a lot of our clients, team members, I have a lot more job satisfaction when they’re not having to do the work that they ideally don’t want to be doing anyway. But a lot of the firms make them go through the process and what this enables a lot of firms and a lot of businesses do is actually have the time to grow and develop their people locally at a lot quicker rate than they would have if they didn’t have a global team. So there’s so many facets to it. If you’re recruiting for a role and you’re basically saying, look, come in here and get swamped for 60 hours a week doing work you don’t enjoy doing and we’ll pay you what everyone else is paying versus we’ve built this firm where the right people are doing the right work.
Nick Sinclair: We have a career development plan, a learning plan. We want to progress you through to where you’re most skilled and capable. If that’s in technical role, then that’s in a technical role. If it’s client facing, then it’s client facing. But we want to develop you and grow you as a person and we’re going to pay the best money for the best people. So we’re like a sporting team. We want to attract the best, so we’re going to pay the best and we’re going to make sure that we retain them as well. We’re not just bringing them in to get through the work and then knowing that they’re going to cycle or leave within two years and we have to start again. So we also see longevity in a client’s tenure with their local team because they’re doing more work that they enjoy, more exciting work which brings more passion and excitement to the business as opposed to … that’s why people leave jobs, their work isn’t fulfilling or they have a bad leader or they’re just, why would I want to come and work for you 60 hours a week doing work and I’m not progressing?
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Did I hear a career pivot there? Can we see you as a sporting team coach?
Nick Sinclair: No, I use a lot of, I mean, I had a big sporting background growing up.
Heather Smith: Oh did you?
Nick Sinclair: Yeah. I use sport a lot in things because I think when you look at professional sports teams, they don’t pay really good talent badly. But when you’re looking at accounting firms and bookkeeping firms when they’re going to recruit people, they’re pretty much trying to bottom dollar them. So it’s like, well, if you want to attract the best person you need to actually pay. Pay is an important aspect, but you also need to provide an environment and a culture. So when I look at a lot of the best businesses, they use a lot of sporting knowledge like building culture, building retention, developing people. And I think that when you look at a typical accounting or bookkeeping business, they don’t think about culture. They don’t think about developing their people because they’re too busy being busy. So I try to wrap a lot of that, the good parts that sport does bring to our countries and the knowledge from that and apply it in the business world.
You always talk about the good accounting and bookkeeping firms attracting and retaining the A-players. You said that to attract the A-player, you need to have a value proposition there…
Nick Sinclair: Yeah, I think that the world has changed to be, particularly if you look globally, the unemployment rate in the accounting sector is less than a few percent. So anyone that wants a job has a job in the industry. I mean, America is less than 1.5%. That’s probably one of the worst. So anyone that wants a job has a job. So what are you doing to attract someone to work for you? So it’s no longer about I want to go and work for one of the big four and I want to work my way through there and get that on my resume. Now it’s about when the younger generation are coming in, it’s what are you going to do for me? And that’s what I talk about, if you want to attract the best talent, it’s all about what you’re going to do for them, it’s not what they’re going to do for you.
Nick Sinclair: So what environment are you going to provide them? What career development are you going to provide them? What mentoring are you going to provide them? What work space and environment are you going to provide them? So I think it’s completely flipping from where it was in the past, which was you’d beg and you’d basically offer. Like when I first started the financial planning industry, I worked for free for six months. I just wanted to go and get in the door. I said, “I will work for free while I’m studying. I’ll work on weekends. I work at nights where I get paid. I’ll work for you five days a week.” That was back when they were allowed to do that. Now you have to pay minimum wage. But I did that and I did it for six months. It was only after six months I turned around and said, “Hey, I think now you’re taking the Mickey out of me, you need to start paying me because I’m delivering. So I think it’s only fair that I get rewarded for that and I’ll stop studying and I’ll work here and I’ll study at night.”
Nick Sinclair: I think that the whole way that firms look at it though is no, they should be lucky to work for me. Well no, we should be lucky that our team choose to work with us.
Heather Smith: I think that the media is putting out a lot of talk that the robots are taking over accountancy jobs and thus the number of people going through to study and become accountants is decreasing and so the flow on effect is there’s less people in the industry which is something we again need to address. Do you think-
Nick Sinclair: Can I just answer that one thing quickly though because I’ve looked at research on this particularly in America because we’ve got an office there. There’s a lot more accounting firms hiring non CPA people these days and they’re doing that because a lot of the skill sets that are needed in the future and not necessarily the old technical ones that we had to have. So while there are less people coming through university, I think that there’s also a significant amount of new roles coming in. Like if you look at a modern accounting firm these days, most of them have a tech advisory business. Now that’s not necessarily someone that’s done an accounting degree. It’s someone that’s done the technology degree. So I also think that the roles and the evolving industry meaning that we don’t need as many people that are going through the traditional route. They’re coming through a nontraditional route.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely because I think that you have some power BI specialists in your base that people tap into.
Nick Sinclair: Yeah. Well, data analytics is, I honestly think it’s a new thing moving forward. I think a lot of the roles that we have within our office will pivot and move to being more data analytics, more data analysts that are reviewing and delivering the numbers to the local team to then go and actually have conversations with the clients. So we’re definitely seeing the early waves of that transition across. But yeah, I mean, we also have people that are working within our office doing IT, so connecting the apps and all sorts of development work on that side of it as well.
Heather Smith: It’s very exciting. In the earlier days, like 12 months ago, you were talking about you would frequently go people, processes, technology and now it’s data; people, processes, technology and data which are all very important.
Do you think that technology is going to come in and take away those sort of lower level jobs in the Philippines?
Nick Sinclair: Hey look, it’s an interesting question and I would say no. And I look at what’s evolved since Xero came to Australia and what the role of a bookkeeper was and an account then versus what it is now. And is there less need for people? Well, yeah, certainly because some of the process is no longer done, but what is done has pushed everyone up the value chain. So 10 years ago there wouldn’t have been a huge amount of the bookkeeping community that would have been out there doing management reporting and more business advisory. But the work that they’re now doing has had to be pushed down to someone in their global team that is doing all the books part because now they just want to be sitting in front of clients and adding the value that way.
Nick Sinclair: So I think that will definitely, and I mean this is a huge, if you look at our business, that is our business, it’s a massive risk. So where you spend a lot of time thinking and researching and looking at this and the reality is I think the roles that we employ will significantly change. Will they be completely taken out by technology? Definitely not. Accounting is a human business. Technology is an enabler to be able to deliver and be more effective in what we do. But we’re a human business, there is always going to be a need for work at different levels.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. So you travel extensively, Nick, you’re always somewhere. You stated that you’re averaging 86 flights a year, but I probably noticing what you’ve been doing lately that’s probably 86 flights a month.
How do you maintain a healthy work life balance?
Nick Sinclair: Yeah, so I travel 112. Well, my target this year is 112 days of travel and that’s for 2020. I think that a few more trips we’ll add that up. So look, to be honest, it’s about I manage my calendar well in events. So my diary is mapped all the way out to the end of 2021. And the first thing that I put in is my time with my kids and family. So school holidays you won’t see me at work, I’m always off on school holidays. I’ve got all the critical events in my life; wedding anniversaries, birthdays, key events at school. So cross country, swimming carnivals, all the things that are important go into my diary first, then I work my work life around that. But I’m very structured with how I do it. So I have a significant amount of time where I do have, I’m with my family and I’ve planned it and I’m structured I have probably 10 weeks a year where I’m not at work.
Nick Sinclair: Part of that is what I call remote work, where I’m on holidays and then I’ll check in at nighttime. But a lot of it comes back to just management. I mean, if you don’t manage your time, your time owns and manages you. And we’re running in four countries now, we pretty much run 24 hours a day. I travel a lot. I choose to travel a lot because I actually really enjoy that part of it and seeing what’s happening globally. But you need to control your diary and you need to control your time. And I think that that’s where a lot of people struggle in that they just don’t … everyone owns them, they don’t own them, their own diary and their own time. And the second part is building a team with any business where you have full trust and you fully trust that they’re doing what they should be doing so that you can actually take a break and enjoy it. So yeah, it’s all about structure. Like I said, my diaries is almost two years in advance.
Heather Smith: That was so awesome to hear and I hope, if nothing else, that that has really inspired a lot of people to take ownership of their own diary and of their own time because I know that I do that, but I kind of see the majority of people out there who don’t do that and just angry and feel they’re just busy all the time because like I said that it’s January, no one works in January. Like why are you trying to get me to do something in January? Those sorts of things depending on where the holiday is, where you are in the world, et cetera. So I fully embrace that as well. So thank you for sharing that and sharing your perspective on that. So I really appreciate talking with you today. Is there anything else that you would like to share with our listeners about what you’re doing, about where they can find you, about how they can get in contact with you?
Nick Sinclair: Hello, come on all social media. So Nick Sinclair, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I’ve started actually Instagram a lot more about what I do each day and stories and I’m finding that’s a good way more for my team to understand because I do travel so much and across four countries and 1,600 plus staff. The easiest way for them to see what I’m doing is to actually use Instagram, which is-
Heather Smith: Do you have all those 1,600 staff liking your posts? Because Wayne Schmidt not going to be happy about that. He will probably have something to say about that.
Nick Sinclair: No, I haven’t gotten them all liking it, but for me it’s a way for me to show them what I’m doing and connect with them and also with my clients. So yeah, social media is the best way, if anyone wants to reach out to me, it’s just Nick@toaglobal.com. Always available to chat to people and now I’m just passionate about the industry. I’m passionate about how we can help serve our customers better. We can build and grow our people that work for us and make that impact to our customers, better people. And I think that’s a lot of what I do when I’m out on the road and out and about is just talking about those two things that I love so much.
Nick Sinclair: That’s a good question. Initially we were serving accountants but now we serve accountants, bookkeepers and a lot of those businesses have mortgage broking, financial planning, so going to TOA Global was more of a generic, it was a simpler word to understand, but it still had the outsourced accountant as a short form abbreviation. So it was more for us that acknowledging we serve more than just accountants.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. Well never really sure what happened there. Well thank you so much for speaking with us today and thank you to the listeners for listening in. I will encourage anyone who is listening in to go and visit your website because your blog, you have a podcast, you put out a lot of actually really good content about how to build a firm, how to implement processes into the firm, what technology to be using and they’re actually decent long form articles in there. Plus you do frequently you’re running road shows across there. I assume that they’re happening in a number of different places. But visit the website to actually find out more information that I would encourage people to do. Thank you so much, Nick.
Nick Sinclair: Thank you very much for the opportunity. I have enjoyed it.