Paul Murray co-founder of Account – Kit joined me to talk about . . .
- His surprisingly in-depth knowledge of Disneyland and his background as a computer game artist,
- the ongoing challenges of modernising a server-based practice, and
- Building tools needed for the Accounting Practice – Murray Business Solutions and commercialising them into a solution called Account Kit
- Leveraging his background as a computer game artist, to build gamification into Account-Kit
- The different tools found in Account Kit, including the inter-entity loan reconciliation, and client mapping tool.
- The Adelaide Tech Users Club
What’s your favourite place of all the places you’ve travelled to?
Paul Murray: Oh, wow. I’ve done a fair bit of travel. I personally really like Disneyland. I really like Disneyland. I didn’t think I would. I went there with Paula many years ago, firstly under a little bit of duress. I’m not kid anymore. As a kid, I’d love to go there. But as an adult, would I enjoy it? And I was remarkably surprised at how much I engaged with what Disney had done. It is truly a magical place. You get there and they just execute everything with such perfection. Yeah, I love it. I went back there again this year. I’ve been three or four times in the last few years. And I got to check out Star Wars Land and that was pretty awesome.
Heather Smith: Awesome. I love Disneyland too. I do the arrive at 10 AM, or 9:30 AM when they let you in quietly as it opens at 10 and will go all the way through to midnight when it closes.
Paul Murray: Yeah.
Heather Smith: So I’m a total Disneyland freak too, except I have only been a couple of times. Now I feel sad. But I love it too.
Paul Murray: Oh, no.
Heather Smith: And I love the other side. Because there’s Disneyland and then there’s that sort of replica different type of park on the other side.
Paul Murray: That’s California Adventure.
Heather Smith: Yeah, California… You’re all across the-
Paul Murray: I am.
Heather Smith: You’re all across this. And it is interesting how one of the things is they’ve involved into queues and you can actually buy your queue passes before you actually enter. And you can schedule all the rides you’re going to go on before you enter. So it is interesting how they actually are adopting technology within the funnest place on earth.
Paul Murray: Me too. I love the app. Their app is so good in terms of seeing when the Fast Pass are activated and working properly, and which rides are working, what’s the wait in line. It really means you can plot out your day. I mean, the accountant inside of me likes to be organised. Having an app that helps me be organised is brilliant.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. And I think my son said that he went to… There was a light show area I think around the Ferris wheel and you could stand with your mobile phone and actually control it.
Paul Murray: Oh, wow.
Heather Smith: And you could send messages to it and it would do different things, like it would light up in different ways. And so everyone was there trying to make it light in different ways.
Paul Murray: Oh, that would be the World of Colour if it’s over by the Carousel. I know a little too much.
Paul, can you share with our listeners a little bit about your background?
Paul Murray: Sure. So I mean the story I always tell when I give presentations is I enjoy telling because it gives it a context, but also shows why we’re doing what we’re doing. My background originally was I started accounting back in the ’90s in a big university in Warrnambool, Victoria. And but when I came out of accounting, my degree, which was really more of a social exercise at the time, I think, I really didn’t want to do accounting. So I worked at a service station. And my passion at the time was video games. So I applied for a job at a new video game company in Adelaide. I didn’t get the job because I simply wasn’t good enough. But I was so passionate about it. I offered that I would work for them for free. And so I took my own computer in and I shared a desk with someone else. And I worked for free for a number of months just doing stuff with them.
Paul Murray: And I ended up getting a job there because my accounting side came out. I was very anal retentive about the way I would do things. And so I helped them get organised. And if you’ve ever been involved with a video game, they are massive, massive projects with lots and lots of assets across graphics and animation, sound, you name it. So you need to be really organised about it and when you look at the people that work in the company, they tend to be creative. It might be a creative programmer or a creative artist. They’re both creative in their own right. So their strength isn’t necessarily organisation. So I was able to bring a lot of value through that. So yeah, and I did that for seven years, didn’t sleep much through that whole period, couldn’t hold down a girlfriend either at the time. Because when you’re working all the time, you don’t tend to maintain relationships.
Paul Murray: So eventually I left that, not because I didn’t love it, but because I needed to get some life back which I left. My dad, who is also an accountant, had started a brand new practice in Adelaide, having come from Murray Nankivell which is one of the larger country firms in SA. He jumped on a bike ride around Australia and took a year off. He did a bike ride around Australia. And he came back and said, “We need to change things a little bit because our clients are spread all around Australia.” And I said, “Well, why don’t I join you with the new practice and I’ll help you get all your IT set up and your processes and templates and so forth?” And so I joined up there and have been doing that for a number of years. Paula joined us at the same time and we both had our respective partners at the time, but we fell in love and got married and bought the business from my dad a number of years back and have been running the business very successfully together along this way.
Paul Murray: So we’re a very traditional practice. We came from using Reckon APS for all our practice management and our ledgers. I headed to Xerocon in 2013. I think it was then our second child was due to be born. And yeah, I came back from that. I actually rang Paula from Xerocon and I was a little excited about where I saw industry heading. Because I often talk about accounting as a concept with my friends. And they always looked at me with puppy dog eyes and were really sorry for me because why would anyone actually want to be an accountant? But Paula and I both love it. We love what we do. And I rang Paula saying, “Really excited, Xero is going to change everything. It’s going to change the way that the apps talk together. It’s going to change the way we relate to our clients.”
Paul Murray: And that really started the ball rolling for a bunch of change within our own practice away from APS, and also started things with Account Kit as well. And so Account Kit was born out of that original going to Xerocon and seeing where the industry was going to change. And well I thought with a bunch of stuff we do on spreadsheets that’s not correlated to our data and plus with the manual data entry we do every single day. And I had created some of the most beautiful spreadsheets you’ve ever seen. But the reality is that it’s not connected to client data. And I thought, this is madness. We can do something much better than that. And that’s really where Account Kit came from amongst all that.
Heather Smith: Excellent. It’s interesting in what you shared there. And I speak to a lot of people of your ilk who started off by working for free. And it’s kind of unfortunate here in Australia that you’re not allowed to actually… there are very strict rules about, okay, this is the job I want. Let me just set up beside you and work for free, which can actually… You know, you can learn so much, work out even if you don’t want to do it or do want to do it. And it is a shame that that is not allowed. And it’s really inspirational to hear that you attended a conference and it actually inspired so much of you and what you’ve done now. So you’ve gone from a traditional server based, server bound practice and you’ve moved into the cloud. And Xerocon, it sounds like, inspired that.
How was the transition from a traditional server based, server bound practice to moving into the clouds.
Paul Murray: Well, I should probably clarify that the transition is not done.
Heather Smith: Okay.
Paul Murray: When I talk to people about that transition, we are doing it at a glacial pace. It’s very much the marathon, not the sprint because it is quite a large deal. There are so many interrelated systems. And I don’t think the right solution is necessary just to jump in both feet. Some people make that decision that it’s good for them but some practices, I don’t think it’s necessarily the greatest idea. Because I think you need to be very, very certain about the different elements of your practice stack before you make the change because there’s nothing more painful than making a change multiple times. And so we have transitioned a lot of our practice but oddly enough, we still have a server. We still operate through a terminal server even though our practice management is now in the cloud and most of the stuff we’re doing is now in the cloud. Our data storage is all sitting on our server still because I ultimately hadn’t really found that… what I felt was the perfect solution for us yet.
Paul Murray: And that’s certainly on my list of homework this year. I’m hoping that I will… I’ve got a few more things on my radar to assess. We’ll do that transition at some time hopefully this year. All things are going to plan. But in terms of how the journey has gone, I often show some emojis about what our journey was like, because I feel like we’re all the same and I like that I guess it gives people confidence that it’s okay to struggle with this process and be a bit fearful at the start, because change management is very tricky. So I would say that when we started this concept I was very excited. And I came back from Xerocon. We’re going to change the world. This is going to be amazing. We’re going to be on the cloud. We’re going to be productive, all these things.
Paul Murray: But within three months, our staff were a bit upset and we weren’t very productive. It didn’t seem like we’d get anything out the door in any sort of reasonable time frame. And it felt like everything we were doing was being challenged. So something as simple as doing a time sheet… because we still do time sheets as well, and doing the billing process, and all these things which we were so fast at were all of a sudden achingly slow. But we utilised Business Continuum. They helped us with the transition and they helped us and challenged us on things along the way, saying, “You want to do this thing, but do you need to do it that way? Why do you do it that way? Do you still really use that information that you think you need? Is it just a safety net, that you don’t really need.”
Paul Murray: And so having those sorts of things helped us reimagine what we were doing. But ultimately, we sort of got to pretty much to the end of September, a bit upset, taking a long time to do anything. We ended up separating our ledger transitions from XPA Ledger to Xero Ledger over two years simple because we were trying to capture all the comparatives. We were also bringing fixed assets in. We were taking an opportunity to fix up anomalies that we had that crept in over the years about the way we handled taxation versus accounting treatment of assets. So there’s lots of adjustments to be made in the way we did things. But within six months, the team was starting to feel much more comfortable. They were getting the transitions down from… it was like a day or two to get the transitions, down to two or three hours. And so the whole process had just started to become much, much faster.
Paul Murray: And honestly, by the time we got to 12 months, they were super fast and loving it and wishing they’d actually whole lot in the first year. We’re getting out the work in half the time for those clients that we’ve transitioned. So really hard work in the start, but worth it in the end, but yeah.
Heather Smith: Absolutely, yeah. Well, it’s good to hear that it’s not something that’s overnight, because sometimes, it is sold to us as an overnight transformation that you can go on. So in terms of your trials and tribulations and reworking work flows and processes, how does Account Kit fit into that journey? So you’ve got one business and then you kind of evolved into creating Account Kit.
Where does Account-Kit fit into your journey?
Paul Murray: Yeah. So every one is going to be a little bit different. It’s about things that resonate with you. For us, the starting point was really taking anything that I saw in a spreadsheet and saying, “Can I put that into the cloud and tie it back to my client data in some fashion? Does it make sense to do so?” So if you look at the admin side, it was things like mail registers and important document registers and searching the information in one place. But in terms of the other work papers, there’s actually a bit more to that, because if I step back a little bit now and say, “Well, I went to Xerocon, thought about the future, what that has in store for us. And well, if we’re going to start moving clients onto Xero, what does that look like?”
Paul Murray: And so we spent basically three years transitioning a whole bunch of our clients onto Xero. And we deliberately didn’t take on too many at the same time because we wanted to make sure that when we were transitioning clients, that we would spend appropriate levels of time with them to ensure that their data entry was very well executed. So they weren’t taking issues from MYOB and Reckon and Phoenix and so forth and bring it into Xero and trying to treat it exactly the same because they’re not the same. So we made in mandatory for our clients to have either a monthly or quarterly review. And during those monthly and quarterly reviews, we would go through and almost like a… When we were doing our compliance work we’d review the general ledger and check the way things are coded and make sure things are reconciled, review your receivables, payables, withholding accounts. Everything we’d normally do, we’d review them all at the same time.
Paul Murray: And we took the same opportunity to then give feedback on their business performance. And what we found at the end of that period, the clients were often going, “We really like this hand holding. We like the ongoing feedback you’re able to give us because historically it has always been a lot more retrospective.” So that changed the way we worked with them but it also meant we could wrap into that, something like the inter entity loan tool, for equipment finance. So typically, if your doing a compliance job at year end, you’d be going through the loan accounts and you’d find stuff when you export both the general ledgers to excel and you’re trying to match up transactions and work out what needs to be coded. And you’d stumble across things that might be quite material that would have a GST impact or a capital gains impact.
Paul Murray: And if you contact the client they’re like, “Oh, I can’t remember what that was about. And then they couldn’t find the documentation. You had backwards and forward wasting time trying to resolve these issues. Whereas the… because we were reviewing the stuff either on monthly or quarterly basis, well picking that stuff up as and when it happens, which means the client remembers what happens, which means they also have the documentation. And so it meant that we’re dealing with a period before tax planning before year end. And similar for equipment finance, it meant that we were coding that stuff all the way through the year, and we would pick up from when they would do a pay out of a schedule, or they’ve established a new schedule so we made sure we don’t miss things like the GST adjustments that happen.
Paul Murray: So it’s taken stuff that would happen retrospectively at the end and which was time consuming trying to resolve and just get them resolved all the way through the year. And so it made us much more efficient. It made their records much more accurate. It meant that we were able to do interim reporting if we wanted to with much more accuracy. So there was just so many benefits laid on top of it. And Account Kit kind of facilitates that across a number of tools. So yeah, that’s some of the core benefits up front. There is… We’re replacing a lot of the worksheets we use. Our most recent one was Division 7A, which only accountants can get excited about Division 7A.
Heather Smith: Tax accountants.
Paul Murray: Yeah.
Heather Smith: Australian tax accountants, yeah.
Paul Murray: Australian tax accountants, spot on. That’s right. But it takes only … It’s an ugly process. The APO tax letter is really cumbersome and hard to use and generates a PDF that’s way too long. And if you make a mistake, you have to do it all again. It’s a massive time waster. So I feel like we’ve taking something that’s really ugly and made it kind of beautiful and fun, which only an accountant in Australia could probably say. But I say it with a hand on heart. I actually really like the process now. So it takes… Something I think Xero has done particularly well is they have game-ified the bookkeeping process. They’re making a process that’s not necessarily fun and just having a few little bits and pieces that makes it feel more like a game and less like a chore. And if we can achieve the same sort of thing through the use of colours, through the use of automation. It just makes the process fun and we can bring more value.
Heather Smith: Okay, so let’s talk about the game-ification of accounting and business technology, because I think that this is possibly an area that you’re actually extremely skilled in, especially that you came from the gaming world. Have you built in game-ification? Like you’re talking about colours.
How have you applied your gamification knowledge to Account Kit?
Paul Murray: At the moment, it is probably only in a couple of places. Our inter-entity loan tool, the ability to have the visual cues, really like traffic lights almost, where if I’m selecting two transactions, they turn a bright green. It’s actually a nice pleasant green, much like when you get a reconciled transaction in Xero. The brain just goes, “Oh, awesome, it’s green which means it’s all go.” And you hit a button, it disappears and it feels like a… I had another accounting team play with it and they said it was like Sudoku for accountants because it just is really satisfying to check things off and make them disappear. And then we have like the auto match which goes through and matches them and you get a sea of green and hit that one button and they all disappear in one hit.
Heather Smith: Do they go “Brrr” across the screen?
Paul Murray: No, not yet, but we should.
Heather Smith: It should.
Paul Murray: I would actually love to introduce much more gaming concepts around things like achievements and, yeah, anything just to help you engage with what you’re doing. So it’s not just I’m doing this laborious work. I’m doing stuff and we want to… there’s little rewards along the way. And that’s only… I’ve started kind of scoping out some stuff around that space and I can imagine we’ll do it one day. It just hasn’t hit the top of my list yet.
Heather Smith: Yeah. I guess you can put the setting on like, you know, I want cowboy themed Account Kit today.
Paul Murray: I’m thinking more unicorns. It’s unicorns.
Heather Smith: Do you… Yeah, because like Xero has hidden a few Easter eggs and unicorns in their software. So I’m completely for solutions hiding those Easter eggs and those unicorns in software. I do think it just helps in the actual using of it. Because the game-ification, again, it makes it easier so it’s a better experience. And a lot people who are doing that appreciate the other side. But of course, there are people who don’t. But yeah, absolutely. So in terms of Account Kit, now I’m just making sure that you’ve talked to all the sort of different features of Account Kit. So the client mapping tool, have you talked of that feature?
What does the Account Kit client mapping tool do?
Paul Murray: No, not yet. So yeah, the client mapping tool is another favourite, and the reason for that is I know a lot of accountants do business structure diagrams for their clients. We certainly have been doing it for years as a value add for our financials to help our clients understand the structures that they’re in. We also have used them as a internal training tool. Nothing like having a junior staff member who is doing really, really well, and as their reward, they get given a empty group of 40 entities. And straight away, they go, “What? Oh my God, there’s so many structures. Where do they even start?” A structure diagram shows ownership. It shows the way things flow between entities. It give you a bit of a hierarchy of how to execute the work. So internally, it’s great for that purpose.
Paul Murray: It’s also useful for providing to bank managers. They often don’t understand their clients structures, and even providing to lawyers and to help them understand for estate planning purposes, having that nice visual tool. Now it’s a very manual process normally. So normally people will do it in like Visio or Excel or Word. So it’s a really manual process to pull data in and it’s prone to error because we’re under time pressure to get things done. So what we’re trying to do is say, “Well, we’ve already got a lot of data in Xero Practice Manager. If you’re not using Xero Practice Manager, you can still have all that data sitting within Account Kit but at least you only have it recorded there once.” And it pulls that information into the diagram. And so that’s everything from all the relationships to ABNs, ACNs, entity types. And we can plug in a few extra bits and pieces like a description. What does the entity do? How does it fit within the broader group? So it just makes that process of keeping diagrams up to date much, much simpler.
Heather Smith: Yeah. And that solution, while you’re referencing Australia and ABNs, works globally, doesn’t it?
Paul Murray: It does.
Heather Smith: Yeah.
Paul Murray: Absolutely. I mean the tools that are in Account Kit, they are generally globally applicable. There’s probably three that aren’t with the rest of the world. And that would be Division 7A, fuel tax credits, and our lodgement statistics.
Heather Smith: But the way you describe Division 7A, it probably is so exciting they should just try it out anyway.
Paul Murray: Well, they should just have play. Again, to finish off on the client maps, so the client maps when we first executed that, and we’ve done so many iterations on it since then, we worked out… There’s so much more that we do with our clients that is not just about mapping client structures. We also help our clients with internal systems and processes. We help them with how the hierarchy of their business works. And we help them and recommend software. What software should they use within their business? What are they currently using? What could they be using? How does that new system work? How do things flow between that? And so while we can provide them with a proposal saying, “Hey, you should change your structure, your processes, your software like this”, there’s nothing quite like having a visual map of how that software interacts before and after. And so it’s not just not in our structure diagrams. It’s software. It’s process mapping. It’s whatever you need to do. It’s part of supplementing your advice to your client.
Heather Smith: Absolutely. And so another tool I think that’s worth touching on which I know is a favourite for many people is the inter-entity loan reconciliation tool.
What does the Account Kit inter-entity loan reconciliation tool do?
Paul Murray: Yeah. So that’s the one that I think is the most game-ified of the lot in the selection of entries. But I was doing some slides up front on the presentation for the Xero team the other day. And I said, “I’m going to go through a process of what it takes to do a inter-entity loan traditionally. Because I can talk about these tools until I’m blue in the face and I get really excited by them, but I thought I would highlight what it is that we’re replacing. And you look at something as simple as an inter-entity loan. In principle, it’s quite simple. But the process, there’s so many steps to do it normally, and oh yeah, you go to the one Xero organisation, you got to an account transactions report. You find all the accounts. You set the date range. You export it to excel. Then you log out. Log in to the other Xero organisation and repeat. You’ve got two excel files on two monitors and you’re slowly matching these off, one by one.
Paul Murray: And you think about how much time you waste through all of those steps. And yet, with our inter-entity loan we’re grabbing all that data. We’re pulling it all in. I can go straight to transactions without logging out and logging in direct from within the tool. And I can run some auto matches to get rid of the obvious things. I can do bulk coding, filter, and copy coding. It’s very similar to cash trading in Xero. There’s so many little things that just take something that’s a really painful process and makes it much, much easier and pleasant to do it.
Heather Smith: Excellent, excellent. So I’ll ask you in terms of Account Kit as a whole, when I suggest people look at a map there’s various things they should consider. So I’ll ask you a few things about that and see if you can address them. So with Account Kit, is it holding data? It’s kind of…It’s tool rather than holding data, isn’t it?
Where does Account Kit store data?
Paul Murray: Well, it depends. It does hold data so we… So for example, when you think of the Xero Practice Manager, we think all client information. So there’s that four, two, eight synchronisation of client data. If you’re not using Xero Practice Manager, you may be using APS or MYOB AE, or maybe you’re a small accounting firm or bookkeeping firm that doesn’t have a practice management platform. Those can use Account Kit as a light CRM.
Heather Smith: Yes.
Paul Murray: And we’ve got correspondence tracking and we track all the other different details. So we do actually hold all that client data within the system as well if you want to use it in that fashion. But that’s kind of highlights, I guess. Another thing about the way we operate with Account Kit, when I talked before about moving our practice to the cloud and not… We haven’t covered all areas yet because we haven’t found all the right software to plug all the right gaps. And so we changed the way our software works last year to break the tools up, make it much more modular.
Heather Smith: Oh.
Paul Murray: Because at the end of the day, if you find a tool that does a better job than Account Kit, then we shouldn’t force you to use our tool. You should be using the tool that’s best in your practice. And so a great example, and I’m very open with the guys from ChangeGPS. They’ve got some brilliant tools in their tool kit. And they’ve got one tool that’s the same as our tool which is their blueprint tool. It’s different. It just does things slightly differently. And if that suits you better, than you should use that tool. Don’t use our tool. Don’t turn ours on. Just leave ours turned off and use theirs. And I think that’s really very important that people have that choice to choose the right tools and shouldn’t be held for ransom over that.
Heather Smith: What’s a blueprint tool?
Paul Murray: Blueprint is like the client mapping.
Heather Smith: Oh, okay. Okay, okay.
Paul Murray: Yeah.
Heather Smith: So, okay. So you have some client data.
What is the security over the data held within Account Kit?
Heather Smith: Over the data held in Account Kit?
Paul Murray: Yeah, so it’s multi-tiered. So obviously being connected to Xero data, we have to enforce two factor authentication. So we’ve got the two factor authentication built in as mandatory within Australia, at least. But we do enable our practice setting that’s in force throughout the rest of the world. So if you say, as a business and I’m in New Zealand and I still want to enforce it, they can enforce across the entire practice. We’ve got a single sign on with Xero for that as well which is super helpful. It works nicely with Practice Protect. But beyond that, also there’s the storage of the data. So it all lives on Amazon Web Services as well. It’s all on the Sydney server so all the benefits are wrapped around that, wrapped around full encryption of data. So the data in transit is encrypted. At rest, it’s also encrypted as well. So a highly important part of this whole thing, if we’re going to store client data, we need to be tremendously secure about the way that all works.
Heather Smith: Absolutely. And I assume it’s online so I can access it from where I can access something online. I can have single user log on.
Can I have simultaneous user log on to Account Kit?
Paul Murray: What does simultaneous user log on mean?
Heather Smith: You log onto the solution and I log onto the solution from two different areas.
Paul Murray: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it’s multi-tenant so people can obviously log in from-
Heather Smith: Multi-tenanted log on.
Paul Murray: Yes. Yeah, so you can log in from anywhere, absolutely.
Heather Smith: Absolutely. And I understand as you did just mention, you have various integrations with different other technology solutions. You just mentioned Practice Protect. You’ve mentioned Xero Practice Manager with also leads to Xero.
What solutions do you have integration or partnership relationships with?
Paul Murray: Yeah, we’ve got a number of different ones that we use. We use Twilio, that’s where it enables us to send and receive SMSs from Account Kit. It’s quite an amazing platform. It’s actually a telecommunications platform with a massively robust API and able to do lots of cool stuff. So we’re only using the SMS feature. One day we might do much more than that. We integrate with BGL so that’s CAS 360 and supports Simple Fund 360, but I’ll explain how those work in just a moment. And we also do Now Infinity. And we’ve got Class who will come later on this year, as will GreatSoft. But we also have a whole bunch of document management systems. And so that’s everything from Dropbox to Box, to Google Drive, One Drive, Sharepoint-
Heather Smith: SuiteFiles you have here as well.
Paul Murray: Definitely SuiteFiles, absolutely. And we’re talking with the likes of FYI, HowNow, and a few others like that. Again, it’s about choice, finding the one that works well for your practice, and I want to make sure people have got lots of choice.
Heather Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative), absolutely.
Paul Murray: So going back to say our integrations with BGL and Now Infinity, obviously we’re syncing a lot of data in from things like relationship across directorships, so corporate compliance and the like. And people often ask, do you have two way sync with these platforms? And I say, “No, we don’t. Our integration with these guys is one way in that I can search if the information is in our system. I can click from Account Kit and go straight to that client within their system, so they don’t push and pull data.” And that’s actually very, very conscious decision we’ve made at this point because it’s a tricky thing.
Paul Murray: Integration is, I think, really in the early days. Xero have been the first to say we’re going to create a ecosystem and we’re going to have an open API and you’re going to be able to do all this cool stuff. But historically, that was never the case. Everyone lived in their silos. So for us now to all start talking together and start pushing and pulling data, there actually needs to be a unified standard of some kind that enables us to work with each other without breaking each others data because nothing will get someone more off side than when we break their data. And it’s very easy to do. If I’m talking with one provider but I’m also talking to another provider who talks to that other provider, it’s this big web of data that’s being pushed and pulled all over the place and you can make a very big mess, very, very quickly until there’s some sort of standard around that.
Heather Smith: Yeah.
Paul Murray: Which I think will happen.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s really interesting. And yes, that’s something that I’ve done in the early days when you follow their instruction and they’re like, “Oh, we didn’t think the file would already be set up with data in when you connected it.”
Paul Murray: Yeah.
Heather Smith: It’s like, you didn’t say that in the instructions.
What sort of business accounting or bookkeeping practice size does Account Kit suit? And what sort of size does it go up to? So from small to large end range?
Paul Murray: Yeah, so our primary market is the one I most familiar with, and that is bookkeepers and accountants who are anywhere from sole trader through to 50 users is probably what I feel is our sweet spot because it’s the market we understand the best. Having said, again when we changed our price model last year because we were getting interest from mid tier and big four, we found they would break our price model. And we changed our price model to also handle the really large end of town. So we do have some accounting firms of over 100 users using it.
Heather Smith: Wow.
Paul Murray: And we do have others that I’m not allowed to talk about yet who are… who have given the go ahead to use the software. We’re just going to be making some tweaks for them. I mean we’re on AWS, we can scale as and fast as you like. What probably introduces more problems in when we connect up to a bunch of Xero files and we’re limited by the Xero API caps. So I’m talking with the Xero guys. Hopefully we can find some solution to extract Xero data much, much faster for when we have many, many hundreds of Xero files connected at the same time.
Heather Smith: So you think that’s something that they have to actively look at? Because I know there’s been limits to what you can access in, while as we started off just a few minutes ago, you said Xero really pushed this concept of an ecosystem and an open API. And I know they’ve done a lot of work in terms of security over the data. But there’s still things like, oh, we can only… we have limits in how many times you can access us and how many invoices you can push into us, etcetera. Do you think that’s something they need to explore? Or there’s a demand for them to explore?
Paul Murray: Yeah, I think so. If you’re going to hold yourself out to be a platform, it’s… the access to their data is extremely important. And the rate that you can get to it is also really important. But it is a balancing act, because if they come on and say, “Okay, we’re going to give everyone unlimited access about how much data they can extract, push, and pull, then they’re still going to hit… Everyone is going to go, ‘Well, I’m just going to take all the data. I’m going to take everything I can because I can do lots of stuff with it.'” And that’s going to be problematic because the amount of data, they’d have to beef their servers up and they’d have to do so many different things to make it a possibility. So it’s wise to have caps on the way it works. But maybe… Again, this is a learning experience even for them. I think they have to be working through what methodologies they can do and not say that all add-ons are created equal. We all have different data requirements.
Paul Murray: So the stuff we do with Xero, I think is really unique. So we extract everything from Xero. So we pull everything from systems to Trial Balance to effectively, whereas a lot of the other add ons don’t need that stuff so they can extract what they need really, really quickly. And so they will never hit data caps. We hit the caps all the time because of the sheer volume of data. So I think… And I think they’re working through this. So I think they’re seeing more and more need for that. Because if they can then set tiers up saying, well this provider, they’re a tier one provider. They need this level of access, therefore their caps should be different. But then you also there need to have certain security requirements in place. I think it’s just an evolving thing. It’s new. They’re the first to do it. And so they’re also finding their feet about what works, what doesn’t work.
Paul Murray: And I’m glad that they’re continually talking about it. They say API first. They’re slowly, slowly going okay, that means I need to build in web hooks to things so that we’re not wasting server resources and through other stuff. They’re learning. And as long as they keep learning and keep implementing new things to make it easier, yeah, it will come out on top.
Heather Smith: Yeah. No, it is interesting. It’s kind of a back end expense that as a front end user, I don’t see but must be impacting them. And I feel that, as well as just the increased usage across solutions must be something that they have to be totally conscious and aware of. I’d like to ask you, what does your future time line look like.
What vision do you have for Account Kit into the future?
Paul Murray: That’s a good question. I think from our practice… I always think about it from the point of view of our practice and what can I do to make myself and our team more effective, more productive, and more valuable to our clients. And the biggest barrier to us, I think providing good timely advice to our clients is availability of information and how much effort is required to get to that information. So my ultimate aim is to really consolidate as much client information that is useful in the one place that I can be talking with a client and I don’t have to drill through folder structures and such to find the information. I’ve actually got what I need right there on the spot when I’m talking to the client.
Paul Murray: And often I talk to people about Account Kit and the core benefit. You know, sure, it’s got lots of tools for automation and the like. But the thing I love the most is our family group page, the summary page, where I can see so much about this one client group in one place. I can see all my correspondence. I can see everything from descriptions to trading names to file notes associate with them. I can click through to Xero XPM, their client folders. I can see all the current finance entities and structure diagrams, everything, not everything yet, but everything is in that one place. I’m not drilling around to find it. So I’m able to talk to them about such a variety of things without wasting time trying to find things and folder structures that aren’t there. But it also means our staff, who are also much more informed, often we get so busy we don’t share information with our team. And yeah, they’re the ones, they’re the engine of our practice. They’re the ones who do the work.
Paul Murray: And for them to do their best work, they need to be informed and aware. And we have to reduce the barriers to entries for them to get to that information. And if we can do that, then less mistakes, more effective. We’re able to push more work down to our team because they’re fully informed. So yeah, for us long term, it’s about really building out that picture, continuing to build that picture of everything that’s happening across our client groups in one place.
Heather Smith: Excellent. Thank you for sharing that with us. I’d like to come on and ask you… go on and ask you about some recent developments in Adelaide, because you’re based in Adelaide in South Australia. And you together with some of the other people in the accounting industry have formed the Adelaide Breakfast Club. So I have a really important question here from a listener and a past guest,
Cameron Lynch, from Etani Business Solutions wants to know who is your favourite member of the Adelaide Breakfast Club?
Paul Murray: Cameron is funny. Cameron is really my favourite. He’s the only person I meet with on a regular basis. No, Cameron is a great guy. Actually, it’s so funny. We’re a small city, and yet I had never heard of Cameron or Etani. And it was actually through one of our own clients in New South Wales who told me about Cameron, and said, “Hey, you should… You know, Cameron.” So I reached out to Cameron and we said we should get together and talk. You know, we’re both doing similar things in the same space. There’s probably a lot of stuff we can share. And, yeah, so Cameron, he’s probably a couple of years behind us. And I reckon I wish I had someone that I could have talked to a few years ago. And we’ve both… Yeah, you both hear different things as well about what’s happening within the industry. And so to even hear each other’s perspectives on what we’re hearing, it might be about our own apps or it might be about other stuff that’s going on, it’s just great to have that sounding board.
Paul Murray: So I know he’s getting a lot from the conversations. I get a lot from it as well, even to the point of being able to say, “Hey, here’s some of the things we’ve done in the past and I don’t think they really worked. Just don’t bother.” And the fact that I can share that information and save him some time and some pain, it feels good from my point of view as well. Yeah, we have a bit of fun.
Heather Smith: Oh, that’s fantastic. So can you describe for our listeners, what the Adelaide Breakfast Club is?
Paul Murray: It’s an opportunity for, well in this case Cam and I, to get together and talk about anything-
Heather Smith: Oh, it is just Cam and you. I thought it was-
Paul Murray: It literally is. So when he says breakfast club, yeah, it’s literally he and I. Probably something more relevant might be the tech user group that was started up.
Heather Smith: I thought that that’s what it was. I didn’t realise he gave your meetings a specific name.
Paul Murray: Well, yes, that’s funny.
Heather Smith: Okay, so maybe share with our listeners, the Adelaide… What is it? The Adelaide Tech Users’ Club, is that-
Tell us about The Adelaide Tech Users’ Club.
Paul Murray: Well, it’s the Accountant’s Tech User Group.
Heather Smith: Okay.
Paul Murray: Yeah, so that was born out of… It’s actually me. I went to a Xero Practice Manager user group in Gold Coast last year. And what it did when I went because it was a mixture of bookkeepers and accountants. And in a quite small intimate setting. And they were just talking and sharing ideas about how they ran their practices and their business. And I was there as a guest just to share a bit about what we do. And I came back and I went, “I used to do these same things for APS as well.” We had the APS user groups, and they were so good for sharing ideas in what is otherwise a crazy, busy world. So I went, “We need to start something up here and I want it to be tech agnostic. I don’t want people to feel like you have to be a Xero user or you have to be a particular user. I want it to be a forum where accountants could get together and be brutally honest about what does and doesn’t work, and what… how they’ve don’t with their own transitions into the cloud.
Paul Murray: So I mean, our forum, we’ve only done one. We’ve got another one coming up, maybe, probably in April. And the format initially, it’s about we choose an app partner to come and present. Then we have an accounting firm present a bit more about their own cloud journey, the current stack. And then we have time just to talk. And that might change in time, but it worked quite well for our first instance. You know, the… I shared about Account Kit, and then we had Ali and the guys from All In Advisory, Lee Duffield she spoke about their stack and their own journey, where they’ve been, what worked, what didn’t work. And then just had this free for all where we just talked about anything and everything tech related. What works, what doesn’t work.
Paul Murray: So I know. I mean, Xero often spouts there’s 800 apps in the UK system. And for us to be good advisors, we need to have awareness of what’s out there. And we don’t have time to go through it all. And we’ve got resources like you and your blogs and what you present. That’s excellent.
Heather Smith: Thank you.
Paul Murray: But we also want to hear from the other guys within our local area, what works, what’s not working, and encourage people to make the change. Because often people are so fearful of change. And so hearing the journey and knowing there are other people that are going through the journey, that have been through the journey, what it looks like, it gives you the courage to want to change. So I see that kind of a community, not competition, is really, really important. There’s so much work out there that I don’t want there to be a boundary just because we’re an accounting firm or bookkeepers. We should be able to get together and talk openly, freely, about what works, what doesn’t work, to make us all more effective and efficient at what we do. Because ultimately, we want to be better accountants for our clients. We want to have more time to spend with our family or whatever it is you want to do with that extra time that you get from… through these resources.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. And I would encourage other listeners who are listening in, kind of like the meetup concept that I run here in Brisbane, that Adelaide, that… the accounting tech user’s group that you’re running. Consider setting one up in your own area and just pulling people together to have those in real life connections.
Paul Murray: Yeah, if they want to, they can reach out to me as well. I’m happy to provide the graphics and stuff if they want to create banner, you know, the PowerPoint presentations as templates. There’s not a brand we’re going to sell or anything. It’s like, if people want to start one up in their own local towns or cities, then I’m happy to provide the stuff for them. And maybe longer term, we might do a conference get together thing where a bunch of us get together in a bigger context. You never know where it’s going to to. But that information is free. If you want it, make contact with me.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. That’s great. Thank you for that. So Paul,
Where do you see the accounting industry heading in the coming years and what role does software have in it?
Paul Murray: I see software having the role of supplementing what we already do. And there’s lots discussion, there has been, it’s probably a good bit quieter these days, around this whole compliance is dead and the like. But from my point of view, we’re just getting super powered by these software applications. We’re getting more immediate information. And that ability for us to engage with our clients in a much more meaningful context is going to become more and more possible for all of us. You know, we’re not all wired necessarily for doing consulting. Some of us, our strengths are in doing the compliance work. And I think this super powers our ability to do that, whether you’re doing more… Because, again, you keep hearing these schools of thought around you need to grow, you need to be doing consulting.
Paul Murray: Like, no, actually that’s not the case at all. It’s choosing the niche that works for you and then finding the right technology that super powers your abilities. And you become more effective, more efficient at what you’re already doing.
Heather Smith: Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree with that. There’s a lot of noise and that is coming from marketing and coaching people. And you need to work out what your own personal and business goals are and just focus on those and don’t worry about other things. I’ve just noticed, you’ve got a bottle of red wine on your shelf there within distance.
Paul Murray: I do. That’s actually… That was gift from… I think it was from Carolyn Stebbing. I think it was.
Heather Smith: Oh, that’s lovely.
Paul Murray: Yeah, so I’m saving it there. Actually, no, we’ve got another one from Carolyn. She keeps providing us with alcohol. We’ve got a nice expensive bottle of champagne. So when we hit a certain level of subscriptions, that’s going to be our reward. But yeah, that’s my emergency supply over there.
Heather Smith: Yeah, emergency supply. For those listening in, Adelaide and South Australia is a well known wine region here in Australia. So you’ve shared with us kind of what’s next for Account Kit.
What’s next for Murray Business Solutions, the accounting side of your world? And also maybe, how do you juggle being an accountant and running an accounting firm, and being an app developer and that side of it? Like focus your time on that?
Paul Murray: Mm-hmm (affirmative). All right, so the-
Heather Smith: That was two big questions. Sorry.
Paul Murray: Yes. It is that’s right. No, well, Murray Business Solutions, it’s an ongoing refinement of our own internal systems. I think with the last few years, we’ve got a little lax on documentation of processes and systems and ensuring we get them back to being robust so that as we take on team members, or if we do outsourcing, we have very robust systems in place. I think that’s going to be a real focus. And then we’ll probably look a bit more in the way of other apps that we can utilise for our clients. My role in all that is I’ve kind of… I’ve stepped back a little bit from the accounting consulting.
Paul Murray: For a number of years I ran both, while we were having kids so Paula worked part time managing… juggling the kids, working from home. And I don’t know how she juggled them both to be perfectly honest. But the older kids are at school now, and-
Heather Smith: Yes.
Paul Murray: And once the kids are at school, then Paula has come back full time. And the transition, basically I’ve stepped back from the accounting side and so I’m 95 percent on Account Kit and five percent on the accounting side. And so I keep my finger on the pulse. I’m in still amongst the team. So Paula’s office is directly across the way and I’m listening to everything, being part of everything. Because our own accounting team is essentially our extended testing team. They get to, for better or worse, try the software first when we’re rolling out new stuff. And the both of us get to hear all the angst when things don’t behave, which is invaluable for our team to hear. When things don’t behave, there is real problem that comes with that.
Paul Murray: So yeah, it’s been a huge juggling act, a lot of personal sacrifice over the last few years. And I think we’re getting a little bit more balanced now. It’s taking time. We’re… Our focus now is trying to get balance back again and more time with our kids. We’re very, very aware that we have a limited time frame where the kids want to actually play with us and want to do cool stuff with us, until they’re eventually too cool and then they don’t want to play with us anymore. And I’m very aware that we’ve got a limited time frame where they think we’re the centre of their world. So we’re trying to, yeah, introduce a bit more balance around that space at this point.
Heather Smith: Excellent, excellent. Thank you so much for your time today, Paul. I really appreciate it and I’m sure our listeners have learned a lot from the different journeys that you’ve taken and where that has brought you to. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners today? And also,
How can listeners get in touch with you?
Paul Murray: Yeah, no worries. Well, thank you for having me along. I love talking about this stuff. I often get into trouble when I go to exhibitions because I tend to rabbit on too long about everything else other than accounting. I’m not a sales guy. I just like talking about accounting and business and we can do things better. If I was to say anything about a recommendation or my thoughts for the future, it’s don’t be afraid of change, but also don’t be intimidated by the people out there that are very noisy that make it seem like you need to change fast. Do it in your own time frames. Get help with it. Make sure you engage with an implementation partner, which there’s any number of them out there, who can help you and challenge you as you go through that journey. And involve the team in that journey.
Paul Murray: My fear is I see sometimes, a few accounting firms who love the concept of say, something like Account Kit. And the team gets super excited by it. And it’s really hard sometimes to get your team excited by a change. But they get excited, they go back to the office, and then they get told to be quiet, sit down, and get on with their work, and not to engage with this concept of change. And it’s just madness. And what I’m seeing is some of these large firms are losing some of their most important people who get frustrated because they can’t get change. And so they leave and start their own practice. And the barriers to entry to start a new practice couldn’t be lower. You step out. You start up Xero Practice Manager. You’ve got a laptop. And I’m off and running and I’m taking your best clients with me.
Heather Smith: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Paul Murray: It’s more expensive to lose your key personnel than it is to adapt and wear a bit of cost for the transition. So yeah, you can’t afford to. You’re going to lose your key staff if you don’t transition. So in terms of getting contact with me, well you can email me direct, Paulm@account-kit.com. Otherwise, I really recommend jumping onto our website. At the bottom of the first page, we have some links to some overview webinars that we do which take you through all the tools. I’ve also got a series of two minute videos on Vimeo, which they show the tools in action. And if I’m engaging with a new app, I like to actually see it working. I don’t want to see infographics and stuff. I want to see it in action so I can start to imagine how I can involve that into our current workflow. And by seeing the tool in action, I can start to engage with that. And because they’re only two minutes long, they’re a great tool for sharing with your teams and they can watch in their own time.
Paul Murray: If you can get your team excited by the concept of change, they’ll drive the change process for you. You don’t have to then force in on them. So I think you can get them excited by showing them a short video saying, “If this brings value and makes your day easier, should we engage with it?”
Heather Smith: Yeah.
Paul Murray: I think that’s good.
Heather Smith: Excellent tips. Thank you so much, Paul, for your time and sharing all that information with us. I really benefited from it.
Paul Murray: No worries. Thank you so much.