Ep. 149: Kevin Au - Accounting in 2025 and Beyond

Kevin Au, Senior Director, Product Marketing at Bill.com, joins Count Me In to talk about the changes to the roles and responsibilities of accountants. Kevin currently leads a team of product and customer marketers to grow Bill.com's largest revenue-generating Accountant and Wealth Management segments and Payments products. He has over 15 years of experience working in the high-tech and financial services industries around product marketing, product development, customer experience, product/business operations, and corporate strategy. The last 18+ months have presented tremendous learning and growth opportunities for accountants and businesses, and Kevin joins us to discuss which of those changes are likely to stay as well as what else is to come by 2025 and beyond. Download and listen now!

Contact Kevin Au: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevinwau/

Bill.com: https://www.bill.com/

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Mitch: (00:05)
 Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. We're happy to have you back for episode 149 of our series. This is Mitch Roshong, and I'll be your host getting you ready for today's conversation. In this episode, you will hear from Kevin Au - bill.com's head of product marketing, accountant, and wealth management. In a moment, you'll hear him talk about lessons learned in the accounting industry and what the profession can anticipate as far as roles changing and skills needed in the future. So without further ado, let's transition over to the conversation now.
 
 Adam: (00:47)
 So Kevin, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. We really appreciate you taking some time out of your busy schedule to be a part of count me in.
 
 Kevin: (00:54)
 Great. Yeah. Thanks so much. Thanks for having me. I'm a big fan of podcasts, so great to be here.
 
 Adam: (00:59)
 Thank you. So there has been a tremendous lessons learned, and changes across society and business over the past 18 months, we've all been affected by it. You and I were just chatting about it before we started recording. What have you seen in the accounting industry? And do you think those changes are here to stay?
 
 Kevin: (01:16)
 Yeah. So what we say in the accounting industry as small to size business markets is that the innovation and the adoption it's been accelerated about three to five years. And while every industry has been disrupted by digital transformation as a result of pandemic and working from home, right? This industry in particular has been ripe for disruption like for years. We've been just saying that over 90% of SMBs rely still on paper-based processes and checks, and that realization will be over-reliance on outdated labor and manual intensive ways to do business. As you know, bill.com works closely with the accounting community work with 85 of the top 100 firms plus 5,000 firms in total. And I remember I was talking with a couple of accounting partners and one partner in particular. I heard a horror story, literally during the pandemic, they had to use Uber and Lyft to transport documents between houses to get them signed. And they even use bike messengers. Like, I mean, this isn't sustainable, whether it's pre pandemic or post, and we believe that this community deserves innovation and we're here to deliver it.
 
 Adam: (02:24)
 So when I hear innovation, I think of keywords like automation and AI, the, the buzzwords that we're hearing all around, and these are powerful tools that accountants need to have in their toolkit. Can you tell us a little bit about what bill.com harnesses, in your solution?
 
 Kevin: (02:39)
 Yeah. So as, as part of the industry deception that we talked about earlier, you know, we believe that digital tools that all, that all three help our customers and partners to see it's really important, right? And automated those back office tasks and day-to-day activities. It gives our campuses actually more time and focus on areas of interests and right. So like inviting automation into the office, ultimately it just provides the accounting professionals just more time take control of their careers and just have more of a better work-life balance. As an example, you know, one of bill.com's customers is a wealth management firm and they mentioned that when they use bill.com, they experience a say percent time savings by streamlining all their accounts payable processes, but just then allows them to do something more that matters to them around financial planning and then managing their clients assets. An example for us on our platform, we do use artificial intelligence and we have a tool that we named, IVA, which stands for intelligent virtual assistant. And what IVA is, is a feature that just uses advanced technologies like machine learning that helps us extract invoices and vendor information from documents in our inbox. So that helps you actually create vendors and bills faster. So it takes information like the invoice number, like the, the amount you have to pay the due date, the amount. And it makes us so simple, like just literally imagine if you had a camera and he took a snap shot of your invoice and it gets automatically loaded in and IVA can read it and put all that data very easily for you to just help you get paid, to get paid faster. And that's, what's really exciting about, you know, automation and AI space.
 
 Adam: (04:15)
 That is very exciting. Cause it, it allows you, it takes time away from the menial tasks, sometimes those tasks that take up more of your time and allows you to do other things right?
 
 Kevin: (04:25)
 Exactly. Exactly. It's always about like the stuff that, you know, what would you be doing on a Friday night? Would you rather be doing all the manual checks and everything, or would you be going out having dinner with your family? And what we do is like with our technology and systems, it allows you to do the latter.
 
 Adam: (04:39)
 So it sounds like the accountant's role is expanding and has been expanding, especially during the pandemic, you know, maybe they're saying, "Hey IVA, print me out my invoice". I don't, I doubt it's voice activated, but you've talked about a new Renaissance of the adversary accountant. What does that look like?
 
 Kevin: (04:56)
 Yes. So even before the COVID pandemic, we saw, we heard businesses had a clear, and active need for advisory services. During the pandemic they became the go-to person, when they're helping clients through their PDP loans, through changing regulations and so much more. And they were the lifeline, they're literally the heroes, I think for a lot of the SMBs offering their clients the best, the latest information and advice actually keep them afloat. Like it was a really tough time. And we heard like accountants were just working endlessly nights and weekends to make sure, like they have to figure out how to do the PPP loans. Right. And that was a big thing that they did and their SMBs where their clients were also thankful for that. So now, as we're kind of getting out of the pandemic, right, accountants are just taking the opportunities to redesign their day-to-day jobs, especially by putting more time and focus through these advisory services. And they also offer things like client analysis and strategic counsel. And the goal here is not to add more hours to their already busy Workday, but instead it's about optimizing the work. And so for instance, you know, build a compromise, a lot of different tools, insights, and data, and we believe that data is going to be necessary to provide that efficient and essential path for that advisory services. How? It's that it can raise up all those data insights by unlocking that data in real time, in, in ways that they couldn't have done before. We're like in the past, this data will be trapped in some hidden spreadsheet or in a separate system that you can lock up. Now you have these systems and tools to bring this up to light and show it at the right time. And so we believe that the shift in like the bookkeeper's role is going to be actually more rewarding. It's also a really smart time for these firms in terms of growth and what we did like bill.com, in 2019, we had a fire hire index survey and we just asked them like what they're doing. And one of the things they said is like more than half of the S&P participants are actually looking for, accounting firms that offer a wide range of services around accounting tax and advisory services. And what we even said that there was about almost half that said that they would stop referring their accounting firms if they wouldn't offer strategic advice. So now strategic advice is almost the norm that a lot of these firms and these clients are looking for.
 
 Adam: (07:12)
 So you mentioned the end of the pandemic, obviously we've got different variations of the virus happening. So there's, there's different things that are happening with the vaccines and all those things happening, but that brings in new challenges and new changes that are on the horizon. Companies going from completely remote to hybrid situations or even fully in the office. There's so many different things happening. So how can companies best prepare for a potentially unpredictable future?
 
 Kevin: (07:39)
 Yeah, so I always learned the only constant in this world has changed. And as we always move into the future, changes is inevitable. And I believe that treating new technology and using automation, it's an opportunity as a key to imagine the future of accounting. And what we find is like, you know, finance and accounting leaders will need to be increasingly clear about any changes, that their company does in terms of processes or programs. And what this will do is it'll allow you to prepare for that shift and communicate any concerns before anything is set in stone, right? And as we know, speed, bumps are always going to be enough, right. And businesses should plan for it. For instance, having a buffer in their budgets for unexpected expenses, making sure that you have the right technology updates to happens, even have a plan for crisis management, that if, and when it happens. And lastly, I think one of the things I always think about when you want to prepare for changes, like stay on top of those trends. So kind of think you're joining accomplices and just reading what, you know, what are the things that are coming up so that you have a sense and have a little bit of a north star of what may be coming up in the not so distant future.
 
 Adam: (08:48)
 So speaking of the future, let's put our, you know, let's look into our crystal ball, five to 10 years from now, you know, Kevin, when you're looking at an accountant, what makes a good accountant? Like what are the good skill sets and approaches that you anticipate will make that good accountant in the future?
 
 Kevin: (09:03)
 Yeah, so accountants, I believe their role is morphing and in the not so distant future they'll be called upon to do more than just what I call the traditional bookkeeping, the debits and credits of bouncing box. And we've already seen these professionals step into these multifaceted roles, such as financial advisor, wealth manager, and even like a therapist as our world becomes more interconnected and just more complex. Right. And I believe the truly successful CPAs, will be able to balance the client relations and ad-lib consulting with the work that they've been traditionally been associate with. And part of that balancing that interpersonal and strictly I call them logistical aspects that we kind of lens will involve knowing when they could pass off the certain responsibilities and rely on technology and acknowledging the use of that automation taking advantage of the capabilities will differentiate the good accountants from the great.
 
 Adam: (09:56)
 So to what extent do you think those roles and responsibilities will change by, like, let's say 2025.
 
 Kevin: (10:03)
 Yeah. There's a lot. And, you know, considering what the pandemic that businesses have pivoted already so much and their policies and procedures in a matter of days and weeks, four years in 2025 is actually a long way. But I believe that the role is changing and for the accountants and bookkeepers, it's, it's going so fast from that traditional sense to more of the CFO advisory services. And our focus for us is to help them make this transition, providing the tool sets to make them successful, which is around data, the more automation leveraging AI to do it. And this also includes investing in employees with quality training, and also includes educational resource to help them ease into these new responsibilities so that when you do have to adopt new technology, it's not a big detractor reduction. I believe that upscaling will be a big priority in the coming years. What we did see, you know, the lights stay at the AI and the enterprise reports show that once automation solutions having to establish, you know, those good business leaders actually more sought after than those technology engineers. Why? Because they got to figure out what's the other technologies built up. They've got to have some person with a business sense, to make sense of all the, all the data and then actually figure out what you want to do in terms of the business going forward. And as more and more firms transition to digital, we expect the accountants. They can actually additional responsibilities for managing clients and offering strategic advice. I think, you know, most important about this role by having all the technologies use the accountant's role is actually it can be driven by more what they want to do as opposed to what they have to. And it's because those increase automations will just allow them more time to pursue more of their professional interests.
 
 Adam: (11:49)
 So what do you think the accountants are focused on now? You know, as we look at the next, you know, two to four or five years, what should accountants be looking at? Or what should they be focusing on? You know, you said what they're interested in, but they also need to worry about, Hey, what does my job require me as well? So how do you find that balance?
 
 Kevin: (12:08)
 Yeah. So there's the so many things I think of that, the jobs morphing. So if I were like, say like, if you're a new accountants and here's the five skills that you want to have, here's where I think: number one, because of what we're saying about the advisory, I think number one skills that you want to have around the strategic client, right? We're just seeing just more accountants, just doubling the hat. You can be the countless, but you're the advisor, you're the therapist. So you having the ability to think through strategically what clients are looking for. I'm thinking a little bit ahead is going to really help. Number two, technology's our friend. And so as an accountant, yes, you not, you're not that technology savvy, but you will have to be able to manage technology and be technology forward thinking. All right. The fact is, you know, using the technology as part of like one of your arsenal and your toolkits will really help and having accountants who will become the experts in managing and retaining these programs. It's kind of really be helpful. Third one, as I mentioned, it's about the customer relationships. You know, I count this is not simply just doing the books and going away, or you gotta be able to work closely with clients, address their, their questions and answers. And you have to build that relationship over time and just be able to adapt and really listen to what they really want and then figure out what you want for them. Fourth one is creative thinking, know our world is so complex and the standard way of what we did even a decade ago is much harder now. And so what we see in a lot of accountants is that they had the pandemic was this one of the situations where they had to do something that's totally different for what they ever had done before. And they had to think about creative solutions that could meet the needs of every single one of their clients. And so the accountants to be successful is going to have, be able to think outside the box and outside the books, it's going to become the norm. And then lastly, I think the last skill I think for accountants to be successful is finding that work-life balance, right? That pandemic collapse, all the boundaries about work and home life, right? We're still all working from home. And as we emerge from COVID-19, I know both employees and employers are advocating for practices that promote just better mental health and permit that flexibility. And so automation and AI simultaneously putting that time back on the accountant's calendar. So there'll be able to take more time for themselves without sacrificing their career aspirations.
 
 Closing: (14:30)
 This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.

©Copyright 2021 Institute of Management Accountants. All rights reserved.