Three years ago Diversified Communications purchased The Sleeter Group and changed it into Accountex. The major event of the group was SleeterCon, the show with the largest number of accounting technology vendors in the United States—now, and in 2016, the Accountex conference. This year’s conference, Accountex USA 2017, was in Boston and I was thankful to have a break from Las Vegas and Orlando, and glad to be in a city that doesn’t have the crazy prices of Washington, DC or Manhattan.
An Evolving Event & Expo
Aside from the venue change, there were some significant changes in the conference this year. Instead of leading off with pre-conference training sessions, Accountex 2017 reversed the order and started with an education-only day on Wednesday and ended with post-conference sessions on Friday. The core education program stopped mid-day Thursday, but vendor-driven education was provided all Thursday afternoon and most of Friday.
Distinctly missing from the conference was an energizing kick-off keynote on Wednesday, but the session I taught that morning, “Adding Advisory Services to a Compliance-Focused Firm,” had a good turnout and the audience was participative. I heard that several of the other sessions also had lively discussions, though some reported being a little quiet. I guess that is the case with any conference, however, as I’ve seen the same thing happen at AICPA and vendor user conferences too.
Expo Tech Sessions
Coming from a CPA background, I personally am not a fan of vendor-driven classes. Unless they are vetted well, many of these are often little learning and slightly veiled sales pitches. From my discussions with other attendees, I got the sense that overall the feeling on this was neutral. Some of the vendors provided good education, while others used the session to highlight their products.
One of the vendors that impressed me with their education choices was TSheets. Ok, I may be a little biased because they asked me to speak on a panel for one of their sessions, but they said we didn’t have to talk about TSheets—and we didn’t. Our panel was about how to select the right technologies and how to get user (internal) and client adoption of the technologies. We didn’t once mention TSheets or timekeeping.
The other T-Sheets session was “Minutes to Moments,” which was presented by Misty Megia, Head of Accounting and Education Strategy for TSheets, who again didn’t focus on the product but rather conveyed the message of how to save time through automation, networking, technology, and a focused practice in order to reduce our time spent on mundane tasks and ensure that we are maximizing the time we have to create memorable moments.
Focused Time with Vendors
I decided to focus my time on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning on talking with vendors and seeing more of their demos. Because this wasn’t the typical snack break or evening reception time, with attendees streaming in to quickly grab food and drink, vendors seemed more willing to talk and have more in-depth discussions since they weren’t distracted trying to get everyone passing by to come into their booth.
I was excited by Jennifer Warawa’s general session on Thursday, which highlighted the accountant’s role in driving innovation and transformation in our clients. Just this year, my firm started rebranding ourselves as an outsourced innovation office for firms that want to transform the way they deliver services to their clients, and I was excited to get confirmation of this direction from someone like Jennifer, who heads Sage’s international EVP of Partners, Accountants, and Alliances. I hope that other accounting firm owners listen to her message and strive to drive transformation in their clients.
I heard really good reviews of Amy Vetter’s early morning general session on “The Path to Creating Work-Life Harmony” on Thursday morning. Amy’s been getting a lot of buzz because of her book, Business Balance & Bliss: How the B3 Method Can Transform Your Career and Life, and as someone who has taken up meditation and the objective perspective that it can help us achieve—a key requirement to being a good accountant—I was glad to have something that was more focused on “me the person” in the program, rather than all business and technical education.
Expanding Reach of Accountex to Corporate Accounting
Being on the Leadership Council for Accountex, I also know that Diversified Communications is working to expand the target audience of attendees beyond smaller accounting firms, so there were some sessions on the program that spoke more to controllers and accountants working in business and industry. For example, a keynote by Ted Delgado, North American Controller of the Hershey Company, explained the pivotal role that the financial planning & analysis and controller functions play in driving innovation and transformation in all companies. His message provided more of the tactical direction to supplement the inspiration provided by Jennifer’s session.
Two sessions led by Dr. Kas Henry were definitely targeted to the controller crowd. These were “Reputation Risk Mitigation Through Corporate Accounting Stewardship” and “Technology-Leveraged Analytics for Corporate Accounting.” Her first session described how business ethics and ensuring that a business has the right corporate culture is critical to business success and the balancing of the triple bottom line of People, Profits, and Planet. Her analytics session highlighted the importance of using data to drive informed decision-making not just in finance, but across the entire company. She shared an example from AON Insurance where they used a balanced scorecard approach that included an entire dashboard on learning and development of key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure their success in the people area.
The start of the shift into the corporate accounting area could also be seen in some of the new vendors in the exhibition hall who really didn’t fit in the small business accounting world, and seemed to be more used to selling direct to businesses rather than to or through an accounting firm. While obtaining more of these vendors will be key to making the shift to draw more controllers, many of these vendors didn’t understand the needs of accounting firms and seemed a bit lost when I asked about their pricing as it related to hanging multiple sets of accounting records.
The Accountex Conference is going to be in Boston for the next three years, so I look forward to being able to explore Boston more. It will be an interesting balancing act to maintain the audience of smaller accounting firms while attracting the corporate accounting world. However, I think the addition of the corporate accounting world will present the opportunity to provide a lot of “meatier” content that many of the accounting firm senior staff will probably find quite useful. Drawing more of the corporate accounting world will also start to attract vendors that play more in the mid-market space. Going forward, the challenge before Accountex will be to build a Network and conferences that attract both the traditional audience of accounting professionals and small accounting firms and corporate accountants.