Intuit president and CEO Brad Smith reflected on the company’s three decades of agility, outlined current products and partnerships, and forecasted industry trends—while carefully alluding to imminent Intuit innovations—on the final morning of the Scaling New Heights conference Wednesday in San Antonio.
“We’re like Tim Duncan,” he told the general session audience during a sit-down with conference host and QuickBooks consultant Joe Woodard that later opened into an audience Q&A. “We won a championship ring in each of the last three decades, and are going to continue to win.”
Those rings were earned through the DOS, Windows desktop, web and cloud eras, he explained, and while Intuit navigated the sea changes with products like QuickBooks Online back in 2001, he had to assure some concerned pro advisors they would not be adrift as the company forges ahead.
“No,” he replied simply to the question of whether the desktop product would disappear. “We give people the path to the future, but we don't leave a customer behind.”
Some attendees were more worried about their cloud-averse clients, with one asking if a new QuickBooks desktop app was in the pipeline. Smith said there was not, while pledging the company’s continued allegiance to desktop and promising the advisor that their clients would do very well in the cloud.
“Even though we remain committed to desktop…there is no way to match the capability of the cloud,” he later explained, noting the limits presented by “data locked up in little metal coffins: C drives” as opposed to the “infinitely scalable cloud.”
“We grew up in the era of ‘never enter data twice.’ In the era of the cloud, you never enter data at all [with automation]… You can move into the consulting and advising game, and out of the rote.”
Smith further assured QuickBooks pro advisors, who he at one point dubbed Jedi knights, of their key role between product and clients.
“Many people can look at technology and say: this is a way to disintermediate me out of the relationship. In cloud, nothing is further from truth.”
Looking ahead, Smith listed four fundamental technology trends, beginning with participation-driven innovation, as savvy consumers exert greater control and customization of their devices and applications. Additionally, he outlined: the cloud is breaking down the world’s borders, the shift to mobile continues, and the era of big data is upon us.
In response to these paradigm shifts, Intuit offers flexibility.
“There are no barriers to us being open,” Smith said when asked by Woodard about recent partnerships, including their Square point-of-sale integration. “We have to be a free-flowing system [that] allows small businesses to use whatever they need.”
Lingering cloud anxiety emerged once more in another attendee’s question about privacy, with Smith reassuring the room that cyber-security was the number one priority at Intuit, “bar none.”
“It’s a day-to-day effort everyone in industry has to stay ahead of,” he shared, explaining that Intuit regularly exchanges best practices with neighboring Silicon Valley behemoths like eBay. He also described it as a necessary responsibility given Intuit’s size: they process 40 percent of the nation’s tax returns, one in 12 Americans are paid by QuickBooks payroll, and they are the fifth-largest bank in the nation, based on bank data.
Smith also gave a brief glimpse into areas in which Intuit will be expanding, though he couldn’t yet give specifics. One of these is automated online file backup, for which the company did a deep review two weeks ago, and they are talking to multiple players in that space for potential partnerships.
Smith stressed Intuit’s continued partnership with pro advisors throughout his amiable talk, even closing by expressing his love for all his “brothers and sisters” in the room, and urging them to attend Intuit’s inaugural QuickBooks conference in October.
Still, his focus was staunchly progressive. “Everyone's for change until it happens to them,” he said at one point in reference to late adopters. “It can happen to you, or through you—it's your choice.”