New automation capabilities and bank partnerships were the highlights from Xerocon Atlanta 2018, cloud accounting software maker Xero’s annual user conference.

Head of Xero Americas Keri Gohman opened the event by painting a picture of creativity — despite advancements in automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence, she believes accountants have a unique opportunity to transform the profession alongside technology, instead of disappearing.

“To survive, you have to think about the core of what you do,” Gohman told attendees. “What is your unique value that you bring to customers, and are you in a position to provide it?”

Keri Gohman delivering the keynote at Xerocon Atlanta 2018.
Keri Gohman delivering the keynote at Xerocon Atlanta 2018.

Gohman broke down the numbers: According to a recent report from McKinsey & Company, by 2030, 800 million jobs will be lost to automation, chief among them industries focused on collecting and processing data. But Gohman challenged the audience: Is collecting and processing data really what accounting is about?

Xero has a stake in making sure the answer to that question is no. The company’s success depends on the success of its accountant users, because those are the people the software was built for.

To that end, Xero continues to add features aimed at giving accountants more time back to help them bridge the gap between data collector and processor to indispensable advisor.

“When you add advisory services, you grow faster,” Gohman said, as she cited Xero research. “Every firm we talked to is growing. Firms that provide compliance services achieved 11.5 percent growth over the last year, but those that provide complex advisory services achieved 29.2 percent growth. And complex advisory firms generated an average of $150,000 in revenue per employee.”

Herman Man, Xero’s vice president of product and partnerships, took the main stage to discuss Xero’s approach to machine learning and other new technology designed to make an accountant’s day easier. According to Man, Xero’s machine learning capabilities have made more than 1 billion recommendations to users, saving them more than 307 hours collectively every day.

Some of the new software features are as follows:

  • Automated bill entry, an AI-powered feature that extracts and automatically populates bill details in Xero to save time while improving data accuracy and cash flow reporting for small businesses;
  • Bank reconciliations have been updated to be faster and more intelligent through automated workflows, designed to make it easier to get a real-time view of cash flow;
  • A new time tracker for Xero Projects, providing a new way to track job costings and billable time to give businesses real-time visibility and drive profitability across projects; and
  • Ask and Relationships in Xero HQ, which automates client contact management for accountants and bookkeepers so they can replace administrative time with higher-value services for clients. Practices that use Ask have seen 83 percent of all queries on average answered within one week, according to Xero, reducing back-and-forth emails and the time it takes to get clear, accurate information.

Notably, Xero has also entered into new bank partnerships with Citi, the largest credit issuer globally by loan size, and which gae $11 billion in loans to small business last year; and BBVA Compass, a major regional bank in the Southern United States. Xero also has partnerships with Wells Fargo, Capital One and other banks that operate globally. These partnerships enable bank feed integration within Xero’s software.

Xero has experienced a major transition in the past year, with founder and CEO Rod Drury stepping down to hand over the reins to Steve Vamos. Xerocon 2018 kicked off following Xero’s debut in Canada, a significant expansion for the New Zealand-born company. The company has been planning for a U.S. IPO for at least four years now, but there is no word on the official date. For now, the focus is on building its technology.

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