Imagine being in the middle of a conversation with a client when they stop, look at you, raise an eyebrow and say “You’re not a normal accountant, are you?”.
For some, such an observation could sound slightly insulting. But Alex Clark indeed isn’t “a normal accountant”, so he sees it as a positive. And that’s probably because he almost didn’t become an accountant in the first place.
At 17 years old and just two weeks before the start of his sixth form as it was planned, Alex changed his mind and decided he wanted to go to college instead and try business school. Shortly after, he started doing work experience in an accounting firm, one thing led to another and… Well, that was the problem.
“Everything moved too fast. I never had the chance to stop and think about what I was doing and what I wanted. I was only in my early 20s and realised that I hadn’t allowed myself time to be young.”
Fast-forward four years, Alex could be found on the other side of the globe.
“I didn’t want to be an accountant anymore. On impulse, I applied for an Australian visa in 5 minutes and 30 seconds later it was granted. I stared at the screen and thought ‘ok, I think I’m going to Australia, then!’. And it was fantastic – I spent a few months stress-free, working in a restaurant just to be surrounded by people of my age and enjoy simple things.”
But in March 2020 his Australian adventure was cut short by Covid-19. Back to England and into lockdown, Alex realised that the pandemic wouldn’t go away so quickly and he needed to get his life back on track.
“I knew I was a good accountant and could get back to a good level. My mind was in a better place, my approach to work and study changed too and I was back into accounting with better ideas and fresh eyes. So I joined another accounting firm and started again.”
During that time, the cloud space had come a long way and Covid forced practices and businesses to pivot online. As always, there’s still some reluctance towards technology in accounting, but Alex believes that change is good: it improves productivity and opens doors for clients and accountants. He’s on a mission.
“I don’t take the resistance in a negative way, I push the positives instead. We can save time and provide more advice to help businesses grow – that’s what’s important. I don’t like the typical perception most people have of accountants, that straight-faced guy in a suit who doesn’t care about anything but money – I want to show them I’m here as an advisor and a friend if they need me. Technology is really helpful to make that connection.”
Unsurprisingly, he’s excited about seeing the mindset changing in the industry towards a more forward-thinking approach to technology.
“I see the benefits now and in the future for us and for clients. I get that it’s scary, but once you do that switch it opens so many doors! I don’t try to convince anyone, there’s no need for that: I just present the opportunity and let them see it for themselves.
I sat down with a client who was resistant to change, and an hour later she was asking what else the computer could do for her. She went from being stuck in her ways to throwing herself in the cloud and using these wonderful features. And Dext is a big part of this initial offering, a great entry product to get people into the cloud.”
Alex spoke about the first client he put into Dext Commerce at his current firm, Knights Lowe. After listening to their issues and going through a lot of back-and-forths, he recognised that the client could benefit from automation, so he contacted his Dext account manager for a chat.
“I said, ‘look, I have a feeling that Dext Commerce could address these problems, but can you confirm it?’. She said yes and I just threw myself into it. I trusted the tech, I trusted Dext as a company and we got there in the end. Now it’s up and running and it’s saving so much time from manual reconciliation, it’s removing human error, it’s creating an audit trail for website sales that didn’t have a uniform audit trail generated in the past…
The client has also expressed a lot of positive feedback since we implemented it. They’ve mentioned how much clearer their data is now when they go into Xero, they can easily see where all their sales are. So they’re getting loads of benefits even though they don’t actively use Commerce themselves. In fact, I don’t even use it really, because it’s all automated so you don’t need to keep going into it! It’s just running in the background and doing what it needs to do but it benefits everybody.”
Not long after, one of his colleagues called to ask for help with a client who had issues with bank feeds on Xero. Alex was on his way home but decided to pop in and see them to sort it out face to face.
“As I was talking to them about their business and their day-to-day workflows, the bookkeeping and how everything runs, in my head it was screaming “these guys need to be in Dext Commerce!”. They are in these multiple sales channels, they sell from a physical store, they sell online, they sell on eBay, they have multiple payment methods on each of these platforms…
Trying to do this manually would be a headache for them and for us. We won’t get physical records in, the client can’t find them and is having to scrape around every corner of his office to find them, everything’s a mess, it’s not reconciled… This is definitely a Commerce client.”
He knows that, just like this, there are a lot more businesses out there that can massively benefit from the platform.
“We’re rolling out slowly, putting those building blocks in place to build the right tech stack… It’s clear that soon Dext Commerce will be helping many other clients.”
With time, he believes that resistance to new technologies will fade as more business owners understand that apps like Commerce are designed to help them scale up. But acceptance of technology is not the only challenge: like many other accountants, Alex has noticed that sometimes some clients lose interest in growing their businesses.
“Part of the reason is that they get so overwhelmed with everyday admin they don’t know how to make the next step. Apps like Commerce can help with that. If we can implement a couple of software tools, they can stop thinking about admin and focus on what they enjoy about their business.”
He sees technology as an enabler to help accountants provide much more value and clients achieve what they want because it provides full visibility of a business and saves time on things they shouldn’t be doing in the first place.
The mindset needs to shift – and Alex is up for the challenge.
“From an accountancy point of view, I want to see more people adopting it, especially in the countryside. City firms and clients are more open, but smaller towns tend to react slowly to such changes. I’m on a mission: I want the perception of an accountant to change and I want to see colleagues and clients embracing tech with an open mind!”
Alex might have started a career in accountancy by accident, but this young professional from Mundford is not short of ambition. As well as changing the accounting world, he has his own aspirations and is working to build his career towards that – step by step.
“Short-term, I’ll finish my ACA qualification – whilst I don’t believe my relevance as an accountant is based solely on qualifications, it is a representation of the effort I have put into my studies since starting out on this path. In the long term, I want to be in a position where I have the opportunities to make an impact. I just want to have a team I can empower and work together towards the same objectives.”
Technology will continue to play a strong part in how accountancy evolves, and Alex is happy with the niche he created for himself in the cloud space. He didn’t follow the most conventional start of a career path, and that has proven to be an interesting differential.
“I’d love to look at the industry in 10 years’ time and see people who don’t have traditional qualifications or who don’t wear expensive suits in important positions – because they were recognised for what they’ve brought to the industry and the businesses. For work ethics on things that matter and the ability to adapt.”
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