From Xero to many
Infused with an innate curiosity about what makes the mechanics of business tick, as the regional director for Asia at cloud-based accounting software firm Xero, Kevin Fitzgerald says he has never been more professionally energised. And with little surprise. While Xero holds a strong market position globally with more than 1.4 million clients in about 180 countries, the poster business for New Zealand’s tech sector where the Xero originates from, is making inroads in Asia, where it is quickly attracting partners and clients. “The potential for growth is huge,” says Fitzgerald, who believes the key to success is education coupled with the innovative solutions that Xero provides to its clients and the wider business community.
Created for accounting firms, small businesses and start-ups, Xero's cloud-based platform enables on-line invoicing, bank reconciliation, payroll, bill payments and integrated financial reporting. Xero’s ecosystem also includes partnerships with major banks to automatically allow transaction data to flow from small-business bank accounts straight to the Xero platform. At the same time, the Xero system removes the need for manual transaction entries, which according to Fitzgerald reduces the risk of lost or incorrect data input, and allows businesses to keep their records up to date — a process that provides enterprises with a “big picture” view of the financial health of their business. Instead of using Excel spreadsheets for accounting purposes, Fitzgerald says small business owners in any industry can benefit from using the Xero management system to operate their financial transactions and meet company goals quickly, efficiently, and easily.
While it is still early days for the Xero brand in Asia, the company is rapidly building a portfolio of small business customers and accounting and bookkeeping partners, predominantly in Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, but also across the region. “We keep a close watch on each market,” says Fitzgerald who notes that, while mobile penetration is all-pervading and sophisticated technology use on a personal level is high, the adoption of integrated cloud accounting solutions on a commercial level tends to lag behind the accounting profession in Australia and New Zealand. “I understand the reasons,” he says. “Understandably businesses are concerned about client privacy and the protection of data,” Fitzgerald explains. To ensure the highest level of security, the Xero platform runs on Amazon Web Services, which is also used by some of world’s leading financial institutions and corporations and uses a two-step authentication similar to ones used for internet banking.
With the transition to Xero technologies a step change for some companies and individuals, Xero offers training and familiarisation programmes. For instance, to empower accountants and help them to navigate today’s fast evolving digital business environment, Xero has formed a partnership with ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) Hong Kong to create a platform where financial professionals can receive necessary training. Looking further ahead, Fitzgerald says Xero is also exploring ways the firm can help students through short on-line training courses. The goal, he says, is to help students to become interview ready instead of job ready. “As more small businesses and accounting firms adopt the Xero system, I am sure that employers would be impressed to discover that job candidates are familiar with the Xero operating system,” says Fitzgerald.
Importantly, Fitzgerald points out that liberated from manual bookkeeping and transaction work, accountancy firms that use Xero can obtain real-time access to financial data from their business clients, which puts them in a better position to offer analysis and business advice. According to Xero's recent Hong Kong Accounting Industry Report, while accounting practices with tech-enabled accountants generate about 20 per cent more revenue than the industry average, at the same time, however, the hours charged to their clients is also significantly reduced. “Xero offers real-time visibility of a company’s financial position and performance in a secure, simple and seamless manner,” explains Fitzgerald who after two-and-a-half years with Xero in Australia, was posted to Singapore in 2015 as Asian regional sales director, — and within six months was promoted to regional director.
Originally from Dublin in Ireland, not only did Fitzgerald need to adapt to a new and demanding management role, he also needed to adapt to a vastly different market than he was previously used to. “Suddenly I went from being the territory sales manager for Victoria and Tasmania to heading a team consisting of marketing, sales operations and accounting partnership professionals,” notes Fitzgerald. Furthermore, Asia's different business cultures, working styles and regulatory differences also presented new challenges. “There is an endless amount of learning to experience, which involves figuring out how to approach clients and prospective client's and working with them to solve their business needs,” says Fitzgerald who adds that he finds the challenge immensely satisfying. “My work appeals to my innate curiosity about the mechanics of business and people that work in different areas of business,” says Fitzgerald, a qualified accountant whose passion for the industry was sparked growing up watching his mother, a bookkeeper and his grandfather, a respected treasurer of a credit union — an Irish institution which enables members to have control over their own finances.
With the Singapore and Hong Kong Xero employee headcount expanding at a rapid pace, staff, especially those recruited from ridged management style organisations, often find they need to adapt to the company's flat hierarchical culture. They also need to adjust to Fitzgerald's open and accessible management style, which he bases on the free-flow of dialogue and feedback. He also believes in working effectively and efficiently instead of putting in long hours at the office. According to Fitzgerald, it usually takes employees between six and nine months to become accustom to the Xero workplace culture. In particular, it takes a period of time before employees work out what happens after providing their feedback. “I explain that feedback can help to save me from making mistakes,” says Fitzgerald. “Some find it a bit weird, but not everyone has worked with an Irish fella before,” he adds.