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The Psychology of Accounting Through Lockdown

July 14, 2020

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“We make accounting a tool that integrates into the running of your business; it’s not a thing you do afterwards” – Gareth Price

The last few months have proved immensely challenging. Accountants and bookkeepers have faced enormous pressure to help businesses get emergency funding and support them through the upheaval – all while settling into the new normal and future of accounting post COVID-19.

We caught up with Gareth Price, the director and co-founder of CloudWorx, to see how he’s built business resilience for his clients.

Gareth graduated from the University of South Africa in 2012, right in the middle of the economic crash in South Africa.

Instead of following the traditional route and getting a job in an accounting firm, Gareth founded his own business on Xero and Receipt Bank. With a no-nonsense approach to accounting and a love for turning a mess into a process (“disinformation into information”, in his own words), CloudWorx has grown into a powerful entity for building businesses up.

Here is the interview, edited for brevity.

Alex: Can you tell us more about the story behind CloudWorx?

Gareth: When I graduated in 2012, the market wasn’t conducive to hiring. Demand for  auditing had decreased and a few people were asking if I could look after their accounting for them. I said yes – it was more fun than going to get a job after all.

I thought I’d do my own thing at 35 but it turns out that I was eight years ahead of the plan. I was always happy to keep myself busy as a one-man band, yet opportunities kept coming along. Things [for Cloudworx] just grew organically from there. Now, I’m proud to provide a workplace where people can grow, and indeed have grown. They can now do things that they couldn’t do before – they’re happy and provided for.

Ultimately, I didn’t expect accounting to go where it did. Nor my company. Nor my life. That was never the plan.

Alex: Before Cloudworx, what was your experience of accounting while studying?

Gareth: At university, I needed to use a desktop-based accounting software for a project. I pulled two all-nighters in my university career, and that was one of them.

I spent the night processing then reprocessing documents because I made a mistake, and had to back it up sixteen times. It was possibly the worst experience of my entire life.

Back then, [desktop] was the only way to do things. I knew that even once I’d learned how to use it properly, I’d still have to do it the long way and cope with the inefficiencies. I wasn’t terribly excited about that to be honest. There was nothing that said to me, ‘I want to use this software or try this’. Then I saw the potential of cloud accounting and the opportunity to be a part of something new. I didn’t need convincing on ways to make things easier!

Eight years ago, I was one of the first people to use Xero and Receipt Bank in South Africa. I’ve since put every client onto it. It’s just a part of what we do now. In fact, I say no to clients who don’t want to use it because as a team, that’s what we’re all about.

For me, cloud accounting is about turning disinformation to information, chaos to order and adding processes where there arenone. It’s about your client saying, ‘Hey, I now know what’s going on about my business’.

At CloudWorx, we’re in the business of giving people information and peace of mind; information that they know is right because it makes sense. It’s as simple as that.

“We make accounting a tool that integrates into the running of your business; it’s not a thing you do afterwards.”
Gareth Price, Director of Cloudworx

Xero gives you the instruction to pay, and the reason Xero can tell you that is Receipt Bank. You don’t need a Dropbox folder of unpaid invoices, a list of unread emails, or worse, a pile of printed papers on your desk. If you’re not looking at Xero to run your business, you’re not doing it right.

Not even I get paid to do my own accounting. Any time I spend on accounting is time I’m not being paid, so I better do it quickly. That’s why I follow a good process. When a bill comes in, it gets sent straight to Receipt Bank. Then I look at Xero and pay it. I don’t need to spend any time figuring out what I did weeks ago in order to prepare my management reports..

Receipt Bank changed the game so we could put in this process. No-one was going to manually capture invoices. When we onboard a client, we find out what information they need and build their process around this. For instance, if they need expenses tracked to different categories, we’ll provide them with more Receipt Bank email addresses.

I can’t produce beautiful reports on inaccurate accounting. It won’t be worth anything. If you don’t have a process, your accounting isn’t going to be good.

Alex: How has lockdown impacted your approach to accounting?

Gareth: Lockdown confirmed to me that everything has to be cloud-based. A friend of a client couldn’t even access her accounting records because they were in the office – that concern never even entered my mind.

When we were told to go home, we just picked up our laptops and our extra screens. We never gave it a second thought. It’s been massively eye-opening to see people who weren’t in that situation. The only time we’ve ran into difficulty is when a bank or a third party has insisted on a physical copy of a document.

Alex: Have you brought in any new measures to help build your clients’ resilience?

Gareth: When the government first introduced emergency grants and funding, I didn’t want any business waiting at the end of the queue while I filled out twenty applications. To help clients at scale, I hosted webinars and training sessions on how to apply for these grants. And I underestimated what a disaster the system was. Two days after I held the first webinar, the system changed. Two days later, it changed again. So, I took things back, rolled with the punches and trusted that I’d make it happen.

I tried again and again, and every time, there was an error that I’d never seen before. This then became expectation management. I suddenly needed to know systems and grants that didn’t even exist three weeks ago. I was doing it all for the very first time, and I had to ask clients to bear with me. The website was breaking as the entire country tried to apply at once.

Now, some of my clients have waited months for grants that they applied to in April; others got their payment in a matter of days. It’s been a massively challenging experience.

When the problem [the economy] is this big, there’s not much you can do. I can make reports, I can tell businesses how to do it better, I can put processes in place. But when my clients simply can’t work or make money, all I can do is listen and talk to them so that they know they’re not alone.

“I’ve been as much a psychologist as an accountant these last few months. Clients are now asking for a lot more advice and many times, I don’t have the answer.Gareth Price, Director of Cloudworx

We’re all in the same boat here. For businesses to recover, goodwill and generosity will be key.

If one person has to close their business, they’ll be owing money to somebody else; that somebody won’t be getting the money. I think that banks, landlords and customers will have to try to fight against the psychology of fear.

Even though we don’t know what’s going to happen and many of us will be reluctant to spend money, getting more money into the ecosystem is crucial. On a consumer level, we need to make plans to go out to restaurants again. Even if the service isn’t the same – even if, instead of being served and poured wine, we’re getting a takeaway, reheating food once home and pouring our own wine. I believe that’s the only way out of the current economic crash.

Recovery will be through innovation and flexibility from businesses, and seeing the same from consumers.

Why leave it there?

To find out more about Receipt Bank

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