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The Future Accountant - Willem Haarhoff

The Future Accountant

Source: Syft Analytics
By Willem Haarhoff

At the tender age of 13, I already knew that I wanted to become an accountant. Even before then, I knew that I had a special inclination for giving order to things and to work in a structured environment. What I didn’t realise at the time was how much I like to dream and to try out new things and see how they grow.

In 1996 I joined one of the Big Four firms as an article clerk on a 4-year contract (during this time the Big Four was still known as the Big Six, which then became the Big Five in 1998 when Coopers & Lybrand merged with Price Waterhouse to become PricewaterhouseCoopers, and ultimately in 2002 the Big Four was established following the unfortunate demise of Arthur Anderson in the wake of the Enron controversy).

I had big dreams for the future, looking to build a long-term career as a Partner, travelling the world and making a difference.

My dreams were finally realised in September 2007 when I was made Partner in the firm and getting to celebrate the achievement with hundreds of my colleagues from around the world at a glitzy affair in London. I had finally arrived.
Then it hit me… I definitely arrived alright, but I was only at the beginning of my learning journey. It was a humbling experience that continues to carry me to this day. No person can ever claim to have a monopoly on knowledge, experience, and innovation. The moment you stop learning, you’re dead.

In 2014 I made the decision to move on with my career and after working nearly twenty years for a global accounting firm, I decided that it was time to try something new. I wasn’t sure of what exactly I wanted to do, but I was pretty certain that I could no longer stomach the idea of working fixed office hours, wearing a suit and tie, commuting to and from work, having to work for a boss and basically having no control over my life.

The picture of my ‘new’ possible future slowly took shape towards the end of 2014 after my first meeting with Murray Barnetson, a CA(SA) who also used to work for one of the Big Four firms.

I realised that we had a lot in common when considering our ideal working environment, and how we thought accountants should be operating. Murray had already been running his own consultancy business, Part Time FD for a few years and was looking for a partner to join and help him grow the business.
Towards the end of 2016, we finally joined forces and co-founded DoughGetters Accounting.

Since the get-go we were very clear on the following principles:
• No compromise on service quality to our clients.
• No requirement for a formal, central office space – we would fully embrace remote working using a technology-heavy approach.
• Create a unique, inclusive and person-centric culture.

After nearly four years, we have come in leaps and bounds. We’ve made our share of mistakes but have also learned a lot of valuable lessons. Today, Team D’oh is nearly 30 people strong representing all the major geographical parts of South Africa and we continue to add new clients to our family on a regular basis.
Unlike my initial emotion when I was made partner in 2007, I do not believe that we’ve arrived.

Even though we’ve had two consecutive wins for the Xero Emerging Firm of the Year in 2020 followed by the Xero Firm of the Year in 2021, we still feel that we have only just begun.

There are so many awesome things that technology allows us to do in our business and those of our clients, making them more effective and efficient. I recently read a very interesting and thought-provoking article by the Futurefirm entitled, “Will Accounting Tech Startups Overtake Your Firm?

My knee-jerk reaction was one of fear, paranoia, and anxiety, but as I mulled over the contents of the article my initial reactions turned into excitement and motivation.

Futurefirm listed the following attributes describing tech start-ups in the accounting space:

• Hyper process-oriented.
• Not timesheet based but rather utilise fixed subscription pricing.
• Heavily technology-based and paperless.
• Have remote teams.
• Focus on eliminating pain-points and are customer experience-oriented.
• Acquire business online.
• Have excellent marketing.
• Have a scalable model.

Having read through this list, we no longer consider ourselves to be an accounting firm. An accounting firm is a business where the partners/owners need to be present most of the time to ensure that the firm survives.

DoughGetters is not an accounting firm. According to Futurefirm’s yardstick, DoughGetters is an “Accounting Tech Business”.

We still have a long way to go in perfecting everything that we do, but we’re moving, and in my view, we’re moving in the right direction, that’s for sure.
In March 2021, Forbes reported that David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, announced that he would like for his staff to return to the office. He stated,

“I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not the new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.”

I get why David thinks like this as it’s much easier to get up from one’s desk, wander over to a colleague and discuss a problem. But this is the old way, focussing on the goals of the organisation, not on the goals of the people that work in the organisation.

At DoughGetters we believe that work/life integration is key to the wellbeing of the individual and by having no set hours, days or place of work, our people are free to design a lifestyle that suits them, and not the company.

If, as an accountant or an accounting firm (or any other business types for that matter), you are serious about the long-term survival of your business, we recommend taking a serious look at yourself and consider Futurefirm’s criteria listed above.

Technology will kill traditional accounting firms much quicker than any of us can imagine.

Willem Haarhoff
Co-Founder at DoughGetters

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