Exclusive Chat With Tony Ward

Small Business Canada

Tony is responsible for expanding Xero’s businesses in the Americas. He has 20 years of experience in senior leadership positions with global technology companies, including Microsoft Australia, LinkedIn, Spark, SurveyMonkey, and Dropbox. He’s also founded a successful cloud-based start-up, Business365, aimed at small businesses. Tony holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Manitoba and a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Auckland and is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

What sets Xero apart from other online accounting software?

Unlike other accounting products, Xero was built as a cloud platform from day one. The company started off by offering cloud-based accounting software, but Xero has evolved to provide a full spectrum of connected tools and services that can help small businesses succeed.

Today, Xero provides its 2 million subscribers with connections to a thriving ecosystem of over 800 third party apps and more than 200 connections to banks and financial service providers.

As a company, our mission is to rewire the world of small businesses, making it seamless, simpler and smarter. For far too long, small businesses have been underserved — we know that around half of all small businesses won’t make it past five years. Xero helps small businesses work with their closet ally, their accountant or bookkeeper, whether it’s doing taxes, understanding their finances, or making plans to grow. We bring all of the necessary data and information together in one place so small businesses and advisors can collaborate together and succeed. And when small businesses thrive, we can drive economies and lift the GDP of the world.

Accountants and bookkeepers are at the heart of everything we do at Xero. We’re constantly asking ourselves how we can build the tools to give them further efficiencies and insights so they can become true advisors to their clients — ultimately fueling small business success. We believe that Xero can transform the role of an accountant or bookkeeper — by automating time-consuming data entry work, Xero frees up time so they can focus on being a trusted advisor to small businesses and ultimately, helping them succeed.

What are some of the services and programs that Xero offers to small business owners that can contribute to their success?

As a small business owner myself and having been a Xero customer, I could see that the company cared about finding solutions that help small businesses operate seamlessly and reclaim precious time. From our recent Small Business Fintech Outlook Report, we found that more than half of small businesses in the US and Canada have gone through financial challenges in the past five years with cash flow and getting paid on time cited as the top two difficulties faced within the last 12 months.

Xero’s online accounting platform provides the foundation on which businesses can build a complete business solution and connects all of their data in one place. Through smarter invoicing, powerful cash flow tools and unparalleled connections to financial data, Xero helps small businesses become more successful by having visibility and access to real-time insights that help them manage their business more efficiently.

With Xero, small businesses can also be paid faster, get an up-to-date view of their financial position, and have the required information ready to share when they need to ask for a loan to fuel growth. Powered by automation and machine learning, Xero helps business owners spend less time finding and entering information, and gives them more time and energy to grow their business. 

A lot of entrepreneurs are still skeptical about using online software to do their bookkeeping due to cybersecurity threats and online hacking. What are some of the measurements that Xero is putting in place to ensure the security and protection of their data?

Security is of utmost importance for Xero and we are committed to protecting the information of our subscribers. As a global software business, we are constantly vigilant to potential threats and we take all reasonable steps to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data and information we hold.

Security is also core to every product and feature we build. Each of our product teams works proactively to ensure all features, APIs, and platform capabilities are hardened against possible threats. This security mindset extends to Xero’s app ecosystem, ensuring all information that comes in and out of the small business platform is secure and protected.

In 2018, we gained formal ISO 27001 certification, an international standard that sets out how organizations should implement, maintain and continually improve security management, from data to the physical security of our offices around the world. We undertake formal external audits every year as well as internal checks to ensure we are always meeting the highest standards and improving ourselves.

How has technology advancement in recent years impacted online accounting software?

Cloud technology has been one of the biggest changes the accounting industry has seen in recent years. When firms utilize the cloud, they can optimize their business, work more efficiently and open up their practices to new services and opportunities with clients. As a cloud-native company, Xero helped define cloud accounting in its early days and is shaping the future so accountants and bookkeepers can collaborate seamlessly with their small business clients. The other trends we’re continuing to see play out in the accounting industry are the changes brought on by artificial intelligence and machine learning. As a profession, we have the opportunity to embrace technology and reshape what it means to be an accountant or bookkeeper.

Technology makes it possible to evolve an accounting practice from a narrow focus on compliance services to broader advisory services – resulting in huge growth. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will enable accountants to collaborate more closely with their small business clients by making it easier to share data, uncover insights, and plan for the future. 

Where do you see the future of online accounting and digital payment heading for Canadian small business owners?

We know that small businesses are facing some harsh realities — half of them fail in the first five years, but when they’re on Xero and connected to an accountant or bookkeeper, they have an 85% success rate and grow profits 23% faster. We’ve also conducted research that found accountants are the most trusted source of advice for small businesses, beating out peers, family and friends, online communities, lawyers, consultants, and financial advisors. Knowing the significant role accountants and bookkeepers play in helping small businesses succeed, our team is focused on empowering Canadian accountants and bookkeepers to leverage the benefits of the cloud so they can collaborate more closely with their small business clients and serve as true business advisors. While we’re in the early days of cloud adoption in Canada — in North America, only 10% of businesses are using cloud accounting software — we’re really excited by the opportunities ahead.

I can imagine a time where accounting firms are operating almost like managed service providers — they’ll be looking after a stack of software for businesses, charging a monthly fee and doing advisory on top of that. That’s where I see the future. Small businesses will start to see accountants and bookkeepers as business coaches since they play such a critical role in being a sounding board, help them make well-considered financial decisions and feel in control of their cash flow.

On a final note, what can you tell us about some of the future projects and initiatives that Xero has planned in Canada?

I can’t reveal too much at this time, but we’re really excited by all the progress we’ve made since our official launch in Canada in May 2018. We were naturally pulled into this market by some loyal early adopters and passionate accounting and bookkeeping partners in Canada who have helped us evolve the Xero platform in the past year. We recently opened a new Xero office in Toronto and will continue to invest in this key market where we can help foster innovation for Canadian small businesses. As for upcoming plans, we look forward to bringing our accounting and bookkeeping partners in Canada more regional-specific enhancements in the near future.

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