EP137: Jeff Cates - Is Bookkeeping Dead?

What are your bookkeeping business fears?

For many, they're afraid artificial intelligence will replace them.

However, our guest, Jeff Cates, the former President and CEO of Intuit Canada, believes in the power of bookkeepers becoming consultants for their clients to keep themselves valuable in this changing world.

This conversation was recorded before Jeff accepted a President and CEO position with an industry-leading employee engagement solution provider called Achievers.

During this interview, you'll discover...

  • How to have a transformational impact on your customers

  • The importance of learning financial management skills early

  • Different ways to bridge the gap between small businesses and professionals

To learn more about Jeff, here's his LinkedIn page.

To follow him on Twitter, click here.

For information about Intuit Canada, visit this link.


Michael Palmer: 01:29 Welcome back to The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. I'm your host, Michael Palmer, and today's show is going to be an epic one. Our guest is the president and CEO of Intuit Canada. He is responsible for helping the company become recognized as the nation's undisputed financial solutions leader in every market. It serves by leading a team of over 400 employees dedicated to simplifying the business of life. Jeff Cates, welcome to the podcast.

Jeff Cates: 01:55 Great. Thanks for having me.

MP: 01:58 It's excellent to have you here and I'm excited to have you share a little bit of your journey. Before we get into talking about what Intuit's been up to, tell us about your career journey leading up to this point.

JC: 02:14 Uh, sure. Yeah. Well, I started off as a failed small business owner back in university. We went to the corporate world thinking I would always go back, but I haven't haven't quite found myself back there yet. I spent 15 years at Hewlett Packard in a variety of different roles, but a ended up being a general manager of the consumer division at the end. And then my boss went over to apple and pulled me over and I ran commercial as well as, um, kind of enterprise channels training Friday different roles, but still within that I had small businesses, which is one of the segments that, uh, I had had the most passion for, uh, given my starting and then into it came a calling after three years and said, hey, help take us global, uh, help make products in Canada for Canadians by Canadians and help us innovate and had much of the same value system from what I could tell that the original Hewlett and Packard had back when they were around.

JC: 03:11 And so that was now over seven years ago. Uh, which is amazing to say. And the life has changed a lot since then. But yeah, so that's my start. So I'll start off with smell a small business owner and now I, I'm privileged to be in a role where I can help hundreds of thousands of small businesses be more successful, which is pretty cool. Wow. That's a, I mean it's an interesting trajectory and the fact that you have that, that experience at a young age, running a small business I'm sure helps you in your business today helping small businesses right across Canada. Yeah. You know, it's funny, I hadn't really thought about it that much and then as I was telling kind of some of the stories about, you know, what it was like to try to get alone and I say try to, cause I didn't, I wasn't successful or just like the different challenges we had or how lonely it was or even, you know, I came out of a commerce program and I still didn't really know how to write a business plan.

JC: 04:06 And so even with the training, it just, it just, it helped me realize how important it is to create opportunities for people to learn at the right time when they're ready to learn. And all of that came out of kind of reflecting on what I'd gone through, but I hadn't paused to do that until somebody said, Whoa, wait, can you tell me more about that? And then I started thinking about it more and yeah, it was, it was a is a great exercise. I've drawn from it a lot now I can imagine. And so you, not only do you serve business owners who use your software today, but also it's kind of like this hierarchy of business owners, right? Bookkeepers are small business owners and they're helping small business owners. And so having that empathy for them and what they're dealing with, I'm sure it goes a long way.

MP: 04:53 I talked a little bit about the culture of Intuit Canada and what, what it's been like over the last seven years. How does small businesses show up in that ecosystem?

JC: 05:08 Well, it, the culture itself is extremely kind of value-centric. And I see that because when I meet with new employees every two months I sit down with all new employees and I ask them and I'll tell me about the brand. Tell me about your experience. And what could we do better? What are the things that you literally wrote home about? And I always get the, the values, you know, you live the values. It's a, it's a culture that wants to win together and learn together. It is a company that guy extremely values employee feedback and service or servant leadership, which is wonderful. It's always wonderful to hear that. It shows that we've stayed true to it since Scott Cook started the company.

JC: 05:45 I'm more than 30 years ago in terms of the evolution. Gosh, it's seen as, it's changed so much. Like when I started, we were a desktop business. Largely you selling products through retail on desks, you know, it's just, it was, it was very different. We were in really two different countries outside of the US yeah, it was a vastly different. Today we're now, you know, we see ourselves as a pop form, certainly on the small business side, increasingly on the consumer side where we don't solely now look at how do we solve problems for our customers ourselves. We've expanded that to say, how can we enable others to solve problems, uh, on behalf of our end users, which can be small businesses or self-employed or consumers or accounting slash bookkeeping firms. And so that's a, that's been great. It's a really rewarding, the growth of the company has been phenomenal. The, uh, evolution of the technology has been amazing. The impact we're having in the world is a significantly different, so it's, it's been an exciting ride.

MP: 06:57 Okay. Just to see it change. I mean, the world is changing so quickly and yet, not that long ago, just talking about desktop and where things were and the conversation of the cloud and more where things were going in a, it just amazing to see how people resist, resist, resist. And all of a sudden it's like a tipping point. It's like, nope, this is, hey, really? You use desktop? Are you crazy? You know, it's kind of interesting how we, it takes a while, but once you get there, it changes. And so, you know, we think that, oh well, hey, we've changed. Well, what's the next change coming? Is there. Well, what do you see in terms of the future? Like we went through this big shift to cloud, now you're talking about platform. What other things do you see that could be difficult for the market and the people who use your products difficult for them to embrace?

JC:07:43 Yeah. Well, first of all, first of all, I, I, I'm constantly reminded that we're in a technology company and we're helping to evolve in industry, but it's an industry that's been around for a long time and is known for not rapid change for, for a variety of reasons. And so it's a, it's an evolution, but every, every industry that goes through transformation has the same kind of, uh, pattern of your early innovators and then your early adopters and then, uh, your early traditionalist and then kind of your late traditionalist and then, and those that will never make the jump. And we're no different in our industry in that, you know, it really, the early adopters started coming on in the 2010, 2011. We started to see the kind of businesses that were thinking about transformation coming on in the, you know, 2012, 2013, and then it's the, uh, kind of now more the, the, the traditionalist that are coming over the early majority.

JC: 08:47 And so I, I say that I have to be reminded because I feel like that storyline of this is how it's going to transform your, and this is how you know, the higher calling you can have and how like real-time access to data where you, you can collaborate is going to dramatically change your life, your client's life, the life of your employees if you have them. And yet I'm constantly reminded that I have to keep saying the message because for many people they're still hearing it for the first time or they might've heard it before, but it only becomes relevant when they're finally ready to accept. And so it's just, it's just a good wake up call that we have to stay empathetic to the change management process that, that firms go through based on the, the willingness to adopt change of, of the leaders in the, and the businesses.

MP: 09:37 It makes a lot of sense and it's refreshing to hear it. Almost the curse of knowledge could be, you could be subject to that. It's like you've done the change. A lot of people done the change and so hey, you should know about the changes already, but yet you're, you're taking a stance of there's people all along that journey and let's make sure that we're helping everybody dependent on where they're at. Make the steps forward to where you're going. I think very supportive stance to take. Now, speaking of change, one of the things that came up in our successful bookkeeper Facebook group was this article somebody wrote called end of bookkeeping. Now, I mean that's a pretty bold title, so by all means, I mean the, the title would have had people talking about it in itself, but the article was referring to into it's move towards offering bookkeeping services and now this is created lots of different conversations and I'd love for you to share a little bit of what that means to our listeners, the bookkeepers and the future of where you see that going.

JC: 10:40 Sure, yeah. I get a lot of fear around how will technology transform the business. And, and usually it becomes, you know, how will artificial intelligence replace me? And I really don't think that's the way we should think about things. Sure. Certain tasks, if you can create rules to automate tasks, then they will get automated period. And that's good because who really wants to be manually entering data or even making simple decisions around, you know, where data sits in one bucket or the other. The more that we can free up the bookkeeper to enable them to be a real consultant. You know, again, empowered by real time data and freeing up their time from the mundane tasks. The more that they will have a transformational impact on the business owner or the individuals that they serve. And so I think that's really exciting for the industry, but it does require a level of, okay, well, you know, I can't really build my time any longer because a lot of that times can it go away?

JC: 11:42 Technology is gonna make me more efficient. So I need to rethink how I value my time and how I value my worth, um, to a business. And then there is a, gosh, well, if the future going to be all about consulting and proactive advice and guiding and helping them understand what technology to use as in like other apps that can help them become a more effective business owner, then am I investing enough energy into those things, into that, that, that future world to be ready to have that bigger impact. And so that's kind of where I see the technology will go. It will augment what we do. We will, we will be required to be more knowledge experts and really get to know, uh, our businesses and, and, or our clients and how we help them move forward. The article that you are referencing though, it wasn't really as much around artificial intelligence where the technology was going.

JC: 12:40 It was kind of referencing kind of tests that we're doing to offer onboarding or bookkeeping services to small businesses. And in short, you, I said earlier about how, uh, my journey as a small business owner, how much, even though I'd come from a commerce background, how, how little I actually knew. And I think that kind of speaks to the fact that as a small business owner, as a startup, you only know what you know and you often, um, are coming in with a, a lack of knowledge of what you need to do to get started, right? And that's why 50% of small businesses will fail within the first five years. And when we asked small businesses, if you go back and do anything different, what would you do differently? They say, I wish I'd spent more time on financial management skills early because it just gets harder later.

JC: 13:31 And so we've been really focusing on how do we, how do we help educate at the right time? And then two, how do we connect those small businesses to the professionals, to the bookkeeper or the accountant or maybe a branch manager if they, they're working with a bank who are the mentors that can help guide them with real-time advice. And then lastly, there's a rule for technology to play, to help guide them as well, point them to the right areas of the business. I help them be able to get educated as they go. And of course that's, that's where a lot of our energy goes. That middle bucket, that connecting to professional services or, or professionals to help them. We've been largely focusing on connecting through the find a ProAdvisor app. And we do a really good job there. In Canada alone, we drive more than, I'd say more than between 30 540,000 leads to bookkeepers or accountants through that service every month.

JC: 14:33 And so we feel pretty good about it. And yet many, many, many small businesses aren't ready for a professional service when they start, or at least they don't think they are. Um, because they don't want to pay for it or they, they're nervous about, you know, bringing a new business into, um, to look at their financials, to actually see what they don't know. So there's a variety of different reasons why they don't do it and yet they really need that professional services help. And so what we've been experimenting with is are there ways that we can help bridge that gap? Are there ways that we can say, hey, we can make it easy for you to get advice and we'll get you started. And the goal here is if we can, if we can do this, we can help small businesses be successful, but we'll also grow the professional services category.

Speaker 1: And I think that's really exciting. I think accountants and bookkeepers should be really excited about that of like, hey, we're going to help prime those conversations earlier around services in two. We're going to help make sure that as they start to use the technology, they're setting it upright. Often we hear the bookkeepers will say, Gosh, you know, I inherited this small business but they've been running the business for two years and the chart of accounts is a complete mess. And I've had to like detangle this thing and you know, it's really uncomfortable. It's inefficient. And so the more we can help small businesses get set up right, uh, right from the beginning, the more likely there'll be successful. And when they are ready to transition to a bookkeeper and accountant, the more likely we're gonna make that a better experience for them. So that's how we're going into it. We want to help small businesses improve their success rate. We think that connecting to professionals is the right area to focus to make a meaningful difference. And now what we're doing is we're testing and learning. How do we do that in a way that sets expectations appropriately and helps kind of achieve that angle?

MP: 16:33 I love it. I think, you know, it resets the conversation very quickly when we say, okay, wait a second. What are we actually trying to accomplish here? Or how we're helping small businesses be successful. So forget about know what anybody else needs. But if we just focus on the small business, if we can help small business, what does that look like in the future? And so it's exciting. It really is the way you've positioned that excites me because one of the challenges, I think every bookkeeper listening would be the work that goes into explaining why this is important. And a lot of small business owners when they get started like yourself back in the day, didn't get how important this was to take care of in the beginning because, you know, do it. But my dad used to always say, do it right, do it once.

MP: 17:23 And so instead of spending a lot of energy and time cleaning things up, how do we get this right the first time? And then you're handing off and, and, and also indoctrinating or, or teaching people that are, are in business that this is really important. This is, this is going to be really valuable to you in the future and actually help you be more successful. And then that's creating an, an even bigger market for the industry. I love it. So it sounds like your, your dad went to the same school and my dad went to oh yeah. Oh yeah, I'm sure. And probably a bit of the school that you went to too. Uh, so, you know, it's, it's growing up as a small business owner and really not knowing at the time. I, I mean unfortunately my dad passed due to two due to a fight with cancer, but he, before you know, his life, after he died, I start asking my mom and said, you know, when he was a small business owner, what was was the deal?

MP: 18:18 I just remember him struggling, always struggling in business. He was great at what he did. He was a technician. He ran a contracting business for, uh, elect. He was an electrical contractor, did electrical, electrical work and, and it was like PE. I just remember the paperwork, the frustration and all that good stuff. And she used to say, yeah, you would take all of all of his receipts and his bag of stuff to the accountant at the end of the year to get ready for taxes. Right. And the, it was like this autopsy of financial autopsy of like, what happened? It's like, oh, Dave, you didn't make any money area. You know, it's like, yes. And that was very stressful for him. He tried to have my mother do it, uh, the bookkeeping and that was stressful for her cause that's not her, her thing, you know, it takes a certain type of person and education and skill to, to do it right.

MP: 19:04 And so it just caused a lot of angst in the family and it was not healthy for the fan, our family. And it caused a lot of, uh, things that probably could have been different in this day and age where there are more options and people are more educated about what's available. And so if we can help people like my dad and your dad, right, and you back in that day is going to be better for the family, it's going to be better for our communities. It's going to have businesses thriving. And F and I, I think we'll have a better world, a happier world and more productive world if we can do that. I'm a big believer in, in small business and community, local community. That's where we all live. So if we take care of that first, you know, that's, that's going to help the greater world than the things that go on beyond our community. So I'm pumped about where you're going with this and I think our listeners should be, and they should be checking it out and figuring out how they can help and how they can be involved.

JC: 19:56 100% agree and, and often, you know, we know the role that the bookkeeper in particular plays in helping to provide that peace of mind and set up processes for the accountants to be more efficient. And often, you know, once they're set up a small business like yeah, I don't really want to try new technology cause I don't want to disrupt anything. Right? They're just, they're afraid of that side of the business. So the more we as in the industry can, can help them embrace the role of technology and, and rethinking processes to help them spend the time where they get energy and, and guide them on what's going to help them grow their business. That's like, that's the magic of this industry. That, you know, what industry has more of an impact day to day, helping small businesses be successful. I don't, I'm not sure there's anything than the bookkeeping industry, but it requires that imitation, that right marketing to the small business to say, hey, you know, this isn't scary and it's not, you know, I'm not crazy expensive.

JC: 20:59 Uh, and it's well worthwhile worth the, the, the time invested in the money invested to seek professional services, uh, to help you. We just have to experiment. How do we do that in a way that will help bring that power of the industry to the individuals. But there's no doubt this is one of the single biggest things we can do to help improve that success rate of small businesses and, and yeah, just, just make a better world. Quite frankly. There's a lot of stress in the life of small businesses. This is a way we can, we can help ease it.

MP: 21:30 Love it, love it. Totally agree and exciting. Um, I, I think it's exciting message from, from yourself and, and, and into it that this is, this is great for the industry and an opportunity. Lots of opportunity. I love how you said what, where they get their energy, right? It's like an another, it's kind of a free, I don't know that I've really heard it in that frame specifically, but helping the business owner do the things that give them energy versus the things that remove the energy is, is an excellent way of putting it. And I think something that our listener can actually take on and be thinking about, it's like you're really gonna increase the energy of the business owner by, by doing the work that you do. And think of it in that terms in his part is your of your conversation when you're talking to business owners, like what Ma, what lifts you up? What brings you down? It often is going to be the things that the bookkeeper's going to take off their shoulders. So love that frame. And uh, I'm excited to have our listeners start thinking that way and using that kind of language. Who wouldn't want more energy, right? As a business owner, take it back to your family. Cause you've got, you've got a business to run, you've got a family to take care of a, you know, more energy equals a better life. Love it.

JC: 22:47 Yeah. Yeah. And most of the bookkeepers, you know, or at least a lot of them are small business owners themselves and so I think they can kind of empathize with that. It's hard. So the more you've got people around you that are um, you know, helping to pump your tires, you know, help you, help you be more successful, drive that, that positive, uh, energy, the, the more likely that small business owners is gonna. Um, tough it out when things get rough.

MP: 23:11 Beautiful. Speaking of energy, QuickBooks connect now we were, we were fortunate to have you join our very small portion of our successful bookkeeper community in a, in a photo op where, where we were all celebrating. Exactly. It was a lot of fun. Everybody got a good charge out of having you pop in and uh, and join us in that photo. Talk about that event and the value that you see it providing to our listeners.

JC: 23:42 Yeah. Oh Gosh. I, I don't know if ever seen an effect that's more transformational than QuickBooks connect. And I see that because I think a lot of people looked at online as, oh, so like QuickBooks desktop hosted, it's like, no, no, no, no, not that, that's not on my, okay, maybe that's online access, but that's not what cloud is. Cloud is transformational cloud is enabling data to be used in different ways, real-time access, enabling a connection of other apps. It is just fundamentally changing the role of the industry and it takes, what I found is it takes, uh, often bookkeepers to hear from other bookkeepers say, wow, so like, you know, a tree fell on your building and you know, and you didn't stress about it cause everything was, you know, accessible and backed up or, um, oh, so you're telling me you use receipt bank and you don't have to manually enter receipts.

MP: 24:42 Oh, okay. Wow. That's like, that's different. And when they, when they hear it from those other peers, then they start to realize like, oh, okay, yeah, you know, I can do this. And I'm surrounded by a community that wants to help me, which is really phenomenal about this industry. Like I, it's, it's so exciting to see how much coopertition there is. And it really has been. I think the technology's been what's caused it, but it's really been an enlightening, I think for the industry. But having that, you know, being with the peer, hearing the message, being with peers and then, uh, being able to go out to the app floor and be able to meet with apps and, and just like, oh wow, like, so I could do this or my, my business owner could benefit from this mobile pos solution or from this different reporting mechanism.

JC: 25:30 Um, and then they really get jazzed and they really start to say, wow, this could dramatically change my business and how I run, how I run it and my employees lives. And then they come away really charged. And, but it takes like that magic of being in the environment, being with the peers, immediately getting to see the app partners that I think kind of creates that turning point moment. The number of a of business owners that have said, you know, I didn't really get it until I went to QB connect. It makes me feel really proud about that investment we make in the industry and something that, you know, we'll continue to double down on. We're actually gonna increase the number of events this year. Not quite to that magnitude is the Toronto event, but we'll, we'll increase it so we can kind of bring that power of the transformational role of the industry to other cities across the country.

MP: 26:30 That's exciting. And I think it's, uh, one of the interesting things is that you have both the accountants, bookkeepers and as well business owners that go to these events, which is bringing together the, the whole stakeholder community, if you will. What's, what's that been like? Because I think that's somewhat unique.

JC: 26:50 Yeah. Well, you know, when we started, it's been an interesting journey. We started back I think probably around 2012 with like 72 kind of early adopters, really just trying to figure out what, like what is this cloud thing going to be? Right. And we were all kind of figuring it out at the time and we brought in a lot of experts from around the world to kind of help rethink how technology would transform. And then we realized that there was a real lack of training around tax and that we also thought the technology would transform. Tax is taken a lot longer there where we're now finally starting to make some real headway. But then we kind of, we added in tax, so now it wasn't just bookkeeping, it was also tax. And then it became what, what is today, which is QuickBooks connect. It was with thrive and then it became QB connect.

JC: 27:35 But as we've gone along we can you to evolve and add to the event. So we started off with just us and, and, and our partners. And then we added in third party app providers. And you know, we started off with six and now we're at like 50. And then more recently as you called that we started adding small businesses in. And so it just keeps evolving and getting bigger and better, which is, which is really exciting. I think our next area that we need to double down on is again, what we talked a bit about earlier is some people are like all in and they want to know like what's the next gear? And then other people are like, okay, I'm finally ready. Can you, can you tell me again, like what does this mean for, you know, uh, my pricing strategy or how do I work with employees? Or what are these app things I need to think about? And so we need to start to segment our, our training, uh, the education component so that we can help, help cater to those different, um, different organizations that are at differing spots on the journey.

MP: 28:41 Totally agree, meet them, meet them where they are and provide that in a, it's challenging because it's a big event and you know, you've got to figure out the logistics of that. But I think that that makes it more welcoming to where to wherever you are in that journey, which I think is exciting for our listener. And, and I will say having been to both QB connect and Toronto and QB connect in, in San Jose to the probably the, the bigger events and you're, you're, you're saying you're going to have other events in other cities, which will be, I think, exciting for people who can't travel or, or, you know, it just makes it more accessible. But I see a lot of great benefit in attending these events for education, connecting and networking, but also from a mindset perspective, just the, the, the confidence. I think that it's available when you learn something new, when you connect with people, you don't feel like you're doing it alone.

MP: 29:35 Really for our listener, essential part of your year. I think every year everyone should be thinking about investing time and energy and money into attending events like these. And these ones are fantastic. Not only you're going to learn a lot, meet a lot of people, you're gonna have a lot of fun because you have parties and all sorts of great things to bring people together. Uh, so I'm really excited about QB connect this year in Toronto. It'll be likely in the later part of the year, like November, December. Is that, is that right? Yeah. And that will be, I think we're first week of December will be the date, but don't, don't quote me on that. We'll put the dates up when they're confirmed. We'll put them up on the site. So people listening to this, what's exciting is that, you know, the, when this episode airs, there's lots of time to get planning for this.

MP: 30:24 So we got Toronto for our Canadian listeners. You've got the first week of December for our listeners in the United States. You have early part of November. And then our Australia listeners, I think probably we missed the boat on this, but it's like June or may or thinking in, in Australia. So these are happening all over the world. Very similar events, uh, from content perspective and structure as super, uh, super excited to be attending the myself and hopefully we'll be able to connect with all of you listeners at QB connect this year somewhere in the world. Jeff, this has been a fantastic conversation and, uh, I want to thank you for your generosity of time and I want to thank you for the work that you do. Uh, you bring the heart of the small business owner to a, a very large organization and that large organization is helping small businesses right around the world. So thank you for that. Thank you for being on the podcast.

JC: 31:18 My pleasure. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.

MP: 31:22 We are all our pleasure and we hope to have you back at some point to come and share, uh, your take again.

JC: 31:32 Great. Thank you.

MP: 31:35 And with that, we wrap up another episode of The Successful Bookkeeper podcast. To learn more about today's wonderful guests and to get access to all sorts of valuable free business-building resources, you can go to Thesuccessfulbookkeeper.com. Until next time.

MP: 31:50 Goodbye.