Midmarket vendors: Watch your back! Also, how labor costs will skyrocket over the next decade, and Bill.com goes global

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David & Blake discuss Matt Paff's article, "Hey Mid-Market, Xero and Intuit are coming!" a study predicting that highly skilled labor costs will skyrocket over the next decade, and Bill.com's big announcement that it will soon support international electronic payments.

      Cloud Accounting Podcast E21: "Midmarket vendors: Watch your back! Also, how labor costs will skyrocket over the next decade, and Bill.com goes global"

      Welcome to the Cloud Accounting Podcast, a show for accountants using technology to make their jobs more strategic, and impactful. I'm Blake Oliver-

      -and I'm David Leary.

      David, what's new this week?

      It's like a real back-to-work week, I think, right? There's no more holiday, there's no ... World Cup kind of ended yesterday, after lunch. Well, it isn't ended. There's still a championship game, but it's kind of like, "Hey, this is a real work week."

      Yeah, it definitely ramped up a lot for us. Last week was dead, so this is nice.

      We thought about recording the podcast last night, and you were just like, "This is too much. It's too busy today. It's not gonna happen."

      Exactly, yep.

      We might as well jump in. I have an article from Matt Paff. He's down under, but he wrote an article called, "Hey, Mid-Market, Xero and Intuit are coming! It's really an article, and an argument he's made about you don't have to go buy these mid-market, or enterprise-type systems. You can almost build a custom ERP on top of QuickBooks Online, or a small-business-accounting system that has APIs, and apps that plug in on top of it.

      The article, in the beginning, is a little bouncing around on the background, but he does get, as you get deeper into it he has this graph, but then, he has his advice, and he breaks it out and in his recommendations, about the claims these sales people are making at these ERP vendors, and how you can think about those differently, and overcome these, using a small-business-cloud package, built with apps.

      I've definitely encountered this. Since I started at FloQast, I'm learning so much more about the mid-market, because that's our primary market is controllers in industry for mid-sized companies.

      I suppose we should define that, because there are many definitions of mid-market. I tend to think of it pretty broadly, like businesses over $10 million a year in revenue, and under a billion. It's a lot. You could be more narrow with that, but generally, it's a business where you've got quite a few employees; you've got an accounting team/accounting department, and you have a need to report to investors, and shareholders. It's a lot different than your mom-and-pop-type business situation. How do you define it, David?

      To me, it's great, because I think people try to always define it from the number of employees, or the revenue, but then, I always hear stories about, like, Google apparently was using QuickBooks Desktop, until they were a $200-million company. My understanding is Uber was using QuickBooks Online for the longest time, and they had 70,000 vendors in there.

      Our engineering-team guy said, he goes, "It was very an engineering challenge," but you hear about these big companies, and it's like what really defines that? Is it the size? Is it the volume? Is it the complexities? The reporting out? Is it just ..."

      I've heard stories from some people that work for Salesforce. He basically is like, "Hey, as soon as a company takes VC money, and they have to start ... I go in there, and I get my million-dollar sale for Salesforce." It's like what defines it? It is the capital they've gotten? Is it the revenue? Is it their size, their employees? I don't really have a definition.

      The market doesn't really, either. Let's set that aside for now, and address this article. Matt is talking about the mid-market needs for accounting software, and he's basically arguing here that it's no longer an absolute that you are going to go to an ERP system, when you get to that mid-market stage, at least the beginning of it.

      You can use apps like Xero and QuickBooks Online, and extend those applications with add-ons, so that you don't have to graduate immediately. He's saying, potentially, ever, which I disagree with, but we can go into that.

      I've seen this myself, not with a lot of folks, but with one controller, in particular, who is on Xero, and he has been just integrating dozens of add-ons, in order to get what he needs out of Xero - Expensify, ApprovalMax, Bill.com, all that good stuff. He's basically getting ERP functionality without having to go to NetSuite, or Intacct.

      I think some of his article, too, he's kinda making an argument that what's offered, right now, for mid-market, in general, is kind of dated. I think that's some of his argument. He's like, "Why am I gonna ... Why are we forced to use this old technology stacks that are heading towards 15-20 years old, when there's these other great options that are open APIs, and you can build the tech stack, customized, to some extent?"

      I think, to be fair, Matt is down in Australia, and I don't think that the mid-market vendors, especially here in the U.S., have done a good job of selling into Australia, so there's not a lot of options there. It's mostly old desktop-server-based systems that people are using in the mid-market.

      Basically, what he's saying ... I don't know. Did you mention the title of the article? "Hey Mid-Market, Xero and Intuit are coming!" He's basically saying, "This is a giant warning to you guys." This is based on Matt's experience - 18 years in the mid-market on the vendor side/consulting side - saying, "You guys had better innovate, or your businesses are gonna get eaten by Xero, and Intuit, coming up from below."

      If I'm looking at his graph correctly, he doesn't even have Sage Intacct on here, right?

      Well, yeah, because until like a year and a half ago, they weren't international at all. I think, actually, Sage purchased Intacct, acquired Intacct, in order to take them global.

      Got it. You're right, some of it's skewed, based on historical ... There just hasn't been decent cloud players, maybe.

      Matt has some common misconceptions, and myths about mid-market software versus SMB software that he dispels in the article very well, which is excellent. He says, "Transaction volumes ..." That used to be ... That was an argument why you had to go to a mid-market ERP. No longer necessary. There aren't hard limits QBO, or Xero.

      P0 authorization, he says you can get around that with ApprovalMax, or an add-on that handles the POs, and the approvals reporting. You can plug in a variety of reporting tools. Same with budgeting, you can do various tools - Spotlight Reporting, all that good stuff. Audit trails, that's getting better. Project-tracking, I still don't think that's that great, but Matt says you can do it, and it's good enough for a lot of businesses.

      There's definitely add-ons. He doesn't touch on that, as much, but there's definitely ... Depending on what kind of company you are, you can get project software that will project-track for you.

      This is based on my experience over the last six months, networking in the mid-market industry, or on the vendor side. I think that the reason that you're never gonna have SMB software take over in the mid-market is simply that the customer, the target customer, the buyer, is different - very, very different - and it's impossible to serve two customers that are that different really well.

      To lay it out there, the customer, the primary customer of Xero, and Intuit, is the small-business owner, and the accountant, who serves that small-business owner - small CPA firms, small-business owners. The primary customer of ERP software is the CFO, and the corporate controller. Those are very, very different people with very different needs. You're not gonna build the same feature set for both those markets.

      It's been hard to go to a big, huge company with a CFO, and be like, "Hey, go look at this app. It's $39 a month, and this app, and this app ..." Maybe those apps, themselves, aren't set up to either sell to enterprise, or have those conversations with somebody at that level. You're right. Your argument is mid-market's kind of a niche, small business is a niche, and you've gotta stay focused, because it's hard to do both at the same time.

      I'm all for integrating applications, but even I will admit that once you get beyond five or six applications integrated into your accounting system, it gets kinda out of control, and can become a mess. The benefit of an ERP is that you get more all-in-one-type functionality, and you don't need a zillion add-ons, so, I think that's important.

      There's a few other points, features that I've learned about as being really important to CFOs and comptrollers that I think Intuit's just not gonna build, Xero's not gonna build.

      A great example is multi-ledger functionality - the ability to manage multiple entities, and do instant consolidations in the same file. QBO would have to be completely redesigned to do that. It's just not ... I don't think it's gonna happen. It's not the need of a small-business owner. Most business owners, on the small side, have one entity, or if they do have multiple entities, they can just track it, using, say, classes or something like that.

      It'd basically be solving a use case for .0001 percent of the customer base, right?

      Exactly.

      Out of millions of users, we're solving this for like seven ...

      I have one other big one, which is dimensions. They go by different names. It's classes in QuickBooks; it's tracking categories in Xero. The issue that I see with the way that the small-business-accounting systems have been designed is that you're limited in the number of dimensions you can have, and you can't customize them for different types of transactions.

      Whereas, with an ERP system, it's not as pretty. The interface isn't as well-designed, but because it's scalable in a lot of different ways, you can add just a ridiculous number of custom dimensions, and create all these rules around them. You can capture interesting data, really useful data, at the point of inception for a transaction. For instance, I can create a bunch of custom fields for my customer invoices, and require those to be filled out in Intacct. I can't necessarily do that in the other systems.

      It's that fine line of what's starting to get overkilled, like how many custom fields are really needed?

      We can argue about that, but when you're trying to sell to a CFO, if they have a particular custom field that they've always had, and they want it, you're gonna have a really hard time convincing them to abandon it.

      Totally. I think what we should do is ... Matt has a good ... I talked to him a little bit about this, a couple weeks ago, in Sydney. He gives an example of a nonprofit client he had. Basically, he went ... They were having discussions with, I think, MYOB ... Maybe we should have Matt on, as a guest, or something, in the future, to discuss this.

      Absolutely.

      Essentially, he talked to them, and he went home that night, and within two days, he spun up basically all their data, all their workflows, using QBO, and some apps, and came back to them, and then really gave them the price quote.

      These people were just amazed that he was able to move their data through the apps, and the accounting system, for pennies on the dollar, compared to these solutions that other people weren't even giving them the actual solution - it was just all still the sales pitch - and how fast he spun it up.

      It'd kinda be an interesting story for him to tell that, or have him on, to give more details about that, because it's ... The arguments on this are ... It's interesting, right?

      I've had these discussions before, with some developers, like, "Hey, we're gonna help people not switch to NetSuite, or something ..." The thing is, is QuickBooks Online, or cloud accounting is growing at 40 percent a year. QuickBooks Online, I think, is adding 120,000 new small businesses a quarter. I think maybe two or three are graduating to bigger software, and that's fine. Congratulations.

      I think you're right, from a priority standpoint, how much effort is a small-business-software company, like Intuit, gonna put into trying to keep three customers a quarter from leaving?

      I'm not saying that I disagree with Matt. I think that there will be definitely, as the feature sets get built out, that you'll be able to delay going to an ERP longer, and big, or small businesses will be able to continue using their accounting package, but the vast majority of mid-market companies are ... They need their own systems. It's not gonna be taken over completely.

      Probably, the ERPs are not that worried, because the best customers for them are the ones at the larger end of the mid-market. If anything, I think Sage Intacct, and Oracle NetSuite are gonna push up, and try to take business from SAP, and Oracle, which is kinda funny in the case of NetSuite, because Oracle owns NetSuite.

      Maybe the curve's shifting a little, because I think in the olden days, people would, because of the cost, they would just stick with QuickBooks Desktop Enterprise until it exploded. People would start new data files every quarter. They'd do anything they could to just not have to spend that money at that next level.

      Maybe it's more of a shift in the way of hey, you can really run on a QuickBooks Online for years longer than you could ever before. You don't have to make that jump. You're right, maybe the other ones are gonna be able to be like, "Hey, we're gonna start ... You don't have to move to an Oracle. You can stay on us.".

      People are, developers, even the Big Four, are starting to see this gap in the market. That's why KPMG has partnered with Microsoft to create a custom version of Microsoft Dynamics, called Wiise. I think we talked about this a couple episodes ago. They're specifically targeting the lower mid-market.

      It'll be interesting to watch this, as it grows, because I don't think this is an end of a discussion, or an end of an article. It'd be interesting, also, to see ... Maybe we'll push on Matt, when we talk to him here, to build his chart, but build it for the globe, instead of just the 'A' market.

      Yeah, that sounds cool. Let's have him on as a guest. Matt, if you're listening, we would love to talk to you.

      Shoot me a tweet.

      I've got another story that is actually related to Australia. We'll get to that. It's an article that appeared in CFO.com, called, "Labor Costs Will Skyrocket over the Next Decade." It's based on a report from the consulting firm Korn Ferry, which puts out some really, really great research about labor costs, and labor shortages, and whatnot that are coming up.

      This report is following up on a May report they did about the looming global talent shortage, which a lot of folks are like, "What? How could there be a talent shortage? I've been hearing that robots and AI are going to take all of our jobs. Why would we have a talent crisis/talent crunch?" The report goes into some detail about how this is for highly skilled labor - CPAs, lawyers, doctors, professional folks. Actually, not even professionals, just highly trained people. You could be a machinist; there's a shortage of them. Even truck drivers with special licenses.

      Anyway, to get to the point of this article, by 2030, Korn Ferry is saying there will be a $2.5 trillion increase in labor costs for skilled labor, as a result of the global shortage of highly skilled workers, and the United States is going to have the largest wage premium, meaning we're gonna be paying, as employers, extra to our employees, over the normal cost of inflation, and it's going to be $531 billion dollars by 2030.

      That doesn't really mean a lot in the context of the whole economy, but to give you an idea, the average wage premium - again, the extra money we're gonna have to pay to skilled workers in the U.S. - will be approximately $8,300 per head within the next 12 years. Add that to your budgets for your hiring of CPAs, and your accounting team.

      Pretty much, they're just telling people to prepare. "Hey, you're gonna have this labor increase, even if you're not growing your size of your staff. You're just ... This is going to happen. There's nothing you can do about it."

      We all know that it's getting harder, and harder to find good accountants. This is part of a trend. We haven't been training enough folks, and simply just due to population shifts, the baby boomers are retiring. There aren't as many Gen Xers, and Millennials replacing them. Meanwhile, the global economy is growing at a fantastic pace. Just to keep up with normal growth, we'd have to be producing more skilled labor, and we're not. It's gonna be a real challenge, I think, especially in the accounting world.

      How this ties back to Australia is that they're gonna have an even worse problem than we do. The wage premium in Australia, it's going to be $28,600 per head by 2030. Can you imagine paying an extra $28,000 per accountant?

      That's not actually doing any more capacity, or any more work, but you kinda don't have a choice, right?

      Yeah.

      The other way to think about this is you're gonna lose that person-.

      If you don't pay them more, they're gonna go somewhere else and get more, which is starting to happen. I was chatting with Donny Shimamoto, who was our recent guest, on LinkedIn, about this. His question was does this report actually take into account automation, and AI? The report doesn't get into how they did the analysis, but they do say that despite automation, this is going to happen; that there's going to be a talent shortage.

      That's because most ... I assume that most of the automation, and AI that we are seeing being developed right now is going to be applied to low-skill jobs, to begin with - jobs that do not require highly skilled training, or a license, like factory work, which we've already seen automated, warehouse work, deliveries, that sort of thing.

      Korn Ferry says it's gonna create two classes of workers. We're gonna have an oversupply of low-skilled labor. We're gonna have a shortage of high-skilled labor, which we can talk about the political implications of that, the economic implications of that. It's gonna be a strange world that we live in.

      I don't think it's just our industry, though, either.

      Well, no.

      You'll see this in Arizona ... Started seeing this spring, before it's really air conditioning season. Air conditioning companies are running commercials on television to hire people. It's that hard for them to find people that are capable of fixing air conditioning. They're not even advertising their product. They're running commercials not to advertise their, "Hey, we fix your air conditioner," they're running commercials to hire people.

      That's good. If you have the ability, the intelligence, the drive to spend a couple years, and learn a skill like that, or become an accountant, get your CPA, then I think you'll be fine. You're gonna have fantastic employment opportunity.

      If you're working fast food, if you're moving boxes around a warehouse, if you're driving a truck, you're probably going to get automated out of a job. It's gonna create a real crisis, I think, in the country, if we don't have a way for these people to get retrained, or if we don't have jobs for them.

      What are gonna be the political consequences of it, when you have this highly paid, skilled workforce, and this low-skilled workforce, where wages are stagnant, and they're losing their jobs, or maybe they're getting automated out of work? It's gonna be a strange kind of ... I can see a potential dystopian future, but also, a potentially utopian future.

      It's interesting, because I think when they count the jobless claims, and the jobless numbers, they don't account for people that just are starting to opt out. They're like, "I don't have the skills to get a skilled job," and they just opt out, because they're not actively hunting. They don't count them as not being employed, because they're just opting out, so it makes the employment numbers always look higher than it probably really is.

      One thing I'll be putting in the show notes, I'll include a link, because a couple days ago ... I know we've talked about them before, Planet Money has that indicator, and they have one just on jobs. It's like 10 questions in 10 minutes, and they actually talk about this: what do employers mean when they complain about having a worker shortage?

      They mean very different things to different employers.

      We'll definitely include that in there. I think it's definitely related to this article, so it's probably worth putting that in the show notes.

      Sounds good. That's all I've got this week, David.

      I think we have one more, so we might as well stay on this international/global thing. Big news, I think it just came out last night, or maybe even this morning ... Bill.com is going to start doing global payments.

      All right, finally. I've been waiting for years.

      I have hundreds of Canadian accountants, who've asked me this question for the last few years. "When does Bill.com work in Canada?" Now, it's gonna work in Canada, and a bunch of other countries. I don't know if they say in the article ... 25 countries to do cross-border payments, which is a really big deal-.

      It's going to cost $10 per transaction. They say that's an introductory price, but I'd be curious to see if that sticks around. That will save a ton of money over wire transfers.

      They're claiming here, they'll save you 50 percent on international wire transfers. I'm not an expert on the fees on this, but my understanding is they are way more than $10 a month, so the $10 a month is definitely not the 50 percent. It's definitely an introductory offer, but it's probably not gonna be excessive, if Bill.com's worked with the banks, and they're using their rails to move this money around, and they're getting a discount for the customers to do this.

      Do you think this is gonna impact the other international-payments providers in the ecosystems?

      Yes, and no. What I mean by that is I think Bill.com offers a workflow solution. There's a product for managing those AP workflows, but not all small businesses need that. They don't have a team that needs to, "Hey, I need Blake to sign off, and then, this VP to sign off, and then somebody else to sign off, before we make this transfer or pay a bill.".

      I think for people that have that situation, right inside their tool, they have the same controls, and audits etc. to send the money. It's gonna be huge for them.

      I think there's still room in the market probably for smaller players that are like, "Hey, I'm a one-man team. I approve the bills. I could go out to another ... I'm not a Bill.com customer. I'm gonna go use that other app, because I don't need the rest that Bill.com functionality. I'm just gonna go transfer it, via some app like VM, or TransferWise, or one of the other players that are in that space. It's definitely huge, though. This is a monster move for Bill.com.

      I'll be interested to see what the exchange rates are, how those are computed, because that often ends up being a bigger component of the cost of the international transfer than just the fee, the fixed fee, of say $10, or $20, or $30, whatever that is.

      I imagine that just given Bill.com's relationship with banks, how they've very intelligently decided to partner with banks, than trying to undercut them, that they won't undercut them too much, or that the bank they've partnered with will still make a good amount of money.

      While these transfers will be cheaper than traditional international transfers, it's not going to be world-changing. I think it's, again, more of the convenience of being able to do it electronically, inside Bill.com, with all those approvals, and whatnot, and that Veem, and TransferMate, TransferWise, they'll still end up being a lot cheaper on the exchanges, because they use systems; they go outside the traditional banking system, like block chain, and whatnot.

      Definitely, I think you can definitely look at the last year and a half for Bill.com. I think they had another round of VC funding. They've done a lot of biz-dev deals, and announcements, and press releases about things they were doing with banks, so you can see where this is kind of stacking up to this being released, to some extent.

      Yeah, but overall, and fantastic ... Really exciting to see the world economy getting tied together into electronic payments, finally.

      I think some Canadians will be celebrating, like they just won the World Cup. I cannot believe how many people in Canada have been dying for this, for accountants, and bookkeepers. It is a huge, huge deal.

      Well, David, that's all of our time this week. How should our listeners get in touch with us, if they want to let us know about a story, if they're interested in joining us on the podcast? Where should they contact you?

      Twitter is definitely the easiest. They can find me: @DavidLeary.

      I'm @BlakeOliver, and we look forward to hearing from you all.

      See you guys next week.

      Talk to you later.

      All right, bye.

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      Blake Oliver

      Los Angeles, California, United States