Last week Intuit showed just how much it wants to win in the Australian market. The first QuickBooks Connect customer conference in Australia took a leaf out of the mothership event in San Jose.
It had celebrities galore (Christine Anu, Rove McManus, Michelle Bridges, Glenn McGrath), executive vice presidents (Sasan Goodarzi, head of the QuickBooks division and Rich Preece, head of the global accountants division, as well as local boss Nicolette Maury), a fancy location at the SCG and plenty of wining and dining. The whole thing must have cost a packet.
An audience of about 600 showed up, and for the first time at this type of event in Australia there were a good number of business owners among the bookkeepers and accountants. This reflects Intuit’s heritage in direct sales; it is a household name in the US, much as MYOB is in Australia.
Intuit is laying the foundations, slowly, for a similar presence here. It has spent big on TV ad campaigns to familiarise small businesses with the logo to avoid Intuit’s accounting partners from having to sell the brand itself, Preece told me at QuickBooks Connect Sydney.
Intuit is active in five markets; the UK, Canada, Brazil, France, Singapore as well as Australia. The company is literally giving away its software. Since QuickBooks Connect in November 2016, accountants and bookkeepers outside the US could get their first 10 QuickBooks Online licences for just $10 (or equivalent in local currency).
That strategy is working. Intuit’s results this week showed it had cleared the 2 million subscriber mark by 200,000, with 70 percent growth outside the US, to 433,000 subscribers. Overall growth was 59 percent, explained by the larger existing base in the US.
This suggests that targeting accounting professionals with cheap software and running brand-based advertising campaigns to SMEs is effective. Like Xero, Intuit plans to monetise other financial services through the software so it still makes sense to sell it at a huge discount.
Intuit is determined to build a global brand. The generational shift from desktop software to software-as-a-service (or cloud software) is a high speed, multinational landgrab.
Intuit may have cracked the marketing code for cloud accounting software but it is still several tools short of matching Xero in Australia and New Zealand.
Xero’s four-year investment in an integrated online tax program gives it a critical advantage in those two countries. And it is rewriting the way accountants run their practices with the notification-driven, API-happy Xero HQ (yet to be released).
Intuit is rolling out practice management tools to accountants in Australia and other non-US markets, the company announced at QuickBooks Connect Sydney.
The company added a tab to the QuickBooks Online Accountant app called Practice Manager to track tasks by client. The interface is a Kanban-style calendar with columns for tasks due today, this week, next week and the next 30 days.
QuickBooks Online Accountant lists the tasks for clients by their due date in each column.
Intuit has built an online tax app in the US which is already used by 10,000 accountants. However, building a tax app would take far too long to satisfy Intuit’s ambitions. Instead it is integrating with local tax software in non-US countries with the exception of Canada.
The first example is Tax Filer in the UK which has been integrated into QuickBooks Online Accountant. “A significant number” of accountants are using it, but Intuit won’t disclose the exact number, says Preece.
Intuit is looking for a similar partner in Australia. “There are not too many options, but the intent is to deeply partner in the same way as we have in the UK,” Preece says.
The big question is how long will this take? It took six months to integrate Tax Filer into QuickBooks Online, “but finding a partner can be six months or more”, Preece says. “On the roadmap we think about it as FY18 – we absolutely look at this as in the next 15 months.”
Once you have the tool you then need to convince people to use it. Accountants take a lot of convincing, especially with practice management which is the most painful change of all. I’d expect Intuit to keep pushing harder to win SMEs than accountants.
One interesting difference has emerged between Intuit and Xero. Intuit is going downmarket while Xero is going up. At Xerocon last year Rod Drury said Xero was working on increasing its transaction limits and features so that growing customers could stay on Xero for longer.
Intuit CEO Brad Smith has set his sights on the self-employed. It is an absolutely enormous market that is destined to grow even faster with the transition to a gig economy. Intuit estimates there are 155 million small businesses in the world and about 700 million self-employed.
“Right now there is a large pocket of underserved self-employed and micro-businesses in the Australian market,” says Maury. “There are more and more platforms that are helping people to do that with Uber, AirTasker and so on. It’s an area that will grow.”
Maury and Preece insist that the self-employed market is a potential gold mine for accountants and bookkeepers. At this stage, and with so much to play out, I’m not convinced.
With QuickBooks Connect, Intuit gave the old accounting conference a taste of American glamour and largesse, and drawn customers into the mix. Xero vs MYOB was just the warmup. Now, as the Yanks like to say, it’s “Game on”.