Bright idea from start-up solves financial data problems
Common Ledger aims to become the go-to translation service for combining online accounting systems
- Unstandardised financial data is a global problem
- Common Ledger standardises financial data across different accounting cloud and desktop systems
- A cohesive team has been key to the startup’s success
Photography by Nick Salmon
New cloud-based startup Common Ledger sees the accounting industry as becoming increasingly innovative in the way it solves problems, and the company is poised to take advantage of this trend.
Co-founder and CFO Brendan Wu CA says many accounting practices are embracing the internet and becoming more digital and more customer focused. So the Wellington, New Zealand-based company has designed a product aimed at making accountants’ jobs easier and more efficient, giving them more time to spend with clients.
“We’re bringing the accounting industry up to speed by fixing an age old problem — manual processes.”
Its new product allows an accountant to take data from clients’ multiple sources such as Xero, MYOB and QuickBooks, and translate it into a common set of data which is then exported into software of choice.
“It standardises financial data across different accounting systems — both cloud and desktop.
“From a technology point of view we’ve got a nice, clean, simple solution which is very efficient and very fast — and it’s very easy to use.”
He likens it to a translation service.
“Imagine in the UN and you’ve got lots of different languages — you put your earpiece in and you can hear the language that you want to hear.”
The result is that manual work, which in the past took hours, takes just minutes to complete digitally, he says.
“This then frees up accountants to do value-add services and have better client engagement and be customer focused, rather than compliance focused.”
You’re dealing with an industry that has been around for centuries so you have to have that experience and knowledge, but we want to be able to bring in innovation and change to improve the industry.
Data security a priority
While the product is new, the company differs from many startups as it is developing something for a mature industry, Wu says.
“Typical startup behaviour is to try and grab as much market share — or as many customers — as possible.
“We understand the realities of the accounting industry. It’s not as simple as that, so we’re willing to actually take the time to learn and get some traction and get some credibility, expertise and backing behind us to slowly roll this thing out.”
But while the roll out might be slow, there is nothing modest in the proposed reach.
The problem — unstandardised financial data — is a global problem, Wu says.
“We’re looking to go as far and wide as we possibly can.”
Wu sees one of the company’s key strengths as its high level of data security and says the product has been described by one of the big four global accounting firms as a low-to no-risk provider.
“Data security has been a very strong point with the firms that we’ve talked to.”
Wu has insider knowledge of what accountants need, having worked in what he describes as the “corporate trenches” for 17 years.
He acknowledges quitting a stable job and dedicating himself to a startup is brave, but he believes in this case the opportunity outweighs the risk.
He met co-founders Drew Broadley and Vince Warnock online while looking for business opportunities and was impressed by their ideas, passion and motivation.
“I wanted to work with clever people who are trying to do clever things.”
Common Ledger was recently involved with digital accelerator Lightning Lab, a process Wu describes as “a year’s worth of learning compressed into three months”, giving them a strong network of mentors and advisers. The company vied for investor dollars and generated substantial interest in the product.
Common Ledger plans to establish itself first in Australasia, with future sights set on the US, Canada, the UK and South Africa.
This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Acuity magazine.