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Analysing the Value of Accounting Events in 2024

In 2024, the accounting industry is witnessing a glut of events like the Festival of Accounting and Bookkeeping, Accountex, Xerocon, QuickBooks Connect and the Digital Accountancy Show. These events are expanding, with some spanning over two days, it raises questions about their true value to attendees.

There are at least double the number of events for Accountants & Bookkeepers in 2024 over and above the main events listed above, and that’s not even including vendor and professional bodies roadshows and events.

As professionals consider attending these events, it’s essential to scrutinise their benefits versus the opportunity cost of time and resources spent. Are accounting events more celebration than education, more vendor blight than industry insight?

The Draw of Accounting Events

Networking and Industry Insights

Accounting events are often touted for their networking opportunities and industry insights. Attendees get the chance to connect with peers, thought leaders, and potential clients. The knowledge exchange, through workshops and keynote speeches, can provide a window into emerging trends and technologies in accounting and finance.

Being at these events can help you start, grow and nurture a network of like-minded contacts for future collaboration and work opportunities. If you can remember them in the morning that is. Accountants work hard and play even harder.

I met a person at Xerocon 2022 who I recognised but couldn’t recall where from. The Dext (Receipt Bank as it was known then) Boat Party several years prior (possibly 2018). The accountant in question was there with his whole team none of them made it to Xerocon. Enough said.

Learning and Professional Development

Accounting events often offer a range of learning sessions and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) credits, which are valuable for accountants and bookkeepers needing to fulfil their professional development requirements. The exposure to new ideas, software demonstrations, and best practices can be invaluable for staying current in a rapidly evolving field.

SWAG

Accountants are the lazy marketers dream ticket to being splashed all over social media. Better still make a parent and child version and you have struck gold for the mini me posts to follow. There is no better place to go than an accounting conference to get a bucket load of free software vendor merchandise or swag! You will never need to buy pyjama t-shirts, coffee cups, notebooks again.

Nothing says I’ve been to an accounting event than a group of middle-aged men wearing ill-fitting t-shirts with jeans and a suit jacket. The train journey home is surreal being trapped in a cabin of Jeremy Clarkson’s. All aboard the swag train.

The Counterarguments

Opportunity Cost

Allocating time for these events means diverting attention from day-to-day business operations. For some, dedicating a couple of days to an event could be better spent strategizing and implementing improvements within their own businesses.

What could you achieve if just left alone for a couple of days to get on with implementing ideas. Why not do that instead? Pretend you are going to an event, block out a few days in your diary and just go implement. Which brings more value to your business the intent to do something or physically implementing something?

Physical Cost

The actual cost of attending an event, even a free one is not insignificant. Trains, taxis, hotels, meals, drinks and of course the lost revenue you could have been earning.

Multiply that if you are taking the team. Now it starts to sting.

Potential Redundancy

If the content of these events doesn’t evolve rapidly enough to keep pace with the industry, attendees might find themselves exposed to outdated information. This raises the question: are you already behind the curve if you’re waiting for annual events to guide your strategy?

But it’s not just in the UK, Trent McLaren, Founder of Journey recently said this of Australian accounting events.

“Australian accounting events are royally f***ed.

I’m not here just to complain; we need to fix it.

The reality is stark – these current rounds of events are stale, unengaging, and frankly, a waste of time and energy.

Vendors are wasting $pend at events that accountants and bookkeepers don’t want to turn up too.

What’s worse. Is that every vendor is now contemplating running their own event and show next year.

I’ve heard this… at least 9 times in the last 3 months.

This is going to be absolute carnage next year. To many micros events, all targeting the same people. More poorly attended events.

Accountants and bookkeepers are already being served content that is frankly underwhelming and was probably recorded online on a webinar the week before.

Like you, I’m tired of the same old talks and boring networking.”

Same faces different places

Consider the current relevance of speakers’ experiences. We frequently hear from the same individuals, but it’s worth questioning when they last actively engaged in the work we do. With the industry evolving rapidly, it’s important to evaluate the usefulness of views and opinions that are even a few years old. I’m convinced we need to seek out new faces with recent stories.

When you start out in business you need to build a network so you would attend the opening of an envelope in a car park if needs were. After a while you see the same people and have the same conversations just at a different location. It gets boring and stale.

If you get a group of likeminded individuals together is creates for a sense of wellbeing that you are not alone. That others feel the same way, the same pain, the same ideologies but this can be dangerous. The rose-tinted glasses create an echo chamber. You are preaching to the converted.

When you have been around the block a few times, you’ll know that even the vendors manning the stands appreciate accounting events are more about re-connecting and refreshing existing connections than it is seeking out new ones. There is not a lot of fresh meat out there. Have we ridden the crest of the wave, and we are now just paddling in the shallow end?

Commercialisation Concerns

There’s a growing concern that accounting events have morphed into platforms for sponsors and exhibitors to push their products, overshadowing the educational and networking aspects. The risk is that the event becomes more of a sales pitch rather than a learning experience.

Accountancy events have evolved significantly, often driven by the need for revenue generation. This shift has led to a growing presence of software vendors and other sponsors. The critical question is whether this trend has overstepped, turning these events into platforms focused more on sales pitches than on providing real value to attendees.

Software vendors play a crucial role in accountancy events, often bringing the latest technological advancements to the forefront. However, there’s a delicate balance to maintain. When the emphasis shifts predominantly to product promotion, the core purpose of these events – education, networking, and professional development – can be overshadowed.

The drive for revenue through sponsorships can potentially dilute the quality of content. Events run the risk of prioritising sponsors’ interests over the educational and professional needs of attendees. This can lead to a scenario where sessions are more about showcasing products than addressing current industry challenges or providing actionable insights.

And it’s not just accountants raising questions about these events even the vendors are starting to question the sanity of so many accounting events in 2024.

Phil Hobden, Head of Strategy at Know-It had this to say on LinkedIn “This is such an odd one. No one wins here. Vendors budgets risk being stretched beyond capacity (So won’t do all, will attend without a stand as a guest or take a MUCH smaller stand across a few events), accountants just won’t be able to justify the time out of the business and the speakers will end up risking repeating content across events (thus reducing value of the events in terms of content).

And then to have three two-day events in three months? That just compounds the issue for me. And this is without factoring in if OBC runs in Feb… then you have a run of 5 straight events.

The truth is Accountex is the one with a proven ROI for most so I guess for many it will be Accountex + one other.

But this could impact attendance across ALL events, reduce ROI and thus future spend…”

This situation presents an opportunity to rethink the structure of accountancy events. Would accountants prefer a model where they pay more for registration but receive an experience with less overt commercial influence? Such a model could prioritise high-quality content, unbiased by vendor interests, potentially leading to a more fulfilling experience for attendees.

Environmental Impact

Back to the swag again but how much of that stuff ends up in landfill? Not to mention the amount of waste generated at events. On top of that you have the travel implications.

I’m no eco-warrior but this stuff is really starting to bother me. And so, it should.

In a world of abundance, is this all just getting too much.

Implementation and Real-world Impact

Actionable Takeaways

While these events can be rich in information, the real test lies in the implementation of learned strategies and tools. How many attendees actively apply the insights gained from these events to their work? Without practical application, the information remains theoretical.

How many swag notebooks do you have crammed with notes and ideas on things to implement that have never seen the light of day? Exactly. I’ve got stacks of them. I stumble across them once in a blue moon and then think “nah that was 12 months ago probably out of date by now”.

The Social Aspect

It’s undeniable that these events also serve a social purpose. We now have the pre-party, the after-party, and the in-between-party. We wonder why our partners at home see accounting events as ‘glorified parties,’ offering a break from the routine. However, the social element should not overshadow the primary objectives of learning and professional development.

Numerous professional relationships I’ve developed within the accounting field began with face-to-face meetings at industry events. I’m frequently seen ‘socialising’ at the bar, and honestly, this is where the foundation of many of my business relationships and friendships begins. For me, it all starts at the bar.

Conclusion: A Balanced Approach

Accounting events in 2024 offer a mixed bag of benefits and drawbacks. The value derived from these events depends largely on the attendee’s objectives and the quality of the event itself. While they provide an excellent platform for networking and staying abreast of industry trends, you must be selective with events that offer substantial learning opportunities and are not just commercial showcases.

The future of accountancy events may lie in finding a balance between necessary revenue generation and maintaining the integrity and quality of the content. Organisers need to consider carefully how they integrate sponsors and vendors, ensuring that while these partners play a vital role, they do not detract from the core value that attendees seek. This balance is crucial for the long-term sustainability and relevance of these events in the ever-evolving field of accountancy.

Ultimately, staying informed and adaptable is key in a field as dynamic as accounting, whether through industry events or other means. And there are plenty of other means.

At a time when I’m questioning the very fabric of events being useful there seems to be more of them popping up. What am I missing?