This is a feature story in our special series of interviews that we’re doing about the CPA Practice Advisor 40 Under 40 awards. Today, we feature Blake Oliver, CPA, blogger and senior product marketing manager at FloQast as he discusses his accounting career, technology, accounting recruitment, and the changing nature of teams. An edited transcript is below.
Tell us about yourself
Blake Oliver: I am not a traditional accountant. I was initially a musician before I got into accounting. I majored in cello performance in college. I happened to have the great luck of graduating at the start of the financial crisis. I graduated in ’07. I came out to L.A. to freelance, and to try and break into the film and music industry, recording for Star Wars and whatnot. That was my dream. Then the crisis hit, and film music is the last thing get done in a film. Usually, if the budget runs out, that’s what gets cut.
The financial crisis had an interesting effect on my career, which basically led to the automation of my job as an orchestra cellist. Even though my father-in-law is a composer here in L.A., he couldn’t get me work. What happened is that synthesizers got really good at the same time. A lot of composers, especially for TV, just started working by themselves. They didn’t need the musicians anymore.
The reason I got into accounting is that my job started to become automated. Now there’s all this automation going on in the accounting world. I’m seeing the same thing happening again. I have a unique perspective.
What drew you to accounting technology?
Blake Oliver: Well, when I was grasping at straws and trying to figure out a new career, I got into bookkeeping, because I was good with numbers and computers. I found that it was a very flexible type of job. I could do it when I wanted to. People didn’t really understand it, so I was given a lot of freedom.
I happened to get into that in about 2011, which is right around when cloud accounting started to hit its stride. I found that I loved figuring out how to piece different applications together. Figuring out how to make Bill.com work with cloud accounting software programs. Or communicate with Hubdoc and time tracking software. I thought it was fun so I guess that’s what drew me to accounting technology.
You have a passion for understanding the changing nature of teams, both at FloQast and where you’ve worked previously. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Blake Oliver: Yes. This relates exactly to my experience. First working for myself, I had my own online accounting firm. We did, primarily, bookkeeping for small businesses. Then working at Armanino as a manager in a mid-size firm, regional firm. There is a huge problem right now in the industry recruiting and keeping talent. I had this problem when I was a manager this past year. Hiring good people is hard and recruiting them is even harder. They tend to leave. It’s easier than ever for people to move firms, change jobs.
A lot of our clients would come to us because their controller had quit and gave them two weeks notice. They had no idea how they were going to find somebody else to take this job. They would come to us and say, “Can you help me? Can you do this?” Now, previously, we wouldn’t have been able to do it. Ten years ago we wouldn’t have been able to do it efficiently because we would have to go to their physical office. It would be prohibitively expensive in L.A. to send a controller level person around to all these offices.
Now, with cloud technology, we can do that from our office. We don’t have to go anywhere. We can work remotely with clients. This drives down the cost of providing that service. We were getting tons of business this way. We were providing outsourced controller services, which is a step up from what I was doing as an outsourced bookkeeper. I see this trend continuing.
The makeup of accounting teams is changing. We’re going from having a bunch of full-time people in suits in an office, to a collection of full-time, part-time, outsourced resources, contractors. It’s up to us as developers of collaboration software to figure out how to build the tools that let teams work effectively together in a virtual environment.
What do you find challenging about accounting recruitment and hiring?
Blake Oliver: Well, there’s a shortage of CPAs. I’m not an expert on that… I think it has something to do with the fact that there’s a glut of Baby Boomers, who are now retiring, that hold these positions. There’s just not enough Millennials or GenXers who got into accounting to fill those positions. Accounting wasn’t really as sexy ten years ago as it is now. It’s hard to find and fill those positions.
It’s driving up costs. The average controller, I read, only stays in their position for two-and-a-half years. Probably the biggest challenge is, when they leave, figuring out how to transfer all that knowledge to somebody else. It’s a lot easier to hire, say, a firm to do your outsourced controller work. An accounting firm will guarantee that knowledge transfer. You’re not going to be doing that every two years as a CFO or as a business owner. A lot of times, there isn’t even a CFO, because that’s prohibitively expensive.
Want to hear more from the interview with Blake Oliver? Listen to the full podcast.