Banner image for Scaling New Heights 2024, the premier accounting technology conference in the United States. The image features the conference theme and dates.

Scaling New Heights 2024: Day 2 Recap

Posted by Matt Raebel on Jun 18, 2024 3:00:10 PM

Day two of Scaling New Heights 2024 had some attendees “Boldly Go”-ing to multiple early morning “power breakfast” presentations before the rest of the day’s sessions started. Between most of the power breakfast sessions and the rest of the day's events, Monday was the most densely packed day in terms of presentations and training content.

Morning presentation on the main stage

Joe Woodard took the stage once again after the morning’s sessions to kick off another round of main stage talks. This time, Woodard’s own Patricia Hendrix, executive vice president of Woodard communities.

Hendrix discussed the importance of changing from the traditional accounting mindset—where accounting and bookkeeping are lumped into the same bucket as financial planning and analysis (FP&A), and all the other complex tasks that CAS professionals often perform for clients but don’t charge for.

Woodard and Hendrix discussed the trends and obstacles in the accounting services industry. Hendrix observed that while it has taken accountants a long time, they are beginning to realize that they need to charge what their services are truly worth. She described the process of examining what services your firm offers, breaking them down into smaller components, and pricing them appropriately.

Hendrix said that the biggest obstacle facing CAS professionals is their own mindset. Accountants think they can do it all—accounting, bookkeeping, controllership, etc.—and charge a flat rate. Hendrix argued that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

She said that this is a crucial step for firms that want to increase their capacity, along with delegating, automating, outsourcing, and upskilling their existing teams. Once their services are priced correctly, she said that firms will have the bandwidth to learn new skills and expand their practices.

Controllership panelists

controllership-panelistsPictured left to right: Joe Woodard, Dan Luthi, Yashwanth Madhusadan, Dawn Brady, and Merry Ferry.

Following Hendrix’s presentation, four panelists—Ignite Spot’s Dan Luthi, Dawn Brady of Essential Bookkeeping Solutions, Mary Ferry of Advantage Insights, and Fyle’s Yashwanth Madhusadan—came on stage to discuss controllership.

The all-star group of panelists talked about the process of helping clients manage their financial and accounting operations. They said asking lots of questions is critical for understanding what the client wants, especially if they aren’t sure how to get from Point A to Point B.

For example, Brady discussed a situation where a client of hers began selling wholesale items during the pandemic. They had an opportunity to work with an entity that was bigger than they expected, and they had concerns about having the capacity to work with them. Brady described how she sat down with them and helped them figure out what to do; today, she said, her client was still working with that large business while their own wholesale business was thriving.

Of course, the group also covered the role that artificial intelligence (AI) will play in the future of accounting service practices. Madhusadan pointed out that while AI is “great at summarizing things” and performing routine tasks, it is unlikely to replace human intelligence. “It will help the subject matter expert, but it will not replace the subject matter expert,” he said.

Valerie Heckman—OnPay

Accountant Community Manager Valerie Heckman was up next. The topic of her talk was how to practice enthusiasm. Before long, she demonstrated her expertise on the subject, and the audience quickly became enthusiastically engaged with her energetic presentation.

She talked about how, although many professionals are driven to adopt changes, there is a certain tendency to want to keep one’s head down.  “Over time, it may seem like enthusiasm is for other people and not for you,” she said.

She pointed out that neurological and psychological research has proven that enthusiastic people are better problem-solvers. She suggested some ways to begin being more enthusiastic, including practicing mindfulness, cultivating community, and building new things—doing things that “aren’t so passive.”

She also suggested that, instead of a stressful “to-do” list, it can be helpful to create a “ta-da!” list, or a list of things that you have done that were successful, to energize you and fuel your enthusiasm.

Ben Richmond—Xero

The next presenter was Ben Richmond, U.S. country manager at Xero. Richmond’s talk focused on best practices for using AI, which was one of this year’s hottest topics.

Richmond stressed the importance of checking for biased or inaccurate information when generating content with AI tools. He argued that final review and any other ultimate decisions should always be made by a human. He also stressed the need to understand the privacy and security implications of any AI-driven tool for accounting professionals.

Keynote presenter: Jeff Seibert, Founder and CEO of Digits


Following Richmond’s talk, the session’s keynote speaker began his presentation. Today it was Jeff Seibert, founder and CEO of Digits (among several other firms), and a former Twitter executive. Seibert is also known for his role as a subject matter expert in the Netflix series, “The Social Dilemma.” 

Seibert took the stage and announced to his audience—mostly consisting of CAS professionals—that he was there to explain “how accounting is broken.”

To clarify, his presentation began by examining the myriad ways in which accounting tech is fraught with design flaws, glitches, and even basic language issues. 

Building on Richmond’s earlier presentation, Seibert transitioned into a discussion about AI: what it can do, and what it can’t do.

Seibert gave a list of functions AI can perform reliably, including generative models, predictive models, and autonomous agents—self-guided computer programs that are self-critical of open-ended tasks.

Seibert said what it can’t do could fill a long list of important business functions, including strategy, providing tax advice, and math. Yes, math. 

“Do not ask AI to do math,” Seibert said.

Seibert closed out his presentation by asking the most hot-button question regarding AI: “Will it replace us?” Seibert said the answer was a firm ‘no.’ 

“AI only knows what we tell them,” he said. “You can never take humans out of the loop.”

Monday breakout sessions

Day two of Scaling New Heights featured a fresh smattering of insightful, informative, and frequently entertaining talks and training sessions for attendees to sink their teeth into. Here are a couple of examples.

Crawl, Walk, Run: Getting up to Speed with AI in Your Accounting Firm

Rightworks’ Labs Innovation Strategist Aaron Van Ruler, in this very well-attended power breakfast session, set out to educate the crowd about AI's capabilities and how best to implement it at Scaling New Heights. Nearly 300 participants attended. 

One of the major use cases for artificial intelligence that Van Ruler discussed was expanding the expertise of a firm’s workforce. As an example, he suggested that AI tools can be used to help train junior staff. He described a hypothetical scenario where a junior accountant who didn’t know what to look for in a month-in report was given a report completed by a senior staff member and then told to do what the senior just did. Van Ruler explained that AI tools can help train junior staff by showing them what to look for on such a report with granular detail, scaffolding their learning process, and giving them first-hand experience in complex tasks.

Crazy Tax Cases

Eric Green headed a fascinating look at some of the “craziest” tax cases in recent history. Each example promised to take participants on a wild ride through various criminal enterprises, big and small. The subjects included drug dealers, a Kuwaiti billionaire, and Joe Francis, an infamous figure known for, among other things, the “Girls Gone Wild” video series.

In the latter case, Green told some of the most outrageous stories of Francis’ life, including 2007 charges for more than $20 million in false corporate tax deductions, unpaid Federal taxes for 2002 and 2003, and hiding money in offshore bank accounts.

Although he was convicted, he did not go to trial for a while—because he was already in jail for separate felony charges. 

The goal of the talk was to use each case to help the audience identify the arguments tax protestors try to use to get out of paying taxes, understand the definitions of necessary and ordinary expenses for income, and explain the role of perjury and criminal evasion in IRS collection. 

Afternoon Main Stage Presentation

The day’s festivities culminated in an hour-long afternoon talk on the show’s main stage. First up was MetaConsultant Ed Kless, who spoke on “healing leadership.”

Kless’s talk was about leadership styles—what works, what doesn’t—and how they intersect with the mental health of leaders and those being led.

Too often, he said, leaders focus on “fixing” problems once they arise, assuaging their teams' episodic anxieties and returning them to the status quo. He also talked about being able to separate one’s mental and emotional state from those surrounding the self and self-regulating one’s emotional state while maintaining clarity about one’s principles and vision.

Gary DeHart—Insightful Accountant Awards

This session ended with a presentation by Gary DeHart, publisher and managing partner of Insightful Accountant. 

DeHart hosted a recognition ceremony for the winners of the Insightful Accountant ProAdvisor Awards. He explained that he took time to celebrate their achievements while bringing them on stage one by one. 

Topics: Scaling New Heights


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