ACCA member career Q&A: helping accountants unlock the potential of cloud accounting software

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Cloud accounting is one of the accountancy profession’s major disruptors. It’s reshaping what an accountant can do for a business by opening up a world of real-time data. It means accountants can get truly see and then get involved with the health and performance of a business, allowing them to offer more and better advice and to pull interesting stories from the data.

But there is so much new technology being developed and so much data, it can be difficult to keep up. To this end, the technology developers need to educate their accountant and business clients on how to use the software and unlock its potential.

In steps Helen Barraclough FCCA, global education manager - customer success at leading cloud accounting software developer Xero.

ACCA Careers: Can you describe your role?

Helen Barraclough: In global education, we create content in various formats such as eLearning, video and webinar delivery. This role has seen many changes over the years, which is one of the most exciting parts about it. I'm very lucky to lead a team of eight people (we call ourselves Xero's) based all over the world. My job involves supporting the team, helping them to manage any barriers they face with their projects, and ensure that we produce high quality content that meets the needs of our global customers. 

I work closely with education and content leaders and other stakeholders around the world to create and deliver on the education and content strategy. Education is an integral part of our wider company strategy, so we're constantly looking at how we can improve the service we offer.

AC: It sounds like a very modern role for an accounting and finance professional, one that might not have existed not too long ago, and for a company like Xero that is a key part in the profession's modernisation and digital transformation. Is this an important part of your role, being an ambassador for cloud accounting?

HB: Most certainly. However, this is an important part of everyone's role at Xero. We all truly believe in the value that cloud accounting brings to our customers, whether they're accountants and bookkeepers, or business owners. Education is an important part of showing the value of our platform and how cloud accounting can empower businesses to grow, be secure online and become environmentally sustainable. 

Six years ago, we might have been considered as progressive in the creation of a global education team, however, it has enabled us to become more efficient as a wider team, and helped us to provide a consistent message to our customers no matter where they are in the world.

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AC: What technical and soft skills are vital to being a global education manager?

HB: It's important to have an understanding of the industry and the customer base. I've leant on my knowledge as an accountant on many occasions during my time in this role, and hold this skill in high regard. This can of course be picked up on the job if you're changing industries and applying your skills somewhere new. 

People and project management skills are crucial. I mention them together as they're intertwined in the type of work we do as a team. Working with a team in many locations can add complexities as a people manager, it requires a high level of trust in your team. Without that, it can foster an uncomfortable environment for the team as a whole, not just you and that particular employee. 

At Xero we live by five company values, which are as important as the work we do. Team and human are the stand out ones for me and in my opinion are the most important skills as a people leader. You lead the team, but you're also part of the team. There's no place for hierarchy when we're all working towards a common goal. Always be human. Build relationships with your team, empower them on their journeys of development and be there to support them whenever they need you. 

I've picked up many skills during my time in this role and I'm still learning every day.

AC: How did you get into this line of work?

HB: The role encapsulates two of the main aspects of my background, working in practice and teaching accounting. I started off at Xero in the partner consulting team, supporting our accounting and bookkeeping partners coming on to the platform. From the day I applied for the job at Xero and signed up for a trial, I was bowled over by the product and company as a whole. There's nothing more exciting than seeing someone who is passionate, it's one of the sparks I look for when interviewing candidates for my team. 

AC: Where can it lead people in their careers?

HB: I'd say there are a number of paths. You could apply your project management skills in other global roles, or apply education management skills in other industries. Consider the parts of the role that have been most enjoyable and focus on those.

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