Xero approaches conferences with the same thirst for innovation as it does its software. The expo floor this year ditched the plastic ball pit for decorate-your-own skateboard decks with a resident artist, and a plywood half-pipe skate ramp.
(The ramp was made on site by a skate ramp designer – who knew there was enough demand to justify a whole trade?!)
One of the keynote highlights was a very emotional monologue by Craig Hudson, Xero’s general manager for New Zealand about his struggle with depression. It was one of several talks on the morning of the first day that focused heavily on culture and leadership, two favourite topics of the Xero CEO, Steve Vamos.
There wasn’t the usual blizzard of “next 90 days” feature announcements in the accounting software. Xero talked much more about the power of its data platform and how it will deliver commercially valuable insights to small business users.
There were only three announcements relating to the accounting software; recurring payments and bank feed with Stripe, a pilot of cashflow forecasting that won’t launch until early 2020, and better processing in HubDoc.
Plus a formalisation of Xero’s connection with enterprise suppliers, known as Xero Connect. All up, it shows that Xero is moving towards a bigger plan and that the accounting software is a front end for its data platform.
Read on for summaries of the main releases.
The biggest announcement by a mile was the addition of autopay for sales invoices via a deep integration with Stripe. A business can turn on autopay to receive recurring card payments for repeat billing customers directly through Xero.
Xero says that Xero businesses are sending over 1.6 million repeating invoices in Xero every month. “Imagine if all those invoices that are automatically sent, could automatically be paid.”
A native way to take recurring payments is a fantastic addition. The implementation looks excellent and, as an accountant who was involved in the beta said in the Xero blog post, it means you don’t need to use third-party apps.
Stripe data feed
Xero has added a new data feed from Stripe – a globally exclusive feature, no other accounting platform has invested the time and money with Stripe to do it, apparently. As a Stripe user I’m very happy about this one.
Back in 2017 Xero announced it had automated Stripe reconciliation for online invoices. When a Xero business added Stripe as a payment gateway and sent an online invoice to a customer, the customer’s credit card payment was automatically reconciled in Xero.
The new feed automatically recognises payment transaction data made via Stripe anywhere, whether on an invoice or in an e-commerce store. That means it will split out the Stripe fee from the payment for the product or service.
Cashflow forecasting is one of the first exhibits in the cloud ledger of the Xero platform benchmarking at work. It visually projects the user’s bank balance 30 days into the future, showing the impact of existing bills and invoices that are paid on their due dates.
It’s only a pilot and a very basic implementation – more a guideline than a useful tool for forecasting. And it won’t launch officially until “early 2020”.
The question is how far Xero will take this? Product manager Anna Curzon said that Xero is only the beginning of the functionality it will build. Certainly Xero could do more powerful forecasting than anyone else in the ecosystem because it has the most data.
I interviewed Colin Hewitt from Float, a cashflow forecasting app, at Xerocon (story coming soon), and he welcomed the addition as an excellent way to raise awareness of cashflow forecasting.
A better HubDoc
Since the acquisition a year ago, Xero has doubled the processing rate of HubDoc by improving the way in which it reads numbers from printed invoices and receipts.
Anna Curzon highlighted the information that HubDoc collects and automatically adds to invoices. Supplier name, due date, amount, GST (tax), date, invoice number – all of which appears in Xero’s SMB Insights report as a benchmark for debtor days for all businesses.
HubDoc is an app and not part of the cloud ledger, its technology is appearing in other parts of Xero, says Curzon.
“As we continue to automate the most laborious parts of the accounting workflow, we’re working towards enabling 100 percent of all data extraction to be powered by machine learning technology, as well as leveraging these capabilities in other areas of the Xero platform.”
I hadn’t heard of Xero Connect before. This is Xero’s name for the data interface that connects to enterprises that have thousands or millions of business customers. Suppliers in trades materials, stationery, fuel and so on.
Or in marketing speak: “Xero Connect automates the flow of external invoices into Xero, saving small businesses time, eliminating manual data entry, and increasing the accuracy of their invoicing and bill payments.”
Xero has been building connections with these suppliers to automatically ingest supplier invoices into Xero by attaching each to a purchase order or job number. Instead of building individual connections, Xero has an API platform that enterprises can connect to.
These networks exist in the enterprise world and are called an electronic data interchange, or EDI network. Xero is building a small business version. This should accelerate the number of enterprises globally that send bills through Xero.
At Xerocon Brisbane Curzon announced the addition of global petrochemical company BP. The BP (Plus) Fuel card in Australia and New Zealand. This works like an e-invoicing solution that sends an invoice from BP’s billing system to the customer’s Xero file, which is linked to a BP customer ID.