From XU Magazine, 
Issue 21

John Connolly on Life as Chief Product Officer at Receipt Bank

Receipt Bank is expanding fast and showing no signs of slowing. In September, they launched their most requested feature to date, Sales Invoices, alongside Line Item Extraction and Bank Match. We chat to John Connolly, Receipt Bank’s Chief Product Officer (CPO), to see what life is like inside the company changing the lives of bookkeepers and their clients for good…
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I started my involvement with accounting during bookkeeping lessons at school, learning to write E&OE at the bottom of every page before I wrote a single figure. I confidently explained to my teacher that I’d never need to know any of this. I was going to be a scientist,” begins John. We speak on a rainy September morning in Shoreditch, where Receipt Bank is headquartered.

“It surprised me perhaps more than most that I found my home in bookkeeping. There have been many clues in my family history; my great aunts used to run a school for comptometer operators. Bookkeeping is in the blood.”

“Yet, I should say I came to this industry through scientific publishing. So I didn’t completely lie to my secondary school teacher (hello Miss Lester if you’re reading).”

John joined Receipt Bank in February 2018 after spending almost two decades in the healthcare, travel and science industries; industries that John describes as those that “collectively help to keep you alive and make your life worth living”. Does Receipt Bank buck the trend? Quite the contrary.

“There is a joy to doing something well. Pushing the boundaries. That’s what I want to do. It’s what I want you to do too.”

“I’m happy to leave planes, trains and automobiles to somebody else. I also tend to joke that we are in healthcare…as true healthcare is about avoiding bad health, not curing the sick. I believe that Receipt Bank, along with all of the advisors that use it, can do more for people’s mental health and free time than possibly anything else I could give value to.”

“We cannot and should not underestimate the impact of financial insecurity, whether that’s the hours of lost sleep or stress it brings into our homes. When the majority of people work for small businesses, there’s a potential to change the lives of tens of millions of people. The megalomaniac in me wants to be a part of that.”

And on Receipt Bank, John likens it to a “bridge between two people with very different needs, desires and areas of interests, a bridge that helps them love working together. It’s something that lets people focus on what they’re good at. Whether that’s being a physiotherapist, running a plumbing company or taking care of people’s books – maybe even giving them some great advice to boot.”

Indeed, the way that we manage admin has been crying out for disruption for years.

“I believe between one to three days a month are currently spoiled by doing, fearing or avoiding admin. I hope to at least take the sighs out of those three days, and maybe even fill them with smiles,” says John. “For instance, rather than having to pull invoices from suppliers manually, you can fetch them automatically with a tool like Invoice Fetch.
“While this might seem incredibly self-serving, I’ve had more people at dinner parties smile when I say that I work at Receipt Bank than any other company I’ve worked at.”

On the role of a Chief Product Officer

John leads a team of more than sixty people worldwide, driving the development of products that meet the needs of everyone who works in and with small businesses.

“As Receipt Bank’s CPO, I lead a ‘product’ team. If sales sell ‘it’, marketing market ‘it’ and engineering build ‘it’, product decides what ‘it’ is. We are the diplomat, the middle child. We try to bring everyone together so that when we finally launch, it’s to everyone’s benefit.”

This collaboration and human centricity is reflected in John’s approach to leadership.

“I was lucky early on to work with some genius people (borderline mad) who made me expect the best from work and great things from my career. This drove me to be ambitious and kind. Business is all about people. Even our machine learning is built by people. When you need to make tough decisions, you can still do them with an appreciation of everyone’s humanity.

“In fact, the proudest moment in my career so far has been here. As you become more senior in the product space, the product you build shifts. It moves from the product in someone’s pocket to a team that can build those amazing products. I now look at my team and see that they work really well together. We’ve learned to grow together.

“People really want to know that what they’re doing is good. That it is good for society, good versus competitors and good for using and growing their talents as part of a team and company. You need a culture that promotes great work rather than gets in the way of it.”

On automation and machine learning

Time-saving and efficiency is key to Receipt Bank’s popularity. With a care bordering on obsession over the details, Receipt Bank now turns everything from bank statements to receipts plus cost and sales invoices into accurate data. They process around ten million documents a month with an average turn-around time of just nine minutes. Yet, that’s just scratching the surface.

“I love how Optimize, our most advanced product, takes the nagging out of a client partner relationship by helping you identify and obtain missing paperwork; or how you can automatically extract line items from digital receipts and invoices to offer clients a flexible, detail-focused service. It’s this level of automation that we’re striving for – the kind that makes your everyday interactions more meaningful.”

“If we do this right, more people than ever can be supported by a brilliant advisor. And in turn, those advisors can truly shine,” says John.

Does John see automation as a threat to the accounting and bookkeeping profession?

“When we first invented the calculator, I’m sure we thought it would remove accountants altogether. Then came Excel, then came general ledger software. We often misunderstand where the true value is. That value is in the reassurance and the skills that another person can bring to bear. It’s in software recognising duplicate transactions before they appear, so you can publish paperwork to coded transactions in just one click.”

And he’s right. One thing that surprised him since joining Receipt Bank has been the love and care shown by accountants and bookkeepers.

“It shines through every conference I go to and every interaction I have,” says John. “Accountants and bookkeepers look after an enormous segment of our economy. They help people who go into business not because they necessarily wanted to be in business, but because they wanted to practice their craft or follow a dream. It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling that I never expected to have.”

Developing a holistic one-stop solution

Last month, Receipt Bank launched the first installment of Sales Invoices, a feature that brings the world-class data extraction of cost invoices to the world of sales invoices. Just four weeks into the launch, more than 100,000 sales invoices were submitted. Just over 30% of those were published to Xero.
“Long before launching something, we spend all of our time obsessing about what a bookkeeper and their client might love. What do they say they want, what do they need, what’s easy to adopt and what’s worth learning? This process involves nearly everyone in our company in a shared obsession.

“It lines up with our desire to take care of all of your paperwork and become a more holistic, solution. We are also very lucky to live in an ecosystem of brilliant interconnected solutions. We benefit from the focus of other companies and vice versa.”

Describing what’s next for Receipt Bank, John breaks the fourth wall. “You know that my own product team would beat me if I tipped our hat too early.”

“What I can say is: more obsession with bookkeepers. More assistance with workflows. More ease of use for clients and yourselves. And greater help in freeing up even more time to focus on what you love doing.”

About Receipt Bank

Receipt Bank is the world’s leading pre-accounting tool for accountants, bookkeepers and small business-owners. We digitise receipts and invoices to track, process and manage financial data in real-time so you can work smarter, grow faster and go further

Why leave it there?

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