Why Generational differences matter for Australian compliance preparers

David CarterGeneral

Generational approaches

Change continues to happen at a massive pace in the Australian accounting compliance industry, and in this current time we have interestingly several different generations participating in the preparation of the same sets of compliance work, but using vastly different tools and different skill sets.

I was thinking the other day about an accountant that I’m in discussions with, who is somewhere north of 60. His mindset is completely different, and his approach to business is also different. When talking to different generations, I have to think back to what each generation probably encountered. Around 60 years old, he was part of the Baby boomers, born from 1946-1964. This means impacts from first television (black and white), probably radio as the main form of communications. Schools had no computers, and any accounting courses in universities also had no computers. At most there might have been a few last Baby boomers with PDP-11’s or other 132 column printing like devices (no screens here folks). Accounts were done by “T Accounts”. This was the time of the 8-inch floppy disks and IBM Mainframes such as the Systems 36 and software such as Solution 6. These guys rock at Maths.

Clients in “Generation X”, were more likely to have seen some kind of computer in their schools. Think maybe the Apple II, or one of the clones. Perhaps even a Tandy or Dick Smith. Computers had computer rooms with these devices, and storage was with 5 ¼ floppy in floppy drives. There were no real laptops to speak of until into the 90’s, and mobile phones were brick like devices that were never lost, regardless of how many martinis were consumed at Friday evening drinks. This generation is cool with computerized accounting, but still on “T Accounts”, with names such as Dataflex and Attache resonating with this generation. This generation looks at numbers in a Matrix like manner. This is also a generation that can do some serious maths without a calculator.

Clients in the “Millenials” had computers at home and school, with some even likely to have had laptops. They arrived into the workforce just as the internet hit, and probably had the first email (post 1994) with the earlier adopters probably having a Hotmail account (and probably still have it!). The early Millenials led the charge into the workforce with the arrival of the 1998 Asian meltdown and the Y2K bug. Welcome to the workforce! These are the generation that are the movers and shakers now. They are somewhere between 23 and 41, and more likely to be doing the gig thing, being an entrepreneur, and taking multiple breaks in their career. They’re doing the avocado smash, and more likely to be suffering mortgage stress, if they could even have got into the workforce. This is the workforce that adopted iphones, apps and the cloud. This generation lead the change into the cloud.

And then Gen Z, just hitting our workforces now. Completely hooked up, they’ve been staring at screens since they were born. Exposed to more screen time than any other generation before them, they’re completely ok to sift through dozens of apps. These are the people who study at the University of Youtube, and have several channels in which they seek answers to questions. They’re linkedin video masters, and actually have social media metrics. These guys are coming fast and furiously behind the Millenials, and will be the ones to watch. This generation has always had the cloud.

Here we are faced now with 4 completely different generations of Australians engaging with the same compliance workload. It’s critical to engage with, and have, multiple generational participants in your workforce, to ensure you have the best compliance offering available. Understanding your staff is the first part of allowing them to engage in a productive way in your firm.