​Xero expands machine learning features for small businesses

The New Zealand-based company has made a handful of announcements at its annual Xerocon conference in Brisbane this week.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Cloud accounting firm cum small business platform Xero has made a handful of announcements on Wednesday, including new machine learning features, an education platform, and simple compliance capabilities for small businesses.

Announced at Xerocon Brisbane 2018 was a "files required" feature, which allows advisors to identify and collect client documents in one place; a "more intuitive invoicing experience" that uses machine learning insights for each business, touted as making it easier to invoice customers and speed up time to pay; Xero email-to-bills, which expands on an existing machine learning feature for Xero bills, to extract and automatically populate details from any email PDF bill into Xero; advancements to the Xero app marketplace; and Xero Projects integration to share timesheet information.

"Xero is also transforming machine learning capabilities from wishful thinking for most small businesses, into practical features that help provide deeper insights for vital decisions," the company said.

"By tapping into machine learning for everyday small business, the platform can augment human ingenuity by automating repetitive tasks, reducing time spent collecting and entering data, and increasing the accuracy and reliability of a business' accounting data."

Xero also lifted the lid off its educational platform Xero Learn, aimed at giving small business owners, accountants, and bookkeepers financial literacy and accounting skills.

Swinburne University of Technology, University of Southern Queensland, Auckland University of Technology, Macquarie University, and AccountingPod are among the first institutions to get onboard Xero Learn.

"Xero Learn will revolutionise and future-proof the way educators teach their financial lessons," Xero chief partner officer Anna Curzon said. "By partnering with educators ... we're delivering on a joint mission to empower the next generation of accountants, bookkeepers, and business owners with in-demand skills, knowledge, and job opportunities."

The company said hundreds of students have already enrolled.

Xero also announced major updates it said enable small businesses to create a digital system of record in its software, enabling them to be compliant with new government mandates to digitise reporting.

Businesses and their advisors will soon be able to lodge business activity statements (BAS) -- from any device -- directly from Xero to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), cutting the time spent on compliance for business owners and advisors.

Xero also announced the success of its phased rollout approach for the new Single Touch Payroll (STP) product for large businesses, which is now available to all customers with more than 20 staff.

"Single Touch Payroll is a major leap ahead in the move to a digital system of record for small businesses, making it more efficient for business owners and advisors to work from a single ledger," Xero Australia MD Trent Innes said. "We're making it easier for businesses to meet their compliance requirements and build a better digital infrastructure that helps create a frictionless economy where small businesses can thrive."

For the 2018 financial year, Xero posted an after-tax loss of NZ$27.9 million. The result was much improved on FY2017, which saw the company report an after-tax loss of NZ$69.1 million.

The company reported EBITDA of NZ$26 million, a NZ$54.6 million improvement over FY17's NZ$28.6 million EBITDA loss.


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