​Xero passes 1 million subscribers, doubles down on AI

The New Zealand-based cloud accounting firm has added just shy of 300,000 subscribers in the last 12 months, seeing its total surpass 1 million, as it 'Xeros' in on artificial intelligence.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Ten-year-old cloud accounting firm Xero has now surpassed 1 million global subscribers, scooping up 300,000 in the past year and doubling subscriber numbers in less than two years.

The New Zealand Stock Exchange and Australian Securities Exchange-listed company, headquarted in Wellington, New Zealand, now boasts subscribers across more than 180 countries.

While Xero CEO and founder Rod Drury said surpassing 1 million subscribers puts his company in a comfortable position, the company is "just getting started".

"Five-and-a-half years ago, at 50,000 subscribers, we asked shareholders to imagine our business at a million subscribers," Drury said. "We invested for the long term to build a business and ecosystem to achieve those numbers. It's very satisfying to deliver on that promise."

Xero is now focusing its efforts on the "new wave" of cloud accounting, doubling down on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, with the technologies slated to be at the forefront of its platform offerings moving forward.

"Machine learning and automation will open up the next phase of innovation in accounting, driving a transition in the industry bigger than the move to the cloud did 10 years ago. With technology doing more of the time-consuming, data entry work, we will see more accountants take on advisory and virtual CFO roles within the small businesses they support," Drury said.

Speaking with ZDNet previously, Drury said the first period of cloud accounting from Xero's perspective was taking the data on individual PCs and then building the "boring apps" that users need to perform accounting tasks. He said that at the end of that building process, 10 years on, Xero found itself having processed a trillion dollars worth of data in 2015 alone

"I think we've done the hardest bit. A lot of the risk is taken out of the business, we've got plenty of capital, we've passed a quarter of a billion annualised revenue, so we're a sustainable business here for the long haul, and we've got that customer base that's really happy and loves us, we've got a great partner channel," he said.

"We can now do the magical stuff around using that data to really drive value and even drive productivity for small business."

Xero completed its migration to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in November, leaving its legacy environment and relationship with Rackspace behind.

Speaking with ZDNet in September, Drury said he was glad he made the decision to migrate to AWS.

"If you want to be on the lowest cost to serve and get the best margin, you have to be on one of these platforms," Drury explained. "More importantly, we cleaned up that trillion dollars worth of transactions so we can now start applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to all of that data to do some cool things."

In the last 12 months, Xero has processed more than NZ$1.2 trillion in global economic activity, with Drury explaining it gives his company a unique and high-value dataset to drive insights and machine learning.

Earlier this month, Xero announced a machine learning-based automation system, touted to transform the accounting practices of small businesses and their partners, and expected to save small business customers a working month every day for each second it shaves off the average edit time.

While the technology is currently without an official title, Xero said it is designed to simplify and improve the way invoices are filed. More specifically, the technology will automatically suggest the appropriate account codes for an invoice based on past invoicing behaviour of the business owner and their advisor.

Xero made a string of new platform integration announcements recently at Xerocon South, which included a partnership with Macquarie Bank's DEFT payments system and integrated EFTPOS provider Tyro that will see the cloud accounting firm integrate with electronic bill payment system BPAY.

In August, Xero also added a PayPal Express Checkout option to its software, allowing for an invoice created via Xero to be paid through PayPal directly from the invoice. The extension of the PayPal partnership also allows Xero users to be able to track the status of outstanding invoices and receive real-time status updates when those invoices are paid.

The company also partnered with payments company Stripe in December to allow its small business users to view and pay an invoice using Apple Pay.

For the first half of the 2017 financial year, Xero reported a net loss after tax of NZ$43.9 million, off the back of a 48 percent year-on-year increase in revenue to NZ$137 million.

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