Welcome to Bangkok! Accounting Play is on yet another journey to discover the latest trends not only in accounting app development, but outsourced solutions. Meet Pransform – a Thailand-based company that focuses exclusively on assisting public accounting firms performing small business tax and accounting work. Small business is near and dear to my heart, as well as my firm, Gillingham CPA. Let’s explore my in-person visit, thoughts, and FIVE hour meeting.
Bangkok. The mention of the word previously conjured imagery of a developing nation – wrought with overpopulation problems and pioneers of “sporting events” not fit for print or thought. But what is the business reality of this place? There is an entrepreneurial spirit throughout the city, from the 24-hour street carts all the way up to the highest floors of the many office towers that obscure the sky from view. Pransform, on the 27th floor of one such tower, employs 40 diligent Indian and Thai accountants to address their clients’ accounting needs.
A client of mine introduced me to Pransform’s owner, Mr. K. My client had used Pransform for some accounts payable work, and suggested I check out their operation while I was in town. As always, I was traveling for both work and pleasure, so I jumped at the opportunity. Mr. K graciously arranged to pick me up from my hotel, take me to lunch, and show me around their office.
Mr. K’s car arrived after multiple courteous and timely text message updates-- so many that I had to kindly ask them to STOP TEXTING (those international roaming messages put a strain on this accounting player’s budget). Lunch started smoothly. Mr. K brought his partner Vish with him, and they both started lunch with a beer, but I stuck with water (I was all business that day). Mr. K posed the question, “So John, why are you here?” I gave him the pitch: my firm, the apps, and whatever else I could think of to engage my host. As I wrapped up my spiel, I paused for effect, then made eye contact and asked, “iOS or Android?” They met my straightforward question with confused glances and silence, so I reached casually across the table, grabbed their phones and loaded them up with my apps.
Our food arrived, but eating was the last thing on my mind as I pontificated on various topics: apps, travel, CPA stuff, San Francisco, more travel. Once I finished explaining my various experiences and endeavors, I finally asked, “And you?” It was then that Mr. K put me to shame. Among his family’s ventures were jewelry, office space, IT consulting, accounting, and (wait for it) A POWER PLANT.” That really threw me for a loop, and I had sooo many questions. However, the focus of the conversation was accounting, so I forced myself to press on. Mr. K was a businessman, not a bean counter. I then realized that Vish was the super-accountant.
Vish ran the technical show and started to casually tell me what they did for around 50 firms. Pransform had no procedures of their own, but rather aimed to follow the procedures of their clients. It sounded chaotic to me, but it was working for them. This setup seemed far different from other “outsourced tax prep” nightmare solutions that I had heard about before. When I asked about security, Vish informed me that they have a full-time security manager and that their office has cameras everywhere. Their flexible system allowed each of their clients to essentially call their own shots. It was a really interesting business model. By that time we’d polished off ten dishes of delectable Thai food, and they invited me on a tour of one of their coworking spaces and the Pransform office. I eagerly accepted, of course.
After less than 24 hours in Bangkok, I found myself touring the city’s latest coworking spaces with two razor sharp businessmen. The joys of location-independent self-employment! Mr. K informed me that the startup scene was emerging quickly as we walked around the popular “hacker space,” where sticky notes adorned the wall next to motivational posters. It was a scene straight out of Silicon Valley, but halfway around the world! To my suprise, Mr. K explained that entrepreneurialism is vibrant in “S-E-A” (South-East Asia). Large capital infusions like The Valley’s unicorns receive may not be as abundant, but plenty of companies are striving for it. Our next stop was Pransform headquarters.
I took note of Bangkok’s decentralized cityscape as we drove from one office to the next. I saw large business and mixed-use skyscrapers everywhere, but they weren’t built on top of each other (not yet at least). We entered the office and added our kicks to the organized mountain of customarily removed shoes that greeted us in the lobby. The office space felt more like a library than an accounting firm, with nothing adorning the walls. I must have looked a bit alarmed, because Vish quickly explained the simplicity of the space was “so they can focus better.” As someone who quit my job after they told me to stop wearing headphones, I was irked by the rigid starkness of the space.
In our fifth hour together, we sat across from each other in a Pransform conference room. We talked in-depth about Accounting Play resources that teach CPA workpaper organization and how Pransform could use some of the training.
Their offering seemed too good to be true: an outsourced solution of nice, hardworking, and trustworthy people, all for a fraction of the cost of other accounting services firms. What could this mean for my companies and future? Or my clients? We eventually ran out of things to say and wrapped up the meeting.
Here are some thoughts and concerns:
Quality of work and experience of staff
-Foreigners doing USA tax and accounting work always is a bit off, but their team is likely very competent in basic areas
-Though I was initially concerned by their lack of formal procedures and organization, the visit to their office alleviated my worries. They had cameras everywhere!
Pricing and client approval
-It’s important for Pransform’s clients to understand what they’re getting. They offer something different from USA-based CPA firms, so transparency is extremely important.
-That said, I figure a similar USA staff might be four times the cost of working with a firm like Pransform
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the hospitality and what I perceived as an honest, long-established company that aims to please, not change procedure.
Only time will tell about the industry’s future. For accounting students in the USA today, this trend is not a new one and is both the beauty and the beast. It is increasingly difficult for students and new grads to get first-hand experience, precisely due to companies like Pransform and the ever-increasing cost of domestic employees. For this reason, I advocate practical curriculum along with accounting theory so that firms can confidently hire, even without the most basic training. Of course, Accounting Play is going to bridge that gap.
Thanks to Pransform for the hospitality and help with my client. The future of accounting and accounting education will be closely related to outsourced work. So beware, educate yourself wisely if you are interested in this profession.