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COVID Turned A Small Chatroom For Accountants Into A Hub Of 50,000 Conversations

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that forming a community — for insight or support — is critical, even if those bonds must be forged online.

Those interactions can be cemented more easily through online platforms — especially in the work-from-home environment, and, according to Darcie Lamond, director of finance and accounting content at Airbase, especially for the financial services industry.

Airbase’s platform, she told PYMNTS in a recent interview, is tied to holistic spend management and non-payroll payables management for small- to mid-sized companies.

In recent PYMNTS coverage of the company, we noted that automating the flow across a platform also eliminates the manual processes in the back end that can lead to mistakes, slow down the month-end close, and take time away from actually running the business.

Off The Ledger  

Beyond its focus on automation and operations, the company also hosts “Off the Ledger,” a members-only Slack group geared toward accounting and financial services — and billed as “a safe space” for finance professionals in firms of all sizes to gather and have candid discussions about their professions.

As Lamond explained, “These are often fast-growing and early-stage companies. You can imagine that these groups of people are usually working fast and furiously to build infrastructure and to keep up with the demands of growth — often with constrained resources.” On the other side of the spectrum are the larger, more entrenched firms in the space, which Lamond said gives the small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) access to their larger brethren’s in-house resources — “allowing them to crowdsource their ideas and questions with people who have backgrounds in accounting, tax or regulatory issues.”

That cross-functionality and real-time expertise have generated 50,000+ conversations across the Off the Ledger offering, with more than 2,000 members, in chats that are both real-time and asynchronous. Hot topics have spanned the CARES Act (in the midst of the pandemic and PPP loans) and 1099s. More recently, she said, activity has been notable across its Software-and-Vendors channel. Participants, she explained, might seek input from members with experience using different technical research tools or how to integrate software into their general ledger.

Multiple Conversations And Expert Opinions 

“And you’ll get five, six sometimes 12 or 15 people chiming in on what to do,” said Lamond. “If someone wants to delve deeper into a topic, another member may just say ‘DM me and we’ll talk offline.’”

In reference to the members-only status, Lamond maintained that having people with “boots on the ground” in SMBs confronting issues that are germane to finance and accounting (and not, say, marketing) gives the most added value to members. Airbase reviews every application and makes sure that Off the Ledger members are dedicated professionals in real companies.

Airbase’s community manager also provides additional support to the group by arranging round table discussions among smaller subsets of the community, posting helpful resources and data, and matchmaking one-on-one relationships for members confronting similar challenges.

The “new normal,” said Lamond, may indeed see hybrid “return-to-work” models that take elements of work-from-home and in-office channels as financial services companies pivot from the pandemic. For its own part, Airbase will soon be hosting both virtual and in-person events for its members.

But as Lamond told PYMNTS: “These virtual environments allow you to expand your network beyond your ZIP code — and that’s here to stay.”

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