As a finance futurist, Nunzio Giunta CPA has embraced technological changes in his industry, but he also looks forward to a new era for finance, in which emotional intelligence and sound communication are upheld as much as analytical expertise.
At a glance
- Nunzio Giunta CPA’s career in finance spans three decades. He was one of the first accountants to start using MYOB software in the mid-1990s.
- As accounting software began to evolve rapidly, Giunta was part of the team that developed one of the first smart portable invoicing solutions for the Australian market.
- Giunta believes increasing automation within accounting and finance will not replace jobs, but elevate accountants’ value-adding potential.
If you were to ask business futurists what they do, they would probably say that their main role is to prepare their clients for disruption, which continues to upend industries, change employment opportunities and challenge the status quo.
Nunzio Giunta CPA is one of the world’s top 10 global finance futurists as chosen by software firm Sage, and recently won the title of Not-for-profit Accountant of the Year at the Accountants Daily Australian Accounting Awards 2021.
However, if you think Giunta is an aloof, technology-obsessed apostle of the future, you couldn’t be more off the mark.
Giunta, who runs Brisbane-based accounting firm Giuntabell, has been named a “futurist” not for his clairvoyance, but for his care.
Sage headlines Giunta as a “mindful philosopher” and a leader who embraces constant evolution. Its list, Sage says, is made up of “more than number-crunchers, representing a new era for finance – one defined by a shift from pure analytical expertise to emotional intelligence and strong communication skills”.
Giunta downplays the “futurist” moniker, but, in light of his career in accounting and finance, which spans three decades, it makes perfect sense.
He was among the first accountants to realise the advantages of – and apply – the then-basic accounting MYOB software when it entered the market in the mid-1990s. Giunta foresaw how this kind of software could be used not just by the big accounting heavyweights, but also by the smaller accounting firms and for their SME clients.
“We saw this whole transition coming through. We knew that accounting software was out of reach for small business until that point in time,” Giunta says.
“There were products like MYOB and QuickBooks coming to the market, and we did our research. MYOB would be the product that would take off, and it was.”
When he recognised the potential of these new-fangled number-crunchers, Giunta saw a career opportunity for himself.
“I became a MYOB-certified consultant, and we became one of their premier consultants in terms of implementing MYOB for their customers.”
It was a fortuitous time to be at the early stages of accounting software evolution. Giunta and his partners at the time made the decision to follow this IT “explosion” just as the internet services in Australia were also rapidly expanding. This is an early case of Giunta seeing the future and running with it.
Staying ahead of the curve
An interesting aspect of Giunta’s career is that it has been built entirely on the power of his own decision-making. He has never worked for an accountancy firm, either large or small, and his career moves have been entirely self-driven. If he wanted to be successful, he had to stay ahead of the curve.
“If you think about it, I’ve never had a job where I was getting paid a wage and salary, so for me it was always about doing things differently. I had to see where the market was going,” Giunta says.
By the late 1990s, with software evolving at a rate of knots, Giunta saw another opportunity. One of his biggest customers, an ice distribution company, found itself frustrated by the manual inputs needed to complete dockets.
“They came to us and said, ‘Look, we’ve got 10 drivers on the road that are doing manual docket invoices. And we’ve got three staff that are keying that information in. Is there any way of being able to record that information electronically and have that entering the software?’.”
In response, Giunta and his colleagues soon developed one of the first smart portable invoicing solutions for the Australian market, which could be used on the most sophisticated device of its time, the PalmPilot. The portable invoicing could then be synchronised with and imported into MYOB software.
The solution was later licensed to MYOB as “Pocket Accounts”. It was the beginnings of a system that allowed firms to invoice a customer on the spot.
“This was our product, which was branded, and it really catapulted us into the next part of the business, of focusing solely on developing mobile sales solutions for the Australian market. We ended up having customers all around the globe as well,” Giunta says.
People over products
Giunta and his software partners were offered government grants for a venture capital scheme, and investors were lining up. By 2006, he and his partners were in talks with companies to scale up the Pocket Accounts idea and launch it in the US.
However, the idea of being in the US for long periods of time, away from his young family, did not appeal to Giunta.
“It’s all-consuming being an entrepreneur and working through that. I just made the decision that my family was more important. That’s when I decided to resign as the CEO of that business.”
Giunta was seeing the future in terms of people rather than products. In his day-to-day accounting life, he had been involved with a number of not-for-profits (NFPs) and charities, and he preferred working with them to working with investors.
Many NFPs and charities lacked governance and financial savvy. They needed to be supported, Giunta realised.
“I understand what people fear about automation. It’s the fear of losing their job, or the fear of being replaced. But I actually feel it gives you the ability to elevate your job and add more value.”
“A lot of them would get themselves into trouble, because they simply didn’t understand the fiduciary responsibilities of running an NFP or a charity, and so their taxes wouldn’t be paid on time, or they wouldn’t pay the staff properly.”
When management and directors found out they could be personally liable for mistakes, they would simply quit and walk away.
In response, Giunta formed Giuntabell in 2009 and became a “charity CFO for hire”, well before the idea of a roving CFO became popular.
“The charity sector – even small charities – is required to comply with complex regulations, giving rise to the need to have support from skilled, trusted advisers. Unfortunately, they cannot afford a highly skilled adviser full time,” Giunta says.
“There were several organisations I was supporting, and I could transfer knowledge between all of them. It’s as if they were all sharing me, and yet they felt they were getting the value of a single experienced CFO.”
The difference between working with commercial clients and NFPs was like night and day, says Giunta. Paradoxically, Giunta found that the latter always paid on time – they were grateful for his help – while the former would often need chasing for payment.
“In the not-for-profit sector, they actually value what you provide. You’d think they’d be the ones who cause you trouble because they’re not always good with their finances. But it’s the reverse.”
CPA Library resource:
Implementing value pricing: a radical business model for professional firms. Read now.
One of the things that Giunta admits he may have missed out on in his career is a mentor. He has never worked for a boss, and thus he has never worked for someone who could have directly given him advice.
While Giunta says most of what he has learned along the way has been instinctual, there have been some important writers and thinkers in the mix who influenced and guided him indirectly.
These include Simon Sinek, whose TED Talks inspired Giunta to set up his company as an agency for NFPs. “It came to the point where I realised that I preferred working with amazing people doing amazing things on a volunteer basis. I just felt closer to these people. I resonated with them,” he says.
Another key influence was a book by Ronald J. Baker, Implementing Value Pricing, which helped Giunta turn the usual accountancy payment-for-service model on its head. At Giuntabell, he says, no one keeps time sheets. Payment is project or value-based, never time-based.
His aim now is to tailor packaged services for charities large and small, and for his business to become the go-to accountancy firm for the country’s philanthropic sector.
“We want to be able to grow to a point where we’re actually being able to offer our services to as many charities and not-for-profit organisations in Australia as we can.”
As Giunta says, the more accountancy functions can be automated, the more affordable his services will be, and the more clients he can take on. This, he feels, is what will drive real value in the future.
Automate to elevate
Giunta has no doubt that the accounting and finance industry will be made better, more accessible and more useful through increased use of robotics and automation.
“I understand what people fear about automation,” he says. “It’s the fear of losing their job, or the fear of being replaced. But I actually feel it gives you the ability to elevate your job and add more value.”
Nor would robots or automation ever replace the accountant as a trusted adviser, he adds. “The skills set will just move. To live in that new world, you need to have better skills than before. The skills to be trusted.”
Roles and recognition
- Managing partner, Giuntabell
- Member of the Australian Taxation Office’s Not-for-profit Stewardship Group
- Member of the Australian Accounting Standards Board’s Not-for-profit Project Advisory Panel
- Chair of CPA Australia’s Queensland Not-for-profit Committee
- Not-for-profit Accountant of the Year, Accountants Daily Australian Accounting Awards 2021
- One of the world’s top 10 finance futurists, in Sage’s inaugural list of finance futurists (2020)