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Welcome to our blog for TALKING NUMBERS with Paul Jansz. In this article, we share our conversation with Malcolm Ebb, the Founder and Managing Director of FeeSynergy, the no.1 provider of Debtor Management Software and Finance Solutions for accounting and legal firms in Australia and New Zealand.

The Journey So Far

Malcolm just entered his 44th year of working. He spent nearly 20 years in the General Insurance industry, moving from Sydney to Adelaide, then to Melbourne in 1995. His experience with finance software started about 23 years ago when he went from the insurance industry into a division of GE Capital. He worked in an area managing the insurance premium funding company for GE. He felt the transition to the industry wasn’t hard because he was working with insurance brokers and insurance underwriters, who were the primary originators of that finance area.

In 1998, Malcolm and his partner Miki Simonovski created a finance product called Professional Fee Finance. It was a spin-out from insurance premium funding, a very well-known finance type to accountants and lawyers. They started the product trial in Adelaide, and it took off, so they went national with that product in the late 1990s.

Later, Malcolm left to run a payroll software company. He said it was interesting because he didn’t know anything about software. Malcolm spent six years there and thoroughly enjoyed it. He recalls the very challenging area of the software was payroll.

During a phone call Malcolm was having with Miki Simonovski in 2005, Miki asked “Why don’t we start up our own finance company to do that product that we invest a lot of our time in?” That was how they started planning for FeeSynergy in 2005. It took them two years to get everything in place for Malcolm to be able to quit his job. For four and a half years, he worked from his lounge room. Back then, they had no clients, but they had a lot of contacts.

The Pain Point

The two partners realised there was a big problem in the accounting industry in terms of cash flow, but they were not sure about legal firms. They went out to their contacts and got a lot of positive feedback. They then decided to set up their own finance company to specialise in the professional fee finance product. They are very grateful that they have received lots of support from many accounting firms in both Australia and New Zealand. Then, they started looking at a technology-led solution to help these firms.

They looked at the invoice and processes and realised it wasn’t easy for clients to sort out their payments, due dates, and other details. Also, many clients never had any online payment presence, any payment gateways, or anything to help. Malcolm and Miki started to develop a solution for taking online credit card and debit card payments, which is the start of the software journey. They later pivoted to SaaS debtor management and launched their payment gateway. The product, FeeSynergy Collect was launched in Australia four years ago.

Malcolm introduced that their clients were mostly accounting firms five or six years ago. However, they started getting demands from a lot of legal firms, particularly law firms. Many of these firms were referrals from accounting firms. They also partnered with LexisNexis on the legal side.

Malcolm concluded that, in software, you should always be building to what clients want and need.

Beyond Technology

Malcolm said that now they have a lot of expertise in the accounting and legal industry. They proactively connect and integrate with systems that can help their clients. However, Malcolm emphasised the services they provide go far beyond technology, such as negotiation skills and networking opportunities.

Malcolm shared that people are all very aware of the number of apps in the current marketplace. They choose carefully which ones they can learn from or integrate with. Another fundamental question is around the area of security. Buying software, or partnering with other app providers, all start with how to ensure that it’s secure and meets all the standards and regulations.

There are many things to be considered around security. Malcolm gave some examples of questions to be asked:

  • Is the application subject to independent penetration testing?
  • Where’s the data stored?
  • What other firms are using that application, then how the reference checks went?
  • Who owns the product?
  • Who owns the IP? How did the due diligence go?
  • Who is responsible for maintenance and support in the future?

Malcolm also pointed out that, sometimes you do need a strong balance sheet to be able to support the technology.

A Piece of Advice

Malcolm recommended everyone to build a good network in their working life. Malcolm believes his network helped him a lot in his career. He suggested for people to try and build a network, then nurture it and maintain it. He also believes people can’t build a real relationship or a network through Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. Online contacts are not as same as a real-life network. He says, if you’ve got a good network of business associates or friends, then that’s what will help you through, and sometimes takes you to the next level in your career.