Danelle Whaanga is Spotlight Reporting’s very own superwoman. Not only is she our Customer Success Manager, focused on delivering the best possible customer service to our clients, she’s also a dedicated mother of four young boys (we’re not sure how she does it). Danelle’s journey to Spotlight Reporting (and indeed, accounting) has been a winding one, but it was definitely meant to be. Her background in accounting allows her to relate to clients on a personal and professional level, and we’re proud to have her on our team.
Danelle Whaanga: Spotlight Reporting's own Superwoman
My parents were small business owners. They would discuss business issues around the family dinner table, and I grew up listening to the concerns around running a small business—staffing issues, suppliers not pulling through, financial troubles, all of it. My parents were the essential mum-and-dad business operators, and it gave me a real respect and empathy for small business owners. To this day, I really understand the challenges and rewards involved, and that’s where my passion for helping people find success comes from.
Like Matt Kekena, I never meant to be an accountant at all. I’ve always really been fascinated and motivated by people, helping them and watching them succeed, so I signed up to do Psychology and Human Resources at University. But when I told my dad, he wasn’t enthused about my choices.
“Are you going to become a psychologist?” he asked.
“No, definitely not,” I said.
“Well, what a waste of time this is,” he said.
So I did accounting, just as an added extra.
Becoming an accountant
After I graduated, I began working at a recruitment company while I figured out what I really wanted to do. My role there was to hire temporary and contract accountants, and that’s when my perception of the industry began to change. Seeing all the roles available for people with an accounting background opened my eyes to the incredible opportunities out there. I decided to get certified, and become an ACA myself.
When I first started at a practice, it was very different to what I thought it would be—I thought I’d be punching numbers and balancing ledgers all day, but in actual fact it was as least as much human as it was ledgers, if not more. Understanding them and their needs, helping them navigate through the legislation and jargon, helping them find solutions, helping them leave a legacy for their businesses and families. It was all exceptionally interesting, and it kept me in practice for about ten years.
It was during this time that the GFC hit. At the time, we had a lot of clients who were architects, including a few larger firms. We encouraged these larger firms to pick up smaller contracts, rather than chase larger contracts, so they didn’t have as much lockup on their balance sheets. Focusing on their cash flow meant foregoing the larger projects that might win awards, but small jobs got them paid faster. Out of six of these larger firms, only one had to refinance, which we considered a win.
We also had a few medium sized building and construction firms, with reasonably expensive management teams. Most of these management teams had qualified builders amongst them, so instead of making employees redundant, managers were redirected to help onsite with projects. This meant that they took a pay cut in the short term, but once things had settled down, they were able to return to their management roles and salaries.
With work slowing down, companies had more time to upskill their employees, and reconnect with their networks and peers. Over the course of the crisis, we saw junior members of teams accelerate through their professional development, because of the time their company was able to devote to their education. We also saw managers, partners, and directors themselves taking time out to get to grips with their software subscriptions. Ensuring they utilised all the features, and received maximum benefit from systems, was essential. This laid the foundation for a stronger emergence post-crisis—as the recession began lifting, and work picked up again, companies who had spent time focusing on their education were in the best position to hit the ground running.
Overall, our biggest takeaways were having shorter contracts, focusing on cash flow, reducing the lockup of work, reducing the need for external contribution, and utilising teams for maximum productivity—this is what got our clients through the recession.
Moving to Spotlight Reporting
After around a decade in an accounting firm, I decided that I needed more work/life balance. Even though I loved my job, I had a young family, and I decided that if I was going to leave them to go to work every day, I wanted that work to really resonate with me personally.
I made a list of three companies I wanted to work for, but Spotlight Reporting was my first choice. I’d been an accountant using their software, and I firmly believed in the values behind it. I’d seen firsthand what the software could do to help accountants, and the fact that it was built by accountants is what made it such a good product. The team behind Spotlight Reporting knew exactly what accountants need, because they were filling holes that they found themselves when they were in practice. I’d found that the software was invaluable, not only in its primary function, but also as an educational tool—in getting to grips with the reporting tools, junior accounts learned more about advisory work, cash flow forecasting, and building relationships with clients.
I contacted Richard and Julie (the CEO and CFO of Spotlight Reporting), who I had had previous dealings with thanks to Wellington’s close-knit accounting community, and the rest is history.
I started in April 2015 as an Account Manager for New Zealand, and threw myself into learning everything that I could. Within two years, I was promoted to the role of Customer Success Manager at Spotlight Reporting. My primary responsibility is managing our global Customer Success Team—four Customer Success Specialists working across New Zealand, Australia, the UK, South Africa, and North America. Our team ensures our customers receive the ultimate client experience, everything from onboarding through to helping through their cloud accounting journey.
This role marries together my love for people, with my passion for helping small businesses and communities succeed. Being part of a global community is incredible. I’ve come to see that accountants all over the world face similar challenges, whether they’re based in New Zealand, the UK, the US, Australia, Canada or elsewhere. My team and I are dedicated to solving the issues accountants face, and it’s been uniting to see that there have been more similarities than differences across the world.
Asides from what I do at work, most of my spare time is spent at home with my husband, and my four gorgeous boys—all under eight. At the moment, our house is very high energy, and we make a lot of noise together, but it’s really good fun. My husband and I are quite outdoorsy people, and we’ve spent our lockdown period building a treehouse in the bush in our backyard. We love being active with the kids.
I wouldn’t wish what’s happening right now on anyone. But for us, New Zealand’s lockdown has forced us to pause, and really focus on family life, slowing down, and spending time together. That’s a huge silver lining.
This piece is part of our series, “Designed By Accountants, For Accountants”, highlighting some of the key players that make up the accounting DNA of Spotlight Reporting. Their experiences created and influenced the biggest reporting tool in the ecosystem created by accountants.