BIG PERSONA STORY | Liis Laanesaar: Estonian accounting landscape needs to be refreshed

Free, light, modern, innovative, but still within its own limits – you can only approach accounting like this if you love it, says Liis Laanesaar.

Over the years, Liis Laanesaar has worked as an accountant and auditor in the audit and accounting field. The team led by Liis employs more than 20 people located all over Estonia. There are more than 200 companies in the customer base, divided between thirteen accountants and four financial managers.

Sport has played a key role in personality development

“Sport has been a part of my life for a long time and has played a big role in shaping my personality,” she says. “From an early age, I loved to run very fast and compete. I’ve won numerous medals in county and national competitions, and for a time I was also the Estonian record holder in the 4 × 100 metres relay.
Hurdles and 200 metres were the closest to my heart. I’ve also competed in volleyball, swimming and tennis. I’ve always liked to set new goals and never set limits for myself. It keeps me motivated. Everything is possible if you dream and act.”

Everything is possible if you dream and act.

Liis Laanesaar
CEO of Services OÜ

Liis acquired basic education in Märjamaa and went on to study at the Audentes Sports School. After graduating from upper secondary school with a silver medal, she was awarded a scholarship for good academic and sporting results and continued her studies at University Audentes. Later, Liis continued her studies at the Estonian Business School, where she obtained a Master’s degree, which she highly appreciates.

Liis is known to her friends and acquaintances as a determined and responsible person. “It’s happened time and time again that when life has brought me moments when it was necessary to find someone who would take the responsibility for the success of a project, venture or event, I’ve happily raised my hand,” she says. “Over time, I’ve also learned to stay in the background a bit. Seven years of top-level sports have given me good discipline and routine tolerance, as well as the ability to set goals.” For Liis, it’s always been important to do things thoroughly and properly, and to give her best.

A passion for numbers that dates back to childhood

Liis became interested in accounting as a child. “What I particularly like about it is that numbers are logical and systematic – it’s very interesting to me,” she says. “I love numbers and the orderly picture that numbers create. Even as a small child, I helped my shopkeeper father count the cash, weigh the goods and complete orders. My father’s mobile shop was my childhood playground, where I could satisfy my passion for the magical numbers. My father often asked me to serve customers both in the mobile shop and in the café he opened at various sporting events. He trusted me completely in financial matters since I was little.”

“When I went to University Audentes, I chose strategic financial management as my specialty, and it has accompanied me to this day,” she recalls. “I also started working alongside my studies and got more and more involved in the field. As there are several generations of accountants and auditors in our family, there was really nothing new or difficult about the choice of profession for me.” Liis really has always taken like a duck to water when it comes to numbers.

First work experience

“When I was in university, I started doing accounting for my uncle, and from there I moved on to PricewaterhouseCoopers Estonia as an auditor,” says Liis. “I gained some great experience during my five years there and wanted to try something new. I decided to start working as an individual auditor. However, after working in this role for a few years, I discovered that the market for accounting services in Estonia is not covered and there’s a shortage of good accounting service providers on the market. There were many service providers, but they often gave no thought to how they provided it.” As her suggestions were repeatedly disregarded by the management when she was working as an individual auditor, there came a moment when she felt that account was the area where she could see her professional development.

“The field of work was and still is big, and that’s great,” she adds. “I still have this
desire to do something big! It hasn’t left me over the years, it’s only grown.”

Work challenges have led to further progress

However, achieving results has also meant overcoming difficulties and finding the strength to keep moving forward, even in the most difficult moments. The biggest challenge for Liis has been how to find people for her team who really love accounting and the world of numbers, and whose mindset is similar to hers. In order to do this, she has developed a clear plan for bringing in new people. employs more than 20 people from all over Estonia. “Accountants are located all over Estonia, which is facilitated by the possibility to work remotely,” she says. “So you could say that also promotes life outside the capital.”

There are more than 200 companies in the customer base, divided between thirteen accountants and four financial managers. There are companies that have a legal body in Estonia and companies located in other countries. So it’s often necessary to handle the cross-group accounting of companies.

Free, light, modern, innovative, but still within its own limits – you can only
approach accounting like this if you love it.

Liis Laanesaar
CEO of Services OÜ

“Over the years, I’ve repeatedly asked myself: who do I want to be as an entrepreneur? Many professional service providers have based their companies on personality cults, but I’ve never wanted that – ideas must ignite people. I wanted people with the same mindset to come together under one banner. We had a long discussion in the office about what this name should be, but finally I realised that I needed to bring in experts and made the investment. I took out a loan and used it to have a brand designed, which represented the way I wanted to show accounting. Free, light, modern, innovative, but still within its own limits – you can only approach accounting like this if you love it. An accountant is by nature a person with specific boundaries, but often very creative inside. I like to push these boundaries within myself and bring out my creative side.” Loving the field, experimenting and challenging herself are important to Liis above all.

Rapid business growth brought new challenges

For Liis, the rapid growth of the company has been a great goal as well as a challenge – how to cope with the growing and evolving internal processes, how to balance them and how to move forward. “During a phase of rapid growth in 2021, the internal management processes failed and as I’d not been a senior
manager before, but had developed as a manager with my own company, I had to figure out at some point how to move forward,” says Liis. “I’ve had to make repeated investments to bring in specialists to support me on my journey and boost my development. It has always paid off and been a worthwhile experience. We’ve now finished the tidy home project and are riding in a completely new wave. I believe it’ll start to show in 2024.”

Running a business when you have children has been a challenge.

Liis Laanesaar
CEO of Services OÜ

At the same time, the whole business and life of has also meant challenges in balancing work and family life. “Running a business when you have children has been a challenge,” admits Liis. “I have no regrets, but if I’d known in advance what it would entail, I don’t know if I would’ve done it. I try to find time for important things – work, family, friends, myself – to have balance in my life. As accounting is an area where responsibility is very high, I’m also constantly working on maintaining my femininity.”

Sector-specific self-development

When I ask Liis what inspires her most to work in this field, she says it’s the development of herself, her team and her clients. It’s important what people achieve together. The overall development of Estonian accounting – where it’s heading – is also considered important.

“I’m also inspired by the understanding that there’s no ceiling in this area. I have so many thoughts and ideas on how to develop the field in the country and put Estonian accounting on the world map. But before that, we need to tidy up our home. Estonia is an internationally renowned technology country, but why not also an accounting country. All the conditions for this have been created. My bold ideas keep me fresh. I am a big fan of my field at heart.” Seeing the result is important to Liis.

There’s no ceiling in accounting.

Liis Laanesaar
CEO of Services OÜ

For Liis, it’s also about lifelong learning, or continuous self-improvement in her field. “Attending conferences and interacting with people is an ideal way to improve yourself,” says Liis. “I can say that I no longer attend more specific accounting training. Instead, I’ve recruited financial specialists who are smarter than me, who know everything about the Value Added Tax Act well and can do more complex payroll accounting. I feel that when it comes to personal development, it’s important to give yourself time, be alone with your thoughts in silence, and let them come up with something big. I also think it’s important to find logical connections and have a forward-looking view of where the world is going and what entrepreneurs might need in a few years’ time. I want to offer my clients solutions that work, not wait and guess what a particular company might need.”

“ offers more than just an accounting and finance specialist service,” she says. “Our clients all get a person with the competence of an accountant and a financial manager onto their team. Some clients even get several accountants. We find out what the client’s expectations are before offering our own solutions and agree very specifically on the boundaries of the service, or responsibility, so that there’s less disagreement and disappointment. Efficiency, cooperation and a clear picture are the keywords that accompany us every day.”

The best decisions and results are made with a team

Seamless teamwork is also extremely important to Liisi, as she wouldn’t achieve anything on her own.

“The best decisions and results are made with a team,” she says. “It’s also important that common values are shared – they must be the same for colleagues as well as clients. Our company has a set of shared values on which we’ve built a system of service delivery to our customers and support for our colleagues. The key words important to us are trust, efficiency and partnership.” Building on these, has been in constant development.

What do you need to understand to succeed in your field? Do you have any recommendations for others?

“It’s certainly important to understand who you are and what you want,” emphasises Liis. “To be who you really are and follow your gut instinct. It’s a good idea to start your finance career in accounting, as it gives you a good feel for the logic of the world of numbers and a solid foundation for future progress – you could become an auditor, a chief accountant or a CFO. There are enough options and the choices of which path to take are made by each person, already aware of their strengths. A good education and diverse work experience provide a strong strategic foundation from which to move forward.”

Goals drive action

When we talk about what else is on her mind and where she wants to go with her business, Liis says she believes it’s important to develop new services that make the work of accountants easier and create value for clients.

“I hear all the time how accountants are being told why you don’t keep up with the times, why you don’t integrate software, why you don’t bring new ideas to the table, why you don’t do this or that. But if accountants were to do everything the public expects them to do, who would do the payroll, who would check that the purchase invoices have been accounted for and that all the purchase invoices have arrived in the accounts and that all the month-end entries have been made? There’s little point in complaining, it’s necessary to take real action and provide solutions at the level of the state as well. I feel that I have a good understanding of what conscientious, hard-working and creative accountants really need, and that’s what we are trying to offer them and other accountants in our company,” says Liis.

She’s also concerned that no organisation in Estonia represents accountants as individuals and really supports their development. It doesn’t matter whether they work in an accountancy firm or in a company’s finance department.

Estonian accounting landscape needs to be refreshed

“I believe that the Estonian accounting landscape needs refreshing,” says Liis. “I see that this could be achieved through an association that would bring together different competence groups across Estonia, which should include professionals in their fields – auditors, financial managers, corporate accountants, firms. It should start at the other end: we should look at where an accountant’s basic training and development should be anchored, and then move on from there to other activities. Then, present and future accountants will also see that the profession of an accountant is awesome, that this work is inspiring. In addition, the value you can create in the process and, of course, the pride you can take in
being an accountant.”

“Accounting has always been in my soul,” she says. “From the outset, my ambition has been to improve the quality of accounting services. Why not do it differently, when we’re a well-known tech country and have intelligent people. All the prerequisites are in place, but how to make real use of this potential, how to make Estonian accounting a model for the rest of the world, that’s the question. How to bring business and financial processes together in a real and effective way is what is working on every day.”

Leisure activities give energy

As life is about more than work and you need to take time to rest as well, Liis recharges her batteries by spending time with her family and friends and simply being at home. “Sports definitely give me energy – I play tennis, I go to the gym and do Pilates,” she says.

Liis considers her family and friends to be her daily influencers and supporters. “I’m an experimenter, I’m not afraid to fail, because I know the experience I’ll get will be worth it. I follow my gut instinct a lot. Sometimes I make decisions that seem strange to onlookers, but I trust myself and my gut,” she says, unafraid to experiment and sometimes make mistakes. That’s also her advice to others – don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try new things, because you can learn and move forward only through experience.

The courage to change is the basis for development.

Liis Laanesaar
CEO of Services OÜ

“I’m an adventurous fighter and sometimes a bit like Mother Teresa in my thoughts – I enjoy diversity and I like to discover what life has to offer. I’m still fascinated by the logic of numbers and the big picture behind them,” says Liis, who enjoys running the company as a journey towards a more exciting future.

Liis Laanesaar’s advice to accountants

  • Be aware of what you want to achieve.
  • Start with small steps.
  • Make a plan and involve specialists to achieve results.
  • Keep in mind that plans may change over time.
  • Give yourself time and be kind to yourself if your plans don’t go as expected.
  • Plan your activities in both the short and the long term.