Why a career in accountancy has never been more attractive
I knew nothing about accountancy as a young teenager – the first time I heard the word bookkeeping, I thought that I would end up with a career as a librarian!
A careers talk at school enlightened me and led to a summer internship at a West End accountancy practice where the partners all encouraged me to qualify. Unfortunately at that time my father’s health was poor and I had to put my studies on hold as I needed to help my parents financially. I was in my 30s by the time I qualified but the work experience I had gained meant that I passed all 14 papers within two years when I re-sat them.
I qualified with Silver Levene and became a partner shortly thereafter. I have always enjoyed client contact but I was also extremely interested to understand the business management of the practice. I volunteered for many roles within the practice over the coming years, from heading our statutory, HR and audit departments, and then joining the management executive and eventually becoming the managing partner. The experience in these varied roles, which happened every two to three years, gave me a broad and detailed insight into practice management.
My practice and my clients
Silver Levene has historically specialised in three main areas: 1) media (predominantly the film and television industry but over the last few years, increasingly, with all types of digital content and production), 2) the legal profession (mainly with barristers and chambers) and 3) independent pharmacies.
However, we have numerous clients in other industries such as hospitality, travel and accommodation, publishing and music. Additionally, we also provide a number of added value services such as digital accounting/bookkeeping services, tax consultancy and planning, HR and payroll services, probate and company statutory and formation services. The practice has coped well during the pandemic despite the many challenges that we have faced and we are all confident that this will continue in the future.
The first few months of the pandemic were disastrous for the film and television industry – productions were cancelled suddenly with no indication of when they would resume given the uncertainty regarding the impact of the virus on the economy. By the late summer production in the film and TV industry was starting to resume, albeit quite slowly, and since the autumn many clients have been working again although the production process is more difficult and more time-consuming because of the need to comply with Covid regulations.
I was initially advising clients on government support schemes but unfortunately many of them did not qualify because they are directors/shareholders of limited companies, who receive their personal income as a combination of salary and dividends.
However this position was recently addressed by the Chancellor, which means that many will now qualify for some financial assistance.
Challenges, risks and opportunities
Ever changing technology is the biggest challenge facing our profession as AI is capable of processing larger of volumes of data faster and more accurately especially regarding bookkeeping and accounting for SMEs. Therefore, we need to be proactive in using technology more advantageously for clients and ourselves.
Many of our clients now use cloud-based software such as Xero or QuickBooks and we are able to proactively help clients as we are able to review accounts in real time and give effective advice and planning.
Accountants now need to be real-time advisers and we need to see ourselves as business service providers rather than just compliance filing businesses. This means considering other business services such as outsourced HR services, digital bookkeeping/accounting, probate services, quasi FD services and, in the near future, the possibility of offering in-house legal services. In my mind, this is the direction that the profession is rapidly moving towards, especially for mid-tier and smaller practices.
Also, I impress upon our younger staff that to work in practice, they have to be a more rounded business adviser as our roles have moved on significantly. The current availability of software on the market allows us to see information in real time and enable us to act as quasi financial directors for clients, giving regular advice and attending board meetings, etc.
The biggest challenge that I now encounter more often is meeting clients’ expectations on a timely basis given the speed of response that can be demanded. A rushed response could lead to incorrect advice being given with subsequent adverse consequences, so it is critical to ensure that correct time is spent before replying.
In my view, psychology also plays a huge role in a practitioner’s make-up as we tend to become a confidante of our clients – they can come with matters that you would expect, such as financial issues, but also the unexpected, which can be very personal. We are not trained to support clients with these personal matters but their trust in us leads to an openness from them.
The attractiveness of the profession
It’s important to encourage the next generation – particularly as they are near to qualification and moving into the next stage of their career. Undoubtedly passing professional exams is, quite rightly difficult, but deciding on a career path once qualified is, in my view, as important. Planning a career path and ensuring that using practical and academic knowledge is vital in determining their future.
We must encourage and show them all career paths that are open – whether in practice or in public or privately owned businesses to FTSE companies. There is so much choice than ever before and this is a huge attraction of the profession.