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The curse of the last-minute managers

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Last-minute managers are a nightmare. The Imprudent Accountant wonders how any sane and efficient accountant can work with them, but there are no comfortable solutions.

8th Apr 2024
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There are many aspects of working as an accountant that give me great pleasure. Inevitably, we also have to confront a series of irritants, most of which are thankfully relatively inconsequential.

Clients who won’t pay without a fight, others who want to spend hours negotiating every fee (even when it is fixed) and colleagues who don’t pull their weight come high up on my hates list.

However, the worst banes of my life are last-minute managers (LMMs). For any readers unfamiliar with the expression, these are the people who will not do anything until they are right up to a deadline and, in many cases, still don’t pull the trigger until long after the deadline has passed.

Translated into normal life, this is the infuriating friend who will always meet you outside a cinema after the film has started or the youngster who doesn’t start studying for his or her exams until the week before, then practically kills themselves on caffeine in an effort to complete a year of revision in seven days.

If this doesn’t sound familiar, then you are very lucky. For the rest of us, it is a nightmare.

The misfortune of being organised

I happen to have the misfortune of being organised. These columns are always written a day or two in advance, just in case anything might go wrong.

My tax return is filed in the summer and, as you have already gathered, I’m the one standing shivering outside cinemas for 30 minutes at a stretch, waiting for soon-to-be ex-friends to roll up without even the barest hint of an apology. In the working environment, I tend to be on top of things, given the opportunity.

Those last three words give the game away. Far too often, while I am organised, others in the chain are not.

A simple example would be the filing of a self assessment tax return for a client with circumstances that nobody could describe as complex. The chain might include a bank or other adviser that fails to provide some basic information, the client themselves and then the people in your own office responsible for completing and reviewing the return.

If any one of these pieces of the jigsaw fails to fall into place, everything else is delayed. Far too often, both the client and your manager will be LMMs.

As a result, the tax return information only reaches your office in mid-January, at which point the diligent technician does his or her bit effectively and efficiently. It then sits on the manager’s desk for a fortnight, only reaching you with the deadline looming.

Thinking big

It isn’t just basic-level tax. Even with a multi-million-pound transaction that has to complete by, let us say, 31 December there are far too many non-moving parts for life to be smooth.

Even with six months’ notice, you can guarantee that first of all the client will dither, next the solicitors will do their usual and refuse to work except through the night, while those on the other side of the transaction mirror the inaction. The result? Large piles of documents will arrive on your desk late on Christmas Eve with the demand that they are reviewed and returned by 27 December.

You will practically kill yourself, annoying every member of the family along the way but, having done the decent, only then discover that nobody at either the solicitor’s office or the purchaser or vendor is working until the new year. Your side will eventually graciously return queries on 15 January for immediate turnaround.

Ultimately, you just know that the deal will not complete until just before the summer holidays, if ever.

The only element of the transaction that misses out on this flexibility will be the client’s rejection when you attempt to negotiate a sensible extra payment for all of your additional time.

How to tackle LMMs

There are often no easy solutions to the problems posed by LMMs. If they are colleagues, then you might wisely persuade them that their career path lies elsewhere.

Clients who behave like this should become ex-clients but we never seem to have the will or guts to sack them. Perhaps a more palatable alternative could be to charge LMMs premium rates and pay staff LMMs considerably less than their more efficient colleagues.

Failing that, the options come down to your body choosing between a heart attack and a nervous breakdown.

Replies (4)

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By FactChecker
08th Apr 2024 22:23

"Failing that, the options come down to your body choosing between a heart attack and a nervous breakdown"
... or of course simply learning how to relax (and let go)!

That degree of (over-)organised is the self-same problem ... just the other half of it.
Moderation in everything as my old Gran used to tell me (with a wink in her eye).

Thanks (2)
Replying to FactChecker:
boxfile
By spilly
08th Apr 2024 22:59

Had your Gran been a bit immoderate with the sherry trifle perhaps? That might explain how she might have ended up with a (tiddly)wink in her eye.

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By NewACA
09th Apr 2024 10:53

Or,instead of working in a large firm with too many moving parts, start your own small firm where you can hire (and fire) your own managers and ditch problem clients, ensuring you have a diverse and numerous client-base so no client is too important to the firm to sack.

Within 6 years, you could be sitting on annual profits of over £150k a year, working 4 days a week, and no late nights, and no mad January.

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Replying to NewACA:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
10th Apr 2024 10:31

But there will still be chasing for information, just chasing different people.

I do have sympathy.

We have just done a s162 incorporation, first we had to get ready to go, months of slog, draft tax comps , property valuations etc

First step create company, took minutes, next step wait a month to get a bank account open, (why- everyone already has been through ML with them, a month!!!!!) by this time I am sweating as want finished before 5/4/24 as want to be out of partnership pre new basis period rules.

A few pointed e mails to all (accountants/three lawyers), point seems to be taken

Property transfer paperwork drafts then in place, business disposal agreement drafted, shareholder agreement all there ready to go, then it is pointed out to me we need an ETB as at 2/4/24 to correctly calculate shares being issued but it needs produced on 2/4/24, I spend a frantic weekend posting books, calculating debtors/creditors and we get there, just.

The key is, as with all big transactions, usually timetables do get met but they never get met in an relaxed manner, everything ends up last minute. (try a larger property sale with say 50 tenants in situ and you are trying at settlement to calculate real time rents paid/due, services/utility billing , calculate deposits etc, a veritable moving feast of calculation)

And of course something always falls out, my employment was supposed to TUPE last week, catch is payroll date is fast approaching, my new employer is still waiting for PAYE reference so tricky to run, tricky to set up new pension without PAYE ref, so a few more days and I will be receiving a loan rather than my salary- trust HMRC, despite their 15 day promise, to be the one to fail me)

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