AccountingWEB's Practice Talk Catches Up With Susan Rahman from KWSR and Onkho
Each week, AccountingWEB’s Practice Talk series catches up with a different accountant in practice. Here, Richard Hattersely, AccountingWEB’s practice correspondent, talks with Susan Rahman, the owner of KWSR & Co and the co-founder of practice management software Onkho.
For Susan Rahman, accountancy was something she could do instinctively. “It was almost like I was born with the knowledge,” she said.
But she almost nearly ended up working in medicine. She had started the course but as she soon realised that she didn’t like it, she reflected back to the advice her mother shared with her. “My mum always told us that we should do something where we knew we'd have flexibility but still have a good job and earning potential,” she said.
“I always knew that in order to have a family, work my own hours and have the flexibility I'd have to work for myself.” Her father worked for himself as a chartered accountant in practice. Although he worked long hours, she saw first-hand how the flexibility of being self employed freed him to attend all her important events growing up.
She then switched from medicine to a career in accountancy, training with Arram Berlyn Gardner. But she always knew that she wanted to set up her own practice – and the firm did too.
So when she decided to leave, the partners gave her all their loss making clients. “I had about 30-40 of their clients and I basically had a practice to start with,” she said.
“Because they worked with me at the practice, those existing clients were happy to come on board and they recommended me to their friends. It was all word of mouth and it grew quickly within two years.”
That was in 1995 and since then she has used her experience to develop Onkho, her own practice management software.
In this week’s Practice Talk, Rahman discusses topics such as how Making Tax Digital has helped streamline her practice, KWSR & Co, and why she refuses to allow anyone in the office after 5.30pm.
What's the first thing you do when you start your working day?
The first thing I do is check my phone – whether that's emails or WhatsApp.
When I arrive at the office, after I have a cup of tea, we have a team meeting for 10-15 minutes. Every morning we ask everybody what they're doing, if they’re having any problems, if they need our help and if they are on target to do what they need to do.
If I'm not here, the guys will have a meeting amongst them and if someone is working from home they'll just dial in.
Do you check your emails outside office hours and if 'yes' do you think this is just part of the job of being an accountant today?
I do tend to check my emails throughout the evening and the day, and I do check them on the weekends – but unless it is something very simple, I don't reply outside working hours or what I might do is write the reply but not send it until the next working day.
Actually, when I take on clients and even with my old clients who have been with me for years, we have a defined communication timetable. We say we will answer your email within 24 hours, phone calls within three hours, and letters within three days.
I say sometimes we respond before that time but that's not the norm, so don't expect that because you sent an email at 9 am that I am going to reply immediately because I have in the past. It is about setting expectations.
What's been the biggest change in the profession since you qualified?
When I first qualified we didn't have the internet. So if people wanted to find something out they would call us. Now, what I find is people will look up stuff on the internet – they're really well informed. Albeit, they don't know the nuances of the law and what you can and can't do, but the clients are much more informed than when I qualified.
I think it has made the interaction more enjoyable because they understand what you're talking about – so you're that more ahead in giving them quality information so they can make their own judgement. I quite like it, it keeps me on my toes.
What steps has your firm taken to be MTD-ready?
The minute I heard the government was thinking of doing it we started taking steps immediately. We researched the best bookkeeping software we could use and then three years ago we started writing to everybody that they're going to start hearing about this and they shouldn't ignore it and that it will come, so it is better we are ready.
Now we've moved every single client to the cloud. Everything we have is on the cloud, even our telephones are internet-based.
What else has your firm done to help rebalance their work-life equilibrium?
I have a few mums and dads who are the primary caregiver, so during the school holiday they schedule their work so they can work from home. At the beginning of every quarter we schedule the work that needs to be done, so if somebody knows they have a half term and want to work from home but still take their kids out, they can do their work beforehand. So as long as they achieve their targets for the month, I don't mind.
We also offer flexible working hours. So if somebody needs to leave early or pick up their kids in the middle of the day, go to assemblies, sports days – all of that is allowed.
I also refuse to allow anyone in the office after 5.30pm. I do not like it. I was one of those people who had to work until 9pm/10pm and sometimes you just had to stay in the office to show your face. I always hated it and don't think it is right. If my staff members have to work after 7pm, there is something wrong with my management.
Can you remember your first calculator?
I was ten and calculators were a big deal. Our school had bought the new Casio and whoever filled in the crossword correctly would go into a lucky dip to win the calculator. I was so sure I was going to win. I was convinced. But I didn't.
My dad felt so sorry for me he bought me one of those adding machines with it little till roll but not the calculator. We got rid of the adding machine because I'm trying to go 100% paperless, but the memories are still there.
Onkho picks up where others leave off and addresses the challenges faced by today’s busy practices. It is the brain child of Susan Rahman, who has her own thriving firm in South West London and her business partner, Emanur, who was an accountant at the BBC and a CTO at the London Stock Exchange, to develop the missing technology piece in the practice jigsaw. Since starting to use Onkho, Susan's client retention has increased from 85% to 99%.