The Intuit Firm of the Future global accounting competition has had two UK winners. This year Leeds-based accountant Jo Tomlinson from Business Works takes the flag from last year’s representative, Alan Hemingway from Hemingway Bailey.
What do these two firms have in common? They are both CIMA qualified. At a time when there is so much discussion about being a trusted adviser, does this qualification embody the phrase?
The Practice Excellence Awards results suggest that the UK Firm of the Future result is not a coincidence. Shortlisted Practice Excellence Pioneer Paul Donno cut his teeth as a management accountant before carving his path as a cloud-based firm. Donno, along with the other CIMA accountants, flourished in their practice life due to their cloud-based approach, virtual FD services, decision making and an emphasis on helping businesses grow; all of which echo the qualities of a trusted adviser.
Tomlinson was only introduced to the ‘trusted adviser’ phrase earlier this year at the QB Connect event in London. What perplexed Tomlinson was that the attributes described were what she was already doing.
Her industry background equipped her to provide this analytical support: “Working 20 years in industry and being CIMA qualified makes you ideally placed to be part of decision-making processes,” she said. “You work directly with senior executives down to people on the shop floor. It was all about how to improve the numbers in the business by understanding the numbers in the business, and making educated decisions on everything that you do.”
No practice baggage
According to Tomlinson, the traits often associated with trusted advisers are part of the CIMA discipline, with modules skewed towards decision making, like costing, rather than the chartered route of financial and audit modules.
So Tomlinson naturally incorporated this grounding in industry when she started her own practice. “Why shouldn't small businesses get that too? I have a team of people who do the tax return. But let's face it, businesses need way more than just tax returns.”
Last year’s UK firm of the future winner Alan Hemingway described his route from industry into practice as having a blank piece of paper. “If someone works in practice, they take their practice principles with them,” he said. “When you come from industry you know what you got to do from a legal side, but you're not bringing any practice baggage.”
Tomlinson also began her practice with a blank piece of paper. “We had a look round to see what we believed was the best for everything,” she explained. “We looked at software, technology, whether should have a server, whether we should be on the cloud, flexible working, what would the client really want and how would we best satisfy that need.”
Software has played a big role in ushering accountants from industry into the practice world. For Hemingway, software lowered the barriers to entry. As someone made redundant in his mid-40s Hemingway decided to go the practice route instead. “People used to leave their job and say they'll go back as an interim FD somewhere and do that role as a business. But now people are starting practices.”
Tomlinson chose to spurn the industry route, and instead opted for practice because of the opportunity to make a difference.
“In big business, you can only make a small difference because you're such a small part of a huge entity. Sometimes you feel it's a little lost in everything else that is going on. But now we have 160 clients, and the ones I interact with on a regular basis we are part of their business.”
While CIMA members remain a minority subset within the world of practice, practices are no longer rooted to a particular qualification when recruiting. For example, bigger practices are now looking to recruit more software-savvy employees, rather than just pure accountants.
That’s partly why Tomlinson has a broad spectrum of accountants working in her practice. “When we look at a problem we’ve got all sorts of different ways of thinking of looking at the same problem,” she said.
Tomlinson finds out in a couple of weeks’ time at the San Jose Intuit event whether she’s won the international prize. You can support Tomlinson and help her bring home the Firm of the Future prize by voting here. Voting opens Monday 16th and closes 29th October. And once you’ve cast your first vote, you can then vote once per day.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.