Chris Bailey
The Bailey Group

Practice Talk: Chris Bailey from the Bailey Group

19th Feb 2019
Editor AccountingWEB
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The CEO of the Bailey Group Chris Bailey joins Practice Talk this week to discuss calculators, managing his practice, and the steps he’s taken to make his clients MTD-ready such as his new scan van.

“How we can service our clients under MTD without having the clients worry about MTD?” considered Chris Bailey. “I thought, we'll take the worry off them and do it for them.”

We love it when an MTD plan comes together. The Bailey Group’s approach to Making Tax Digital will rev into their clients’ car parks like something out of the A-Team. While B.A Baracus won’t leap out of the van’s side doors, the Bailey Group’s Making Tax Digital scan van does feel somewhat familiar to the cigar-chomping action team’s iconic black and red striped GMC van.

But instead of audio surveillance and disguise kits, the Bailey Group’s van carries a scanner, a photocopier, and a shredder. The van is the brainchild of the firm’s CEO Chris Bailey who wanted to take the worry out of MTD for their clients. The idea is that the van will visit businesses, scan their records, and as the 4G-enabled van drives off the records are then uploaded to the office’s bookkeeping system.

The scan van has proven to be a popular solution during the firm’s MTD client seminars. Bailey told AccountingWEB that clients ask after every seminar how they can book the van. 

With one van being tested and another five more on order, the firm is also working on rolling out a booking system this month, working similarly to a hotel room booking. Clients will be able to book on the firm’s website a time for the van to visit wherever they want.

“As they're standing on the 1 April MTD for VAT starting line, we'll be ready to go and the van will be revving up in the car park,” said Bailey.  

The Bailey Group's Making Tax Digital scan van
(Above: The Bailey Group's Making Tax Digital scan van)

The vans won’t just be sticking to the local area, as the Peterlee-based firm has already received a request from a London-based client to put them on the van’s quarterly rota.

Like all great plans, the idea of the Making Tax Digital scan van came to Chris Bailey as he was lying in the bath. But then, Bailey’s bathtub rumination is expected for someone that never switches off. He retired once to the sands of Cocoa Beach Florida, but since returning to the UK, he’s spent his ‘retirement’ building an accountancy firm.

The Bailey Group has grown from turning over £150,000 with two staff to £5m this year and with 60 staff members across eight offices in the North.

The motivation behind Bailey’s less than sedate retirement can be traced back to shortly after he left university. He was told by a firm of accountants in London that he would never make a chartered accountant. They even went as far as questioning why he was bothering to apply because he didn’t have the credentials. 

But that terse reply obviously had the opposite effect on Bailey. “I have kept that letter and it drives me every day of the week when I think about it,” he said.

* * *

What's the first thing you do when you start your working day?

As soon as I wake up I check the business bank accounts to see who's paid us, make sure all our suppliers have been paid, make sure everything that's gone out has gone out, make sure everything is OK with the business bank account. Then I check my emails.

You mentioned emails which have become an issue with accountants checking well beyond those old fashioned 'traditional working hours' - is this something you're guilty of?

We have to be a client service world and deal with emails when they come in because that is what people expect these days. And the clients regularly say “thanks for replying so late last night”. That's the type of feedback we want. We need to be on top of that communication because if we're not, someone else will be and that's the world we live in.

As a result of email overload, many firms are feeling the always-on culture is becoming an increasing problem. What has your firm done to ease this stress?

When I talk about a work-life balance I mean a work-work balance. I work 24 hours a day. There isn't a time when I am not thinking or doing something about work. But I realise that the staff are going to be at work more often than they're at home, so we need to ensure the environment they work in is the best environment possible. We have social nights, bowling nights, Christmas parties, golf days, summer parties, and we have everything we can do to help the staff enjoy work as much as they can.

What do you do to escape the world of tax and accounts?

The only thing I do outside work is take my two rescue greyhounds out every morning at 6.30am, if I am at home. When I walk around with the dogs I get myself in the right frame of mind for the day. And then I am working. It’s part of life. Even on my honeymoon, I took my tax books. My wife has a photograph of me sitting on my sunbed in Barbados with tax books. Some people say why don't you tell the clients that you're on holiday for a week? Well, that isn't client service to me.

Since you qualified what's been the biggest change?

The biggest change since I started was self assessment but it isn't now. The biggest change to be is MTD, without a shadow of a doubt. It is going to knock over some small accountancy practices because they won't be able to cope.

What steps have you made to make you practice MTD-ready?

This morning I was talking at a seminar for the clients on MTD. We've ran two seminars a day twice a month for the last five months. We've put a positive spin on it in how it can help the clients and help businesses. It will change the relationship between us and our clients. We will be a lot closer to our clients than we are now because we will be seeing a lot more information regularly.

The tech side can help us. We have IRIS for our accounts production, Kashflow as our bookkeeping package, and Snap for scanning in documents. They're interlinked completely and all the clients love it. We can see everything the clients are doing. Whereas previously, it might have taken us up to six months to see what the client is doing, now, if the client was going to buy a building we'll know because the client will come to us for more information. I think it's a real opportunity for us to see what we can do. Others haven't seen that opportunity, I don't believe.

From new tech to old: can you remember your first calculator?

I still have it. In fact, I was using it last night. It's broken and battered and hasn't got a back on it. It has a solar battery where you put it in the light it works. But it's not trusted. It's been retired to my office at home.