Practice Talk: Declan Connolly from Connolly Accountants
Each week, AccountingWEB’s Practice Talk series catches up with a different accountant in practice. This week, we speak with Declan Connolly about his firm, Connolly Accountants.
Regular readers may recognise this feature under its former Small Change name. Don’t worry. The content remains the same. It’s just the title that’s changed.
Based in Stony Stratford, Declan Connolly has grown his firm over the past decade to 37 team members and has even spun off to a financial planning arm, which has a further 11 people.
When Connolly switched to practice in 2005 after 30 years working in industry, he thought it would be a challenge. Now he says his time in industry was actually a major advantage with clients.
The experience he picked up from working in the transport, logistics and travel industries at a finance director level gave Connolly the skills to act as a sounding board and provide strategic advice to clients.
Online applications, in particular, have been integral to this strategy. and he’s now shifting all his clients to the cloud. So far he’s 80% there and has set the end of September as a target to transfer the rest.
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What's the first thing you do when you start your working day?
When I leave work I tend to set out what I want to do first thing in the morning. Then adding and responding to any emails I received overnight.
A common issue we've noticed is accountants in practice checking their emails outside the traditional working hours. Are you guilty of this, too?
I would be, yes. But it's a chance to get rid of or delete a lot of spam emails so I can focus in the morning on the emails that really matter. I don't see it as a headache, to be honest.
Has the always-on culture in the profession made it more difficult to separate work from your personal life?
No, I don't. Just to compound the issue my house and office is one building in one location. Basically, I have 11 steps to work. You do have to be sensible about it.
My wife would generally say I am quite good at splitting up the work-life balance.
So, what do you do to escape the world of tax and accounts?
I do two things: I exercise in the morning and I exercise in the evening. It's treadmill in the morning and we do a 10K walk in the evening. Every six weeks, we have a house in Ireland and we go there for a week to walk in the mountains. And there is no mobile phone signal there.
It's absolutely vital to exercise because you are desk-bound and it can be quite intense. So you need to exercise the brain a different kind of way, a couple of times a day.
What's the biggest change you've seen in the profession since you qualified?
It’s the cloud and the use of it. That's made massive progress and continues to do so. The OCR data capture of invoices coming into businesses has really made a massive difference and electronic signatures and filing has speeded things up and improved the accuracy of things from our point of view.
I welcome Making Tax Digital; bring it on, as far as I am concerned.
You sound like you’re in a good position to support your clients with MTD. What steps did you take to be MTD-ready?
We're currently transferring all of our clients onto the cloud, particularly, the paper-based ones.
What we tend to do is bring them in for a two-hour demo, show them what's possible and how easy it is to be in the cloud with some of the modern systems that are available. It's already making a massive difference to us and I think it will for clients. With their current paper-based systems, bout 80% of businesses have no idea whether they're making a profit or not.
The Eureka moment is when you show them something like AutoEntry where you can scan an incoming invoice or expense to the cloud and it basically posts itself. Then they can shred that document so they don't have to keep seven years of data. When you show them how easy it is to use the app on the phone to take a picture of their Costa coffee receipt, that's when the penny drops.
The second aspect is that we're able to say, 'Look, I can see what you see. So if you have an issue, I can sort it for you much more quickly.'
Enough talk about this modern tech, can you remember your first calculator?
I can remember running out of paper. You know, when you're in the middle of a consolidation. One of my first jobs was to consolidate a group of companies that had 126 subsidiaries, so I made a massive use of the old calculator with paper reels.
I've since abandoned it. I very rarely use a calculator these days, and if I have to use one it is on my iPhone.