Small Change: Alan Woods from Woods Squared
Welcome to Small Change, a weekly catch-up with an accountant in practice to find out their daily routine and ask them about the biggest trends in the profession.
We have quite the treat for this week's edition of 'Small Change: The greatest accountant of all time! You read that right. Alan Woods of Woods Squared claimed the title at the most recent Accountex.
Of course, the title was a bit of fun orchestrated by the software companies Capitalise, Practice Ignition, Chaser, Spotlight and Receipt Bank to commence May’s Accountex festivities.
It wasn’t really about the ‘greatest accountant’ crown, as the real prize was a donation to Woods Squared local charity of choice, Wirral-based Stick n’ Step. Woods' chosen charity helps children and their families with cerebral palsy by providing free conductive education sessions.
Tongue in cheek aside, it is worth considering what a great accountant looks like these days? What's clear from the accountants jostling for the title is the shift towards a tech-first approach. The tech is not used as a device to distance clients, but as Woods enthuses about in this week’s Small Change, it's a way to provide a more personalised service.
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What's the first thing you do when you start your working day?
The first thing I do when I start my working day is to get a cappuccino from the coffee machine downstairs. That's usually my first port of call.
Do you check your emails outside office hours?
Yeah - definitely. I check my phone to see any posts on LinkedIn or emails. That's even the first thing I do before the coffee.
Do you think checking emails outside office hours is now just part of the job description for a modern-day accountant?
I don't necessarily think its accountants but it seems to be a continuous cycle now.
Even if you turn your emails off or don't have your emails on your work phone, something like social media comes into play and you can't help but look at posts or articles. You get drawn into it.
We try in the office to limit that burden on the rest of the team. We don't want them to feel like they have to be working 24/7. But that is just the norm for the Millennial generation to be constantly interacting or absorbing information from different sources.
With that in mind, how do you switch off? What do you do to escape the world of tax and accounts?
Probably tends to be reading sports books or business books, autobiographies in particular. I'm reading Jenson Button's autobiography at the moment.
My wife Tracy works in the business. So it is really easy for us to take the work home and continue to discuss certain things. So we try to go somewhere or do something that gives us something else to focus on and that generally relates around food or drink.
If we do talk about work, Tracy and I tend to talk about the overview rather than the nitty-gritty or a client or a piece of work. By doing that we're separating the two. If we talk about work it's strategic rather than the day-to-day operations.
Something different that Woods Squared has done is the caricature cartoons you have on your website. It's not what you'd traditionally expect on a an accountant's website. How did that come about?
We saw Charlie Cartoons on Dragon's Den six or seven years ago looking for investment.
We thought it was a really good way of personalising us more with our clients. We're normal and approachable, rather than six-seven years ago when the business clients thought about their accountant like their dentist - it wasn't a pleasant experience.
So we wanted to soften that and make it a person-to-person interaction rather than a professional to a client.
The looming Making Tax Digital roll-out will surely play a role in changing this accountant-client relationship. What's your take on MTD?
Ultimately, it's going to be beneficial for the profession, particularly businesses and accountants that have embraced the cloud.
Where the challenge is going to come are the firms that maybe haven't yet started or made a real in-road into transitioning their clients into some sort of cloud platform.
There will be clients out there that aren't getting the advice that they should from their current accountant. So there is an opportunity for us, as a practice, to provide that support.
Let's talk about older tech, do you remember your first calculator?
The first I can remember was one of those scientific ones in school. I think I kept that with me through to qualifying and then eventually, like all things, it gave up the ghost.
In terms of the screen size, it was tiny. Now I've gone the complete opposite. The calculator I have now is just a calculator. It's a big keyboard - maybe it’s down to age and eyes.
You have some tough competition for the 'world's greatest accountant' title. Even Hollywood is looking to muscle in on the act with the recent flick The Accountant. How similar is Ben Affleck's accountant-take to your day-to-day life?
It's not quite the same on a day-to-day basis; we don't assassinate anyone at this stage. (Laughs). In some ways, there was a lot of similarities. His way of analysing numbers is still there but now there is so much software that helps a business owner and accountant do the legwork.
Ben Affleck at one stage in a meeting room wrote on every single wall and glass with numbers, which made huge sense for him, but from a business owner’s point of view, that is probably how we used to present information to them - a lot of numbers. But now there are things like Futrli with dashboards and different ways of delivering the info so it’s more informative.
You can read more about the greatest accountant of all time challenge on Capitalise's Industry Insight page.