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.
The defining moment in Alex Falcon Huerta’s accountancy career wasn’t the first time she discovered cloud accounting, per se. Of course, cloud played a role. How could it not for a firm that’s 100% cloud? But Falcon Huerta’s defining moment was quite the opposite: it was the dark corner of an office.
A freshly qualified Falcon Huerta spent her working days in an endless cycle of monotony. She wanted to quit her job – she couldn’t face another humdrum day of processing invoices; wash, rinse and repeat. It was like a manufacturing line.
The metaphorical shadow that the job cast over her life was only darkened by the literal darkness outside the office walls. Winter was here. It’s not expressing too much artistic license to say her cloud light bulb moment actually guided her out the dark.
This moment encouraged her to change everything. That dark corner acts as a stark reminder of how she doesn’t want to run a practice. The tenebrous-like existence now feels like a million miles away from her current Bedford-based firm Soaring Falcon Accountancy (which in typical stars aligning fashion is just a 20 minute drive along the A428 to Xero’s offices).
Since launching her firm in 2015 Falcon Huerta has become a cloud disciple, and because of this, she proved to be an expert panellist in April's Thomson Reuters/Accounting Excellence: Secrets of tech first firms live webcast (click here to watch the full broadcast on-demand and find out her tech selection process).
When Falcon Huerta stopped by AccountingWEB HQ to record the webcast, the Small Change team swooped in to get her views on the profession’s latest trends and, more importantly, whether she can remember her first calculator.
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Hi Alex. First thing's first, how do you start your working day?
I need a coffee to start my day otherwise I am not going anywhere!
The first thing a lot of Small Change interviewees do in the morning is to scan their emails. Do you check your emails outside office hours?
Yes, I do. But I try not to because if I am in a situation where I can't respond or it might be a little bit stressful it's best not to look at my emails. I try to stick to the working day as much as possible because I am in the right frame of mind.
Otherwise, you don't have any time for yourself. It's important for me personally to switch off and have time to recuperate and recover ready for the next day.
On that note, what do you do to escape the world of tax and accounts?
I've recently taken up tennis lessons, I do weight training in the mornings before work and running, I cycle, go walking and I do yoga - lots of stuff.
I do keep myself active. I feel that's a way to keep it balanced with the working day and to do as much activity outside of the work as possible.
A lot has been written about the effects of the always-on culture on practitioners and their staff. What steps have you taken to achieve a good work-life balance?
We just signed up to vitality, so we've got medical insurance and keeping fit and active is one of the key things I push. I recently paid for my staff members to have six week’s worth of personal training just to get them up and running and have challenges at the end.
If you haven't had a lunch break I am literally saying 'go out and have a break and then come back'. Our type of work is mentally draining and it is really important then to have that escapism outside work and to keep your mind away from work.
The need to switch off from your work is one change but what’s been the biggest change in the profession since you've qualified?
Shortly after I qualified in 2007 I wanted to quit my job – it was just awful and depressing. I was in the corner of the room and it was so dark and I had all these paperwork and I felt I was in a manufacturing processing line.
I thought 'All I am doing is getting receipts and posting them'. I thought: I am a qualified accountant and I am sitting here processing invoices on a terrible system and trying to get an end result that is going to take me ages to get to the end. It was the worst feeling ever.
So the biggest change was definitely technology because that was what encouraged me to set up my own business. If it was the other way, I definitely wouldn't be doing an accountancy practice, I'd be doing something else.
This is what encouraged me to change everything: what do I find terrible, what do my clients find terrible, or what business can I set up to improve this and help?
As an ACCA advocate I want to give back and encourage students and members to improve their lifestyle and education and if they're going into a job, what can they do in their job to stand out.
So while you’re going to be prepared for Making Tax Digital, how do you think it will affect the profession?
I think it's going to make things a lot more difficult. I'm geared up for it because it’s what I know is going to happen but it's not because I like it.
I'm not doing it because I love Making Tax Digital and everything is all online. It's more the fact that I'm not going to want to do the extra work. Nobody is – who wants to? You need to find ways to fix it and implement things now so that when it does approach that you don't have that stress and worry.
I'm trialling things now. For the last couple of years I've been trying to do things every three months to see if I can achieve it. I'm working through them with my team to see if we can get stuff done in a few months team – and we're online!
Enough of this modern-day tech, let’s talk calculators. Do you remember your first calculator?
In one of my first jobs calculators kept going missing in the office and I was really fed up with it. So I decided to buy myself a lovely pink calculator so that if it goes missing I would be able to find it easily.
I put it on my desk and my boss said: 'That's really ugly'. And I was like: ‘Good, I want it to be’. I loved it. That pink calculator stayed with me throughout my journey until I qualified.
Watch an on demand version of the Accounting Excellence: Secrets of tech-first accountants here. Falcon Huerta, Olly Evans and Mike Hutchinson discuss how they’ve integrated tech into every facet of their firms and processes.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.