Small Change: Allison Devine from Alexander Sloan

Allison Devine
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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.

Speaking from the practice trenches this week is Allison Devine from Alexander Sloan. Devine has just taken the reigns of the Scottish firm as senior partner from Andy McBean, who retired at the end of 2017.

Devine takes fifteen minutes away from new role to discuss the importance building a culture of trust, family time, and client retention.

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Hi Allison, how are you? I'm very well, thank you.

Congratulations on becoming the senior partner at Alexander Sloan. Thank you. I actually joined the firm back in 1999 as a trainee chartered accountant.

I got a graduate placement here at Alexander Sloan and I did my training, qualified in 2002 and I moved through different roles within the firm before being made partner in 2013, and then made senior partner at the start of this year. Sloan's is all I've ever known.

What’s the first thing you do when you get in the office? How do you start your day? Always by checking emails and voicemails; I suppose that is everybody's answer. (laughs).

If I've checked my emails and voicemails in the morning, generally in the car or train on the way in, then that means that I am well-prepared for when I arrive at the office.

Making tax digital or Making tax difficult? I think it will present its challenges for clients but it's a huge opportunity because it means we can really assist clients and it means they're getting more management information, more relevant information from their systems as well as the taxman.  

How was your self assessment season? It actually was probably a wee bit trickier than other years. We had a new tax partner, Carol Connor, who joined the firm just at the start of 2017, so we've had a year of significant change and progression within our own tax department and firm.

During the year we changed tax systems so we gave ourselves a big task and that was added to the usual pressures brought about by the January deadline. But I have to say that it's certainly been a big change for the better.

What’s the biggest change in the world of accounting since you qualified? When I started we were all working across accounts and audits with paper files and those were, I hate to say it, all handwritten schedules. I think back to that now I think 'oh my goodness, how did we get through the work'.

We're all completely paperless in terms of all our audit files, all our accounting files, all of our tax files, everything is completely paperless.

What KPIs do you obsess about? Last year we celebrated our 150th year. As a firm, we are very proud of the excellent reputation that we have. We’ve worked with multiple generations of owner managed businesses that have been handed down through the generations. So a KPI for us has to be client retention and client satisfaction is hopefully mirrored in those figures.

What are you doing to improve your work-life balance? Trying to practice what we preach. We put into place about Easter time 2017 flexible working arrangements for all of our staff.

As long as our staff are delivering their 35 hours over the course of the week and as long as, critically, all client deadlines have been met, we don't mind how the staff work those hours.

The culture within the firm is one of trust. So if we trust our staff with flexible working arrangements hopefully they will give us that commitment back. I don't ever want a situation where one of our staff members can't attend a sports day or a parents night or half day off for it. Hopefully, the flexible arrangements that we have hopefully allows people to have a good balance.

Because if people come to work refreshed and able to take advantage of lots of family time or hobbies then hopefully it means everybody gives their best when they are here at work.  

What do you do to escape the world of accounts and tax? I really spend lots of time with my family: my husband John and I have two little children; I have a little boy Conner who's seven and a little girl Kira who is three. We spend as much valuable time with them as we possibly can.

Can you remember your first calculator? (Intake of breath) Goodness, can I remember my first calculator? I do!

I want to say it was a Texas calculator. It was a scientific calculator from university because I was doing a maths degree, and that was the first one that I brought to the office.

That one's been ditched and I now have a far more straightforward calculator but I have to say, I still have it in my handbag.

About Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.