Small Change: John Harrison, John Harrison and company

John Harrison
John Harrison
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Welcome to Small Change, a weekly catch up with an accountant in practice where we find out their daily routine and ask them about the biggest trends in the profession.

In this week's edition, John Harrison breaks away from tax returns to tell us about his morning routine, self assessment and his first calculator.

Harrison is the owner of John Harrison and company since 1989. Before starting his Worksop-based practice, Harrison was a partner at Allotts chartered accountants for 14 years.

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What’s the first thing you do when you get in the office? It’s to get through my emails. The reason for that is when I was a new partner in the accounting practice I was with at the time, I would get to work at about 8.15am, open the post, put the things in the in-tray that were mine, get the files out, dictate the replies and the typist would be there and she'd type everything up for me and my in-tray was empty. And then I'd get on with my day's work.

Now, that is something I cannot get away from. That came to me in my formative years and I have to have my in-tray empty.

Making Tax Digital or Making Tax Difficult? It's going to make things an awful lot better. We are already moving our clients who have manual systems into an accounting system where we can apply a bank feed which would enable us to do an analysis.

What do you do to escape the world of tax and accounts? I love football and I like to read. I like Bernard Cornwall's novels. I went through the Last Kingdom series. I find that fascinating because you can actually live in their world while you are reading. It takes you away from everything.

What’s the biggest change in the world of accounting since you qualified? One thing is that we don't do anything like the different services that we did, such as auditing, investment business and insolvencies.

But it is actually the changes from the last two to three years that are the most significant ones. The technology available to automate many of the accounting processes is allowing us to talk to clients about building better businesses.

What KPIs do you obsess about? I shouldn't but daily output, and the other is turnaround time, which a lot of people don't measure.

The objective is to get the turnaround time down to less than 30 days so that we can then say to people that we can guarantee a 30-day turnaround, otherwise, it’s free. I think that would give us a great advantage in the marketplace.  

Do you check your emails outside office hours? Yes... But we've now diverged as much of the admin stuff as we can to a separate admin email account, and after I've done my first trawl through the emails in the morning I am getting my PA to look at them and bring to my attention the ones that are really for me. It keeps me away from processing emails all the time.

What was your worst self assessment season? The very first one. In recent years we have had most of our returns filed before Christmas, but due to some fairly significant ill health in the practice towards the end of last year, we've had a bit of a rush for the first time in a decade.

What steps did you take to get most of your clients filed before Christmas? That was easy. In our service conditions we say to our clients we will file your tax return on time, or otherwise we will pay the penalty for late filing.

That makes us bloomin' nuisances when it gets to this time of year. Starting next week, people who still owe us information to file returns will start getting daily phone calls from our administrative people.

The Ralph memorial question: Can you remember your first calculator? I do. It was an adding machine, not a calculator. When I was an articled clerk many years ago the partners in the practice did not allow you to use the adding machine or a calculator in your first 12 months. Everything had to be done in your head. You had to learn how to add up. Even now when I get a column of figures I'll add it up in my head rather than get a calculator out.

What have you got for lunch, and does it cost more than £5.50? I went home and had a beef sandwich with some sliced apple, orange, salad leaves and some small tomatoes. So it didn't cost me a penny!

About Richard Hattersley

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