Small Change: Jonathan Brigain from Accountancy Scotland

Jonathan Briggain
The Accountancy Scotland
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Each week, AccountingWEB’s Small Change series catches up with a different accountant in practice. This week, we speak with Jonathan Brigain about his firm, Accountancy Scotland.

It’s hard not to think of the role destiny has played in Jonathan Brigain’s career. Today, he runs the 100% cloud firm Accountancy Scotland. But it seems as if accountancy and cloud was always his destination.  

When he was the finance director at Red Bull Scotland, there was a lot of money sloshing around without many overheads. So, Brigain invested in various different projects to automate the entire admin process. At that point using Sage 50 he unknowingly built a system not too dissimilar to what many cloud-savvy practitioners use today.

“All the stuff coming out now, we developed 10 years ago but we didn't package it. We didn't sell it as a product. If we had we'd probably be multi-millionaires right now,” he joked.

It’s no wonder then that when accounting software went cloud-based, Brigain jumped on at the chance straight away.

“When we take clients on we said you need to be on software or we took clients on who already were on the software because nobody wants receipts, spreadsheets and all the nonsense that goes along with it.”

And then there was his accountancy path. It was what he wanted to do since he left school. It just took him a little longer to get there, detouring first as a tax officer before working at Pearl Assurance and Red Bull. Of course, at the back of his mind, he was thinking of the accountancy consulting business that he runs today. At the time he felt he didn’t have enough mileage under his belt. But now those dots have connected:

“After ten years at Red Bull, I got all the business experience I could share with my clients and help them grow their businesses. That's what I did in 2015 and I never looked back,” said Brigain.

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What is the first thing you do when you start your working day?

I usually get up at 6am. I get on the treadmill; I am really working hard to get back into shape and get back into fitness. And then take my three golden retrievers for a walk in the park. The working day starts when I open my emails and check what's been happening overnight. From there it is looking at my calendar and seeing what I have got planned for the day.

That's quite a lot of exercise. What else do you do to escape the world of tax and accounts?

I go to qigong classes, which is great fun. It really switches you off. It completely retunes your brain. 

I've started running, as well as cycling, swimming and I spend loads of time with the dogs as they have a habit of making me have leisure time.

A common theme we've seen on Small Change is accountants checking their emails outside office hours. How do you avoid falling into the always-on culture?

As a business owner, I don't get that luxury at this stage. We make a point of being available to our clients almost 24 hours a day. So when the office lines close they divert to my mobile and basically we continue to take calls.

I think it's down to educating clients. You know who the repeat offenders are. Most of the clients really need you and they really need you now. For these people, I don't mind. The reality of the situation is that you just have to accept it until your practice is big enough and you've educated your clients properly.

The biggest change you've seen in the profession since you qualified?

There have been so many because of the changes in the laws. In terms of work, the property sector is dying - it's getting hammered by the law. It seems to be biased against buy-to-let landlords.

Making Tax Digital is going to be a big thing because it transforms the way you do business and report to HMRC. Cloud accounting is a massive change as it is starting to come round to my way of thinking. 

We do a lot of risk strategy. We had a GDPR-compliant payroll bureau five years ago. We are always looking ahead. If we weren't looking ahead we'd have to change a lot of things right now, quite quickly.

But I'd also like to see some kind of regulation change because at the minute anyone can set up as an accountant or bookkeeper, without any qualification. That's frightening and there needs to be some regulation like they have in the law society or even tradesmen have to be qualified. There is nothing to protect the consumer.

Can you remember your first calculator?

Yeah. I had a Casio FX-something. I probably don't have it now but it was really cool. It had SIN and TAN and all the things you want for your higher Maths. But now I use my laptop and mobile phone.  

In the video below, filmed by Sage, you can see Jonathan in action and learn more about how he uses cloud accounting tech in his firm.

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

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