Small Change: Laith Hilfi from Rayner Essex

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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.

A common theme emerging in this Small Change feature is how emails and the smartphone hold dominion over accountants. Even outside office hours, our Small Change interviewees have confessed to bowing to their smartphone temptation. “Maybe a client needs me,” is a common answer from those suffering from this email itch.

However, this week’s Small Change interviewee has previously taken a refreshing approach to emails. “It's not like a life-threatening matter that needs to be dealt with at 9pm or 10pm,” said Laith Hilfi from Rayner Essex. “Things can wait until the morning.”

However, Hilfi may struggle to detach himself from his phone following the news that he’s been promoted to partner at the London and St Albans-based accounting firm.

Hilfi’s joined Rayner Essex in 2016 after eighteen years at Hazlem Fenton, LLP, where he developed their Middle East practice. Hilfi will bring this expertise to the partnership team as he’ll support Middle Eastern, international and domestic private clients and companies.

It’s not just Hilfi’s digital detox that dominates this week’s Small Change, he also discusses the various changes he’s seen in the profession and remembers back to when he was 13 and had his first calculator.  

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

I usually try to plan my day when I drive to work - especially when I've got a few urgent matters. Sometimes your day changes dramatically when you walk in because issues crop up.

I don't check my emails immediately because once you get sucked into looking at the emails you can go off plan, replying to emails. I go in and do the urgent matters, delegate a few tasks to colleagues and deal with urgent emails from previous days and it is only then that I start looking at my emails.

Do you check your emails outside office hours?

Unfortunately yes. I stopped for a few months because nothing is going to happen between 7am and 8pm the following day. I'd switch off my iPhone's work email so in my evenings I could wind down. But by the morning I'd have accumulated a lot of emails overnight. The volume of emails I am getting are increasing with my role. So it's always fighting against time.

I've got a young family, so once they've gone to bed after 8pm I do check my emails and reply sometimes.

Will you stop checking your emails again?

I think I will try to do it again. It's not like a life-threatening matter that needs to be dealt with at 9pm or 10pm. Things can wait until the morning.

You feel fresher the following day. You give your brain a rest. Otherwise, what happens is you could get an email which annoys you and it plays with your mind. You start thinking about it. It just ruins your evening.

It also stopped me playing with my phone because subconsciously I was always checking emails. You fall into that trap where you keep looking at your phone and I don't think it is a good thing. I am trying to go back to life before the iPhone.

What do you do then to escape the world of tax and accounts?

I swim 1km nonstop once a week, sometimes twice. Once a week I also do a 5k and I do high-intensity interval at the gym. I'd say about three-four times a week I do sports after work.

Also, I have young children: an eight-year-old and a five-year-old who keep me busy. Alternating with my wife, we do homework together. Then I like reading when I have the time. Although I can't read during my commute, I listen to audiobooks on various topics from politics to sports.

What's been the biggest change in the profession since you qualified?

There are more rules and regulations; compliance has increased substantially over the last ten years. So there is a lot more administration we're doing these days from onboarding clients, which was pretty straightforward, to now where it's a good three hours to onboard a client.

The tax law has become a lot more complex. Property taxation, as an example; there have been a lot of changes in the last five to six years, including tax residency with the introduction of the statutory residence test back in 2013.

And everything is becoming digital these days, even our work. Ten years ago there was paper filing, now we're doing our filing electronically. There is no paper on our desk. Making Tax Digital is also on its way, although there have been delays.

What are your thoughts on that? Will it be Making Tax Difficult?

I think in the long run it will help clients, but HMRC needs to phase it in slowly. Transforming from the current system to a digital system in one year I think is going to be very difficult.

But in the long run it will save time and save costs but I don't think we're ready yet. When it happens we'll need a few years before we can see the benefits from it. Ultimately we'll have to move, as that's the way the world is moving.

Do you remember your first calculator?

I remember the calculator I used in school. We were allowed to use them when I was around 13. I am 43 now, so we are talking about 30 years ago.

I went to a private school in Abu Dhabi. Everyone went out to buy the most sophisticated Casio within the specifications. You could do all sorts on them such as fractions.    

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

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