What we learned at: The 20th annual 2020 conference

2020 group
Richard Hattersley
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The literal and figurative shadow of British politics loomed large over the 20th annual 2020 conference.

With Brexit and Making tax Digital high on the ‘changing face of accountancy’ themed-agenda, the 2020 group couldn’t have picked a more apropos venue away from its usual Birmingham conference home than Westminster’s QEII centre.

But 2020 group’s Gordon Gilchrist and Ian Fletcher diverged from the usual political uncertain rhetoric heard in these quarters and instead focused on where there is change, there is an opportunity for accountants.

“The world is in flux,” Gilchrist said, opening the conference. But, he assured the audience, “any change is good for accountants”.

Brexit and economy

The duo said even Brexit presents an opportunity for accountants to be more in-demand – eg a no-deal Brexit may bring sudden tariffs for clients. Here, Gilchrist said, is an opportunity for accountants to take note of clients doing business in Europe and set up a Dublin office – and Irish-based accountancy firm Robert Nathan exhibiting at the event offered just that ‘plan B’ Brexit solution.

“If I was to set up shop in Dublin who would I like to set up shop for me, it's an accountant,” Gilchrist told AccountingWEB. “Set me up with a registered office, set me up with a company, set me up with a bank account, knowing that there is a huge element of trust in their accountant which I don't find with other professions.” 

From Trump to Brexit, Financial market commentator Justin Urquhart Stewart took to the stage to evaluate the current economic outlook. He encouraged the audience not to get too swept up in the doom and gloom – things are not as volatile as you might think. 

2020 group

To the backdrop of a Dad’s Army ‘don’t panic’ image, Urquhart Stewart told the room to take a more considered, long-term view.

Embrace the opportunity

Motivational speaker Brad Burton continued the conference’s don’t get bogged down and embrace the opportunities theme.

Burton recounted how he bounced back from his personal and professional breakdown. Bounding back and forth on the stage, Burton exuberantly advocated the benefits of having a positive mindset. 

Approaching your goals like you set your car's satnav coordinates and having racehorse-like blinkers when it comes to your competition were both used to illustrate how you "can be the best you".

Burton's anecdote about a time-poor CEO client should have resonated with the attendees. He recommended his overworked client to itemise what they were doing every 15 minutes throughout their working day. What the CEO soon discovered was that 20 hours a week were spent “pretending to work”.

It’s an important message here: there is a reason for long hours during deadline dates like self assessment season, but the office desk chain shouldn’t be shackled so tightly all year round. A question to ask: “Is this the best use of my time?”

The mental health and wellbeing of accountants have become a great concern as of late. Later in the conference, Gilchrist pointed the finger at number of factors for this including accountants being overwhelmed by work, not having the right talent, and taking on client’s stresses.

Gilchrist’s GP even confirmed that accountants are among the top visitors to their practice. But there are a number of lifestyle tweaks which Gilchrist recommended that could help accountants’ wellbeing:

  • Intense training three times a week
  • Decrease caffeine intake
  • Increase vitamin C (eg free fruit in the office)
  • Get a hobby
  • Laugh a lot (set a firm social committee)
  • Are you sleeping OK?
  • When you walk around, walk tall.
  • Take Fridays off (say to your team: work 37 chargeable hours Monday-Thursday)

Things are only going to get busier

But as businesses receive a letter informing them about their MTD for VAT responsibility, accountants are set to be busier than ever. “So now accountants are saying, I was going to have some time off in February but that's not going to happen because I've got to get them across the line in March, April and beyond,” Gilchrist told AccountingWEB.


A show of hands in the room showed that accountants are having their best year in terms of workload ever and the demand for accountancy services have never been higher.

“No one is saying I need more clients. If anything, they are saying, we could do with losing a few clients who are not paying their way,” said Gilchrist. “If there is a time to get rid of clients who have messy records and don’t want to pay, now is the time.”

Dictating a letter to those clients, Gilchrist instructed others to write: “You’re currently paying £800. Your fee will soon be £1600 which we think is ridiculously expensive – so where should we send your files?”

Ditching these clients or looking into offshoring will allow firms more time to spend with clients and echoing the advice of Burton, to be different and do things which other firms are not doing.

Block to the future

Accounting Excellence alumni Aynsley Damery took to the stage and talked about one such avenue: blockchain. Damery, CEO of crypto-project Clarity, gave a buzzword-free, plain English blockchain overview, listing the strengths as its transparency, speed, and security.

Aynsley Damery

While a lot of this sounds like future-gazing, Damery explained that it’s very much of the here and now. For example, the Bank of England is looking at a blockchain replacement of the CHAPS system by 2020, the Big Four are exploring audit options, and QBO can even accept Bitcoin.

“Blockchain will assist accountants hugely… more data provides better advisory,” Damery said.

Gilchrist has equally bought in on blockchain being the future of the profession: “The big story is not MTD. It is not just cloud accounting. Blockchain will facilitate the next era, which is advisory services.”  

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

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


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