Reminiscing on the last 10 years

We are celebrating Jo’s 10th Workversary this week (8 January 2024) and it has caused us to reminisce on how far we’ve come together, especially with the tax return deadline

Jo’s 10 Year WorkVersary

While we were celebrating this week, Jo reminded me of how things used to be when she joined. But firstly – it’s Jo’s 10th workversary!

Jo is now our Queen of Accounts and Tax, but joined in January 2014 as a quiet and reserved AAT Apprentice (AAT: Association of Accounting Technicians).

Shy but proactive!

I remember interviewing Jo in the break between Christmas 2013 and New Year 2014, and was really impressed by her work and personal development ethic. She could have gone straight to AAT level 3, as she had A levels, but instead chose to start at AAT level 2, so that she didn’t miss anything.

This is a good shout, as AAT2 covers so many topics in detail that aren’t covered again, including double entry bookkeeping, which you can’t really do without!

I was also mega impressed that this shy student was so forthright and proactive, and followed up after the interview asking if I’d made my decision yet, as she was so keen to work with us!

Dazzling qualifications!

Jo has constantly progressed and after smashing her AAT qualifications went onto study with the ACCA. Jo is now ACCA qualified (ACCA: Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) which is the qualification I also have.

Jo’s now responsible for our accounts and tax service, and has her own portfolio of clients. She also assists me with fees and proposals.

Jo is so knowledgeable, the whole team defer to her for help, to such an extent that we’ve introduced focus time in 90 minute chunks, so that she can also manage her own work without being disturbed.

Exceptional client care

What’s also lovely is the number of clients who comment on how amazing Jo is, and recognise her hard work, knowledge, and what she does for them behind the scenes. We have many long term clients, and they often comment on how far Jo has come, and remember her early days as a shy apprentice!

Jo our account manager is fantastic, always super responsive and nothing is ever too much trouble. Jo has an incredible ability of putting even the most complicated process into simple terms so that even I can understand.

long term ex-military client

Little known fact for you

I don’t think we’ve shared this before. Did you know that Kelly and Jo studied AAT together, and qualified at the same time?

We only discovered this after Kelly had been with us about a year. A memory popped up on my phone of Jo’s AAT graduation at Hereford Cathedral, and who should she be standing next to? Only our Kelly! They didn’t know each other at the time, but this is so sweet!

How far we’ve come

Jo started work on 8 January 2014, our first day back that year after the Christmas break and school holidays (my boys were 8 and 11 at the time).

January is a notoriously busy time for accountants, as 31 January is the self assessment deadline, and 2014 was no exception for us.

I had just completed all of our November VAT returns (deadline of 7 January) and then we were straight into tax return craziness. I don’t have the numbers to hand, as our work lists were printed out back in the day, but we probably had 80% or 90% of our tax returns still to.

And why did we have so many tax returns to do? Partly because that’s the way it always had been, but also we didn’t have robust enough systems in place to request and chase for information in a timely fashion. So we were still waiting for information from clients.

The history of the January self assessment deadline:

I sadly remember when self-assessment was introduced for the 1996/1997 tax year. I was responsible for pulling clients’ tax return information together where I worked, and setting up our processes, and the computer system to produce the tax returns. This was a big deal, but we only had one computer in a back office to manage all the tax returns. It was also the year that payments on account were introduced.

So that was the year that January became a nightmare for accountants. I remember at a big firm I worked at in Bath, we all stayed late in January (the whole firm, not just the tax team) to get returns done. We did get pizza delivered, but it was still a stressful time.

How it used to be:

Jo remembers coming in every day to a pile of client folders that she needed to file and put away in filing cabinets. (Filing cabinets! I think we sold all of ours in 2016).  I’m just remembering the sound of the filing drawers opening and crashing closed, and the pop of the files being opened. Happy to leave those memories in the past!

I would work until 10pm or 11pm on tax returns, printing out all the schedules we needed, and pop these in the top of the right client file. I’d prepare the letter for the client explaining any tax due, and print the tax return and schedules ready to send to them.

In the morning Jo would go through these and file the papers in the right section, and put the files away. She’d also go to the post office to post the tax returns to our clients, with a stamped addressed envelope for their return of course!

We’d then have to wait for the client to return the signed accounts and tax returns, then we would post these tax returns to the tax office. If we were really up against the deadline, we would personally take the tax returns to our local tax office. We had a tax office in Hereford back in the day. It’s now the Thomas Carroll office!

We also used to spend a lot of time on the phone chasing clients for information, and then chasing them up to return their signed tax returns!

Then once the deadline was over, I would knuckle down and keep working until 7 February, getting all our December VAT returns done.

How it is now:

January is no longer a stressful time for tax returns

We came into the 2024 New Year with only 14 tax returns left to do! And we only have these left because we’re waiting for information.

Historically we had over 100 tax returns left at the beginning of January. And often had over 30 left at the beginning of the last week in January. They always got completed, but it was so stressful, particularly as it was only me completing them all.

Occasionally a client would say they wouldn’t be able to get information to us, and would pay the fine, which spoilt our targets and numbers!

We would always finish as early as possible on 31 January, or the day before, and go out for lunch. You guessed correct – we did not return to the office that day!

Paper free and digital

We have been completely paper free for many years now, and it is a much easier and more efficient way to work!

We use Karbon our online client portal where we request client information. This is all templated so every client has a tax return job asking for the same info. We can customise this and our messages for individual client needs.

The portal also automatically reminds clients that we need information, which cuts our time chasing for info. Clients upload their information into the portal, and we take it from there.

When the accounts and tax returns are ready for the client to review and sign we send via AdobeSign or Xero Tax. Clients have been known to sign the documents within a couple of minutes of sending! So very much quicker than using the postal system!

We then click a button on Xero Tax to file the return online, and upload the signed documents into Google Drive.

Sharing the workload

You may have noticed earlier in this blog that it was me processing all of our VAT returns and tax returns. Well this year I completed only 2 personal tax returns (my own and my best friend’s!).

Jo and Liz now manage all of the tax returns. Not only preparing the tax returns, but managing the workflow, progress and targets too.

I also leave the VAT returns to my fabulous team: Liz, Kelly and Trudie, and only get involved when they need my input.

This frees me up to steer the ship, and focus on strategy and planning, not only for our business, but for our clients too. Most of my time is spent helping clients to build a plan for their future (for themselves and their business). I then meet clients regularly to hold them accountable to their goals.

But how have we done it?

Be Curious

One of our values is Be Curious, and this is exactly what it looks like in practice.

This monumental shift doesn’t happen overnight, it has taken small steps to get to where we are now. It’s about constantly questioning why we’re doing things a certain way, and looking for better ways of doing things.

Share Knowledge

Another of our values is Share Knowledge. If we find a better way of doing something we share between us and actively work out how to put it into action.

We encourage new ideas between us, and the whole team has the confidence to make suggestions. It’s a joy to see in action. We may have 7 of us around a table, and each team member may have a different input or idea which helps towards the end goal. It’s the same when we’re talking about clients, and how best we can support them.

Keep it Simple

Another value of ours! This is key to refining processes, and making small changes. It’s so easy to over-complicate things, especially when we’re looking at processes. It’s crucial to stand back and say “hold on a minute – is this really what we set out to achieve?”

We also strive to keep things simple for our clients, and make their lives easier, and this always comes into process improvements, and client care. I’m also a huge advocate of looking at the number of clicks it takes to do something, not only for us, but also stepping into the clients’ shoes, when we’re asking them to do something for us.

Do the Right Thing

This value covers so much when it comes to process improvements, and looking at the way we work together. Something may work perfectly for us, but is it a total pain for our client? Well if it is, then we need to go back to the drawing board.

It also covers a myriad of aspects like keeping legal, complying with legislation. Also making sure my team are all happy and doing what they love. There is no point getting a team member to cover an area of work that they just don’t enjoy, or don’t excel at.

We also use this value to look at clients we work with. If a client refuses to work with the software and technology we use, or consistently leaves everything until the last minute, we will consider letting them go, to find happiness elsewhere with another accountant.

Act with Happiness and Love

I can’t leave this value out. We live into this every day. Are we happy doing this work? Are we happy speaking with this client, or are they rude and disrespectful? Do we treat our clients with love and care?

Are Januarys much happier and lovelier now? Why yes they are! I also believe that we’re having our busiest ever January, and only have 10 tax returns left to do.

Are we still going out for lunch on the last day? Why yes we are! We have a tradition of going to The Beefy Boys to celebrate, so of course we are still going to do that!

Want to join us?

We no longer work towards deadlines. Our focus is on getting our work done as quickly as possible after your financial year end, or after the tax year.

If you’re fed up with your accountant leaving things to the last minute, then get in touch!

Be warned though, we will want you to embrace our digital world, and we no longer accept paper records in the office!