How we do our job has changed. The way we do business is just the same.
Paul Newsham has been Partner at RfM Accountants for almost 30 years and with the business since 1990. Over his time at RfM, he’s witnessed huge shifts in the way staff carry out their jobs and work with clients. Paul gives us an insight into what accounting life was like in the ’90s, how things are done today, and why it’s good that some things have stayed the same.
I joined the company as Audit Manager back in 1990 when it was known as Demack’s, becoming a salaried partner a couple of years later and a full partner in 1994.
Back then, we offered the ‘traditional’ services that most accountants offered – personal and company accounts, bookkeeping, tax, audit – and everything was done manually, on paper.
Bookkeepers recorded transactions by hand in ledgers and the accounts were produced on large analytical spreadsheets. There was no Excel to work things out for you – just the figures in the columns of the spreadsheet and a calculator. A report of the accounts would be typed up by a secretary and printed out for the accountant to talk their client through.
Our whole workflow was manual too: every stage of the job – from booking in to completed accounts – was listed on a sheet and the person responsible ticked off each stage as it was done.
There was, of course, plenty of scope for human error and an innocent typo on a report could paint a very different picture of a client’s accounts.
Tax investigations were carried out face-to-face with the tax inspector. And you knew your client was in trouble if the investigator started quoting Hansard at you!
The relationship with the local Bank Manager was also very important to accountants, as most new clients came via a direct referral from the bank.
Accounting software – an opportunity, not a threat
By the mid ’90s, as accounting software became more readily available, things started to move from paper to the computer. Packages like Sage made many accounting processes easier but there was also a belief that anyone with the technology could do accounts.
Rather than seeing accounting software as a threat to our business, we took it as an opportunity. Clients soon found they were still very much reliant on our expertise to get the most from Sage. So we set up a separate technology division training clients to set up and use Sage correctly.
Alongside this, we had also branched out into providing an independent financial advice service.
Then, as now, we were always looking for opportunities to provide a more complete service to our business and personal clients.
From independent to group, and back again
In the early 2000s, Demack’s became part of a large national accountancy group, taking advantage of the brand recognition and opportunities associated with being in a bigger network.
After 10 years, however, we made the decision to go back to being independent, and the RfM brand was launched on 1 February 2015. The new RfM Group took the best of what we offered as part of a national group but with a more local, personal feel.
We also expanded our service offer to include a range of added-value complimentary services, designed to make life easier for our clients.
Moving with the digital times
By the time RfM was born, the world was very different from how it had been when I joined the business. The internet and technology already played a significant role in all our working lives, particularly in how we communicated with each other.
As a group we have embraced digital technology, introducing cloud accounting services, offering secure digital document transfer, and using online tools like Zoom and Teams to meet with clients, as appropriate. All our offices are as paperless as they can be.
Of course, we still have clients who don’t use technology to the same degree and we’ll always adapt our approach to meet their needs.
Some things will always be the same
Which leads me on to things that haven’t changed in 33 years. The big one is the same requirement to build good client relationships. It’s really important that your accountant gets to know you and your business, that way they’ll give you much better advice and be invested in your success. Many of my clients have been with RfM since those early ‘off-line’ days and it’s been a pleasure to share their business journeys with them.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve changed as such, but I have grown over the years and learned how to deal with clients with authority. There are so many experiences I can call on from my 35+ year career that enable me to give them sound advice. In fact, I’ve got so many stories and anecdotes, I could definitely write a book!