Looking at public practice now versus 10 years ago, is there an expectation to have a public voice and profile?
Absolutely. The caveat to that is: I don’t think it’s necessary to run a good firm.
If you look at some of the [top-ranked firms] there are a whole heap who are quiet achievers. There are partners in those firms who you have never heard of, who are running super profitable operations. They’re not in it to drive a profile for themselves, they’re focused on delivering good accounting and advisory services.
All that being said, there is an opportunity to contribute to public discussion through a profile. A big difference now, versus public practice 10 years ago, is that accounting firms were once very siloed. Firms didn’t collaborate, and they didn’t share information publicly or privately very much.
Now, a lot of firms are working together not as competitors, but as collaborators. There is a realisation that there are plenty of clients for everybody, and people are genuinely trying to help others be better, be more efficient, and implement software to make the delivery of service to our clients overall a good experience.
Who is driving that collaboration - is it accountants or software providers?
I think it’s accountants. Software providers are a great part of the conversation, but there is a natural limit to their contribution.
Running an accounting practice is an extraordinarily complex thing. The delivery of our services to clients is complex, it is technical. It’s important to understand what a firm goes through, and software providers often have people who worked at accounting firms with them, so they can understand that.
There are a lot of people in the industry who have a great product, but they are limited in the conversation, not having actually worked at accounting firms. It’s a natural part of the dynamic.
I can see the real value from practitioners collaborating and sharing their own work, their own hacks, and their own learnings. Those conversations weren’t happening 10 years ago to my knowledge, and it does open up opportunity.
With all that in mind, is the accounting profession more social than it once was? The conference scene has taken off in the last few years.
I absolutely agree. Conferences used to be technical, run by a professional body. There’d be a bit of networking, a bit of socialising, but it was all very technical.
Now, I catch up with peers, talk and socialise at conference - it’s a new breed of conference. I tend to attend with the intent of seeing people, rather than just absorbing the content. It’s great and useful. As things come up after that, we share information, problem solve, and look out for each other.
Are conferences fun? Can they be a drag?
It really depends on the conference and the people who are there, but there’s a real energy about some of them. We see it as an opportunity to be involved in networking not just with ourselves and accountants, but with suppliers and vendors - that’s really beneficial for us.
‘Fun’ isn’t what you'd traditionally associate with running a public practice firm. Has the nature of that role, and its image, changed?
In the past, I would have been working very long hours, weekends, and probably that classic 80-hour week. I was thinking I’ve got to work harder, I’ve got to work more, and as is the fate of many in public practice - I thought, I can’t trust my team, it needs to be me doing the work.
However, I have a young son now, and ever since he came into the picture, it has forced a change of behaviour. I want to see him in the morning, I want to see him in the afternoon, and I don’t want to miss his life. I tend to work 9am to 5pm, I don’t work weekends, and maybe one or two nights a week I’ll be clearing emails in the evenings.
With my partners, George and Laela, I can do that. I’ve got great colleagues, we have really fantastic team around us, and share the work. Part of that comes with size, we can afford more operational support and more experienced team members, we are capable of investing in training also.
Now, my biggest complaint is I need to work more than I am doing at the moment. It’s about striking a balance between keeping up momentum, and maintaining lifestyle. It can be difficult, but it can be done.