A few weeks ago, I visited Newcastle to meet members and students and to speak at the Northern Society Annual Dinner. My flight back to the South West through Storm Calum was memorable. I have flown through many storms in my time and in my days as a glider pilot enjoyed crosswind landings. The approach that morning however, was the worst crosswind and wind shear combination I have ever experienced, and when the wing dropped sharply at around 50 feet, the pilot wisely aborted the landing and returned to Newcastle. In contrast to the turbulence of the storm, the subsequent six-hour train journey home gave me a period of calm to reflect on my conversations from the previous 24 hours.
One of those conversations was with BluSky Chartered Accountants. The business model at BluSky is striking: a firm of chartered accountants operating from a converted pub, with all of their paper consigned to a single small cupboard. It is a digitally-focused firm – you even sign in at reception digitally - concentrating on business advice in an open-plan office where a suit and tie would seem entirely out of place. There are meeting rooms, but many client conversations are via Skype.
Fast forward to Sydney, Australia a few weeks later, where I met another ICAEW member, Nikki Firth. Her business is called Your Accounting Sanctuary. Nikki’s business philosophy is the same as BluSky’s: harness digital technology, maintain records electronically, avoid paper wherever possible, ditch timesheets in favour of value billing and have some fun along the way. I know that the idea of scrapping timesheets is anathema to many, who worry that it leads to a loss of control and profitability, but when I put this to Nikki she simply said, 'we are going phenomenally at the moment'. I loved another thing that she said – and which I am sure that the team at BluSky would endorse – 'the best compliment is when people say you are not like they imagined an accountant'.
And that for me sums it up. As chartered accountants we are not the Monty Python stereotype; we are - as we have always been - the profession people turn to for informed, balanced business advice. Technology can help us fulfil that role better than ever, automating and simplifying compliance and routine tasks, freeing up time for what we do best: interpreting data and offering practical guidance. Nikki and BluSky have proved that their business model works - it gives their clients the service they seek.
Digital technology can and does bring disruption and turbulence; it also brings the opportunity to deliver even better service to our clients - something worth reflecting on in a moment of calm.