Talk to Barry Lewis about 1969 and it’s clear he fondly remembers a year when
the Beatles topped the charts with Get Back, film fans queued to see The
Graduate and fun played a big part in his working life.
Back then, he was a young articled clerk earning £9 a week before tax
enough to pay all his expenses and give his mum £2 housekeeping as he worked
towards chartered accountancy qualifications, through a Foulkes Lynch
correspondence course, under the guidance of Solomon Lipman, founder of London
chartered accountants and insolvency practitioners Harris Lipman.
Now Harris Lipman senior partner, a position he has held since 1988, the
changes affecting the accountancy and business worlds over the last 40 years
come sharply into focus when Lewis contrasts working weeks four decades apart.
Back then, the day began at 9.30am with tea delivered by a lady with a
trolley and the pace of the working week was governed by communication tools and
technology 1969-style. Lewis recalls: ‘Email, Google and Microsoft were
unheard of then, blackberry was a flavour of yoghurt and a Mac kept you dry in
the rain. Decimalisation had not taken place and VAT was not in sight.
‘Phone calls were cheap and post was delivered and collected efficiently. We
had manual typewriters, carbon paper, Tippex and Gestetner machines a
forerunner of the photocopier, and that was it. We prepared accounts by hand and
did a great deal of adding up, in our heads, without adding machines or
calculators. That was how we learned about debit and credit.’
Key accountancy issues of the day were graduated pensions, estate duty, the
Companies Act 1948 and surtax, with a top rate of 83% later to rise to 98%
but a tax return was just four pages, with no penalties for late filing, P11Ds
were prepared on an ad hoc basis, regulatory bodies were scarce and the
Companies Act 1967 was only just making itself felt. With minimal regulation,
the working week was short on deadlines and the demand for instant answers that
email and mobiles have created, but long on time to build client relationships.
Today, any smart accountant recognises the importance of understanding
clients and their businesses but, in 1969, Soloman Lipman was a man ahead of his
time. The value he placed on client involvement remains firmly at Harris
Clients, rather than regulators, also came first where accounts were
concerned. Lewis says: ‘Financial statements were designed to be meaningful to
the client, rather than the authorities. Today, accounting standards have made
some sets of accounts incomprehensible.’
Without in-house accounting software, businesses relied heavily on
accountants for a clear picture of their finances, so personal visits to discuss
accounts were a big part of working life. Lewis explains: ‘Until I turned up
with my briefcase, clients didn’t know how much profit they had made.
Accountants were treated with respect.’
Whatever the working day held, there was always time for an hour-long lunch
break, paid for with a luncheon voucher worth 15p today. ‘Enough for a sandwich,
a bag of crisps and a cup of tea,’ says Lewis.
It’s all a far cry from 2009. Lewis’s working day starts at around 4am when
he arrives at the office to an inbox full of urgent emails. Within a few hours,
the office phone and his mobile start ringing, while the post which the firm
collects daily at 7am, rather than waiting for a 10.30am delivery brings new
challenges and deadlines. Add in a packed daily schedule of internal and
external meetings and it is little wonder that lunch breaks are a thing of the
That’s just the day-to-day stuff. As senior partner, he also faces the bigger
challenges of sharpening Harris Lipman’s competitive edge and of building
relationships with cost-conscious clients.
With his Blackberry to hand, Barry is clearly very much a 21st century
operator though given half a chance, it’s clear he’d gladly Get Back to the
swinging sixties when life, business and the profession were, as he says, ‘great
Kate Davies, partner, Rickard Keen
In 1969, a Monty Python sketch created an enduring image of accountants. ‘You
are an appallingly dull fellow,’ careers adviser John Cleese tells Michael
Palin. ‘Tedious company, irrepressibly drab and awful.
‘In most professions these would be considerable drawbacks. In chartered
accountancy, they are a positive boon.’
For many, that remains the popular view of the profession outside it, at
least. Rising star Kate Davies is certainly helping to set the record straight,
though accountancy wasn’t her first career choice.
She says: ‘At school, I was always interested in figures and finance but I
didn’t wake up thinking I wanted to be an accountant. Once I started training
though, it all clicked very quickly. I liked the logic of it, the fact that
every client was different and the challenge of finding the answers to the
questions within their business.’
Davies joined Essex accountants Rickard Keen as a trainee in 1998, a couple
of years after completing her A-levels and working at the Bank of England. By
2004, she had qualified as a chartered accountant and chartered tax adviser and
began running a portfolio of clients under one of the firm’s partners, in a
Two years later, she was appointed the first female partner in Rickard Keen’s
90-year history. She cheerfully admits the move came as something of a surprise
at the time, but she understood the need for the partnership to bring in the
‘Succession is a big issue for so many firms like ours,’ she says. ‘Bringing
in younger partners helps to ensure the partner profile matches your client
base. All firms should be looking at bringing in the next generation of pa
As someone who is quietly but clearly a high achiever, Davies enjoys the cut
and thrust of a working week that is anything but predictable, alongside the
broader challenge of helping Rickard Keen to continue to move forward.
Client queries play a significant part in her work. She says: ‘Aside from
running my portfolio and dealing with clients’ compliance matters, each day is
shaped by what’s in my inbox and daily phone calls and post.
‘I am also responsible for the firm’s IT department as well as being involved
with the marketing of the firm.
‘We are led by client demand in dealing with so much electronically if they
send an email, they will expect a response within 24 hours. When I’m not dealing
with queries, there will be work coming in from my team to review and usually at
least one meeting a day with clients, as well as internal meetings.
‘Client meetings can be to discuss issues such as pre-year end tax planning
or review management figures or year end accounts. Other times, it may be
looking at changes in their business such as growth strategies, succession
planning or incorporating from a partnership to a limited company. New business
also tends to come my way, particularly if it’s a start-up involving people of
my own generation.’
The issues Davies deals with underline the challenge of building strong
client relationships in a compliance-led world. She says: ‘In the ten years or
so I have been in accountancy, I have seen so many changes in legislation, which
sometimes appear for the sake of change, with no apparent logic in the thought
process behind it.
‘One example where there is so much red tape now is the construction industry
scheme, where we have foremen responsible for checking subcontractors’ identity,
tax references and payment status on the side of a building site.
‘The strict penalty regime introduced with the changes has made life so much
harder for building contractors. The system ought to be there to support SMEs,
not involve them in the tax administrative process.’
The challenge of nurturing client relationships in a climate of regulatory
red tape and deadlines is one Davies relishes.
She says: ‘The way we do it is to offer clients more in terms of ongoing
services and by adding value with regular business workshops and seminars.
‘Our membership of MGI also enables us to support our clients trading
internationally. We’re always thinking about moving forward.’
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