AccountingWEB has teamed up with its UK sister site, AccountingWEB.co.uk, to present a new series that explores the lives of members of the accounting profession. In the first installment of this new series, Jim Brown, assurance partner of BDO in Bristol, UK, shares his working life with us.
Variety is the best part of my job. It involves many different roles and each one gives a different buzz – part of it is about running an office, but there’s also supporting my clients and helping them run their businesses effectively, as well as attracting new clients. At the same time, it’s a people business, and I get a real buzz out of seeing members of our team flourish and develop.
Having to make tough decisions is the worst part. The last 18 months has brought as much challenge as I’ve known over the last 20 years I’ve been in business and we’ve had to let some people go. Generally we only have good people, and having to right size your business means you have to let go of some good people. I’ve done it in previous firms and it doesn’t get any easier. It doesn’t feel any more right but it’s essential that you do it.
Being a good audit partner is about personal interaction as well as technical skill. When a client wants a relationship with BDO, part of that relationship is with me. It’s about giving clients the confidence that I know what I’m talking about and that I can make a difference – and that’s about managing relationships effectively, both external and internal.
The most rewarding client relationships are the ones where you feel you’re making a difference. Audit is something that’s enforced by statute so it’s not always something a company would choose to have if it had a choice. For the vast majority of businesses, the audit is just part of the overall relationship. When I get the most value is when clients ring up and ask my views because they value my opinion as a fellow professional.
If you’re dealing with a large corporate, it’s a very different sort of adviser/client relationship to if you’re dealing with an owner managed business. In an owner managed business, it’s their money and they have a vested interest in the amount of value they get from each interaction, and as an adviser you have to be mindful of that. I’m not saying the corporates don’t care what they spend, but their role and responsibility is markedly different. They’re spending someone else’s money and increasingly in the world in which we live, it’s about making sure you can’t be blamed, so you get very different interfaces at different levels in different organizations. The south west is very much an owner managed marketplace so I’m quite fortunate that most of my relationships are rewarding, you’re valued as an individual as well as part of an organizations.
When I started out in the business, it was common to train in practice – in the audit department – and three years in, after you were qualified, you decided whether to stay in audit or specialize in a different area such as corporate finance, tax, business recovery, etc. I got more from staying where I was in terms of developing my personal skill sets and developing my role.
Audit is a heavily regulated sector and an increasing amount is about process and grind. The financial crisis has resulted in a focus on process checks, controls and balances and that’s probably a good thing. Natural flair is an important part of being a good auditor, but it’s not the key part. You’ve also got to be good at compliance procedures, checks and balances.
The first three months of the year are busiest in terms of delivering audit assignments and then the rest of the year is spent focusing on lower level audit assignments, business targeting and networking among other things.
Part of my job is about building brand BDO in the South West marketplace and social networking is a quick and easy way of getting it out there to a number of people. I’ve found LinkedIn to be a useful tool for connecting with people and putting people in contact with each other, and Twitter is a good way of getting some immediate points and comments into the marketplace quickly. Whether it’s where we ultimately end up as an organization and business in general, I don’t know. I think it will go through some more iterations, but it’s something we see as an important tool in everyday business.
Networking is an important part of my day. Meeting people – contacts and intermediaries – is an essential part of everyday life. Some of the things you do are hardships, for example you might sometimes get invited to a black tie dinner at the end of a long day which you might not always feel up to going to, but other aspects are great fun and you wouldn’t want to be without them. For me the balance is finding ways in which you can do the business side of networking and combine it with things you enjoy – so for me sport is a big part of what gets me going. Fortunately I know a number of business contacts who enjoy that as well. Some of the longest standing relationships I’ve had over the last 15 – 20 years have been forged on the golf course. The important thing is if you’re doing something that you enjoy, hopefully you’re doing that with people who are also enjoying that and it actually creates a far better environment in which to forge a relationship and the key part of business life for me is about relationships. Doing it in an environment where everyone is happy and relaxed is more beneficial than when everyone’s there slightly under duress.
I couldn’t live without my BlackBerry. Business life has changed a lot over the last 20 years and the ability to communicate effectively is more important than ever. In today’s society, information is king and unless you’ve got a free flow of that information it’s very hard to do what you do. It’s hard to envisage how we ever did business without them!
As part of this series we’re looking to cover as many different job roles in the accounting sector as possible, in both the US and the UK. If you know someone who would be interested in participating in upcoming features in the series, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.