Founder of Kennedy Accountancy, Karen Kennedy CA, reveals how she is building the Highland economy through her bespoke bookkeeping services
Karen Kennedy CA’s firm does more than mere numbers. Her goal is to help build the local economy while making accountancy cool, she tells Julie Burniston
Since opening its doors in October 2020, Kyle-based Kennedy Accountancy has proved a lifeline for businesses in the local community. Launched by Karen Kennedy CA, a proud Highlander with a determination to support the area’s growth, the practice aims to give business owners time back to enjoy the place they call home. It hopes ultimately to provide careers and CA training for local people so they won’t have to move away to advance.
Kennedy’s approach may make more traditional practitioners shudder – flexible working, a four-day week and no timesheets. “I set expectations with clients that I don’t work on a Friday,” she says. “I work around my two children, so clients don’t have 24-hour access, but I’m transparent and it hasn’t proven to be a problem.”
Kennedy builds a bespoke book-keeping package based on client need. She offers regular financial reports, help with strategic decision making and business coaching on everything from taking on employees to tax advice. In another break from the norm, she also embraces social media. “It attracts good talent and the type of clients I want to work with – and puts off the people who don’t want to work with someone like me! So that’s great,” she smiles. “The trap we often fall into as accountants is thinking this is the way it’s always been done, so this is the way it should continue to be done. I’m determined to show the human face of the profession and to change the view that accountants are all just stale, pale males.”
Kennedy was initially attracted to the legal profession. “I studied law at Glasgow University,” she says. “I had good exam results, and uni was the done thing as there were few apprenticeships back then. So I went and had a great time, but by the time I graduated it was the 2008 crash and there were no jobs.” But she was soon offered an accountancy traineeship back home in the Highlands. “I had business and commercial awareness, which was key, so I took the role on and loved it,” she says.
She gained her CA training in practice while planning her wedding. “Apart from having kids, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “My law degree was nothing compared with CA training. It took a lot of commitment, but it taught me how to organise myself and work hard, and it gave me a real grounding in so many areas.”
Going it alone
After having her first child, Kennedy felt ready for change and took a job in a college. “It was a steep learning curve, but the skills were transferable,” she says. “That’s what makes the CA qualification so attractive. I take a lot of pride in being a CA and knowing I got through that [process].”
Coming out of lockdown and taking the plunge to set up her own firm, Kennedy was determined to do things differently. After researching other firms’ offerings, she found her inspiration in Will Farnell’s book, The Digital Firm. “I loved the way Will changed his accounting firm to remain competitive,” she says. “His fresh approach, driven by changing client demands including tax digitalisation and end-to-end cloud accounting, proved hugely successful and gave me a roadmap for creating my own business. I got in touch and he became a sort of business mentor.”
Today, Kennedy Accountancy uses the right technology in the right places. “We partner with our clients and give proactive advice to make running a business as simple as possible,” she says. “That includes setting them up with the technology that will make life easier and showing them how to use it.”
Kennedy’s clients, predominantly in the Highlands and Islands, are a mix of hospitality, accommodation, tradespeople, hotel and service-based businesses – people for whom family and community needs are paramount. “We do a lot of work around messaging and client service,” she says. “It runs through everything we do: how we speak to clients, how we make them feel.”
Kennedy currently employs an admin assistant and an apprentice who is doing his Association of Accounting Technicians qualification. “It was a very scary step to take on staff, but you can’t scale anything on your own,” she says. “You have to get over thinking no one can do it as well as you, that perfectionist thing – it’s rubbish. I took an office in January as I don’t think an apprentice can work from home – they need guidance – but the flexibility is still there. One staff member is a parent, so I like being able to provide a flexible working environment. I see it as a major industry issue that staff are scared to take time off for the dentist or to look after children or pets.”
Underlining the firm’s local focus, it has launched an initiative called the Kennedy Accountancy Community Credits. “Where we are based there’s a lot of grant funding for businesses, but it all goes to tourism and food and drink businesses, and there’s a massive portion of the business community which is left out, especially start-ups who really need the cash,” says Kennedy.
“Rather than moan about it and do nothing, I launched a scheme whereby businesses which meet the criteria – less than two years old and service-based – are given lower fees in the first year, with my business subsidising them.”
Further burnishing the image of the profession, Kennedy also visits local schools to discuss her experience. “Accountancy may not seem like a glamorous job, but it is a vital one – and maybe this way I can show the next generation that it can also be cool,” she smiles.