How Zyla Accountants founder, Suzy Kerton CA, utilises technology and financial education to prioritise client experience
Suzy Kerton CA founded Zyla Accountants with a goal of prioritising client experience. She tells Fraser Allen how technology and financial education helped put theory into practice
When Suzy Kerton CA was CFO at accounting software business Clear Books, she was struck by how little interest some practices took in their clients. “They never logged into client accounts or asked how they were doing,” she says. “They simply swung into action when it was time to prepare the year-end figures.”
It was a lightbulb moment – and the genesis of Zyla Accountants, which Kerton launched in 2015. Her vision was to offer regular help and communication, backed by technology. “We encourage our clients to keep in touch through Slack,” she says. “Many are in contact daily, messaging back and forth. It helps to provide them with a sense of security. We’re the eyes and ears for their deadlines, for checking out any concerns and helping with inefficiencies.”
Kerton says she always knew she wanted to run her own company. “My parents had their own businesses, so that inspired me to build something from the ground up,” she says. “That was the prime driver rather than working in accountancy, which I originally saw as quite a narrow world to operate in. It wasn’t until later that I appreciated the variety that comes with running a practice. In essence, it’s about helping people – that’s a very satisfying thing to be able to do.”
After qualifying at Baker Tilly in London, Kerton took secondment at the firm’s Buenos Aires office. Travel and study in Hong Kong, China, Japan and Central and South America followed. Back in London, she spent two years at Clear Books, then a spell at the Cabinet Office while she set up Zyla. “I began winning clients by offering free webinars in Brixton – some are still with us four years later,” she says.
The international theme to Kerton’s career has continued. While visiting her sister in Dubai in October 2020, a second lockdown was announced in the UK. She decided to stay put and run Zyla from there, a switch in location that enabled her to launch a practice in Dubai, too.
Since then she has parted company with her original business partner. “The Zyla brand is an amalgam of letters from our first names, so it felt like a significant change,” she says. “It’s a reminder that anything can happen. But it has also taught me that Zyla can continue to support its clients no matter the circumstance. And it means I can focus 100% on my vision for the business.”
Theory of everything
Zyla’s clients all manage their accounts digitally. If they’re not already doing so when being taken on, Kerton and her team help them with the transition. Most are in tech or ecommerce, with several also in hospitality and leisure. The firm’s services span the staples – book-keeping, VAT, payroll and year-end accounts – as well as CFO support, R&D tax credits and advanced assurance and compliance for both the Enterprise Investment and Seed Enterprise Investment Schemes.
Zyla also provides cloud accounting training, driven by Kerton’s strong belief in the value of financial education. “As CAs, we often forget many people running businesses aren’t aware of aspects of accountancy that we’d regard as the simple stuff,” she says. “Talking regularly and offering help and training can have a massive, positive effect on their business. I really enjoy that side of it. That’s how Zyla has grown – through those organic referrals where clients tell other businesses how we’ve supported them.”
She also values the educational element of ICAS, and its role in bringing CAs together to share best practice, something which played a significant part in kickstarting Zyla. “I remember sitting at the ICAS conference one year, listening to CAs who had started their own businesses. I took great inspiration from that,” she says. “I’ve been Chair of the Members In Practice Advisory Board for three years and I love it. I get to meet other practice leaders to discuss issues and share ideas. Having ICAS there to give us advice on, say, HMRC developments is very useful.”
“Business accounting should be taught in schools,” she says. “For instance, we pay VAT just about every day of our lives, but most adults don’t understand how it works. Empowering them with that knowledge would be so helpful. It worries me so many people are running their business blindly, without accurate financial data. Accounts are not as sexy as marketing, so it’s easy to overlook them. A big part of our role is to ensure our clients don’t make that mistake.”