World changing accountants tell their story

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Steve Pipe By Steve Pipe

17 May 2016

At the ICAS Practitioners’ Conference on 2 June, Steve Pipe will be presenting a keynote speech based on the research behind his new book “The World’s Most Inspiring Accountants”. Here is one of the case studies from that book.

“I was getting stale… but this has changed my life”

That’s how Simon Maddox described the impact that becoming “socially responsible” has had on him and his practice. And it’s making a real difference commercially too.

Simon is one of two partners at Owadally & King (‘O&K’), a practice with a total team of 17 people and a strong focus on tax. A few years ago he wrote down his goal as being to retire to the Yorkshire Dales by 2016.

Now he is not so sure, as he is enjoying practice more than ever before.

What changed?

In late 2011 Simon heard about the initial plans for the Accountants Changing The World movement, and they resonated with his values as a man of faith. So much so, in fact, that it started him on a journey that has resulted in O&K making a profound difference:

  • Globally to the lives of those living in poor and underprivileged parts of the world.
  • Locally to budding entrepreneurs from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • And also to the future of the local community, by helping its young people launch their careers.

It has also helped O&K in striving to achieve a balance between assisting wealthy clients through tax planning and other accountancy related services, as well as helping those less fortunate.

International impact

Inspired by the way Accountants Changing The World works with the B1G1 Business For Good movement, Simon showed the global charity International Needs (www.ineeds.org.uk) how it could enable people and businesses to give to the projects the charity supports.

And, leading by example, O&K now does exactly that through International Needs by automatically:

  • Giving life-saving vaccinations every time it completes an annual return for a client.
  • Giving life-enhancing books to third world schools every time it finalises a set of accounts.
  • And giving an African family a sustainable source of food and an income, in the form of chickens, every time it wins a new client.

But that is only the start.

Local impact on budding entrepreneurs

“We wanted to make a real difference locally too,” explained Simon. “So when an innovative Community Interest Company (‘CIC’) came to us, having been let down by another firm, not only did we get to solve their accountancy issue within 24 hours, but we also got involved in their community work.”

Enterprise Cube CIC runs business start-up training courses for the residents of housing associations. The courses are free to delegates, because they are paid for by the housing associations, and give their tenants (many of whom are from very disadvantaged backgrounds) the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to set up their own businesses.

“Housing associations are so keen to get involved, that it is difficult keeping up with demand,” says Simon. “But it is really worth it, because the calibre and potential of some of the businesses we have helped to start is amazing. For example, one of the businesses I now mentor is a hat maker, and one of her hats was recently seen on the BBC Television’s Graham Norton show being worn by the singer Paloma Faith.”

O&K help out in six main ways:

Mentoring – Currently Simon is mentoring two fledgling entrepreneurs who have been through Enterprise Cube’s training programme.

Lecturing – Providing some of the basic book-keeping and understanding accounts elements of the training programme.

Drop in centre – On the first Friday of every month Simon takes his laptop and works remotely from Enterprise Cube’s offices. And every single entrepreneur who has been through the training programme knows that they can drop in on those days without an appointment and get instant free help from him.

Business Jam events – Once a month Enterprise Cube invites experts from three different marketing firms, three law firms and three HR firms to sit in a room together for an evening and provide free advice to anybody who wants it. “They used to invite three accountancy firms as well. But now they tend to ask us to provide three members of staff, because we work really hard to pitch our advice at the right level – i.e. not so simple as to be condescending, but not so complex as to be off-putting.”

Dragons Den style panels, but with a difference – The difference is that the panel is designed to be supportive, and every business that presents to the panel leaves with either some funding, some constructive advice or even, in some cases, a local government / housing association contract, since the leaders of the Council and Housing Association are also on the panel!

Strategic advice to the Community Interest Company itself – As trusted and committed partners, O&K are now helping the CIC to develop its strategy for growth so that it can meet the huge demand for its services.

Local impact on young people

“We have also now started working with The Hive Croydon, initially as sponsors. They deliver an employability skills programme for young people. And that is also really exciting as it helps children aged 5-19, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to get an even better education that lays the foundation for a successful life and career.”

Impact on the practice

Simon was really keen to stress that: “We categorically aren’t doing this for the money, and we never try to sell any of our services to any of the entrepreneurs we help.

“But the really interesting thing is that, once people get to trust us, they tend to take the initiative in asking us to become their accountants on commercial terms. It’s a slow burn, but it really does work that way.”

In fact, the benefits of giving in the way they do include:

  • The three charities/CICs they work most closely with have all appointed O&K as their accountants.
  • As have some of the businesses they have helped. “Interestingly, the most recent drop-in centre day resulted in us picking up three new clients. Two at £250 each, and one at £1,500. So the slow burn is really beginning to spiral now.”
  • And the O&K team are energised. “I have been amazed at how quickly and fully the team have taken to it. They now really understand and are excited by the fact that business is not all about take, take, take. That in turn is improving service levels, productivity and job satisfaction across the firm.”

But perhaps the greatest benefit of all is what lies behind Simon’s assertion that “this has changed my life”.

“If I’m honest, I was getting a bit stale. But now I really look forward to coming to work. It’s so fulfilling knowing that we are part of something that is making a real difference.

“And we’re not just helping to solve ‘easy’ problems, either. We are helping to solve some of society’s most intractable problems, because some of the people helped have been former gang members, drug addicts or homeless.

“Who would have thought that as accountants we can make a difference in those sorts of areas? But I can tell you we can. And we are. In fact, it’s now why I get up in the morning.”

Image: antb / Shutterstock.com

Hear Steve Pipe speak at the ICAS Practitioners’ Conference 2016 – The Inspirational Practice. His book, “The World’s Most Inspiring Accountants”, containing 62 inspiring case studies of accounting practices across the world, generating outstanding results for themselves, their clients and the wider world, is now available on www.stevepipe.com.

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