Interview with Tom Smith from Elucidate Accounting
Hi Tom, can you tell us what drove you to become an accountant?
Well if I’m honest, I used to think that Accountancy was always just a glorified term for financial data entry. That was before I became really interested in business and entrepreneurship after which it became obvious that accountancy is the ticking heart of business and strategy: the business of business.
If you hadn't become an accountant what industry would you have considered joining?
I’ve always been interested in a combination of technical details, creation, and building. I think that becoming an engineer would have been a fulfilling job hadn’t it been finance as my chosen career path.
So Tom, where did you get started?
I was working for my dad at first as part of the family business. After that, I started working at a local accounting practice gaining great experience before working for Nationwide Building Society and then moving into working with smaller businesses.
Out of the big and small companies, which experience proved the most useful?
They’re both so different that I think it is more about the size and nature of learning opportunities in the context of large companies compared to smaller ones.
For me, the advantages of working in larger companies were getting a great understanding of how ‘big-business’ works. You get a lot of support in larger firms and it is good to see how enterprise works at a larger scale.
Smaller companies on the other hand offer an intimate understanding of a wide variety of financial skills that you may find very useful when advising start-ups and small businesses on solid financial practices.
Why did you choose the name Elucidate?
The name derives from the Latin root word elucidat which means simply to ‘make clear’. With so much financial jargon in the industry, clear communication and advice were key principles of Elucidate from the start.
In a nutshell, can you describe how you like to work with your clients?
Our aim is to partner with businesses as an extension of the company itself and really understand their business model and their goals. Your success, at the end of the day, is also our success.
How is your company set up?
I’m the founder and director of Elucidate and then I also work with a bookkeeper and another accountant.
What do you think are the positive aspects of this job?
Talking to people and helping them achieve their goals with business is a huge source of satisfaction. The advisory side is great fun because it can be a creative process where you are helping entrepreneurs realise their dreams whilst setting a road map out.
What are the main difficulties in your job?
Bringing a dose of realism sometimes requires a degree of sensitivity to it. It can be hard when the dream of your client is perhaps a little too ambitious given certain limitations and you have to break the news. Accounting is not always the most valuable skill in people’s minds but it’s an incredibly important factor in running a smooth and healthy company.
What can Accountants bring to the table which is sometimes overlooked?
Well, it’s important to mention that people do appreciate advice that will impact their profit margins. However, two common tasks which certainly become less burdensome with an Accountant are Tax and Regulation Compliance.
In your opinion, what do you need to be effective at your job?
The ability to communicate to non-finance people is very important as the more jargon used, the less clear and effective your ability to advise and assist your client will be.
What does your typical client profile look like?
Generally speaking, it would be like a small start-up/scale-up with around 5 - 10 people or £300k - £1m turnover who are struggling with the complexity involved in running a business. It can often be a challenge operationally to manage a new venture, let alone attempting to take on the finances at the same time.
How can you come in and help these types of businesses?
There are two ways of approaching these businesses as an accountant. Fundamentally, what my clients want is a business that runs smoothly with time to focus on what they were passionate about when they got started.
Next, my clients also require varying degrees of autonomy. If needed, Elucidate can come in and be there throughout the fiscal year for your business, with Payroll, Budgeting, and Forecasting being dealt with by us as an extension of the client’s company.
However, some firms with a smaller budget need more autonomy. In that instance, it is often better to offer a ‘DIY Accountancy Package’ which will set your business up with all the necessary tools and training to help your business
What do you see on the horizon?
Automation has become a word that evokes a lot of questions about the future of work.
For accountants, however, it has been a profound development for our industry. Going back 30 years, what previously took a team of 5 to update the ledger manually, now takes 1 person. Not to mention an arduous task for all involved and probably took some of the fun out of the day-to-day.
Nowadays, more automation has led to interesting hybrid roles for accountants which has had a positive impact on the nature of our work.
You sound pretty upbeat then about this automation?
Yes! Definitely! New jobs are being created from this field with a combination of data science and business advisory that has unlocked the door into the industry for perhaps fewer people, but those jobs will be highly valued for business owners.