In this episode of the BKOT podcast, Chris has discussed with Richard Brewin, why personality matters for accountants today.
#BKOT 44: BUILD A KICKASS OFFSHORE TEAM
WHY PERSONALITY MATTERS SO MUCH FOR ACCOUNTANTS TODAY
Hosted by: Chris Rivera, Director Client relations, Entigrity Offshore Staffing
Guest: Richard Brewin, FCA Joint Managing Director, Progress Barnwell Brewin Limited
Chris: Hello again everybody! Thanks for joining and listening in to the series the #BKOT built a kickass offshore team providing valuable insight into not just staffing but every single aspect of managing your firm. And today all the way from England we have an awesome guest Richard Brewin, Richard good afternoon thanks for joining. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself please.
Richard: Hi Chris! Thanks for inviting me and yeah I am a child accountant here in the UK. I have been in the profession for just over 40 years now, so the first 30 years of that was very much at the sharp end in practice and for the last 10 years plus I have been mentoring and coaching accountants who run their own firms on just essentially how to have more fun.
Chris: Which leads to the topic we want to discuss; why personality matters so much and this is absolutely true. I mean I am fun loving, high spirited, easy going, I always like to have fun right, and I am not an accountant myself but I have worked in this industry now for four years. And yeah folks out there it's hard to connect at times right, I have to kind of reel in my personality but there are many out there for sure who you could tell they really enjoy what they do and so why do you think this matters so much especially with the accountants?
Richard: I think it matters on lots of different levels, I mean you are quite right. I have met and worked with many really interesting and enjoyable fun people within the profession and yet we have this perception on the outside. Is there this sort of Monty Python perception of accountants being dull and boring and it has always intrigued me? Why that is the case but when you look back on sort of how we all develop our careers then we are almost encouraged to hide our personalities to sit inside a box that has got accountants stamped on the outside.
I think it's part training. We are trained to be cautious and cynical and to almost be the quiet guy in the room so it's part of the professional bodies and how they develop it but I think also too many times we try to live down to the image. There is this idea that yeah if you are at a party do not tell anybody that you are an accountant because they'll immediately walk off somewhere else and it's about time that we started shouting the positives from the rooftops. So it's something that we have to address. I think it impacts commercially, it impacts psychologically, it's an important thing to put.
Chris: Right! yeah I agree and it is also in relation to the profession itself right for example the workforce that is coming that is the Gen-Z, the Millennials right workforce. A couple decades ago it was the mindset of the most billable hours, I got a hundred this week yeah you are rock on and he or she was the all-star of the week.
Now the mindset of candidates is what can your firm do for me. I am not looking forward to have 100 billable hours and so with that type of personality I think it's important for firms to kind of make themselves attractive as a whole and understand that it's a team environment and you need to really sell yourself and I do not think accountants are ready for that, what are your thoughts?
Richard: I think it works at both the team level and the client level as well. The fact is that if you do not represent the true personality that you are then you are not going to attract the right sort of people, you are not going to attract people who will relate to your values, your vision, your idea of a good day and certainly the same with clients as well.
So it's a huge challenge recruiting people these days. I think we have to understand that certainly in the UK. Now I think the average age for someone running a business in the UK is down to sort of 42 now, obviously in terms of people coming into the profession you are looking at the 18 to 21 year old. So we have to offer something that is going to excite them; they're no longer looking for a 40-year career. In my day 1981 I started and you were looking for that sort of career path well now they're looking to do they're looking for to work for different reasons, they're looking to do different things that they there isn't that same split between work and life it's just all life these days which is a good thing and I think as firms we need to recognize that and we have to we do not have to be artificial in it we just have to be honest in who we are and actually that will be good enough to attract the right people.
Chris: Yeah! and that leads me to my next thought if the profession is deemed that like you said just accountants are not necessarily dry but very introverted right and so in attracting the right clients and differentiating this firm from every other firm it does personality play where do you think it plays into this with the initial meeting with a new client?
Richard: Well I think you mentioned the word differentiation there and it's the most powerful differentiator that we have the reality is that as an accounting firm by our very nature we are going to be offering pretty much the same services as everybody else and when you scour through the websites and the social media and all the rest of it there is nothing there that is particularly different the one thing that is unique in every firm is the person who's at the top of it and that is why I think it's such a powerful tool.
But particularly in this digital age as we all use more and more of the same digital systems, we are all pushing the same buttons and so we are in danger of looking even more like each other and it's the people in the firm and the personality of the firm that is going to differentiate it. So right from the word go whether you are talking to a potential new employee or whether you are talking to a potential new client you want them to get it! You want them to get what you are all about and if you are then their sort of person if you are their sort of firm that is great they'll sign up and if you are not that is equally great because they'll move on and go to a firm that is a better fit for them we've got to get over this hangover that we have to appeal to all people because it's just not the case.
Chris: Yeah I feel that well first of years ago and when I had a call and I said the word virtual remote fifty percent of them were just done didn't even wanna go further they're just like what they're not coming to the office, I can't do this right and so now the virtual remote it's like ah okay we can do this but when personality also associates with the branding of a firm right. I had a podcast with a fellow in the UK as well who spoke about this and brought in a lot of insight because starting off with the name right, every time I look up an accounting firm it's always just so and so LLC, so and so part so and so it's there is no like what do you call it there is no there is no personality behind it. So how do you think firms can kind of rebrand and go through a change within their firm?
Richard: Yeah I think when we started our last firm back in 2008 before we started doing mentoring and that firm was called progress and because that is what we were about we weren't the best tax guys in town, we weren't the most efficient from that point of view but what we were really good at was helping people to grow their businesses and so to have a firm couple progress and to have everything reflect that on our brand and our marketing.
When you walked in the room when you walked it went across the car park it was it just gave people that same sense of what we were about and I think that is the starting point for accountants today, I think you have got to look at your brand and go does this reflect me, does it reflect what I want me to be because we've got to start off with understanding why we do this? What are we about? What are we trying to achieve?
We've all experienced that thing where we've been blown away by a brand we've looked at a major supplier or a bank or something like that and they have this amazing brand and then you go and you walk into the premises and the experience is just nothing like it and I think that that quickly turns off any client it quickly turns off any employee so we have got to work out who we are what we are about what our strengths are what we are trying to achieve and then go right. Well that is what my brand needs to reflect if I want to help businesses to grow, that is what my brand needs to say, it does not need to just talk about accounts and tax returns.
Chris: Yeah! I agree and this is where folks like yourself become valuable, very important because accounts just kind of fall into this whole business world and they do not necessarily they may have a vision and an idea of the firm but just do not know how to execute it right and so but then kind of letting go of that aspect and having someone come in and take on that rebranding and personality change is very important. Do you find that where does somebody start that is trying to kind of change within their firm? Do they have to be on board? Is it a mindset? Did you see a lot of reluctancy? How does a firm get started in doing that?
Richard: It certainly starts with the mindset I get called into a lot of firms! Can you sort our team out? Can you sort our managers out? Can you sort our systems out? And the answer is invariably yes we can!
But I am going to have to start with you because if it's not right at the top, if there isn't that clarity of vision and if there isn't that drive and direction coming from the top then nothing else is going to work particularly well. So it's a matter of fixing that first and that goes right back to this vision and the brand and you can do it on your own. I think it helps to have conversations with those around you. I went to see a small firm up in the northeast of England a few years ago, now decent fern typical accountants but they weren't getting out of it.
What they wanted to and in the conversation that I was having with this guy it came out that he was a sci-fi geek he loved his star trek, he's got loads and loads of star trek memorabilia back home he got cla, he got original James T Kirk stuff and things like that and I said that is great but where is it? Where is the evidence of that in the office and he went well that is not what people want to see in the office; I said but it's you it's what you are about so okay some clients will walk in and go well this is a bit weird but others will go up walking and go this is great tell us more about that now that firm today when you walk into their office to go into their meeting room you have to walk through the tardis they have built doctor who's tardis on that and of course this firm is known as the guys with the tardis and it just it just stamps the personality of it just says look this is what we are all about and if you like it that is great and if you do not like it that is equally fine.
Chris: Because clients want full transparency and I couldn't agree more if you just have you walk in the office, it's just white walls and then just some paintings of colors and all your degrees it's kind of like okay right, probably technical probably knowledgeable but what else and then yeah that is going to appeal to some clients but I think for the most part it won't appeal to the majority people want to feel comfortable and then when you kind of expose that vulnerability.
Folks are more inclined to kind of work with you once they realize too right you are a technical what you are doing and you have the right service offerings. So how do you see this with regard to the team and when you are working with the owner and the mindsets in place, they're ready to do this. Do you find that the team is very reflective of the owner's mindset or do you feel like it's mixed or you feel like they're the polar opposite?
Richard: It could be any of those three. I think most commonly it's mixed because they have recruited that team based purely up pretty much on their sit on their CVs and what experience that they have got and the team have gone they have gone to that firm because it's a good salary or it's convenient for them or it's or it's got a good reputation whatever it may be but it doesn't there is no real conversation there about values and so once you open up that conversation it can be a little bit random.
What you are going to experience you would expect if the team have been there for a while that it sort of naturally filters itself through what it does do once you have the conversation is create far better engagement amongst the team because they start to instead of just seeing this person as the boss or the accountant wherever they start to see much more of what they're about as a person and why they do what they do what their drivers are and that can make a huge difference to the team because it all starts to make a bit more sense then.
Chris: Yeah I agree! and when I am working with a client and they're looking at us for offshore staff the virtual remote before that was where I spent half my call just kind of conceptualizing that, now it's about how to integrate it and that is kind of the biggest hurdle is the integration with the offshore team and the onshore team because I feel that if you are not fully transparent with your team and all of a sudden you are hiring other places it'll cause unrest, uneasiness and then folks won't feel loyal, but I feel that if you invite them and bring them in all together and work as one team with the idea of it reducing everyone's workload just works out perfect so that is why I was asking about kind of where you see the team at the starting point? Because I think it's very important that everybody's on the same page.
Richard: Absolutely! I totally agree what you say there I am a big advocate of offshoring in the UK here it's a great resource, it's how you resource your growth but you have to you have to integrate the two teams you have to treat them as one you the moment you start treating them as two different teams then you are going to have problems in both camps.
We have firms here who will celebrate birthdays across the team and they will celebrate holidays across the team and they will involve everybody in quizzes and all the rest of it because their view is let's just pretend they're in the next room that is how it's no different and they are the firms who where it works far more effectively because again it's back to whoever you work with when we are talking team or clients you have got to be on the same page. You have got to understand what the plan is you have got to have that same consistency of values and beliefs and all the rest of it's irrelevant these days because of technology whether you are based in Birmingham or the US or India or wherever it's about what we are all one team we are all servicing one client so let's just do it consistently together.
Chris: Yeah! and I am starting to see that for example when I had a call say three through over three years ago and there was a firm there let's say two partners even 10 partners or 15 partners, in any of those instances on the call there was just one partner every single time one of two one of 10 one of 15.
Now it's different they are bringing in the others and I am like oh every call that has multiple partners they're all there and they are all getting on board and so there is been a huge shift just in the last year or two in that aspect and so I am starting to see that trend to where it's all about all of us working together how can we make this work? How can we integrate this for the firm's vision, the future, the mission, the goals here? And so I think the accounting industry is finally heading in the right direction but it's just when you got pushed into this environment and a lot of firms have embraced this have you seen more of a positive acceptance into what you are doing with clients are you still noticing it's kind of distill the same kickbacks as before?
Richard: I think there is still certainly more positivity there is more openness coming into the profession. I am really confident over the next two to three years that we'll be in a very different place as a profession as we embrace this inevitably with all the change that is going on with digitalization. What have there is a generation of accountants who are not going to go through that either by choice or because they simply do not get it, but more I am seeing more and more accountants and more and more firms who are recognizing or either changing or recognizing that they need to change and I think that is so from our point of view that is the big market for us it's those accountants who recognize they need to change but simply do not know where to start because they just see a challenge in every corner and with any sort of mentoring that is where you have value in those conversations.
But I am very excited about where we will be in two- three years. I think that for 500 years in all honesty we've just done accounts and tax because that is all that we have time to do and that is all the client had money to do but with digitalization. Now it's completely open that up but what we've got to do is get used to having conversations with our clients and a different sort of conversation and if you are going to change your clients thinking, you are going to have to come in positive and you are going to have to come in clear and you are going to have to be energized and focused because the client's a busy person and they have got other stuff on their agenda so you have got to you have got to create that energy in their clients and I think that is so many accountants can do that it's been locked away and a big part of this is it's okay. People you can go out there and you can figuratively speak and pin the client against the wall and say let's do this. It's that sort of approach.
Chris: Yeah absolutely! A total change is constant, it's just it's not a matter of if it's a matter of when change will happen and perfect example or in the profession itself I have worked with many clients so I am like how do we get connected for today like well for 30 years. I have never had problems with staff and now I do and so I am taking this call and I am noticing that the firms have been doing this running a solid firm for 20, 30, 40 years all of a sudden they're coming on.
I am like what I am used to having startups 5-10 year old firms but now 30-40 and I am like all right and they just seem they're that you could tell it's an open mind but they just seem a little angry that they have to do this because it's like they do not get it and then just having a conversation with them and giving them insight then it makes them realize all right and like I said I believe change is constant it's just a matter of when.
Richard: Yeah! It's human nature to resist change isn't it really and we have to be aware of that both within ourselves and everybody else when we are asking them to change their approach but it's not a reason not to change unfortunately.
I think in the profession as I guess in a lot of professions people will change when they have when they have got to what we are trying to do here is get them ahead of the game and say well let's not wait that long because actually with the rate of change in the profession you are probably going to wait too long because as you say change is constant you can't just sit around and say okay well, what did I do yesterday can I do that better for tomorrow it's more a matter of well forget, what we did yesterday because it's new ball game again today so what are we going to do? How are we going to play it today? It needs that energy to come into it.
Chris: Absolutely, totally agree! Before we wrap up I really again appreciate your time coming in but please share some final thoughts or what should listeners do next?
Richard: I think the starting point that I usually recommend is to sit down and have a think about why you do what you do and I do not mean to pay the mortgage and or you have to pay to get the accounts out what have you but go back to that point when you originally said okay. I want to run my own firm or I want to separate what have you why is that it's usually not to do with making money it's a lot more to do with what you want to achieve for your family or to make a name for yourself or to do something for your community it's sit down in a quiet spot and work out.
Why it is you really do what you do because I think once you have got that clear in your mind then you can start to rebuild but until you have got that it's still going to be yeah it's just another Monday morning yeah I it it's great to have accountants in situations where they're not stressing on a Sunday night about it being Monday tomorrow and that is what I want to see people achieve and if they can get that clarity in their own mind they will surprise themselves. What they can achieve but start off by just going yeah what why am I doing it because then you start to get a better idea of what matters and what doesn't.
Chris: Yeah, I couldn't agree more! the perfect example of myself right I mentioned I am not an accountant I have done sales and marketing through varied industries from architecture to business security to fitness now accounting but what I love doing is when a client in this exam in this industry, when a client calls me a year back says Chris everything you said a year ago has transformed my firm I couldn't be more thankful that is to me the absolute best feeling in the world and why I do my job and so I agree you got to find out why you are operating this firm not just for tax return compliance mortgage but what do you want the end result to be yeah I couldn't agree more.
Chris: All right so Richard again thank you so much really appreciate this insight today! Our listeners out there, we'll be back soon with another episode for now. Take care and be safe.
Richard: All right thank you Chris goodbye.
Chris: Perfect, cool.
Richard: I enjoyed that!
Chris: No, thank you yeah I just like keeping a conversation and yeah I couldn't agree more there is some of these calls or I had one yesterday the guy was like sitting like this on the zoom and he's like yeah I have been doing this 30 years and I have just I am taking this call and I am like all right you do not seem happy and he's like well what can you do and then at the end the call. He was like I really appreciate your time I want to thank you and then I was like all right I connected with him and in the beginning and he just looked like if we were sitting across from each other he'd hit me or something it was just like relax but at least he had an open mind because he's always been reluctant and I agree it's always about the mindset.
Richard: Yeah if they have got a closed mindset in all honesty there is nothing you can do but if they're just prepared to listen openly for five minutes, what I find is even with a with a completely new client accountant who I have not met before it's not uncommon within 10 minutes for them to completely open up because once they real once they realize there is nothing fearful about this conversation. It's just like blah because they do not get the chance to talk to people and it's great because just by doing that I think you make them feel better so much of what we do is asking the right questions and then listening to what people say isn't it but unfortunately accountants are pretty crap at both those so that is what we work on.
Chris: I always can't watch myself talk. I put the zoom whatever in the box here and so I will make a joke or try to keep things light and I will look and the client's like I am all right. Now let's get right into it then like I know just to stop right so no it's fun you gotta love what you do so all right man well again this was awesome thank you for doing this.
Richard: Yeah, no thank you I thoroughly enjoyed it, it's good to meet you.
Chris: Alright, take care.
Richard: Cheers Chris, bye.
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