UK Spring Conference review
Supporting staff, embracing technology and adapting to change were common themes at the UK Spring Conference.
This year’s event was held online due to continuing Covid restrictions in the UK. It provided a welcome opportunity for accounting professionals to compare progress and collaborate on how best to emerge from the crisis. Robert Simpson, Managing Director of Garbutt + Elliott and Chair of the Financial Services Group, said the new format “worked really well”, adding:
“All members were able to access the meeting quickly and conveniently, and enjoyed conducting the meeting this way”.
Tech entrepreneur Rob Wilmot kicked off the event with valuable insight on how to use technology effectively. This was a recurring theme for the working group meetings that followed. Katherine Peacock, Senior Audit Manager at Mazars and Chair of the Charities Group, said firms were using “a variety of file sharing portals and generally we have found that clients are receptive to this”. She stressed firms are looking forward to going back to a hybrid model of visiting clients’ premises for part of the audit period but also working remotely to save commuting time and costs.
Working group members also discussed supporting staff and how to adapt to market changes and new ways of working. Tanya Goodman, Finance Director at Albert Goodman and Chair of the Operations Efficiency and Profitability Group, said: “The discussions were very informative; it was reassuring that each firm had very similar experiences and outcomes. There was a lot of discussion around staff welfare, a return to office working, and communications.” Staff welfare was also top of the agenda for the HR meeting. Kathryn Rigbye, HR and Talent Manager at PM+M and Chair of the HR Group, said members shared insights on:
- Coping with remote working
- Plans for agile and remote working
- Cultural changes associated with returning to the office
- Support for staff wellbeing
- Engagement and motivation
- Impact of the pandemic on training and recruitment
Sharing expertise to help firms, clients and prospects navigate the pandemic was another recurring theme. Stuart Eaglestone, Director of Marketing at Rouse Partners and Chair of the Business Development Group, said: “All attendees are continuing to share COVID-19 content and regular updates with clients and prospective clients. This proactivity is paying off, with strong pipelines and new client wins evident across the group.” Collaboration was also explored further by the Corporate Finance Group, including successful sharing of transactions over the last 12 months and sharing intelligence of deal structures, valuation multiples and fee strategy.
The Corporate Finance Group discussed ways to refer work to each other to avoid potential conflict over issues such as valuations. This type of collaboration is already being pursued between Shorts and Garbutt + Elliott.
Changes to the audit market is another key area where firms are working closely. Most firms are planning to roll out campaigns to target this market in the coming months and they are sharing knowledge and marketing collateral through Huddle. Stuart Eaglestone commented: “We will be exploring further whether there are opportunities for Praxity firms to collaborate to support one another on these audit campaigns.” Katherine Peacock said: “There have been significant changes in audit report templates in recent months; we shared our approaches across the different firms including use of Data Analytics software.” The Audit Group agreed audit reports need to be proportionate to the client. Group Chair Bindi Palmer, Head of Audit & Assurance at Rouse Partners, said members discussed using the same report wording where standard laws and regulations apply, tailoring this for highly regulated clients such as solicitors.
Data protection and other issues
Amid rising cybercrime, the Data Protection and Wider Risk Areas Group discussed key areas of concern among firms, including:
- An increase in phishing
- Data breach logging
- The impact of Brexit on data protection
- Investigations and ICO reporting
- Anti-money laundering