Next up in our speaker Q&A series is incoming ICAEW president Paul Aplin OBE.  He intends to make embracing digital technology a key theme for his year in office, and will be using his Keynote at Accountex to discuss the challenges and opportunities he sees ahead, for accountants in practice, for clients and for the profession as a whole.

How did you get in to the accounting and finance profession?

My degree was in biology and chemistry and from an early age science fascinated me. The job market when I graduated in 1978 was pretty grim and I took what I thought was a temporary job with A C Mole & Sons. I signed a training contract, found I enjoyed the job tremendously, qualified as a Chartered Accountant and then as a Chartered Tax Advisor. So it was an accident, but an incredibly fortunate one. Interestingly, from my Biochemistry course, three of us went on to be Chartered Accountants!

What is one common misconception about the industry you would like to change?

That in industry we are obsessed with cost cutting and that in practice we are luddites. We are nothing of the kind. As a non-executive director, I have found time after time that I was the one trying to focus minds on growing the top line while the non-accountants were in a cost-cutting mind set. Small practitioners led the charge when self-assessment e-filing was launched back in 1997.  Without the enthusiasm general practitioners have shown for digital tax administration, the current levels of uptake would simply not have been achieved.

Who has inspired you most in the industry?

In the world of tax, Robert Maas. He is thoughtful, independent-minded and a walking tax encyclopedia. I always listen to what he has to say.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

By my firms’ one-time tax manager John O’Hara: “Time spent on research is never wasted” and “Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes – you have a better chance of getting your way if you make your case easy for them to understand and accept”. And from George Essex who worked for the firm when I was training: “Always look for the system – few people set out to make a mess and if you can find the system they were using, you can generally resolve what appears at first sight as a total mess”.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know?

I keep ducks. My most difficult negotiation with HMRC was at 10pm one summer evening, mobile phone in hand, shooing the ducks into their pen. At one point there was a pause on the other end of the line and the (very senior) official I was talking to said “this may seem odd, but did you just hear a duck quack?”. A harder negotiator might have replied “duck? You must be hearing things!” but I settled for honesty, and laughter actually got us past the sticking point to a result.

Managing change is a key theme at Accountex, what is the one thing accountants must do to adapt and remain successful?

Embrace change. We are leaders, not followers and we need to make technology work for us. We can only do that by embracing it.

What key questions should accountants be asking vendors when looking for new products and services at the show?

What can this do to enable me to deliver a better, more proactive, more personal service to my clients?

In your opinion, what are the most innovative technology products on the market right now?

Pass – too many!

With a lot of unknowns in the world right now, how can an accountant best manage difficult questions from their clients?

By being as informed as possible (so visit Accountex) and by trying to see the world through the client’s eyes – what are they seeking from their accountant/adviser?

Why would you recommend a visit to Accountex?

We are living through a time of unprecedented change. I think we will see more change driven by technology in the next three or four years than in the last ten or fifteen. Accountex is the one-stop-shop for seeing what is out there in the market and for hearing the very latest views.


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