Behind the Mask talks to Heather Townsend about opportunities in the accounting industry and the innovation in 'non-alcoholic drinks'

Heather Townsend
Founder, The Accountant Millionaires' Club
1. So, who are you anyway, and what do you do?
I am the founder and author of The Accountants Millionaires’ Club. We help our club members profitably and sustainably grow a one million pound practice, while working fewer hours with less stress. I am also know for my work on helping people progress their career to partnership. 

2. How did you get into this job?
I started working for BDO in 2004 in their learning and development team. When the global recession hit in 2008, I became surplus to requirements. It was the best thing which ever happened to me. My work with accountants just sort of carried on, but has become more and more focused as time has gone on. 

3. What song from your past still gets you moving today? 
Far too many songs to mention. I love my music and music brings back so many good memories. But if I was to pick one song it is Katrina and the waves, walking on sunshine. I am transported back to my university years listening and dancing to this song with my university friends. 

4. If you could go to one concert from the past, what one would it be? 
Live aid at Wembley. I saw some of it on TV and it was amazing. If it was warm (which is never guaranteed in the UK) I would be in my trusted (no blisters) skechers Go Walk, with shorts and a t-shirt on. 

5. A socio-economic question, but feel free to answer from your gut.  If AI, automation and robotics are going to replace repetitive and laborious tasks, what impact will this have on your industry and profession? 

I think this change is already happening within the accounting profession. We are seeing tasks which used to take weeks now taking minutes or seconds. As a result the skills that are going to be prized more by the profession are the ability to form strong relationships with clients, and analysing the reports or accounts produced.

6. What other challenges face accountants, bookkeepers or SMEs today?  And, how should they meet those challenges? 

Technology is disrupting the accountancy profession as we know it. Disruption on this level needs strong leadership. This is not something typically associated with accountants. With the level of disruption hitting the profession, there are strong and often opposing voices leading the debate. What we do know is that the amount of compliance businesses will be required to do is likely to go up as the taxation bodies move towards more regular reporting requirements. But we also know that technology will be able to do far more of the grunt work that comes with compliance. So who knows? Compliance is far from dead. But whether small accountancy firms will be able to make a decent living by just focusing on compliance alone, who knows?

Whichever voice you decide to listen too, change is coming. You will need to adjust your practice’s business model to be able to not just survive, but thrive. 

7. With all of this change, comes some opportunity.  What opportunities do you see presenting themselves already? 

MTD (Making Tax Digital) - and the other initiatives which will follow - is meaning that most business owners are coming under pressure to move their bookkeeping to a cloud based tool. This means that accountants will have, often for the first time, the opportunity to see their clients’ day-to-day bookkeeping. This visibility of their clients’ affairs should be a catalyst - if the accountant makes time for these conversations - to be a more valued member of the client’s team.

8. I don’t know about you, but I need a drink after that.  If you could buy anyone a drink in a bar and chat to them about anything, who would it be, what would you drink, and what would you talk about? 

Given how busy I am with work at the moment. I’d love to be buying a drink for my husband or some of my good friends. For my drink, I’d probably ask for a seedlip and tonic. Or just a fever tree elderflower tonic to be honest. I am loving the innovation which is happening in the ‘adult’ non-alcoholic drinks market place at the moment. Not sure what we would chat about, but I suspect my blue hair may come up in conversation, how I damaged by wrists and thumbs on my mountain bike...

9. And after you had that wee drink, if you could walk up to anyone, kick them in the shins and shout something at them, who would it be, and what would you shout?  Go on...get it off your chest!   
My kids at this point would tell me that violence is never the answer. But given how much taller most people are than me, kicking someone in the shins maybe a good way to get noticed! There are quite a few UK based politicians who I want to bang their heads together. My strong belief is that we as a country can’t afford to leave the EU custom’s union. It would be political and economic suicide. 

10. What advice would you give to yourself at age 18? 

Don’t do Engineering Science at Oxford University, do Psychology (it will be much more interesting and relevant to your future career.)

11. If you could retire now, what would you do? Or not do? 

I have too many ideas for books I want to write. If I retired I would spend much more time writing, and much more time on my mountain bike and walking through beautiful countryside.

12. What do you want to achieve that you haven’t as yet? 

To stop my hair from turning silver? Growing tall so I get to 5ft 3” in height? Getting my son to switch off the lights and open the curtains when he is the last person to leave the house?

13. What’s next for you, and your business? 

Our aim is to carry on working with our club members to help create a new generation here in the UK of accountancy firm owners who have created a £1m firm.

Liked our interview? Read more in our Behind The Mask series.