December 10 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Accountant Mike Smith has retired after a 42-year career helping Norfolk’s small firms and family enterprises to flourish.
Staff at Lovewell Blake where he spent 37 years - 31 as a partner - have already given him a fitting send-off and fellow partners will say their goodbyes with a dinner next month.
Mr Smith, 60, who left with retirement gifts including a watch, iPod and music system, recalled what turned out to be a life-shaping decision to follow in the footsteps of his father - “he was an accountant although he never qualified as a chartered accountant” - when he left Norwich School after his A levels.
He said: “I joined the small accountancy firm Harper-Smith Bennett and Co, in The Close, to do my articles of clerkship. You were articled for four years and had to study for three exams all by correspondence course. It was tough as you had to pass all the exams in one go.”
Mr Smith, who lives in Mattishall, near Dereham, with his wife Paula, recalled there were no calculators in those days and trainees were not allowed to use the adding machines that did exist until they could add up columns of numbers in their head.
“It gave you a sense of whether the number at the bottom was right and I can still add up a set of figures today,” he said.
Mr Smith said in his early days, before the advent of computers and accountancy programmes that made life simpler for businessmen, clients’ records were often rudimentary and incomplete.
He said: “It was the impact of recessions in the 1970s and 1980s that made businesses realise they needed up-to-date information and the banks wanted it too.
“Up until then, there were not the same pressures and cash flow problems and we sometimes used to get three or four years of books in one go.”
In the days before computers, accounts had to be laboriously typed and he recalled: “If you needed to make a change, the whole thing had to be re-typed again.”
Mr Smith moved on to the bigger practice of Lovewell Blake in 1976, but carried on his satisfying work of serving Norfolk’s “bread and butter” small firms and family businesses.
“I have had one or two larger clients but my whole career has mainly been dealing with SMEs,” he said.
“At the beginning the work was more diverse; I did a couple of liquidations and a lot of tax work as well.
“However, we have become more specialised because of regulation and tax becoming much more complicated.”
Dismissing the idea that accountancy is boring, he said: “People think it is just about numbers but we don’t really add up. It is understanding figures and explaining the impact of those things to clients.
“The financial side can be the real pain to them. Our role is to explain things and develop a relationship where they are not afraid to ask questions and say, ‘I don’t understand that’. Accountancy is a much more communications and people business these days.”
He said the last few years had been challenging, especially for start-ups, but the picture was now improving as shown by the growth in the number of willing buyers for businesses.
In retirement Mr Smith, who mainly worked at Lovewell Blake’s Norwich office, plans to play more tennis, improve his cooking skills and rekindle his passion for history.