Letchworth-based Emma Wilsher is a chartered accountant driven by a desire to always exceed client’s expectations, and who thrives off of getting to know the people behind a business name.

Having joined George Hay Chartered Accountants back in 2005, as a school-leaver, Emma trained with the practice and went on to qualify as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) in 2008.

In the 13 years since, her career trajectory has been heavily influenced by her love of audit and, for the past 10 years, she has been managing these across the firm.

“Despite joining George Hay straight from school, I had undertaken some work experience at a practice in Potton prior to this and so I did have some idea of what to expect; I knew accountancy was the career I wanted to pursue.

“I jumped at the opportunity to get involved in audit early on, and soon realised that this was an area I wanted to specialise in. Audit has been a constant throughout my career with the firm and taking responsibility for managing the team and the projects within our remit gave me the chance to develop and showcase my leadership skills, and to nurture esteemed relationships with clients.

“Having recently become a Portfolio Manager, I’m enjoying the ‘duality’ of my role. Though I use the word dual, the two aspects complement one another well.

“Whilst still responsible for managing the audit team and projects falling under that department, I have also become the principal point of contact for my own portfolio of clients – many of which I have worked alongside for years previous, supporting them with everything from accounts preparation, to business strategy and advisory.”

As advisory input from their accountants becomes ever more important for business-owners, practices need to adapt and arm people with the information they need to be able to differentiate one firm from another.

Critical thinking, continuity and an emphasis on client relationships are three things that Emma suggests sets George Hay apart from its competitors.

“Getting to know our clients, not just as business-owners but as people, puts us in a better position to be able to advise them, simply. When you’re occupied with running a business, it can be difficult to think critically about your operation and the factors influencing it. This is where we come in.

“Investing time to see what clients do and how their business functions enables us to be that critical thinker for them, an objective sounding board and, sometimes, the voice of reason.

“Nurturing authentic relationships with my clients is something I pride myself on; I want them to feel that nothing is too much trouble and that they can ask me anything, because they know that I will be honest and up-front, that I will dispense trustworthy advice, and that I’m prepared to entertain the tough conversations as well as the uncomplicated ones.”

Emma specialises in auditing and is also experienced in undertaking EU LIFE Grant Audits for recipients of this and other grant funding, across the UK, including a number of national charities.

Emma says, “Audit often seems to be associated with a certain ‘prestige’, something I think motivates business-owners to engage those auditors that they deem to be the most prestigious.

“As the audit landscape evolves, however, there is an increasing space for firms outside of the big four to challenge for work and to show that their service stands up against that of the bigger firms.

“Our audits are led by personable professionals that truly care about your company’s performance, and our aim is to arm you with the insight and tools that you need to manage your business more effectively.

“Grant Audits are slightly different; they are more specific and tend to be a little less onerous in comparison to a statutory audit. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t just charities that grant audits are relevant for, but any business that applies for funding. The function of the audit is to show that the funds have been spent in line with rules established by the funder, and for the purpose intended.”

She adds, “EU LIFE Grant Audits are more specific still, as these are required where the EU has provided a LIFE grant to a UK organisation. We’ve been doing these for over a decade and so are extremely well versed in the associated requirements and deadlines.”

Healthcare is an industry that the practice is no stranger to, having supported many clients operating in this sector over the years; inclusive of dentists, GP’s and physiotherapists, for example.

Having harboured a keen interest in this sector, since the early days of her career, Emma is looking forward to doing more to develop this segment of her portfolio.

“The healthcare industry interests me because it’s niche; it’s different to what we normally do. Considering all the various rules and regulations that come with operating in the sector, there is an opportunity to provide a totally ‘bespoke’ service.

“Healthcare has such a significant role to play in the UK economy, and its permanency means that, in theory, there should always be a need for accountants. This presents us with the opportunity to build long-lasting, authentic and productive relationships with any clients we engage in this arena.”

As the Making Tax Digital (MTD) regime rolls on, with Income Tax next in line to be brought under the initiative, Emma feels that this has the potential to transform the dynamic between client and adviser in some instances.

“The next challenge as far as Making Tax Digital goes, is MTD for Income Tax Self-Assessment. Clients who are perhaps used to just dropping records off to their accountant once a year, and having them dealt with, will find that quarterly reporting requirements result in more touchpoints between us and them and more frequent communication”, she says.

Emma continues “This is really no bad thing, and in some cases should help to solidify those client relationships that are, by nature, less ‘involved’.

“Whilst businesses may be concerned about the cost of complying with the new rules, both sides stand to benefit. Business-owners can look forward to more tax planning opportunities, as well as the ability to identify challenges sooner and solutions to those challenges.

“As accountants, it gives us room to be more proactive and advisory, and to position ourselves as the route to a futureproofed operation.

When asked about the future of accountancy, Emma reiterates the increasing importance of access to advisory support and praises technology for removing geographical barriers to getting the right advice.

“Looking ahead to the future of accountancy, basic compliance services will not be enough; technical advisory will be more in demand, there is no doubt.

“The cheapest service is rarely the best service, and this is something business-owners should bear in mind when looking to engage a firm of accountants.

“On the flip side, in return for their investment clients rightly expect a certain level of service. I imagine myself as a business owner and what I would expect from my adviser and use this to inform my approach to supporting clients. It motivates me to do everything in my power to meet and exceed their expectations and leave them feeling that we are a real asset to their business”, Emma says.

“When it comes to finding the right firm of accountants to work with, thanks to technology, geography no longer has to be a barrier”, she continues.

“We have clients spread throughout the UK, and we strive to deliver the same level of service whether they are five miles away or 50 miles away.

“On-site visits sort of come with the territory where audit is concerned and travelling to see clients is something we relish being able to do. I, myself, have travelled to support clients with operations in Wales, and also overseas, in Budapest.

“Whilst we pride ourselves on being there for local businesses and entrepreneurs, what we have to offer is accessible to anyone, anywhere!”