Biggleswade-based Caroline Hicks is a Chartered Certified Accountant who has climbed the career ladder at George Hay, who has seen many changes within the practice and the wider industry, but who still enjoys going with business owners on their journey to success as much now as 20 years ago.

Caroline aspired to work in finance from a young age, having observed relatives enjoying careers in similar industries so, when she left school at 16, she joined George Hay and has since trained and qualified with the firm.

“My Grandad was a bank manager for Lloyds and my Aunt worked as a cashier; I remember I used to sit and watch her count money and I was in total awe of the speed with which she did it.

“My older Sister then went into accountancy and hearing about her time at work reaffirmed to me that I had a real interest in finance and so I decided to pursue a career in accounting when I left school.”

Caroline’s 20-year career with the firm has seen her spend time working at two of George Hay’s three offices and rise through the ranks from Trainee to Associate Partner.

“George Hay place great importance on developing their staff and supporting them to maximise their potential; hence I have had the opportunity to train, qualify, hone my skillset, and to inherit and develop a portfolio of clients, all with the backing of the Partners.

“Individuals working for George Hay will always be encouraged to fulfil their potential and we want people to have the freedom to develop their specialisms and talents; whether by shadowing another department, exploring a new avenue within the discipline, or applying their skills cross-office.

“Not only does this make preparing for succession much easier, but I also think we benefit from a really nice mix of professionals at each level, which generates organic collaboration and enables us to bounce ideas off of one another with great success.

“Having been appointed as an Associate Partner in April 2022, this presents me with yet another new opportunity to help shape the future of the practice and our own business strategy going forward, to support the wider team with their aspirations, and to voice my ideas when it comes to accommodating forthcoming industry changes.”

Amongst her portfolio of clients, Caroline looks after a large number of small, limited companies and sole traders. She is enthusiastic about helping them to scale the hurdles that come with running a business and about ensuring that they have access to the same calibre of support as large companies with greater resource.

“Many smaller businesses and sole traders do not realise how transformative it can be for them to engage an adviser that is able to keep up with the rate at which things can change, and that can effectively communicate these changes before they become a matter of urgency.”

She uses MTD for Income Tax Self-Assessment (MTD for ITSA) and basis period reform as examples of challenges that businesses will face.

“2024 represents huge change for a lot of business owners, with the introduction of MTD for ITSA and the basis period reform. Where MTD is concerned, many are crying out for help as they face the reality of needing to get to grips with the new requirements and, in some instances, of needing to transform how their business operates.

“As for the basis period reform, many sole traders do not realise the change is happening, let alone what it will mean for them long-term.

“This is where we are really able to take the wheel as advisers, as well as accountants; it’s not only about educating our clients and relaying the information that’s readily available elsewhere, but about adding value by using our years of experience to apply changes to a specific business model, to communicate the impact that this will have and to tailor our solutions to the needs of each business owner we work with.”

With start-ups, sole traders and small and medium-sized enterprises well represented amongst Caroline’s diverse portfolio, she has the expertise necessary to nurture productive partnerships with those wanting to be their own boss and those who perhaps started out small but are now looking to scale up their small business.

“The pandemic has seen all manner of new ventures arising and evolving, as people have been encouraged to ‘take the leap’ and be their own boss; many of those people are now on the lookout for an adviser that they can trust, and one that shares their enthusiasm for the future of their enterprise.

“Being with a client from the very beginning is such a privilege. It also takes a huge weight off the clients’ shoulders; you can see the confidence they gain just by knowing that they have the right support in place, that they have a team working in their best interests and that they have access to comprehensive, professional advice, when it matters.”

Caroline also looks after a number of service charge clients and is keen to develop this niche as her portfolio expands.

“Residential service charge accounts and commercial service charge accounts each have specific accounting requirements and can be a complex and sometimes contentious part of property management.

“Increasingly, leases dictate that accounts must be signed off by an accountant and so I am keen for George Hay to be a source of support for letting agents, resident management companies and right to manage companies, in this respect.”

With a career spanning two decades, it is not surprising that Caroline has witnessed many changes, both within the practice and in the industry itself.

“When I first joined George Hay, I was the only one to have the internet on my computer! Clients would bring in their manual records, often written in a big red book, or we would have to prepare a cheque analysis to reconcile the bank. Now, this is almost non-existent as businesses are required to comply with HMRC’s rules as they evolve to serve a modern world.

“As the industry has evolved, so too has George Hay; the practice has adapted to serve the needs of businesses at every twist and turn. However, our core values – progressiveness, professionalism, and a personable approach – have always stayed the same and we are lucky enough to have an exceptionally loyal team of experts who help us to bring those values to life every day!

“Digital accounting is fabulous, but it isn’t fool proof and I believe that, just by being human, we add value that a computer cannot; whether this is helping a client to identify tax planning opportunities or supporting them to address risks and issues within their business.”

When asked about his visions for the future of George Hay, Colin believes the practice is perfectly poised to react and adapt as the needs of business-owners continue to evolve alongside technology.

“We are already at a point where large amounts of data can be collected automatically and reports generated with little human input. With the development of AI in the years to come, the sophistication of these processes seems highly likely to improve”, he comments.

“Naturally, this could raise questions like ‘What can an accountant do for me?’ and ‘Where does an accountant fit into the process?’”

The answer, according to Colin, lies in the advisory input he has already touched upon.

“It would be easy to get caught behind the curve, but we’ve already laid the foundations to respond to the demand for business advisory, to continue to cement our wider offering and to fine tune those areas that we excel in.

“People’s reasons for being in business tend to be much more complex than the sole pursuit of the bottom line, although financial sustainability is often a key driver. Their motivations, in reality, can often be quite difficult to pin down.

“It’s difficult to see how AI could ever match this level of insight into human beings without having had the lived experience of being a person and without being able to cultivate the kind of organic interactions that people can with other people.

“If we continue to take care of our clients, for the most part our business will take care of itself. There’s no need to start a revolution, for revolution’s sake. The future is exciting!”