Farhan Syed is a partner and appointment-taking insolvency practitioner at Jeremy Knight & Co LLP
Accountancy was not on my radar while I was at college. I graduated with a major in physics but due to my father’s illness, I was unable to continue with my studies and started work as a full-time teacher to support my family. Studying for ACCA on a self-study basis provided me with an opportunity to continue my studies with full time work. After I passed my exams in 2001, I started working in a practice which specialised in insolvency in London.
When I reflect on my career now, a Steve Jobs quote comes to mind “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”, as skills developed while studying physics or managing a classroom helped me a great deal in managing disgruntled creditors and conveying my argument in the board room.
I am immensely grateful that ACCA provided the opportunity to build my career and open doors for me. To give back to ACCA, I joined a number of ACCA networks to support other members - I was Chair of ACCA’s Central London Network Panel, a member of ACCA’s Insolvency Committee, and a member of ACCA’s Practitioners’ Network Panel.
I am now a partner in a three-partner firm which specialises in insolvency. Working in the field of insolvency is challenging but rewarding. Each day of my work is different, and I do not know where my next job is going to come from, which brings its own challenges. One day I could be advising the board of a multinational business with turnover in the millions about corporate simplification in London, and the next day I will be closing the doors of a small retail shop with turnover below the VAT threshold in Brighton. There is never a dull moment in my line of work, but a particular highlight of my career was being able to pay £35 million to shareholders of a company when acting as a Liquidator.
I see myself as a solution provider. My work as an insolvency practitioner is all about trust and collaboration with other professionals. Most of my referrals come from my contacts and for over the years I have built trust and confidence with my contacts, which enables them to approach me when they or their clients face a tricky or demanding situation. The problem could be legal, financial or at times matrimonial in nature, but the essence is that they know that in demanding times, I could either provide them with the solution or introduce them to someone who could.
I am a strong believer in networking. My advice to accountants would be to surround themselves with the right professionals, develop their network, invest time and effort in ensuring that they can provide services to their clients efficiently, economically through their own network.
Trust is fundamental for any advisor - clients approach me because they trust my abilities to provide the solution. Two other key skills of any advisor are their ability to listen effectively and to ask the right question. For instance, when businesses approach us for advice, normally we only have their financial statements to start the conversation with and then we have to listen to them carefully and ask the right questions in order to understand the story behind those numbers e.g. why they are in distress, what went wrong and how to remedy the situation. It is the same approach regardless of whether I am dealing with a struggling small business or a group of companies.
Covid-19 brought its own set of challenges, but adaptation of technology was a positive one for me. I started conducting “Insolvency for accountants” Zoom presentations for my contacts all over the UK, which helped me retain and grow my contacts. Using technology, I can now provide services without geographical boundaries.
Businesses in the UK are going through some difficult times with supply chain issues, staffing issues, Brexit, Covid-19 and higher inflation. My key role as an Insolvency Practitioner is to help businesses in overcoming their financial difficulties. The business is a national asset and when it becomes insolvent, it provides the opportunity to move the business from inefficient under-resourced hands to more efficient resourceful hands to ensure steady growth of the national asset, which is the fundamental aim of the insolvency legislation.
Unfortunately, some advisors think of insolvency practitioners as corporate undertakers and contact us too late. For example, there is a general misconception that if the company is insolvent, liquidation is the only option. The reality however is that if the fundamental business is sound, the Insolvency Practitioner can help rescue the business by using a procedure like Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA). CVA is used to save a company that has suffered financial difficulties but still has a fundamentally sound business or part of its business which could survive if it did not have the burden of its debts. It is in effect a contract between an insolvent company and its creditors and is usually therefore a more private matter than alternative forms of insolvency procedures.
My message therefore for the businesses and their advisors is to seek early advice from a licensed insolvency practitioner. If people approach us early on, there are better chances to protect their businesses, employment or achieve a better deal with all their creditors.