Gavin Curr

Gavin's LinkedIn profile

I came into accountancy through a traditional route – I studied it at high school and then went on to study it at Glasgow Caledonian University. In my third year there, I completed a summer internship at Martin Aitken & Co and when I graduated, i was lucky enough to be offered a trainee contract. I’ve been here ever since, becoming a director in 2021.

I wanted to study ACCA rather than ICAS because ACCA’s study and examination format suited me better. I was fully prepared to support myself through ACCA, but the firm was fully supportive and paid for me to study ACCA.

Martin Aitken & Co has been in the Glasgow area since 1897 under various guises and celebrated its 125th anniversary last year. We’re a medium-sized firm that has grown both organically and through acquisitions. In my 12 years here, our headcount has almost doubled in size and our turnover has more than doubled. Some of the acquisitions have been a result of sole practitioners we knew retiring, but some have been strategic acquisitions. We have clients across the length and breadth of the country - from the south coast of England to the remote islands of Scotland – but our crux is the central belt of Scotland.

We’re a general practice firm covering all manners of accountancy, audit and tax. We’re a progressive firm with lots of opportunities and we’re keen to promote internally where possible. The last few years have been quite challenging in terms of the pandemic, staffing, client issues and funding restrictions. With the legacy of the COVID impact, I’d say that our workload only really got back to normal at the start of 2023. Before that, Companies House had offered three-month extensions which clients had taken, meaning we were three months behind where we wanted to be. We still made good use of the period from 2020 through to the start of this year to reset and look at practice efficiencies through new systems and technologies.

Recruitment is still very challenging – for audit particularly – but it has improved slightly over the last 12 months. We made a conscious decision not to take on any new audit engagements during the early stages of the pandemic because we were at capacity with the staff we had, but internally the team are now more experienced, and our juniors are becoming seniors. We’ve completed a great deal of work internally around staff retention to ensure we retain our experienced qualified staff members and also attract new team members. There is still a general experience gap between our experienced staff and our juniors because of the two-year experience gap caused by the pandemic, but it’s the same for every firm. Our final year trainees are performing really well so the situation is improving.

In the last twelve months. we have been seeing a great deal more audit opportunities – both because smaller practices are pulling out of audit work or reducing their operations, and also because consolidation amongst the larger firms in the market has caused their service levels to drop and their clients are coming to firms our size. There has been a lot of acquisition activity in accountancy firms in the Glasgow area, and prospective clients are telling us they are leaving the larger firms because they want an independent firm to do their accounts and audits.

We embarked on a digital strategy in 2019 of areas we wanted to improve efficiencies on. both clients and internally. We had already brought in electronic working papers for our accounts, which was a revolution and ended up being the best thing we’d ever done when COVID hit. Unfortunately, we hadn’t brought it in for audit purposes at that point, but we are now moving ahead with that. We’ve done a lot on the digital front over the past four years – looking at internal efficiencies and what software can be used to automate processes - for both staff and clients. The client area is bigger – from expense management systems to tools that provide a three-way forecast. Internally we’ve brought in an HR system that automates onboarding and contracts, a holiday system, and an internal expenses system. We have a digital services manager and between us we lead on these projects. It’s been a lot of change, and I would like to think that the firm is doing well on its digital journey. 

Staying on top of new software and applications that come out, and new ways of doing things is likely to be a constant going forward – although there’s only so many ways you can automate something. Everybody is talking about AI and of course AI is very much part of what we use, but I don’t think that the broader impact of AI will affect firms of our size for a few years. It will be interesting to see the impact on the biggest firms over the next few years – particularly from an audit point of view.

A big challenge at the moment is the changes associated with ISQM 1 for audit purposes. For a firm of our size, there is a lot of regulation and considerations so I can understand why many smaller practices are withdrawing from audit work. There is much more to consider than there ever was before – including internally from an administrative point as well.