Veshali Patel

Veshali's LinkedIn profile

Although I come from a family without any history in accounting, it was seen as a solid profession to get into. I was the first in my family to go to university where I did an accounting degree. Yet when I graduated in the late 1990s, I struggled to get accountancy work. In those days there were no LinkedIn or online recruitment agencies, and the traditional agencies that did exist wanted proof of experience before they invested in you. 

Therefore, I started working in retail. And it was during my time there I was approached by one of the managers who told me about a relative looking for someone to start in their accountancy practice. It was a local two partner firm that needed someone to do the basic work, but they weren’t exactly sure what they wanted the role to be. Ultimately, we ended up building the role together, giving me freedom to explore different aspects of the firm and the industry. 

We were building the client base and I was helping them with the tech side. The technology we now use on a day-to-day basis was only just starting to happen – there was no cloud and I was on desktop Sage. So after a year I decided to take the next step and get qualified as it seemed to open an extensive amount of doors within the accounting and finance sector. 

I looked at ACCA and ICAEW. ACCA offered flexibility and was a global qualification so I went down that route and the partners of the firm supported me with a study package. After I qualified, I could see that there was no career progression for me in my current practice – and I was adamant that I wanted to work within companies rather than as an accountant in practice. 

I had no interest in staying in practice, getting a practising certificate, or having my own practice. 

The agencies available at the time were only offering other practice roles and I realised I needed more experience with other clients before I would be able to secure an industry role. 

I joined a larger practice doing audit work which gave me exposure to a variety of clients in a wide range of industries – from jewellers with million-pound pieces in their showrooms to an up-and-coming pet company. It gave me the experience I needed to build on, and after three years I moved to a property investment company. That gave me insight into how the real world works – when you’re in practice, you only scratch the surface. To an extent you do get to see the inner workings of the business on a day-to-day level, but that’s only at one point in time. It is different to being in there all day, every day, managing the operations, improving the systems, and having more input than you would as an auditor.

I was married at this point – my husband is also an ACCA member and works in industry – and pregnant with my first child. My husband was working for an asset hedge fund company that wanted to move its operations to Cyprus. The package they offered him meant that we could move there as a family and I wouldn’t need to work after the baby was born. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and as accountants, we knew we would be able to come back to the UK and get jobs if things didn't work out for us. 

I try to engrain with my children now that you should do something that you enjoy, but also do something with longevity that will hold you in good stead whatever happens. 

Moving to Cyprus was great, but within six months I was bored. One of my husband’s contacts was a partner at KPMG which had an office locally and they were happy to have me part-time during nursery hours so that I could continue to take care of my son. 

My role at KPMG gave me exposure to international clients as well as local clients. It was very insightful and nurtured my skills as a communicator and my ability to understand where clients are coming from. I had my second child, but by the time I was ready to go back to work the 2008 financial crisis had happened so there was no role to return to at KPMG. 

Luckily, a recruitment agency we knew had just set up a corporate services company for clients in Cyprus as well as international clients, from places like Israel and the Caymans, that needed accountancy facilities in Cyprus. This provided me with a perfect solution during a not so perfect time. One of our biggest clients was a waterworks in Israel. We worked with their auditors and the tax authorities on their behalf. 

I would recommend anybody to take the opportunity to do a stint overseas. That opportunity may only ever come up once and will teach you so much. The exposure you can get to international tax planning and the legalities in other countries is at another level. Experiencing a different culture is also a great learning experience. 

After five years in Cyprus, we started thinking about moving back to the UK. 

I hadn’t realised how technology had developed in the UK whilst I was away. VAT returns were now to be submitted online and accounts filing at Companies House had to be done digitally. With this new era of digitalisation came new possibilities. I was able to help a friend set up his company in the UK and buy an existing business, all whilst still being in Cyprus. This friend of mine suggested that when I came back, I should set up a practice to help others in the same way. 

I realised that setting up my own practice would enable me to choose my own hours so that I could still take care of my children. It would give me flexibility and freedom to still manage my family. My three years of work in Cyprus was sufficient to apply for an ACCA practising certificate which I obtained as soon as I got back to the UK, and then I set up my practice in early 2012. 

You never know how your vision is going to change. When I first qualified, I was sure that I didn’t want to have my own practice! And if my friend hadn’t asked for my help to set up his company, I might never have gotten to where I am today. Working for myself has been a godsend in terms of being able to still take care of my children and I wouldn’t want to work for somebody else now. Doing the ACCA qualification was one of the best choices I’ve ever made – it has certainly opened up doors for me throughout my career. 

In the early days of my practice, it was very much a lifestyle practice to fit the needs of my family. In the last three to four years however, I’ve picked up the pace to build the practice into a standalone business - something that I can sell within the next 10 years. By then I’ll be in my late 50s but if I’m still hungry to stay in the profession then I’ll do consultancy work and coaching to help other people build their businesses. 

Nowadays, my clients are owner-managed businesses and limited company directors working in the service industry like magazine publishers, agencies, leadership coaching companies, and service managed companies. The challenges these types of businesses face are largely centred around cashflow and compliance - compliance because they don’t know what they don’t know. A lot of businesses do not realise that they need to be VAT registered or when they need to pay tax. They associate accountants with tax returns and accounts and don’t realise all the other bits that we can help them with, using up-to-date accounts information to equip them with cash flow and monthly management accounts allowing them to focus on the future. 

Many business owners have a fear of talking to an accountant, so they tend not to look for one until they’ve reached a crunch point. When I take on a client there can be a period where I have to help them fix some problems, but I can show them a way forward so that they have peace of mind, and they will ultimately have a business advisor to accompany them on every step of their journey.

The challenge I face is that, as a sole practitioner, I’m wearing all the hats and the level of difficulty dealing with HMRC is increasing all the time. HMRC is trying to make things easier through technology, but they’re actually making it more difficult because the current structures are not user-friendly. The level of compliance needed with anti-money laundering has ratcheted up to levels I’ve never seen before. Even ACCA’s PII requirements have increased. I understand why we need these practices in place but there is so much administration involved with running a practice that I sometimes feel like I spend more time on administration than I do on client work. 

And client work is what I love doing - helping my clients achieve their goals and have confidence with their finances.