Can you tell me a little about yourself, where you work and what your role involves?
My name is Nicky Pemble, and I am the director and Co-owner of Marden and Co which is a medium-sized accountancy practice based in Banstead, Surrey. We deliver taxation and financial management services to clients based in and around the Banstead and Surrey area, mainly providing year-end financial statement compliance work, self-assessments, bookkeeping services, VAT returns, and all the other services that practices provide.
Is accounting something you’ve always wanted to do?
It was actually, and I think it stems from my childhood. My dad was self-employed and every year he was always in awe of the amount of tax that his accountant saved him. I think seeing that planted the seed and made me think that it was something I would quite like to get involved in. I didn’t go into it straight away, but once I did, I started studying towards the professional qualifications doing AAT and then ACCA and now I have my practicing certificate through the IFA, so it has been a journey. What was nice is I started in the commerce industry, so I got a real feel for business first, but once I started progressing with my studies, I found that I resonated with taxation. I really enjoyed those modules, so I decided once I qualified that I wanted to go into practice, so I then actively pursued a role in practice, and that’s how I started out.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job and what is the most challenging?
I think the most rewarding part is engaging with the clients. When you first onboard a new client who comes to you with their business idea, and they want you to set-up a company for them, it’s really exciting. Whilst they may have an idea, to actually have all the financial services to support that, all the systems that you need to deliver your invoicing etc. is really important, and it’s nice to be involved in those early stages during the inception of a company. It’s also nice to watch them grow and become successful, and as their businesses grow, more and more is added to the services that you can provide to them, so that’s probably the most rewarding part of it. Also just being part of the team that we have, and sharing ideas, that’s been really beneficial for us as a business.
One of the challenges we have experienced was with MTD (Making Tax Digital) which came in a couple of years ago and has completely changed the landscape of accounting for us. To be involved in finding a solution for clients to be MTD compliant, and finding the right software solutions for them has been a challenge but once we decided on Xero and implemented it across most of our client base we’ve had to retrain and rethink the way that we work.
Adapting to change can be a very challenging part, and it’s changed so much so there’s been a lot for clients to adapt to. Whereas before they would come in with their documentation which would perhaps just be a bag full of receipts, we now have things like Xero and Receipt Bank that they can just upload images to. Everything is online for them which means they’ve got much more visibility but bringing about that change has been quite challenging. Now they’re more accepting of these changes it’s been much easier, and businesses are becoming younger and more tech-savvy, so it’s easier for them to migrate over to new accounting systems.
HMRC are a challenge as a practice. Their systems are so antiquated, and you spend so much time phoning them or writing to them when you should just be able to email them, but they don’t seem to have that structure in place yet. You can go on an online web chat, but it’s just not the same, and you can be on hold for twenty minutes, or half an hour, just trying to get through to someone. That really is a tedious part of the job because it’s just so time-consuming.
Would you say the accounting profession is male-dominated?
I would say in senior roles it’s definitely male-dominated, and I’m not entirely sure why that is. I think it’s probably to do with the traditional image that people have of accountants.
What do you think would attract more women to the accounting profession?
I think if we move away from the traditional conception of an accountant then that would help. Thanks to technology and fintech it’s become much more interesting to be involved in accounting. It’s not just about providing year-end compliance work, it’s about adding advisory services, and I think that makes it more attractive because you’re now more engaged with the client. It’s not just about the numbers anymore, it’s about the people and building strong relationships and I think that’s going to help attract more women.
Why do you think gender equality and balance, and having a more diverse workforce, is so important, particularly in senior management teams?
I think it’s important to have balance in business. Diversity allows for different visions and ideas to be voiced, so having a team that is open, able to communicate, listen to each other’s ideas and hear a wide range of options from different perspectives not only gets the best out of people but enables you as a business to grow. It’s so important to nurture those people, and business is about people. We have a diverse client base and having senior teams that have diversity enables you to deliver a better service to clients.
What is one piece of advice you would give to women looking for senior leadership roles in the accounting profession?
For me, it’s about working hard. You have to remain focused on what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there. Academic training is important as an accountant as you need to have certain qualifications, so you need to have a strong focus, work hard, and study harder. You will get there; you’ve just got to believe that. So, for me, it’s first and foremost about having that understanding, but then it’s also about getting to know people, understanding people, and developing in your role by learning from your peers.
What impact do you think the pandemic and lockdown will have on gender equality?
It really has cut across gender equality and I think the reason why is because we’re all working from home. We’re all facing the same challenges, whether it’s managing childcare and schooling, having to get to grips with things you may not be familiar with like Zoom or Microsoft teams, or not being able to meet people and having to converse online. Cloud-based systems have enabled businesses to continue, and all the different software packages available means you can work from home in your living room or from the office, it’s fluid now, so that’s made a massive difference. I think because we have adapted to this change, it’s now more about your ability rather than your gender, and I think it has made a difference in that respect.
The hashtag for International Women’s Day this year is Choose to Challenge. What do you think is the best way for society to challenge gender bias and inequality?
I think it’s about promoting a culture where you’re rewarded for what you contribute rather than who you are or what your background is. So, promote a culture where ideas come from all levels, across gender and race, and all voices are welcome and respected around the table. If you have an idea, you shouldn’t be afraid to voice it, and I think having that kind of culture in business is really important. I think it’s also important to be flexible and to normalise shared parental roles. Companies should shift and adapt now, especially now, to enable more flexibility. We don’t need to be in the office to prove we’re working, and it’s about how you perform and what you deliver and not necessarily the presence. As long as you’re delivering that’s all that matters.
Who is your biggest female inspiration?
For me, it’s about women who come from humble beginnings, as I did, and women who are self-motivated and driven. It doesn’t necessarily need to be about being academic, it’s about having a dream and that entrepreneurial spirit. So, I thought of someone like Jo Malone as she is a great example of this. She grew up in a council house, created her own fragrance company and sold her business for undisclosed millions. She had no formal training, but she just had this natural ability and flair for a product that she was really passionate about and believed in. If you have an idea and you nurture and grow that idea, the skies the limit! And I love that spirit in people which is why I love business start-ups and watching them develop; it’s so rewarding. Coming from humble beginnings, I like the fact that we come from nothing and we can really make something.