Tax hero: I helped my client become financially secure enough to adopt a baby

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In 2013, Gavin Esberger was at a low ebb.

His painting and decorating business, GME, was failing, threatening not only his ambition to successfully run his own company, but his dream to have a family.

Esberger and his wife Nikki were desperate to adopt a child, but were not in a financial position to do so.

Disillusioned, and on the brink of walking away from his own firm and returning to work for a former employer, Esberger and his business partner went to Phil Ellerby from Northern Accountants in Yorkshire for help.

Within just two years, with careful accounting and strategic advice, Ellerby managed to turn GME around to the point where the Esbergers could afford a big enough house and be financially secure enough to adopt their first baby, George.

The heart-warming tale is just one of 62 case studies in The World’s Most Inspiring Accountants, a collection by Steve Pipe, Susan Clegg and Shane Lukas, which is dedicated to documenting how accountants are uniquely placed to improve not only their clients businesses but their quality of life.

In an interview, Pipe, a chartered accountant and trainer, said he was inspired to research and write the book because he wanted to tackle the “crisis of confidence” that constantly undermined the accountancy industry.

“I’ve always had this belief that accountants do something really worthwhile and can make a profound difference,” he said.

“We do not believe in ourselves sufficiently, we do not believe in the value that we bring,” he added.

“Consequently at a dinner party when somebody says ‘what do you do?’ we say ‘I’m an accountant’ and we hope they haven’t noticed. We try to move the conversation on for fear that they will tar us with all those Monty Python brushes.”

Pipe decided that the best way to tackle this lack of belief in the positive power of accountancy was to gather a “body of evidence” as a starting point for accountants to feel proud and understand their value.

“It is a noble profession, we are changing people’s lives. Using our skills with numbers as accountants we are making a profound difference,” he said.

In the Esbergers’ case, their accountant Phil Ellerby’s help manifested itself in two major ways.

Firstly, he saved the business from collapse, transforming it into one of the most successful painting and decorating companies in Yorkshire.

“They simply lacked clarity of vision and solid structured advice on how to get to their end goal,” Ellerby explains in the book.

He began by completing a personal balance sheet for them, helping to articulate their personal goals, looking at their incomes, personal wealth, work life balance and retirement plans. Then he mapped their business goals to deliver their personal goals.

As a result, between 2012 and 2014 the business increased turnover by 99% and net profit by 81%.

Ellerby helped the businessmen to shift their priorities into new markets, particularly repaints in the housing, retail and commercial sectors, creating a strategic marketing plan for them.

“They have grown from a small company to a medium-sized company,” said Ellerby in the case study. “The perception in the market is that they are one of the big boys..they are on the road to being recognised as one of the top three painting and decorating companies in Yorkshire.”

The success of the business allowed Esberger and his wife to forge ahead with their adoption plans, but they were almost derailed by an unexpected twist just one week before being granted custody of a baby.

Someone tried to blackmail the company, threatening to report VAT fraud and tax evasion, claims which were completely fabricated.

The blackmailer took the allegations to the adoption agency, who then launched an urgent investigation into their finances. Northern Accountants were called to an emergency meeting, but they were able to prove that the complaints were unfounded.

“The end result was that the adoption went through, the accountant became the godparent to baby George and Gav and his wife were deliriously happy,” said Pipe.

“Also, wonderfully, a little bit further down the line after many years of trying, Gav and his wife naturally had a second child,” he added.

“Phil [Ellerby] has told me that ‘I don’t think I will ever do anything more important in my career than what we did for Gav and his wife. That family exists because as an accountant I was able to help’.”

It’s stories like the Esbergers, or others like family business owner, Chris Holt, also from Yorkshire, whose accountant remodelled his events management company so well that he was able to build his dream villa on a Greek island, that Pipe believes the industry needs to hear.

“If you can take someone who is feeling scared witless at the beginning and turn them into someone who feels that a weight has been lifted off their shoulders, that they are able to dream big again, and they are calm, confident and happy, then that emotional contribution is profoundly valuable,” he said.

“Most of the difference that we are able to make comes from using our core skills with numbers,” he said. “I really don’t think that the accounting profession has ever woken up to or been made aware of the contribution that it can make.”

Realising their full potential is also key to an accountants’ professional success, argued Pipe. Too many accountants undervalued their own skills and sold themselves short.

“Most accountants do not earn enough money. They work stupidly hard for stupidly little, here in the UK at least,” he said.

“I am passionate about the profession, about helping accountants understand their value, be more valuable, and then helping accountants use the value that they contribute to others to earn a better and fairer living for themselves.”

Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.

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