“Voluntary work does something for your community… and it pays back”

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Work done on the ground by and for members is AAT’s lifeblood. We spoke to branch organisers about the importance of their role.

The work of branches up and down the UK is absolutely central to AAT’s existence and success. These branches are staffed by volunteers who give up their time to organise events, introduce members to each other and generally serve as a link between AAT the body, and those that make up its membership.

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That’s why AAT President Kevin Bragg was in Birmingham on 23 May, speaking to a room full of enthusiastic AAT branch members and students. Bragg’s number one issue is employability, and he’s passionate about helping members boost their prospects using AAT’s qualifications, courses and membership to help students and professionals get hired, promoted, paid and recognised.

AAT’s branch network is priceless for members coming together to network and a great forum for mentoring and softer skills development. Eve Jones and the Birmingham Branch are a clear demonstration of our valuable, dynamic community in action.

AAT President Kevin Bragg MBA FCMA CGMA MCMI MAAT

Events are a key part of branch work, which means getting the timings and topics right is crucial. So what makes a good meeting? “First of all, attendees,” says Eve Jones, AAT lecturer and chair of the AAT’s Birmingham branch. “So if you end up having a group with only five people it’s not enough.”

Jones reflects that Covid certainly impacted turnout. Since the return to normality her focus has been on reviving the branch’s events and getting a younger crowd involved. And doing that has focused her mind on pitching compelling events that inspire and engage local members.

What events can offer

“I cannot tell somebody just to come in there because we like their faces. No, we have to focus on what we’re offering in return,” she says. “First, these events are a very, very good business platform which gives members exposure to their peers and others in the industry.”

Then, it’s about building confident, rounded accountants. “At the moment, people – especially youngsters – are behind their computers and they don’t have people skills,” Eve explains. “I can see this from my students: when I give them something to explain to the class they look at me with worry. So these events are about helping them expose themselves and build confidence, something that speaking to people – especially qualified people – can really help with.”

And of course, there’s also the small matter of getting ahead in your career. “I do know that quite a few people will think, ‘Oh you’re looking for a new job, well that person over there just said that they’re hiring‘,” says Katarina Collins, who runs the AAT’s Swindon branch. “So networking is one of the biggest benefits, as well as getting to know more people, or asking questions and learning from responses from people when it’s an interactive session.”

Timing is everything

Collins typically runs her events on Saturday mornings, a timeslot designed to attract a wider cohort of busy accountants from both business and practice. “Basically we start, people get together and sign in around half past nine, some people come earlier because they want to chat, so we try to be there around nine o’clock.

“And the actual presentation or speech or workshop starts around 10, then we take a break, which is either for just grabbing a coffee or asking questions which you don’t want to ask in front of everybody. And then we finish around half past 12.”

Collins has recently run events on topics as diverse as mental health and technology. But the most popular? “I found out that any tax update is very well received – I mean, we run out of chairs. The reason being, every year something happens around tax and if you go into HMRC’s website, it’s impossible to decipher.

“So we get an expert, and people can ask questions and they’re really happy that somebody can give them a concise summary in three hours and they don’t have to read about it. They get their slides afterwards and that’s a reminder of what has been said and they can ask questions. Brilliant, happy days.”

Collaborating to improve expertise

Clearly, members are responding to these volunteers’ efforts, with attendance up across the board. And Eve Jones credits some of the success of her events to a willingness to reach out and collaborate. “We’ve run joint events with other institutes like CIMA and the CIPD, as well as local businesses and accounting firms.

“That collaboration is critical because those other bodies learn from our attendees, from the other side, the accountant, because they are HR or legal people and they don’t deal with accountancy. So, it was not only for us – we learned a lot from them, but it was educational for them too.”

Jones ran eight events in 2023, and is on track to do the same again this year. Highlights have included an invite from EY for members to attend a tax seminar, as well as a talk from a senior figure in the NHS on public finance. So what’s next? For Jones, a session planned for September on Management Games is especially exciting, as well as sessions on BI (jointly run with CIMA) and inheritance tax.

Collins, meanwhile, is in discussions with the local CIMA branch about collaborating again: “We are probably going to run an event about AI and how it’s going to affect our work. And that goes to all levels, so everybody’s going to be interested in that.”

Jones sums up the importance of volunteering. “If you’re doing voluntary work, you’re doing something for your community, and I really think it is good, it pays back. And attendees are learning, they came back from that meeting, from our event, and said, ‘Oh my goodness, it was amazing’.”

Improving employability

“I was in Birmingham to speak about ’employability’ – a topic I chose as my personal theme for the year of my presidency,” says AAT President Kevin Bragg.

“In my view, the whole point of AAT is to give people a pathway to a broader career in accountancy and finance.

“AAT distinguishes you from people who don’t have the qualifications or aren’t members. The letters ‘AAT’ are a strong sign you have the practical skills and commitment to lifelong learning needed in a rapidly changing world. AAT gives people the technical skills they need, but also the soft skills that contribute to employability. These ‘power skills’, include good communication, innovation, teamwork and leadership, for example.

“When I shared these insights with those gathered, my presentation was well received by the many students and AAT members in attendance. We even had a recruitment agency along, curious to know more about the power of AAT.

“AAT’s branch network is priceless for members coming together to network and a great forum for mentoring and softer skills development. Eve Jones and the Birmingham Branch are a clear demonstration of our valuable, dynamic community in action.”

The fundamentals of working with complex VAT issues

It can be challenging to keep up-to-date with the latest VAT regulations. Keep ahead of the latest in VAT by attending our informative one-day online VAT masterclass. Our VAT expert Simone Hurst will guide you through recent updates and compliance essentials and the potential impact on finance strategies.

Find out more

Christian Doherty is a business journalist and freelance writer for AAT.

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