Blog

From Head of Accounts to Head of Dreams

AccountingInterviewProductStories

“You need a successful, solid career. Like an accountant or a solicitor.”

Max Whiteley’s mother Myra had big dreams for her kids. Coming from a strong Irish catholic background, she knew the importance of working hard – something she learnt from her mother, Bridie. Both strong female figures in the family, Myra and Bridie wanted the best for the family – this was evident with Myra being an entrepreneur herself, owning a successful hair salon with a very young family.

Naturally, there were big expectations for Max, Reiss and Meg, the next generation of Whiteleys.

However, the teenager Max still wasn’t sure – none of those options were playing professional rugby, after all. He decided to do some work experience at a Solicitor’s office, but they cancelled on him at the last minute. So he headed to an accounting office instead – and never looked back.

Today at 26-years-old, Max Whiteley heads Accounts and Legal’s brand new Liverpool office. Definitely an impressive achievement in just 10 years of career – but he’s only getting started. So what’s his secret?

“Numbers or compliance aren’t my favourite part of the job. My value comes from talking to clients, understanding all aspects of their business plan – whether that’s financial, marketing, recruitment, operations… Not just sitting behind the desk inputting data and making HMRC happy.”

Needless to say, technology plays a huge role in this advisory-focused way of working. Part of a new generation of accountants that are leading the digital transformation in the industry, Max witnessed first-hand the change from desktop to cloud.

“I remember typing up bank statements and invoices, charging people a professional service for an admin task. I never understood why people paid accountants for that when we can do so much more.”

Max finds surprising the amount of people who still don’t know much about technology and how it can help.

“I was at a talk recently and heard that only around 20% of accountants are fully digital. And we experienced this when we started recruiting people from other firms, some people have never used Xero. I’ve been using Xero for ten years, and loads of other tech, too.”

At work, his core app stack includes all Dext products: Prepare, Precision and Commerce.

“I’ve been using Dext Prepare for purchases, invoices, for about nine years. Now we have just started using Dext Commerce too, which is great for e-commerce businesses, a massive time saver. The Dext team have been amazing with onboarding clients’’

“And we use Dext Precision quite heavily. Health checks on our clients with Xero, reviewing VAT returns and smashing through bookkeeping flows… We use the flow mechanism a lot. Precision is also awesome for proposals, of course, because it’s a very quick way of defining pricing for new clients.”

The WOW factor

One of Accounts and Legal’s internal values, Max explains, is ‘creating a WOW’: going above and beyond to ensure clients are not only satisfied, but truly impressed. According to him, Dext is the one piece of software that always gets that ‘WOW’ reaction from his clients.

He recently used Precision to review a new client’s VAT return. The platform identified a mistake straight away and Max was able to claim back £4,000 for the client, who couldn’t be happier. In his own words, “that was definitely a WOW!”

“There’s a massive difference between using Dext and using Dext properly. Yes, it’s simple and easy to do the basics, but you can take it to the next level – and then it’s a dream. We do use a lot of tech, but we won’t spread ourselves too thin – we find the best options and stick with them. We think Dext is the best, so that’s why we use it.

However, the ‘WOW’ factor is just the tip of the iceberg. In theory, says Max, every accountant should save as much tax as possible – but that’s not differentiating. A lot of accountants feel they’re not qualified to talk about anything else but numbers, when in fact they have powerful insights that can directly improve and grow a business.

“Why are we only talking about figures? That can be done in five minutes. We see hundreds of successes and failures, so we know the right questions to ask and how to help business owners to find their why.

For him, this new approach to in-depth advisory that considers accounting, finance and even legal encourages forward-thinking practices to almost become an external finance department to their clients’ businesses. Accountants should truly understand where clients are and where they want to get to, and then advise and support their plan to get there.

“Being a small business owner can be lonely at times. But we really can make a difference in people’s lives, especially in small business, not only by ticking boxes and saving in taxes.”

Tech and people: the perfect formula

Max recognises the industry still has a long way to go, but the future will be tech-driven. The likes of Precision, for example, enable junior members of staff to develop relationships with clients from the start with high-level advisory, empowering them to be the best versions of themselves. That is what, according to Max, will set them apart from other accountants.

The way of working is different at his office. Often in other practices, he says, partners are the ones who deal with clients and they can be quite protective of these relationships, while accountants stay in the background.

“We don’t want that, we want to shape and employ people who are better than us. Because, here’s the thing: technology is not the greatest thing, people are. The time spent talking, adding value, asking the right questions – automation unlocks these opportunities. And Precision can give them starting blocks to have these conversations.”

Max might be the Head of Accounts, but in his heart he wants to be ‘Head of Dreams’: building real connections with clients and helping them achieve their goals. So being charismatic and talking to clients like a real human being is important.

“I love helping people and I’m comfortable challenging the status quo. We hear a lot that accounting is boring, that’s stagnant… Well, I want to change that.”

Time flew since Max’s childhood playing rugby with his friends in Manchester. Today he and his brother Reiss are accountants and their younger sister Meg works at a solicitors’ office – Maybe his Mum and Grandma were right about what job they should be doing. 

It’s hard to not get inspired by Max’s energy. A prime example of this new generation of accountants who are making the most of technology, he genuinely considers ‘creating the WOW’ his personal mission. 

One step at a time, though: the clock marks 5pm and it’s nearly time for his daily run, a hobby he picked up during lockdown.

“Glastonbury is just around the corner and I need to get back in shape!”