Part 3 – The Association of Atrocious Titties
Written: July 8, 2014
Technology streamlines industries. Traditions, processes, practices, roles, jobs, whole sectors of an industry – All fall before Progress’ relentless march. And Information Technology in particular marches at a ferocious pace. The AAT is the third in a series of articles about the death of written systems and the birth of widespread computing.
If the only experience you have of the world of Provincial Accounting is reading the first two articles in this series, then you might think we spent all of our time drinking tea, powdered wigs perched on our heads and quills poised to write out another bill for a client. And – apart from 9:30am, when we drank coffee – it did often feel exactly like that.
But that world was changing. Even in the wasteland between the business centres of Manchester and Birmingham, IT was slowly gaining a foothold.
“The Association of Atrocious Titties!”
That was what my boss’s boss said, after I had shown him the advertisement.
The advert was in a magazine left behind by the partner in charge of our branch office. Unlike my boss’s boss, I had been quite excited about it and so was my boss. It was an advert for an Association setup to recognise employees of accountancy practices – and those working in accountancy in industry – who did not possess accountancy qualifications (ACA / ACCA). It also provided a route into those full professional qualifications, equivalent to a degree (in the eyes of some).
The Association of Accounting Technicians. To be fair, as my boss’s boss had snorted, “they’re not calling me a bl**dy technician”.
However, membership did appeal to my boss. The advert was asking accountancy professionals without professional qualifications, to submit a detailed application to be considered for membership. Based only on their experience, there were no exams to sit – Instead you were to have worked for a minimum of ten years in the industry, and my boss easily doubled that. His application completed – his references finally checked – a short time later he was a proud Member of the AAT.
During the wait for his confirmation, I mentioned to our partner that the AAT could be studied for, on day release (I had been with the firm for about a year). But how would our small team cope without me, he asked? Then I wondered whether the practice might pay for me to attend classes one evening per week (if I left work slightly early, on that evening)? But the practice had decided – for the time being – to invest only in training for staff who were undertaking the traditional qualified route. I was still encouraged to attend (by paying for myself). The one-year course – plus fees – was ten times my weekly gross salary.
Beam me up, Scotty
During my time with the practice I worked on just one computer-system audit, not long after my transfer to head office. It was for a larger SME pottery manufacturer, based in Stoke-on-Trent. Our 8 person team spent most of the first day sitting around perplexed – No one had the first clue what to do?
Eventually, it was decided that we would proceed as though it was a manual system.
A day or two later …
“Why are we adding up print-outs?” one of the juniors asked me, holding up a ream of white and green lined paper, printed with an extract from the Purchase Daybook (or so the guy from the Computer-Team had said).
“What happens if there’s a page missing?” I replied. “How would you know, if you don’t check the totals are correct?“
Even though I had only used a computer – for half an hour a week, for one term in my third year – at school, I knew that they always added-up correctly. There was no fooling me.
“But the pages are numbered” he said, pointing to printed text at the bottom of a sheet, “And computers can’t lie”.
Working in the accounting industry meant working with systems – I audited systems, pulled figures from systems; balanced them, entered data to them; filed things in them, wrote reports about them and produced financial accounts from them. However, during my time in the industry, I designed only one.
It was the third last job I worked on for the practice. An attempt to save a client-business – a Truck Dealership – from receivership. As well as the first Business System I designed, the job also saw my first serious introduction to a computer that I could fully appreciate.
The – paper – system that I designed tracked and analysed the costs of commissioning a new truck for delivery to a customer. It required the purchase of a very special Analysis Book. It was 60cm wide (and 40cm tall). It came with no pages. Its 6 stainless steel ring-binders were designed to hold the separate sheets, which you could buy in a variety of sizes. We procured the largest size of Analysis Paper (more than 50 columns for data entry). The paper was much wider than the Analysis Book, but came tri-folded, so that you could open a sheet to read it – or enter data – but it folded back away for storage.
The system was to be operated in addition to the existing – also manual – bookkeeping system. Every purchase invoice; every entry to the payroll system (on the PC); every sandwich the MD purchased from petty cash, was also to be analysed in this new system. All to be backdated six-months. I did not win the bookkeeping department’s Favourite Accountant Award.
Within a couple of weeks it was eloquently demonstrating why the business was in the trouble it was in. The partner responsible for the client was extremely impressed. The firm went into Administration two weeks later.
My First Time
The Lotus Position: One morning – Only a few days before the job with the truck dealership ended – I was drinking coffee and watching Some-Guy and one of the bookkeepers sat huddled in animated conversation around “the PC”. Casually I wandered over and was eventually given an hour’s instruction on using a Lotus-123 spreadsheet. I was mesmerized.
Farewell, my lovely
After 5 years of seriously joyous employment – including gaining AAT Level 1 (at night class) along the way – I left provincial accounting with every intention to return. Just as soon as I had earned a degree and was on the path to Qualified Status. I had been (verbally, at least) promised a position with my old firm on graduation.
However, I didn’t go back – To my old practice or the profession. Instead I joined the IT industry.
The industry that – by transforming the way businesses processed and stored information – destroyed the world of Provincial Accounting. Back then, provider of very best jobs in the world.