Jessica Lock

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Jessica Lock


 
Jess joined Sayer Vincent as a trainee in 2012 and qualified in 2015. Since then, she has dedicated her career to the social purpose sector, working her way up to audit manager at SV before moving on to Help Musicians where she was the Finance Manager. Jess has recently started a new position as Head of Finance at Painshill Park Trust in Surrey.

We caught up with Jess and she has reflected on how her training at SV equipped her with the depth of knowledge she has taken forward to her role since leaving.
 

How was your time training and working at Sayer Vincent?

Working at Sayer Vincent was the perfect start to my accounting career. As an audit trainee, I was able to visit a different charity every week and get to know so many wonderful organisations doing fantastic work for their beneficiaries. The breadth of knowledge gained from working across so many sectors, including international NGOs, health and social care charities and arts and culture organisations, has been invaluable. The structured training path at Sayer Vincent enabled me to progress to manager level within two years of qualifying and gain a whole new set of transferrable skills to take away with me. The size of the firm meant that I was able to work closely with all managers and partners, who really are experts in their fields, and had brilliant role models to aspire to. I have stayed in touch with many of my colleagues from Sayer Vincent and they are always happy to provide support, advice or specialist technical knowledge over a coffee.
 

Making a difference and working in the sector

There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to stay in the charity sector when I moved on from Sayer Vincent. I was keen to experience the other side of charity finance: working within a charity and being audited myself. For me, the opportunity to get to know a charity inside out, rather than the whistle-stop nature of audit, has been fulfilling and a great career move. I learnt an incredible amount as Finance Manager at Help Musicians UK and have recently taken that experience with me to my new role as Head of Finance at Painshill Park Trust.
 

What advice would you give to those interested in starting a career in charity finance?

I would definitely recommend audit as a starting point to any finance career as it provides variety in both working environment and knowledge. I would also recommend working in a charity for a period as it equips you with a depth of knowledge that is useful even if you later return to audit.

Other than working with fantastic colleagues and feeling that I’m helping people just by doing my job, I love the technical side of charity finance. Many people would run a mile at the mention of partially exempt VAT or restricted funding, but I genuinely enjoy their complexities. Corporate accounting has always seemed rather dull in comparison!
 

Whats been the highlight of your career so far?

My favourite part of being the lead finance person in a charity is working with all other departments to prepare budgets, helping them better understand their management accounts and report to trustees. During my time at Help Musicians, we made significant progress towards non-finance colleagues taking ownership of their budget areas and I am about to embark on a similar process at Painshill.
 

“Many people think accountants are simply ‘bean-counters’ but, in reality, there is a huge focus on understanding how best to work with different types of people, many of them without a finance background.”

 
It is immensely rewarding to play a part in enabling the programme team to help more beneficiaries, the fundraising team to raise more money and the landscape team to restore our magical crystal grotto.

Kristina Kopic

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Kristina Kopic


 
Kristina joined Sayer Vincent in 2009 as an audit trainee and qualified in 2012. Since then, she has focused her career in the charity sector working for several large organisations and is now Financial Controller at Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts. Kristina has also taken up the opportunity to give back to the sector and gain more experience through her role as a trustee. Let’s hear from Kristina about her time at SV and what she’s been up to since leaving the firm:
 

How was your time training and working at Sayer Vincent?

I’m sure most who have gone through the process will agree that training and studying is not easy! However, the structure and support offered at Sayer Vincent was brilliant. The intake of trainees was relatively small when I joined and there was a real sense of camaraderie. We supported each other through exams and developed a great network throughout our time together.
 

Are there any key lessons learned from your time at SV?

I would recommend taking advantage of opportunities as much as possible. During my time training as an auditor, I took the chance to work on internal audits and other assignments including governance projects, this gave me a much broader perspective. I’ve been able to transfer skills learned through these experiences to my work in other charities after leaving SV. One of the key transferrable skills I gained was the ability to quickly identify problems and risks and analyse things from a different perspective.
 

How has your training at SV impacted on your career?

Whilst training as an auditor, I was required to interact with very senior people on a regular basis. I used my analytical skills to ask the right questions during audits to get to a conclusion quickly. I developed excellent communication skills while interacting with people from finance staff to CEOs – this was helpful especially when the time came to ask difficult questions. Developing these soft skills early on in my career was a great benefit of the audit training and these skills have been highly transferable.

Audit trainees at SV are given a lot of responsibility from an early stage. I began leading audits and going out to some clients on my own as a second-year trainee. This really built up my confidence and helped me to realize I could do more than I thought I could. I also greatly developed my ability to problem solve and think through problems logically.
 

“I met so many bright, talented people at SV, everyone was very dedicated. Continuing my career in finance within the charity sector, I seem to regularly cross paths with colleagues I trained with or contacts made during my time at SV. I have managed to naturally build a strong network of charity finance professionals, which has been brilliant and very helpful throughout my career. I’m always pleased when I bump into another SV alumni!”

 

What advice can you give to those seeking a role in charity finance?

Think about what you really enjoy doing
During my time at SV, I was exposed to such a wide variety of clients across the social purpose sector which gave me amazing insight into how different organisations work. I’d advise future trainees or those aspiring to work in the sector to really think about what they would like to do in the future as there will be opportunities to develop key skills in any particular area of interest.

It’s not just about the money
Don’t be motivated by just salary or fancy job titles. Really think about what you enjoy doing and have a passion for, that approach will take you a very long way in your career. During my time at SV, I found that the sooner you identified your interests, the sooner support could be given towards achieving that goal.

Take up as many opportunities as possible
I had recently started a new job as Senior Financial Accountant at the Royal College of Nursing when I took up the opportunity of a nine-month secondment in the business accounting team. It probably wasn’t ideal timing as I was new in my role, but great opportunities don’t always come around. My experience there helped me gain a broader picture of accounting practices and awareness of the sector. In my current role with Sainsburys Family Charitable Trusts I now do both financial and management accounting – this role might not have been possible for me if I hadn’t taken up the secondment opportunity early on in my previous role.

Never stop learning
As a finance professional you can never stop learning. While I was at SV I also achieved my certificate in charity accounting and finance (CIPFA). I found the overlap between accounting and law very interesting and wanted to learn more, so I gained a certificate in charity law and governance (ICSA). Some of the non-finance training I have completed has been particularly beneficial and served as a learning curve. It’s also helped me to bridge the gap because finance is not an isolated part of an organisation so it’s very useful as an accountant to get out into the business more and understand various aspects outside of finance.

2018 Budget summary for charities

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2018 Budget summary for charities

The Chancellor announced the government’s budget on 28 October 2018. It is great to hear that the Chancellor plans to help charities by increasing the annual limit for trading in a charity from £50,000 to £80,000 turnover (for charities with income over £200,000). This takes it very close to the VAT registration threshold of £85,000 so almost aligning these which is helpful.

In addition the decision to allow charities operating Retail Gift Aid to write to those whose donations raise under £20 a year, just once every three years rather than annually as at present, will save charities many thousands of pounds in administration and postage costs. Charity Tax Group was hoping the requirement to write would be removed altogether for these donors. However once every three years is much better than annually and HMRC does remain concerned that, with over 40% of adults not being tax payers, too often gift aid is claimed by non-taxpayers.

Click here to download our summary of the key changes affecting charities and social purpose organisations.

Preventing insider fraud

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Preventing insider fraud

Amie Woods of the Charity Commission gave the keynote speech on day two of the recent Charity Accountants’ Conference. In covering the current priorities from the Commission’s perspective, she devoted much of her talk to the question of charity fraud.

Quoting from the Commission’s April 2018 report ‘Focus on insider fraud in charities’ she said the absence of appropriate controls was the primary enabling factor in either allowing frauds to occur, or in making the charity more vulnerable to fraud.

In a survey undertaken for the purposes of the report, the Commission found that 43% of respondents suggested the prime factor was excessive trust or responsibility placed on one individual and 24% were due to a lack of challenge or oversight.

The Commission is clearly concerned at the high proportion of serious incident reports that involve charity fraud – while still being concerned that not all reportable incidents are being reported on.

There is a clear lesson here for all charities to:

  • gain an understanding of their own fraud risks,
  • adopt a fraud aware culture that is not based purely in trust
  • ensure that appropriate internal controls are in place, and
  • understand their reporting requirements should a fraud occur.

All these aspects will be covered at SV’s upcoming client seminar of charity fraud being held in Birmingham on 18 October. Click here for booking details.

Is it time for a revolution in charity reporting?

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Is it time for a revolution in charity reporting?

Are charity finances meeting the public’s need? This was the big question asked by Joe Saxton, founder of NFP Synergy, when he opened our 2018 Charity Accountants Conference in Birmingham in September.

He said:

“Charity Accountants are keepers of the holy grail of financial information, but they need to deliver it in a way that codifies and communicates to the public how charity money is spent.”

 

His message was clear. There’s an imperative and a real opportunity for charity finance teams to help build trust in their charity and the sector more widely by providing clear, well presented, accessible financial information that demonstrates how charities are spending public money.

Joe highlighted research that showed that one of the main barriers to charitable giving is that people aren’t clear about how donations are spent. The content and presentation of charity financial reports [annual trustees report and accounts] aren’t helping.

He used focus group research to demonstrate what people want from financial reports. The research showed that people simply won’t read long financial reports. They want headline information; they love pie charts with information displayed colourfully, statistics that show impact and in bite sized chunks of information. Less is clearly more. It’s quality over quantity every time and simple and accessible information will get the message home.

He asked the audience of charity finance professionals how many of them would show their families and friends their financial reports to explain what their charity does. Very few hands went up!

Joe highlighted that some of the issues with the SORP could be to blame for the current state of charity financial reports. He said flaws in the SORP include the fact most public facing reporting is excluded from SORP. In the SORP, the regulated decide what regulation they get and that governance at SORP is poor and change with the SORP is what he describes as ‘glacial’.

He highlighted a new report from NFP Synergy which focused on the way in which the Charity Commission’s website publishes charity financial information, which he said isn’t helping the case for transparency. The report, ‘Ten ways the Charity Commission website makes charity finances less transparent’ focuses on the fact charity accounts are all presented in different ways, they are inconsistent, confusing and misleading.

Lastly, he pointed out that the public and MPs and the media think charities spend less on the good causes than they would like to see, so the role of the finance team must be to demonstrate how money is spent and the impact of the spending.

He concluded by telling delegates, “You are the keepers of the holy grail of reassuring, inspiring, and illuminating financial information to a sceptical world.”

Neil Watters

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Neil Watters

 

Neil Watters is currently Head of Finance at the Academy of Medical Sciences. The charity has gone through a period of sustained growth and his role has involved building a new team and implementing a new finance system.

How was your time training and working at Sayer Vincent?

I always had a passion to pursue a career in charity finance. Before I started at Sayer Vincent, I was working in the finance team for a small charity in Glasgow but the opportunity to join SV, gaining a wide range of first-hand experience working across so many types of charitable organisations was one I didn’t want to miss. Sayer Vincent provided a very supportive environment throughout my time as a trainee and working as an audit senior after I qualified. Working and studying for the ACA was definitely a challenge, however there were lots of people around for moral support and also guidance throughout.

The culture at Sayer Vincent was great and really attracts likeminded people – those who genuinely care about working for social purpose organisations. During my time at SV, I became particularly interested in international NGOs, I was grateful to have the opportunity to work with several INGO clients as well as joining the internal sector group for international charities. The experience and deep understanding I gained of how international charities work really helped me with my first role after leaving practice, as Group Finance Manager at Farm Africa.

 

What are the lasting skills or experiences that you took from your training at Sayer Vincent?

I’m currently Head of Finance at the Academy of Medical Sciences. I joined during a time of rapid growth and change, my role has involved building a new and larger team and implementing a new finance system. My role has been a challenge and I think the experience and knowledge gained at SV has been utilised the most since I started my current role than in any of my previous roles. My experience as an auditor involved looking in depth at systems and controls and writing post audit reports to deliver useful insights – this has been a great asset. My experience advising clients and delivering internal and external audits for various types of clients gave me great insight and experience which has been fed back into my work at the Academy.

 

Can you share any key lessons learned over the years?

Be open to change
Transitioning from an auditor to working in a finance team within a charity was a challenge initially. Generally, I’ve found the culture within charities to be similar to Sayer Vincent in many respects which has been helpful, however, the day to day work as a finance manager is very different to that of an auditor and I had to adjust to this change. Analysing things from and external perspective as an auditor is very different however there were a lot of transferable skills and points I was able to apply from my experience.

 

Take time to think strategically and assess priorities

In common with many of those working within finance my impulse is often to throw myself into a task and my comfort zone is generally working my way through an immediate problem. As my career has progressed and particularly as I have been involved in an increasing volume of project work as well as being responsible more widely for the strategic direction of the team it has, however, become ever more important to ensure I make time to take a step back from this and review priorities. Completing PRINCE2 project training has been very useful in improving my project management and helping me to balance these aspects of my roles with the day-to-day.

 

Interact with as many people in your organisation as you can

Having a lot more interaction with internal stakeholders within the various charities I’ve worked in has better enabled me to gain a more strategic perspective. A key tip from me would be to listen to people and make sure that you fully understand their needs. This really helps with gaining a better understanding of how the organisation works in order to provide a beneficial service which should ideally go way beyond the regulatory aspect of finance.

 

Expect the unexpected

In a previous role I was called to travel to Kenya to finalise the country office year end accounts at very short notice due to staffing and control issues. My experience as an auditor working in a new environment and under time constraints really kicked in and has helped me to fulfil several time-pressured tasks since leaving audit.

 

Making a difference and working in the sector

I really enjoyed my time working as a treasurer at South London Community Music which gave me a closer perspective on the workings of a charity at the trustee level. I’m keen to get back into volunteering again and will shortly be commencing the first stages of becoming a listening volunteer for the Samaritans.

 

Alison Ashman

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Alison Ashman


Alison trained with Sayer Vincent completing her ACA qualification in 2013. After 8 years with Sayer Vincent and working her way up to audit manager, Alison went on to Macmillan to pursue her interest in charity tax.
 

Training and working at Sayer Vincent

I didn’t ever consider applying to train at one of the big 4 accounting firms. The fact that all SV clients are charitable organisations was the main attraction to the role for me as I had previously volunteered for a charity and wanted to continue making an impact in the sector. At Sayer Vincent, everyone knows your name and you are treated as a person rather than a number within a huge organisation. The level of support received throughout my training, and continuing post qualification, was second to none. Right from the start, I was given the opportunity to work with and learn from partners and directors, as well as receiving great training and the opportunity to take on responsibility even as a first year trainee. Working full time while studying for the ACA was hard work, but SV is such a supportive, lovely environment which made a huge difference. There were always lots of opportunities to have fun with colleagues as well as receiving a helping hand from others in the firm if there was anything I found difficult.
 

“I embraced the opportunities given to take responsibility early on during my time at Sayer Vincent. I probably wouldn’t have had the same level of exposure had I trained at a very large firm.”

 
Being given responsibility early on was very rewarding. This has been key to building confidence to progress to management level at SV and moving on to my new role at Macmillan.
 

Making a difference and working in the sector

I had the opportunity to work with small and large charities, but I feel I made the biggest impact overall when working with the smaller clients. For charities that don’t have the financial expertise they require internally, being able to offer advice and guidance that’s genuinely needed and greatly appreciated was a great feeling. Working with new charities from their first audit, providing support and key insights, watching them grow and significantly increase their income was a highlight of my time at SV. Having the opportunity to work with management and board members of various charities allowed me to gain a lot of insight that I was able to pass on to similar organisations which was greatly beneficial to them and made a huge impact on their growth.
 

Lessons learned

SV is a firm that most definitely focuses on people. Developing good relationships with members of staff as well as the people we work with when delivering audits and advice is key to delivering a good service. A lesson learned during my time at SV was to focus on gaining an understanding of what the people I was working with actually required and what their capabilities were. I learned not to assume that people knew certain things and to always spend time listening and being mindful of their needs and capabilities. This is something I refer to frequently in my role as a tax advisor at Macmillan when working with various stakeholders within the organisation.
 

Key achievements at Sayer Vincent

Overall, I think most organisations don’t tend to particularly look forward to their audits. Over the years, through working with various clients, I’ve developed my ability to build relationships with key charity stakeholders such as finance directors, CEO’s and board members. Receiving great post audit feedback from clients who were initially apprehensive about the audit process was a key achievement during my time as an auditor and manager at SV.
 

From audit to tax

I’ve always had an interest in tax since my early years as a trainee. I took advantage of any opportunities to get involved and was given the opportunity to join the tax group at SV where I was able to gain more experience and a good knowledge of charity tax. I’ve been able to build on this knowledge more at Macmillan while advising on various tax issues and implications. I’m also happy to be able to continue training and knowledge building in my new tax role.

Thandi Mtetwa

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Thandi Mtetwa

Since training and qualifying at Sayer Vincent, Thandi’s finance career has been focused on social purpose organisations. She is currently Head of Finance and Operations at The Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
 

Training and working at SV

I have fond memories of my time training at SV- it was a really great experience! Looking back, I think this was mainly because of the people. At all levels from the partners to trainees and everyone in between, people were very supportive, friendly, and approachable. This made SV an easy environment in which to learn and work.

It was also nice to be with a group of people who were going through the same training process. We all learned from each other. There is a focus on development at SV and we were offered a varied training experience. Even though all the clients are from social purpose organisations, each job was totally different- I audited clients of varies sizes across varying sectors and carrying out due diligence and other accountancy work. This enabled me to gain well rounded experience which was very positive.
 

Making a difference and working in the sector

A good finance leader does so much more than just working on spreadsheets and looking at figures all day. Organisations rely on finance professionals to provide key information to trustees, enabling them to make important strategic decisions. I see my role in finance as contributing to the overall health of an organisation. I provide a lot of support, and improve the financial knowledge of people whose focus is not finance. This is one of the rewarding aspects of my job as it allows me to interact with people throughout the organisation.

My current role is varied (I manage critical areas such as HR, facilities, relationships with our members and IT) and I often act as a sounding board for ideas as well as being involved in strategic planning and decision making. Developing processes and efficient ways of working is something we do on a daily basis in finance and this can be shared with other parts of any organisation. I have been involved in implementing change and new projects cross-departmentally over the years in my various roles. Working within finance enables you to have access to all departments and various aspects of a charity- this has been an excellent for expanding my understanding of an organisation.
 

“Having a finance background is much broader than just looking at numbers – you can really take it in almost any direction that you want to go.”

 

Top tips for becoming a charity finance leader

Demonstrate leadership traits

Even if you are not yet in a leadership position you should behave how you would expect a good leader to behave. Show your drive, integrity, enthusiasm and passion for your work in the role you are currently doing. In doing so, people tend to gravitate towards you. Show that you are trustworthy and reliable.

Learn, learn, learn!

Become a well-rounded individual by learning as much as you can in all situations and from everyone you meet. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. As a leader you will be called on to deal with a lot of unfamiliar situations which may be outside your remit. Take the opportunity to immerse yourself in various projects away from what you normally do- this will enable you to understand the organisation better and therefore make better finance decisions. Working on other projects internally may also help to develop a wider network within your current organisation and develop your leadership skills.

Be open to change

Although I have always worked within charities, changing roles within the sector has taught me to be an adaptable person. I have developed skills which have helped me to be comfortable with running major change projects. Working within various organisations and teams brings learning which is invaluable when you reach a leadership position.
 

Why did you originally decide to become an accountancy trainee?

As a maths graduate, I’ve always enjoyed working with numbers. The fact that there is a need to continuously learn also attracted me to the role. When I attended my interview to become a trainee, I felt that SV was a very different firm to the others I had been to. I felt that I could fit in naturally and I loved the working environment and culture.
 

Why have you decided to stay within the charity sector?

I believe the charity sector attracts bright, hardworking people with a passion for helping others. In every role I have had, I find there to be a positive atmosphere. I enjoy the work within social purpose organisations, there are challenges but I feel like I’m making a positive difference every day.
 

What are the lasting skills or experiences that you took from your training at Sayer Vincent?

At Sayer Vincent we were given lots of responsibility at a very early stage in a very supportive environment. This allowed me to build up my confidence across the board and has been invaluable in my roles since leaving the firm. Going to clients and working with organisations of varying sizes, cultures and working styles has enabled me to become highly adaptable and really helped me in the various roles I have had throughout my career.

Rob Pepper

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Rob Pepper


 
Rob trained with Sayer Vincent completing his ACA qualification in 2014. Since leaving Sayer Vincent, Rob has volunteered abroad and is now International Finance Manager for Amnesty International
 

Training and working at SV

The people and the social aspect are what really made training at SV a great experience for me. It was great working with a group of like-minded, enthusiastic people. We all worked together with a shared goal, supported each other during exams, and of course, made time for drinks and lunch together. We really learned a lot from each other and from senior members of staff throughout SV who all played a key part in my development.
 

Making a difference and working in the sector

Training and working at SV gave me huge insight into the charity sector. Current colleagues have commented that my knowledge of NGO’s and finance within charities generally is very strong. Leaving SV I felt very prepared for working in the charity sector. The experience I gained has aided me particularly in my current role where I’m involved in so many aspects of finance. Working at SV helped me to get to grips with the needs and requirements of small charities right the way up to large international social purpose organisations. This background gave me the confidence to approach my current role and look at things in a different way.
 

Advice for people interested in a career in charity finance

Don’t neglect the ‘people element’
 

“Although being the best technically is important, my experience has now taught me that listening to people and truly understanding their needs is vital. The people element plays a huge role and must work alongside technical capabilities”

 
Never stop learning. I recently completed the Inspiring Financial Leadership course run by Cass Business School, CFG and Sayer Vincent. It was definitely worth the hard work as the knowledge gained has been amazing for my development.
 

Giving back 

I volunteered for three months in Bangladesh as part of a team setting up businesses and community projects in a deprived area of Bangladesh. The aim was to help local people set up businesses using tribal skills to produce handmade luxury items to help their communities become self-sufficient. This experience really taught me how to work with people from very different backgrounds, incorporating very different opinions and still coming up with a positive result. This was a cross-cultural and multilingual project in which I was responsible for market research and organising community projects. Initially, my role here was definitely out of my comfort zone, however the experience taught me so many skills that I now use on a daily basis.
 

London Marathon

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London Marathon

After the hottest ever London Marathon on 22 April 2018, your thoughts are probably turning to London Marathon 2019. In order to maximise your charity’s income from this event, we recommend you consider whether your registration fees have been set up in the best way from a Gift Aid and VAT perspective.

Gift Aid – If you do not charge runners a registration fee, then they will be receiving a benefit from the charity as they have received a free place in the marathon. As the runners have received a benefit, you should not be claiming Gift Aid on any donations made from people connected to them (spouse, brother, sister, parent, grandparent, grandchild or spouse of the above). However, if the runners pay a registration fee at least equal to the individual ballot entry fee, then they won’t be receiving a benefit and there will be no restriction on the donations you can claim Gift Aid on. The 2019 standard ballot entry fee is £39.

VAT – If you do not charge a registration fee, then you will not be able to recover the VAT on your Gold Bond places. However, if you charge a small VATable registration fee, then you will be able to recover all the VAT on your Gold Bond places. This is likely to lead to a net VAT recovery as the price charged by London Marathon for a Gold Bond place is likely to be much higher than any registration fee you charge. These rules also apply to any other events organised by a for-profit organisation (e.g. the Great North Run). If the event is organised by another charity, then these rules will not apply, as the fundraising exemption will apply, so any income, including registration fees will be exempt.

Therefore we recommend you charge a registration fee of at least £39 for 2019 (inclusive of £6.50 VAT if the charity is registered for VAT.)