Malcolm Harrison is perhaps the most eccentric and unique accountant you’ll ever meet; something that he admits himself. As we walk up the characteristically uneven staircase of the building dating back to the 1640’s, we are invited into a meeting room adorned with colourful Brian Pollard paintings. Malcolm tells us he has some originals, so we take a short trip across the hall to the main office space and take a peek.
Sitting down with Malcolm, and his son Gareth Harrison- we want to see how M.H Associates has been getting on since our last visit. “The object I’ve always talked about having is a one stop shop. People come here and I’ve got a number of businesses I can get them in contact with; mortgage advisors, solicitors, financial advisors to name a few”. Malcolm refers to his extensive network of businesses which he has close contact with to help perspective clients.
Gareth explains that the business has since acquired two new staff members. “We still have our long term accounts assistant Peter Helm. Katarina Ragulikova, accounts assistant. We have my friend and photography business partner Laura Ridolfo working as our office administrator. We also have Helen Hyett, who is Laura’s sister. Helen started working for us in January after leaving her previous job as an office manager”.
Malcolm reminisces to when the business was still starting up “When I first started here in 2003 I used to sit around twiddling my thumbs thinking- I wish some people would come in! Now I’ve taken on a tremendous amount of clients in the last 12 months alone”.
When we asked him to elaborate on his client base, Malcolm tells us that he now has over 470 clients for personal tax, 60 limited companies, “and I honestly don’t know how many clients we’ve got where we help them with their VAT returns. We also get the problem cases” Malcolm says as he points towards a pile of papers perhaps 2 feet off the ground. “There’s about 8 years worth of tax returns there, which I now have to sort through”.
We are different to many other firms, we do tend to take on people that other accountancy practices don’t
Malcolm is part of various organisations, and it becomes apparent that this is very important to him. He tells us that he is a Winston Churchill Fellow, and through this he has become a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. “I’m in and out of the house of Lords quite a bit!”. As the Queen is patron to the Winston Churchill Trust, Malcolm was invited to meet her in March 2015 on the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death. We can see that the framed photos are now hanging proudly in the office.
So what exactly is the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust? We ask Malcolm to explain. “When Winston Churchill died, there was money donated for a memorial. The money that was collected, invested and in 1965 the Memorial Trust came into being”. (www.wcmt.org.uk) The object of the Trust was for ordinary people to go overseas, research inspiring projects and bring back best practice to the UK. Every year, there are a series of categories that people can apply for.
Malcolm tells us that he is such an advocate for the Trust because he was a part of it himself. In 1994, he applied for a fellowship in the training and education in industry category, having been proactive in developing a NVQ qualification for Railway Store Keepers whilst he worked for British Rail. Malcolm’s application was successful and in early 1996 he undertook a six week tour of railway operations in Hong Kong, Australia and USA, the information he gathered was put to good use in practices back here in the UK.
One of the key features of the business, Malcolm took out a blanket policy for tax investigation insurance. “I negotiate with HMRC on behalf of my clients. What I do, I check. Sometimes there is an error in the system so I call up and try and put it right”. Malcolm reinforces the fact that he still recommends his clients become part of the Federation of Small Businesses- that way; they’ve got tax investigation insurance.
Because of this, Malcolm found that he ended up with two types of clients, those who had insurance and could be reimbursed, and those without. “If you’ve got an enquiry, that takes a lot of man hours. So what I’ve since done, I’ve taken out a blanket policy that covers all of my clients, and is included in my fees”. This new blanket policy includes tax investigation insurance and a free 24 hour legal advice line.
Gareth Harrison, Malcolm’s son, joined MH Associates in September 2011. “I originally studied photography at the art college for a total of 7 years.” Gareth completed a number of different qualifications, including a National Diploma, a foundation degree and a one year BA (Hons) top up. “I started working here on Tuesdays only, doing the payroll”. As the business developed Gareth became more involved, eventually leaving his previous job to work full time in accountancy in 2015.
Although he didn’t in the beginning; he enjoys doing the accounts work now. “I deal with a small group of clients; I can go and see them, have a chat and just let them know we are here if they need help- Just to give them reassurance really”. Gareth also works with clients who operate within the construction industry and makes sure CIS certificates are up to date. “The construction industry scheme also includes professions which fall out of the usual construction remit including Decorators, Gardeners, landscapers, fencing, paving- it’s all to do with development so it comes under the CIS scheme”.
Gareth explains how he was involved with a group called the International Team which is part of the Boys’ Brigade – “We were a national group which came together twice a year, our projects were professionally run awareness projects which taught the BB members world issues”. The I-Team was partnered with Christian Aid and in 2001 Gareth was part of a group that travelled to Uganda in East Africa as part of a fact finding visit.
The trip was to see firsthand the work which the Boys and Girls Brigade Association of Uganda does to teach the dangers of HIV/Aids in their local communities. They achieved this by using drama and dance, “By using this initiative, the HIV rate in Uganda went from one of the highest to one of the lowest in the world”.
The information which they gathered from the trip was used in a project entitled ‘On The Edge’ which was delivered to BB members back here in the UK, “this taught members of the work that goes on in other countries, and we challenged them to do something positive for their local communities”.The trip was funded by the government organisation The British Council and after returning from the visit the group was subsequently awarded Millennium Fellowships.
We ask Malcolm and Gareth what the future holds for MH Associates. Malcolm tells us that since he took on the business, year after year the turnover kept growing and that he only wants that to continue. “Yes I would like to retire- but I don’t think my wife would let me! I do want to step back, but I’ve got to get everyone up to a level where I can then begin to taper my involvement down”.
We now have a strong loyal workforce, it will allow us to take more of the work load off of Malcolm
Gareth has completed a manual book keeping course, and is due to start the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) Course, along with other staff members Helen and Katarina. He tells us that he sees a very bright future for the business. “Once we complete more of our training it will allow us to take more of the workload off of Malcolm, meaning he can go into semi retirement and eventually become an advisor”. Gareth explains he is currently working with the staff to implement some new procedures which will help with the running of the business and the handling of the paperwork. This is a change that Malcolm struggles with, saying he can never find anything!
Gareth finishes by saying he wants the business to continue to expand, and it may only be a matter of time before they may need to increase their office space. Meanwhile, Malcolm was excited to be setting off on two back to back Alaskan cruises in 6 weeks time; working out the exact hours until he sets foot on the cruise ship. it’s alright for some!