The accountant: Figures of fun
No matter how many people you tell that you’re off to meet an accountant, you’ll only ever hear one response. Even if you mention that you’re meeting her in the glamorous surroundings of the bar at the Manchester Hilton, a towering slab of glass in the city centre, the reaction is still the same. And though I dread raising the subject with Carol Walton, who has come here elegantly dressed for the Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (ICA) annual dinner, in the end I come straight out with it: does she ever get the feeling that people think her job is boring?
“Definitely,” she says, without a second thought. “I went to a law society dinner last year, and they have exactly the same opinion of accountants as we have of lawyers. We tend to think of lawyers as pretty boring and dull. And they think exactly the same of accountants.”
She laughs and clearly means this as a friendly joke – though once you qualify as an accountant, it is a joke you’ll need to get used to hearing. In this country at least, there is a perception that while assembling a company’s accounts and advising on its tax liability are necessary tasks, they are not exactly thrilling ones.
When you think about it, however, the idea that accountancy is intrinsically boring must be bogus. These things are all subjective, of course. And with 132,000 accountants registered with the ICA, there does not seem to be a shortage of people who enjoy the job. Even so, the assumption prevails that all these people must share a certain kind of personality. A slightly nerdish personality, to be blunt.
“You do come across people who fit the stereotype,” Walton concedes as we settle down at a sleek, low table. “This goes back to Monty Python and has stuck ever since. But the job, and people, are no more boring than any other. And I’m sure fellow accountants such as Barry Hearn would take issue at being labelled boring, as would Manchester United’s David Gill and many others.” No doubt they would, and few could blame them. Yet this does not explain how Walton and her colleagues find stimulation in a column of figures.
“Actually coming up with an answer to that will probably sound boring in itself,” she laughs, before mulling it over. “I think you’ve got to have a logical brain,” she decides in the end. “Accountancy is interesting when you get everything to work out. For example, I’ve liked jigsaw puzzles since I was a child. When you’ve completed one, there’s a feeling of satisfaction. And I like killer sudokus.”
Before meeting her, in fact, I had been wondering whether this might be the case and show her, with some smugness, the word “sudokus?” written among the questions on my notepad. Walton nods, but wants to clarify something: “I prefer the killer, not the ordinary,” she explains. “I find them more challenging.” I nod, interested. Not in the sudokus, I will admit, but in Walton’s insistence on such a fine distinction. For it is exactly this meticulousness, I suspect, that demonstrates her own “logical brain”.