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Q & A with Karen Robbins: how did I get here?

Karen Robbins is a Chartered Accountant and Accounts Manager who has worked at HB Accountants in Hoddesdon for 23 years. Karen is highly organised and enjoys helping clients to keep control over the accounting side of their businesses, so they can make better financial decisions. We asked her to explain how she reached her current role, from beginning her studies to helping today’s businesses in Hoddesdon and Hertfordshire to prepare for the government’s latest requirements for Making Tax Digital for VAT.

You chose a career in Accountancy; how did you get started?

I began by studying for my BA Hons in Accounting and Finance at the University of Luton. I had no accounts knowledge prior to this and had to start from scratch, learning the principles of double entry bookkeeping system. I achieved a 2.1 so, equipped with a solid degree, my next ambition was to get into a good accountancy practice that would enable me to become trained as a Chartered Accountant.

Following university, you worked for Britannia Nurseries, what did this involve?

This role was taken as a stepping stone to becoming a fully qualified Accountant. It was important for me to gain the relevant office skills and experience needed for a business environment, so I took a contract covering maternity leave.

The role was a bit unusual as the nursery was run by a non-conformist, evangelical Christian group, so I had to respect their religious conventions, such as not eating when they did. The group were cautious about using technology and at this time it meant that the systems I was running were all manual. I was asked to stay but chose to move on. I learnt a great deal about flowers!

Next you worked for Hertfordshire County Council, tell us about this job.

I applied to HB Accountants but narrowly missed out on a role there, so I started working for Hertfordshire County Council to gain more experience. This was completely different to the nursery as its a big computerised organisation and has a responsibility towards around 1 million residents and 50,000 businesses.

I worked for one of the Finance Officers, based within Social Services. I worked on what’s known as the ‘Suspense Ledger’. In accounts every item of expenditure must be properly coded so that it is charged to the right department. The Suspense Ledger is where costs go when there’s no code or a problem with the code. Sometimes it was simple to work out what the right code should be and other times it involved a lot of detective work.

Whilst I was there, I was able to resolve many issues and cut the items pending correct coding to a 1/6 of what it had been when I took on the role. I enjoyed the flexible working arrangements and the challenge of improving the expenditure records.

What made you decide to move to HB Accountants?

This time I didn’t apply to HB Accountants, they contacted me! I was asked to come in for an interview and was offered what’s known as a ‘Training Contract’ where I could be supported to study alongside working in accountancy. This was what I’d been working towards since University.

How has your role at HB Accountants changed?

I’ve worked at HB Accountants for 23 years. In the beginning I was a trainee completing a variety of financial work, including accounts which I enjoy and audits which I enjoy less! I’m now an Accounts Manager where I’m less involved in the audit side and manage clients’ accounts instead.

It took 4 years to become a fully qualified Accountant, doing around 15 extra hours of study per week alongside my job. The company enabled me to have the time to complete various training courses in London to help me get qualified. I’m now providing training jobs to newer members of the team that are trainees today.

So what appeals to you about HB Accountants?

In my role I’m given the responsibility to manage client accounts and tax returns and I enjoy the autonomy. I’m very organised so I make sure that I chase up outstanding information so that clients can get their tax paid and accounts filed on time. I mainly work with smaller clients that are sole traders, partnerships or small limited companies. I take care of their bookkeeping and I help many clients with monthly management accounts.

I’ve been there to help quite a few clients regularly for 15 years or more, which benefits our clients greatly. You can be even more helpful when you know and understand someone’s business very well.

HB Accountants is fun to work for. There’s always something new happening and it’s a very sociable place. We get to know our clients well, so that we can support them better.

What advice do you have for today’s business owners?

I enjoy supporting hardworking small businesses. We can let them know what profit they’ve made and what tax will become due. But it’s a shame that many people are surprised that they need to pay tax on their earnings if they are self-employed, or even if they know this some forget to ringfence the money. So, my advice is to put money aside as you earn it so that your tax bill from HMRC won’t be a nasty surprise, just confirmation of what you were expecting.

If you have an Accountant supporting you then you’ll have a fair idea of what you’ll need to pay as you go along and then an accurate tax calculation at the end of your tax year.

I have other clients that would be glad to pay tax, as it would mean that their business has reached a profitable stage, so although some might disagree, having to pay tax can be a good sign!

How should businesses gear up for the Government’s plan for Making Tax Digital?

At HB Accountants we recognise that it’s hard for people to know what to do to comply with the new Making Tax Digital for VAT requirements. Like all new requirements there are plenty of rules but there’s limited practical advice available to the public.

It’s a common misconception that a business doesn’t have to do anything since they are already digital because they submit their returns online. Sadly that’s not the case as all their online submissions, be it accounts or spreadsheets, now have to directly interlink with the HMRC system.

I’m sure you can appreciate no two spreadsheets are the same. Some businesses use software but it’s on their own servers not ‘in the cloud’. Some need add-ons to interface with HMRC. All this means that it’s best for clients to get started now. We provide practical advice to clients on a case by case basis tailored to their individual situation and needs.

What would be your final piece of accountancy advice?

Pick up the phone to us! HB Accountants are skilled at explaining the complicated matters of accountancy and tax very succinctly. I’m looking forward to many more years developing my career here and would be delighted to help your business with accountancy services.

Contact our team for advice on 01992 444466 or you can email

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HB Accountants is the trading name of HBAS Limited, a company registered in England with the registered number 5085258. The registered office of HBAS Limited is Amwell House, 19 Amwell Street, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, EN11 8TS, ENGLAND. VAT Reg. 866062806