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Celebrating accountants: meet the army reservist and opera singer


Mar 7, 2023

Our research found that recruitment is one of the main challenges facing accountants at the moment, so we’re shining a light on some amazing accountants to bust misconceptions around the industry. 

We speak with Alex Beattie, managing director of KRW Accountants and rifleman in the army reserves, and Hilary Dyson, founder of Bridge Financials and opera singer. They tell us more about their roles, their hobbies, and why accounting is such a fantastic industry.

Saluting sums

As with so many in the industry, Alex discovered accountancy after finding he was good with sums at school. After an apprenticeship and meeting his business partner, KRW was formed, now employing 26 members of staff. 

But this seemingly straightforward route belies some serious doubts. Alex says, “I was really into sport and thought that’s where I would go – I’ve always been quite an outdoorsy person.”

This is where the reserves come in – Alex has found his role as a rifleman compliments his day-to-day role: 

“Pre-reserves, I found it hard to have difficult conversations with people – it helped me develop personal skills where I can sit and talk to people and be firmer when needed, whether with clients or employees. It helped me develop as a better manager and leader, and made me respect the need for work/life balance.”

Alex explains the strict time commitments of being a reservist, and voices his gratitude to his business partner for helping him do both. 

Alex talks accounting

As for the accounting industry as a whole, Alex tells us misconceptions remain: “If you spoke to a sixth form student and asked them to write an accounting job spec, they’d write what it used to be – sat in front of a computer doing tax returns. It’s not like that anymore, it’s about client relationships.”

Yet recruitment struggles remain. Alex tells us how the team was recently trying to recruit and could count the number of CVs they received on one hand. 

“Maybe people are scared to move jobs because of uncertainty,” he says. “But as an accountant working with small-medium clients, we could change someone’s life – we can make a real impact on their business and there’s great satisfaction in that.”

He also uses Xero as an example, adding: “The first client I introduced to Xero said you’ve given me my Friday nights back, so she was able to have a better work-life balance. It can be a really rewarding job.”

From cadenza to calculators

Hilary, founder of Bridge Financials, has found there are parallels between the perception of opera singing and accounting: 

“People can perceive opera negatively, like they do with accounting. You have to break down those preconceived ideas about what opera is – I never used to be a fan of it, I was always more interested in musical theatre, but there is some fantastic work out there that is so beautiful and stimulates emotion.”

Addressing misconceptions is also key to accounting, if people are to fully understand the value of the industry. Hilary explains:

“There are stereotypes, and this is something I’ve battled myself. But it’s a lot more dynamic than people think – people don’t understand the opportunities it can give you. You can engage with business in all departments to construct a system that works for them.”

Hitting high notes

Hilary explains she hasn’t been able to dedicate as much time to opera singing as she once did. But that’s not to say she’s kicked the habit, having taken part in an Edinburgh Christmas Carol on stage at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in December, with plans for a March  concert also underway. 

She adds, “Singing has always been a release for me. Often the last thing you want to do is go out after work, but I get adrenaline from singing. It’s also a way of being with people; it’s a social release as well as emotional.”

If this feels in contrast to the day-to-day activities as a founder of an accounting practice, Hilary admits it has drawn some interesting reactions: “Being a performer has surprised people, especially when they find out I danced on a stage dressed as a plate in Beauty and the Beast!”

As for her work with Bridge Financials, a Xero user for 10 years, the practice has its share of surprises. Hilary says, “We’re not a traditional hierarchical practice, we’re a team of two with very specific skills. But we all have close relationships with clients – it’s all about trust, and helping businesses thrive.”

Hilary is happy to buck the traditional view of accountants. She concludes: “People are always surprised when I say I’m an accountant. But for me it’s a really positive thing – we’re putting ourselves into that box but we have an opportunity, with Xero, to look beyond the stereotype.

“My love of the theatre has helped us develop a niche. We have several clients in the arts sector, and my experiences as a performer and director have helped understand their challenges, and the unique financial and reporting requirements of the theatre world.”

Want to find out more about how we’re celebrating real accountants? Check out this page. And if you want to learn more about recruitment challenges, solutions and more, head here to find out about our upcoming event, Xero Talks: Winning the battle for talent.

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