Continuing Professional Development

Attending the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) Conference – A Newbie Delegate’s Perspective

It’s been two days since the end of the AAT conference and I am still buzzing with ideas, inspiration and enthusiasm for the future of accountancy and bookkeeping. I wanted to share my thoughts and experience with you so you can see the benefits of attending a conference within your business industry.

Why did I attend the AAT Conference?

A little over a week before the event, I received a phone call from the AAT offering me a chance to attend their annual conference whilst filming me and my experience of attending as a newbie delegate. I initially turned the offer down as I wasn’t sure if I could get the time off from my day job on such short notice, but on reflection, I realised that this was an opportunity not to be missed. I enquired at work and they agreed to the time off and I called the AAT back to accept the offer.

As a student, I had seen the event advertised and read previous positive feedback, so I knew it would be a fantastic event to attend and I did want to attend it one day. However, as a student, I couldn’t afford the cost of the conference and I wasn’t able to attend last year as it was my first year of trading and similarly, I would have had to have invested my own money in order to be able to attend. I put attending the event on my 5-year plan, so being able to attend within the first two years would be a huge achievement for me.

Attending would also stretch me out of my comfort zone and allow me to meet new people and practice networking skills as well as being able to learn and draw on their experiences as accountants and bookkeepers. Being filmed added further comfort zone stretching and new skill building as this is not something I had done before.

So, I was both nervous and excited in the lead up to the event.

AAT Conference Day 1

Arriving at the AAT Conference

I arrived at the venue and met the AAT staff and film crew who would be with me for the event. They were all lovely people and I was immediately put at ease as they took me through the plan and reassured me that they would put me first and if I became too tired, then they wouldn’t push me. They were understanding about my Fibromyalgia and it was lovely to see equality and diversity in action, working with it rather than excluding or ignoring it.

After being briefed, my first filming foray was of me checking into the hotel and collecting my delegate badge and then it was on to the first workshop.

Picture of a sock being knitted and a suitcase.
Knitting on a sock whilst waiting to check in at the hotel

Become a Master Mingler – Networking at Events

The first talk was a practical workshop on how to network at events, given by Sue Tonks. This was an excellent workshop to start the conference with. I had attended this workshop before at another AAT event I had been to in the past, so I knew what to expect. Sue Tonks is an engaging and enthusiastic speaker with amusing anecdotes that really help to explain her key points on how to network at events.

It was a useful refresher and really helped set the tone for the rest of the conference.

Keynote Session with HMRC

This was followed by the official conference opening with a keynote speech from HMRC by Penny Ciniewicz, Director General, Customer Compliance. This was a very informative talk covering what HMRC had been doing in recent years and what they were planning to do in the immediate future. Penny talked about how they had improved their customer experience both on the phone and via digital platforms, such as web chats and Facebook messenger. She went on to talk about their Making Tax Digital programme and their plans for the further roll-out of this service. Finally, she talked about tax evasion and avoidance and how they were continuing to improve in this area and reduce the number of tax avoidance schemes that exist.

Future Forecasting the Accountancy Landscape

I then attended a talk on the future forecasting of the accountancy landscape with Darren Shirlaw from Croner. This was an inspiring workshop utilising the history of macroeconomics and its trend to help inform business decision making and future planning.

I think this was my favourite workshop of the whole event as Darren explained economics concepts in an engaging way with examples we could easily grasp. It was also a more interactive session with audience participation and opportunities for delegates to interact with each other and discuss key points.

I was so enthused about how I could apply these concepts to my own life and business as well as those of my clients, that I am interested in learning more about macroeconomics. So, if you know of any good courses, please let me know.

How to Build a £1million Practice on a Three-Day Week

After lunch, I attended a talk on how to build a £1million practice on a three-day week by Shane Lukas from Added Value Solutions. This talk was based on coaching principles and using these to make your business work for you and your goals, whether that be making £1million a year and only working a three-day week or reducing daily stress levels and being able to spend more time with family and friends to just reducing how many hours you work in a week and making your job enjoyable again.

I’ve learnt a fair few of these principles before and am utilising them to grow my own business slowly so that I don’t work myself too hard or too much. Getting my work-life balance right at the beginning of my business journey is important to me as it will have a positive impact on me, my business and my clients. There’s no point making myself ill as I won’t enjoy the work anymore and I won’t do as good a job or be enthusiastic and proud of the work that I do.

AAT Conference Exhibitors and Sponsors

In between each of the talks and workshops, there was plenty of opportunity for refreshment breaks and networking with other delegates. There were also many exhibitors and sponsor stands showcasing a wide variety of products and services available to accountants and bookkeepers. It was great being able to talk to the exhibitors and see what else is out there that I didn’t necessarily know about.

The AAT Professional Member Awards Ceremony

In the evening of the first day, we all had the opportunity to dress up and attend the AAT Professional Member Awards Ceremony and dinner. This was a fabulous end to the day and it was so inspiring to hear the awards nominee’s entries and their AAT journeys. It was lovely to be able to share in their achievement and really helped me to feel connected with and included in the AAT community.

I came away with a new goal for myself and my business as it would be fantastic to be nominated for and achieve one of these awards in the future. I now know what I need to do in order to achieve this.

Self portrait of me dressed ready to attend the AAT Professional Member Awards
Here I am all dressed up ready to attend the AAT Professional Member Awards

AAT Conference Day 2

Networking Walk

Day 2 of the AAT Conference started with a networking walk around the beautiful grounds of the hotel with fellow delegates, led by past president Henry Cooper. This was a great start to the day and provided a relaxed and informal environment for networking as well as a little bit of exercise.

There was a lot of interest to see in the grounds from beautifully manicured lawns with interesting sculpture to tranquil woodlands with its own unique points of interest.

Rabbit sculpture on the lawn of the hotel grounds
Rabbit sculpture on the lawn of the hotel grounds

Keynote Session – How to become one of the world’s most inspiring and profitable accountants.

I then attended another inspiring talk by Steve Pipe who was very enthusiastic whilst talking about how to become one of the world’s most inspiring and profitable accountants. The talk showcased several case studies where accountants had made a positive impact on the lives and businesses of their clients and how these accountants were then able to increase their own profits as a result.

It also showcased the B1G1 project and how this is making a positive impact on the lives of people all over the world through charitable giving, thus making the world a better place.

I really enjoyed this talk as it was very much in alignment with my own principles and aims for my business in that I want to help small business owners understand their business numbers so that they can make informed decisions and grow their own businesses.

Frictionless Finance: Making Small Business Accounting Easy

After lunch, I attended a talk on Frictionless finance and how to make accounting easier for small businesses given by Glen Foster from Xero. The talk highlighted what Xero had done so far to help small businesses understand bookkeeping and their business numbers and what they were planning to do going forwards by creating software that was easy for small businesses to use but retained all the key information that accountants need too.

They showcased several apps and other cloud-based software and how the digital integration of these programs, such as automated bank fees, was increasing efficiency and reducing the friction involved in accounting and bookkeeping for small businesses. It also has the added benefit of reducing the time delay of producing information and useful data analytics for small businesses as we move more towards being able to provide real-time information.

Using Data Analytics to Inform Decision Making

I then attended a talk on using data analytics to inform decision making by Sam Ellis from InterWorks Europe. This talk followed on quite nicely from the previous one and showcased Tableau, a powerful data analytics tool that was able to provide real-time visual reports of business data. I could really see how this program would be of benefit to my clients as it was simple to use and produced visual representations of data that were accessible and easy to understand. However, it’s price point, whilst being excellent value for money, is currently outside of my available budget. I will certainly be on the lookout for similar products via App Sumo.

Panel – The Future of Accountancy

The final closing session of the conference was a question and answer panel discussion about the future of accountancy. This was an excellent way to end the conference as it echoed much of what the other workshop and keynote speakers had talked about as well as providing an informative conclusion to the event with inspiring messages about what we can do to remain relevant as accountants and bookkeepers in the future. The key message I took away from this is to embrace and work with change and not against it.

AAT Conference App

The AAT created an app for the conference, which I found to be an excellent and comprehensive tool. It provided an overview of the event with an agenda of all the talks and workshops with summaries for each one. There was also a profile for each speaker as well as including a copy of the slides associated with each talk.

The app had a list of the exhibitors and sponsors and a map of where they were in the exhibition hall as well as profile information for all the attendees. The AAT also gave each attendee, exhibitor and sponsor a QR code containing their profile information and devised a clever way to encourage networking. They assigned points to each QR code and there was a prize for the delegate who managed to collect the most points. This added a fun element to the conference and really helped make networking more enjoyable.

Would I attend the AAT Conference Again?

The short answer is yes, I would most definitely attend the AAT conference again next year. I knew it would be useful and informative before I went and had a thoroughly enjoyable time whilst I was there. I learnt a lot of useful information and came away feeling inspired and enthused about the future of accountancy and my business.

I have lots of ideas for how I want to take my business forwards and what I want to do to further help my clients and their businesses.

I enjoyed talking to fellow AAT members and learning from their experiences and what they did to solve problems within their own businesses and how they have made positive impacts on their clients.

I have high expectations for next year’s conference and believe it’s well worth attending conferences within your business’ industry.

Picture of the De Vere Beaumont Hotel and its surrounding grounds
De Vere Beaumont Hotel and its surrounding grounds

3 thoughts on “Attending the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) Conference – A Newbie Delegate’s Perspective”

  1. Sounds like an excellent conference. I’m glad you managed to attend and get so much out of it. I was heartened to hear how well they worked with your Fibromyalgia – that is always a killer for me and I need to plan downtime to recover after attending any events. Well done for moving outside your comfort zone. Thank you for a great write-up of the event.


    1. Thank you for the comment, Jane. I certainly did need downtime from this event, but luckily for me, my grandparents live near the venue, so I was able to stay with them on Friday night, have a relaxing morning and then drive home. I’ve also been trialling taking bee pollen for the last 2 months and that seems to have really helped with my energy levels (also it’s summer, when I’m usually more active anyway).


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