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Accountancy firm Stephenson Smart in King's Lynn celebrates its centenary

Lynn accountancy firm Stephenson Smart is celebrating a special milestone as this year marks its centenary.

During its 100-year history it can vouch first-hand for significant changes in the industry, from the use of paper ledgers, to adding machines and the first computer.

Now employing 100 people across six offices in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, the earliest mention of the company was through Robert Stanley Smart, who was listed as a Fellow of accounting at Lynn's King Street building.

Dan Jastrzebski, left, director, who will become partner in April 2021, with Clive Dodds, who has been partner for 36 years. (42295974)
Dan Jastrzebski, left, director, who will become partner in April 2021, with Clive Dodds, who has been partner for 36 years. (42295974)

Efforts by staff to trace the history revealed Joseph Stephenson as the other founding partner, bringing together the two names to form one business.

The founding office in Lynn still remains, but its success has also led to five other branches opening – Fakenham in 1989, Wisbech and Downham in 2010 and March in 2014.

In 2015 the partners took a leap over to the coast in Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, to develop the sixth office.

Stephenson Smart’s original brass plaque. (42295976)
Stephenson Smart’s original brass plaque. (42295976)

Clive Dodds, partner and chair of directors is the longest serving member of Stephenson Smart, having been with the firm for 46 years.

His work has taken him to many countries, including South Korea, Australia and The Bahamas, when he assisted with the sale of a Lincolnshire stately home purchased by a company there.

He said: “My first job was for C R Lake, an ice cream van business, whose accounts I had to hand stitch together with a needle and thread. Everything had to be done by longhand and it took forever.

“We had two sheets of double-sided paper that we stuck together. The client's name was on the front, the inside would have the profit and loss and the back would be the balance sheet.

“We didn’t have our first computer until the mid 1980s, it was huge and I remember people being very sceptical about it, although they soon got used to the changes.”

The company prides itself on its breadth of clients across all sectors, many of which have remained with Stephenson Smart across several decades.

These include Stratfords, a workwear, uniform and promotional clothing company in Lynn, which celebrated its own centenary in 2018, and Lynn Shellfish, a client for more than 50 years.

John Williamson, owner of J & J Shellfish and previously of Lynn Shellfish, said Stephenson Smart had become part of his working family.

“I have always viewed Stephenson Smart as an extension of my team because they have been a constant source of support and encouragement since 1967. Clive and Doug Shinn, retired partner, supported me through all expansion processes, exporting to South Korea and the sale of my original company.”

Stephenson Smart has now moved with gusto to the digital tax age and offers a handful of services that many other accountancy firms cannot, including a probate speciality and two ATOL reporting accountants.

Mr Dodds said: “Right from the beginning our partners have displayed longevity, they have stayed for years and I think a lot of that comes from becoming so invested in the local community and getting to know people.

“My father said to me that if you make a good living out of a place you have to put something back into it and I think that’s what we all try to do through charity work, sporting events and sponsorship. It’s a good philosophy to have.”

Dan Jastrzebski, who will become the firm’s newest partner in April, added: “I think in times like these it is quite rare to be able to say you work for a company that has been operating for 100 years, so it makes me very proud.

“We all work for the same goal – to give helpful and professional support to each and every client. These are the standards that we have upheld for the past 100 years that we look forward to maintaining over the next 100.”

The practice of accounting can be traced back to the 19th century as corporations and high-speed distribution networks developed.

However, it is quite likely that more complicated forms of bookkeeping, that could be viewed as accounting practice would have taken place in Lynn from the 16th century, as around 40 German merchants were based in the town as part of the Hanseatic League.

The Industrial Revolution warranted more detailed financial records and the profession was formerly recognised by the introduction of The Society of Accountants in England, in 1872.

Paper ledgers were used to make double entry records and adding machines to calculate receipts and reconcile the ‘books’.

The introduction of the computer signalled a huge step forward with accounts organised electronically. This approach has been steadily enhanced right up to the present day with an abundance of digital software available, including QuickBooks, Xero and Sage.

Making Tax Digital was the latest UK development in April 2019, an initiative to transform the tax system using appropriate digital software.

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