Life
Peter Taylor-Whiffen 4 Sep 2018 04:56pm

Gains without frontiers

After 30 years running her own practice, Hilary Adams has found a rewarding new international career. She tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen how she can never retire

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Caption: The skills of a lifetime
For Hilary Adams, using her accountancy skills to help communities in developing countries was not a difficult decision. “I love people,” she says, “and the thought of retiring terrified me.” It was difficult last year to hand over the reins of the practice she’d built up over 30 years – but Adams was keen to refocus on doing something different, while keeping her hand in.

“I’ve developed these skills over a lifetime and I felt just because I wasn’t doing commercial work any more I shouldn’t stop using them,” she adds. “It also helps prove I haven’t gone gaga yet.” Adams has been busy since stepping down from her Herne Bay business.

One year on, at the age of 69, she does unpaid accountancy work for about 10 different charities and is preparing for her third overseas trip in 18 months, with Accounting for International Development (AfID). “It’s wonderful,” she says. “I was in Zambia helping a voluntary organisation with a procedures manual and business plans, then I helped staff at Projet Jeune (an educational sexual health charity) in Madagascar to go onto Excel – that was more of a challenge because my business French was a little rusty, but we got there.”

And now she’s heading to Sri Lanka for three weeks. “It’s not about going in and doing things for people,” says Adams. “It’s about teaching them accountancy and business skills they can use to support themselves.”

AfID assignments typically last from two weeks and run in not-for-profit organisations in 50 countries, with the aim of helping people develop the financial management capacity to deliver sustainable programmes.

Adams articled half a century ago at small south London firm Everett Pinto after choosing the profession “because I liked numbers and looked through an A-Z of professions that would use them”. She went on to work for Coopers, where she was the only female audit clerk in a staff of 30 and managed Wandsworth Council’s finance department before setting up her eponymous Kent practice, which she sold to two of her staff last year.

“It’s a little strange to move on, knowing the business will continue under my name – but I’m sure it will keep the friendly ethos as well as the name.” Adams, who still lives in Herne Bay, is enjoying more time for her hobbies of rambling, running and going to the gym – but most of all, her foreign adventures. “I love the work – some people are afraid of finance, but it’s something I understand so why wouldn’t I share it? And I’ve met some fantastic people.

“But it’s a reciprocal arrangement because I’m learning too. It’s wonderful to live in a rural village with the local people and learn things from their point of view. I’d recommend it to anyone.” If you’re interested in taking on an AfID volunteering assignment, go to afid.org.uk