Holding top rugby players to account

PKF Dunedin is over represented in rugby referees, with accountant Fraser Hannon joining CEO Jono Bredin in the Rugby New Zealand (RNZ) High Performance Referee Squad for 2021, officiating at national competitions.

It wasn't until the July All Blacks vs Fiji match that we realised just how involved these guys were in rugby with both of them involved in helping officiate during the match, with Jono running the touchline and Fraser managing the substitutions. This was neatly captured in an Otago Daily Times article a couple of days later.

Below is the back story of how they are both going to have their work cut out for them over the next few months!

Both Jono and Fraser have followed binary paths; Accounting and university as a focus at the same time as pursuing a career as a referee.

Jono was a Netball referee for 18 years, rising to world class status before switching codes in 2018. Now he is in his third year as a national grade rugby official, although Fraser likes to remind his boss which out of the pair was technically in rugby first.

“I was 18 when I started reffing rugby, when I was at Otago Uni” says Fraser. “Jono might have fast-tracked his way to the top, but I’ve been doing it longer” he adds with a grin.

Fraser and Jono got to know each other through rugby, so when an opening came up for an accountant at PKF, it seemed a good fit from both sides.

From an employer point of view, all the professional requirements were there, but what separated Fraser from other applicants was the advantage of already being proven to Jono in the less tangible elements.

“Being able to relate to people, make decisions under pressure – these are transferrable skills that are intrinsic to good business relations with clients. They’re not always apparent when recruiting, so often it comes down to luck” says Jono. “With Fraser, I had already seen these qualities in action.”

The focus on work-life balance was a drawcard to the role for Fraser, and seeing Jono managing the demands of top-level refereeing with his role as CEO and Head of Tax showed a strong precedent for taking his rugby interests further.

Whilst an accountancy firm’s office and a muddy sports ground are vastly different environments, both Fraser and Jono can draw plenty of parallels between refereeing a rugby match and advising clients on financial aspects of their business.

On closer inspection, it makes sense: something like taxation law expertise, when applied to the businesses who make up PKF’s client base, would provide a good understanding of applying the theory of a game of rugby to the actual run of play.

“The skills for accountancy are similar to refereeing. In both roles you are helping people” says Fraser. “Businesses need good accounting advice, and you can’t have a successful game of rugby without the input from the referees.”

Jono agrees. “It’s not always about finding the last cent in accounting. We focus on what’s clear and obvious first” he adds, referring to the immediate needs around solvency and compliance, and how that is comparable to facilitating a game of rugby so that it can continue to play within the structure of its rules.

“Our clients need to pay tax – we just make sure they are paying the right amount of tax. The rest of what we do is providing guidance around achieving a smoothly run and well-played game – and that works on and off the field.

“It comes down to having a set of black and white rules and how you live in that comfortable area of grey.”

Fraser points out the similar ways in which rugby and accounting are both evolving quite quickly.

“We have fitter, faster, stronger athletes. The rules have had to change to address the higher levels of play and the impact it has on player safety, the physicality as well as the evolving style and strategies that come with this.

“Each new year there is something to get up to speed with – a particular focus or something new. For example, foul play – high tackles, challenges in the air, concussion issues – are scrutinised a lot more.”

In the accounting space, client’s needs have changed. “There are the obvious things, like the new tax rates, and changes around property investment, but you also have clients diversifying into crypto currencies, and people are using technology more” says Fraser. “The needs of clients have changed and with it the expectations around how things get done.”

Jono expands on this; “Now people have immediate access to live data, can scrutinise it more, and that alters expectations around what knowledge and advice we can offer. It’s also a good thing, as the starting level of understanding is higher. So, not so much pressure to deliver, but the consideration needed to offer the right sort of advice.”

Both men agree the pressure is there in rugby. “Technology means the scrutiny over decisions is higher – people at home can see things in minute detail and you are making a snap decision in real time” says Fraser. “With accounting, you can defer a decision or present a couple of options, whereas in rugby you’ve got to get the right decision there and then.”

“Don’t forget, we are also having to physically keep up with the play” says Jono. “Referees run more than most players – around 6-7km in a game. Being fit is one thing but being mentally aware at the same time – having to assess and take in information that is spread out, complex, making judgement calls and applying rules to a live situation – all the while putting physical demands on your body.”

Both Jono and Fraser have followed binary paths; with accounting and university as a focus at the same time as pursuing a career as a referee. For some, this level of refereeing would be considered a profession in its own right, but these two men have made it to the top tier whilst advancing within their chosen profession.

“Being able to take time to focus on an area of interest outside of work and take it to this level, this really matters to me” says Jono. “As a business owner, you will have a set of core values. You make time for what’s important. That Fraser has done the same is reflective of the level of support and flexibility we have built into the PKF working culture.

The time spent away from the office is invigorating, and I come back to work inspired, energised and focused on what needs to be done in the shorter timeframe.”

Jono admits there is a lot to manage, with client commitments alongside the travel and the extra reporting and responsibilities at national level for refereeing.

“Getting on the field for the game the fun bit – the rest is where the growth and learning is” he explains. “You spend a lot of time prior to a fixture looking at the teams, key trends, players, to establish the type of play that you might expect. Then there are conversations with both the coaches leading up to the match, the travel up, and travel home.

“Afterwards, you review the game, create a series of clips as discussion points (reporting) things we did well or might need to do differently. It’s important. At this level, each decision made effects the livelihoods of coaches, players.”

Fraser concedes that it is a huge step up from club to semi-professional and professional in commitment and responsibility. “It’s different when rugby is actually your job. For me, the rugby related activities still seem like a break from work.”

“With us, we have two separate boxes” agrees Jono. “Although, I wouldn’t mind the spare time to train.”

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