Date posted: 23/11/2017 5 min read

One hundred years in accounting

Three generations of New Zealand accountants from the same family look back over a century in the profession.

In Brief

  • The Elliffe family has been in the accounting profession for three generations.
  • Tax academic Professor Craig Elliffe has spent his career oscillating between law and accounting and now lectures at Auckland University.
  • He was awarded a CA ANZ fellowship in 2017.

By Alexandra Johnson.

Not many people can claim to have three generations of accountants in their lineage, but the Elliffe family have an unusually strong connection with the profession over the last century. Professor Craig Elliffe, who was recently awarded a Fellowship at CA ANZ, is the youngest of the trio.

“My grandfather, John Elliffe, was born in 1890,” says Craig Elliffe. “He went away to the First World War and fought in the Somme, but in 1916 he was shot through the mouth and throat with a German machine gun.” Critically injured, John Elliffe spent the next 18 months in French and English hospitals, before being returned to New Zealand in 1917.

Then he studied at Auckland University, before founding a public accounting firm in Auckland.

“All the Queen Street accountants, the competing practitioners, would have morning coffee every day in a coffee house and share ideas between the firms,” says Craig Elliffe. “It was unheard of for someone to take someone else’s client.

(Pictured: Craig Elliffe and Douglas Elliffe FCA)

“There was quite a different spirit about competition in those days,” he says. “Perhaps they did it on an unnamed basis, but they talked about their clients.” 

His grandfather was also heavily involved in the New Zealand Society of Accountants and was President in 1931. John Elliffe’s portrait graces the wall of the CA ANZ in Wellington today. 

John Elliffe died in 1970 at the ripe old age of 80, when Craig Elliffe was just seven. He remembers him as a somewhat cantankerous man. “He still had fragments of shrapnel in his mouth.”

(Pictured: John Elliffe)

John’s son, Douglas, also joined the accounting profession, but he had to go his own way. “He wasn’t allowed, they had a prohibition on family members joining.”

Douglas Elliffe FCA was a partner in a variety of firms throughout his career one of which is now another Big Four firm. Now in his late eighties, he only stopped practising about three or four years ago. 

As a child, Craig Elliffe remembers his father working at his desk in the evenings. “It was in the TV room, and Dad had one of those rather irritating adding machines, so there was always a clatter in the background.” But Craig Elliffe can’t recall what inspired him to become an accountant. “I got into med school and was going to become a doctor until I realised I couldn’t stand the sight of blood.”

“I didn’t really want to be an accountant, as is the norm, so I trained both as a lawyer and as an accountant, which I think was more about the flexibility and alternatives that offered.” 

What does the future of accounting hold?

Craig Elliffe earned his double degree at Otago University and an LLM at Cambridge, England, and throughout his highly successful career, has oscillated between the two professions. “I became a Tax Partner (at KPMG) at 28. I really was very young,” he laughs. “I was a Partner there for 14 years, before being headhunted by Chapman Tripp.”

Three years ago, the University of Auckland offered Elliffe a professorship, and that’s where he is now happily lecturing and writing. “I’m responsible for the Master of Taxation Studies. I love it. I’d spent 24 years as a Tax Partner and decided that it was better for me to be giving something back.”

So with all this accounting family history behind him, what does the future hold for the profession and his prodigies? “I think the future of the tax profession still remains very bright… particularly in my field, international tax. There is increasing global business and the complexities of that means there will always be significant amounts of work.”

But he is concerned that with automated processes, the work with which new graduates cut their teeth is disappearing. “Expertise and experience will of course be valued. But how will new graduates get into that position?”

Alexandra Johnson is a freelance journalist based in Wellington.