Julian Foster came to live in Cambridge in 1990 as a trainee accountant with Deloitte & Touche where he is now a tax manager. Julian has been closely involved with two clubs, the Cambridge Club, where he served on the committee for four years, the last year as chairman, and the University Club, which he has represented in events such as the Garden Cities, NICKO and ECL. He is at present treasurer of the Cambs and Hunts County Association. He plays a lot of bridge in different congresses during the year and has been a frequent winner of Cambridge Club Teams events for some years, with various students as team mates.
Julian, you generate a wonderful enthusiasm for and enjoyment of the game (not visible in all who play). Where did you first learn to play? Did you play at University?
I grew up playing plenty of card games but didn't actually start bridge until I went to University (Bath, not Cambridge, as many people seem to assume) in 1985. I was soon hooked and my first major congress was Easter 1988 where my partner and I came last out of what I imagine was about 200 pairs!
I was a dreadfully bad loser as a child (and sometimes still am!) so I've since always tried to remember bridge is a game which we supposedly play for enjoyment. Sadly, the way some players behave at the table does make you wonder what possible enjoyment either they or their opponents can be getting!
My understanding is that you have travelled far and wide already - am I right in saying to Australia, South Africa and Zimbabwe as well as various ski resorts? Can you give us a flavour of the places you have most enjoyed visiting?
Yes, I've been pretty lucky. I've been "inter-railing" round Europe a few times and also had a year off before starting work which I spent in Australia, New Zealand and Southern Africa. My two best memories are the scenery and wildlife in the Kruger Park (a South African game reserve the size of Wales) and the views of Ayers Rock in the Australian outback. Both are vast open spaces unspoilt by man, something we just don't have in England.
I know your speciality is tax and not audit. Most laymen think of the accountant as an auditor and the large firms have come in for some flak recently with the collapse of banks (Barings and BCCI) or gross losses, for example the recent massive loss at NatWest. What is your feeling on the twin pressures accountancy firms experience of retaining big clients and providing a scrupulous audit?
With the increasing complexity of business systems it is almost impossible to provide a scrupulous audit. If a company really wants to deceive the auditors it is depressingly easy! The emphasis in large company audits nowadays is very much on testing the effectiveness of the controls and systems that exist within the business, rather than the actual numbers that those systems produce. Only if those controls are lacking will detailed verification of the figures be needed.
Accountancy firms are coming under increasing pressure to reduce audit fees as a lot of clients see an audit as just a legal requirement from which they get no benefit. Advising companies on their control systems as part of the audit not only helps them reduce the risk of fraud but also gives them a more tangible benefit from the audit (and enhances our chances of retaining them as a client!)
As you have done some of the Directors' Courses please tell us how useful you think they are. A big problem for many clubs is not having a pool of competent directors. Can you suggest a way forward?
I think they're excellent. Although they do cover specific rules like insufficient bids, leads out of turn and revokes, they also emphasise the director's role as someone there to help the players. Directing seems to have a "mystique" about it but for a normal club night the job is far more keeping track of the time than actually giving any rulings. Movements are usually pre-determined and there are always other players or the book to consult if you don't know the correct ruling. The best quality a director can have is common sense. I remember at the University club once when the players made 3 bids before they realised that they were going the wrong way round the table. No-one could work out exactly what to do so the director just told them to complete the auction in the same direction - technically incorrect but how sensible! I'd encourage anyone to have a go at directing - probably with an experienced director standing by to help the first time, if need be.
Please tell us about a hand that has give you pleasure.
I've always liked the deceptive element to bridge so this hand from the National Swiss Teams final a few years ago was especially pleasing:
LHO led the 6 and the contract didn't look very hopeful with blockages in clubs and diamonds, not to mention a wide-open heart suit.
I tried the effect of the 9 from dummy and when the 8 appeared I overtook with the K. Cashing AQ brought down the J and I now led a low club. To LHO it looked exactly as if his partner held 84 and me AK. It seemed stupid to let me reach dummy for my good diamonds so he rose with the A and, after what seemed like hours to me, produced his "safe" spade exit. Now I went up with dummy's J and cashed the diamonds. I already had 9 tricks but LHO was so disconcerted when the J held that he pitched a club on the diamonds so that suit ran as well giving me 12 tricks!
Julian, thank you for talking to us.