Rebranded group runs out of Optionisby
While the decision to rename the group of firms at the heart of last year’s ransomware attack was an obvious one, it raises a standout question: how much damage can be done to an established accounting brand before it needs to be changed?
An intriguing press release dropped into my inbox the other day, bearing news that Optionis had rebranded to Caroola Group.
For those not familiar with the revolving door of accountancy brands, Optionis was the group behind a plethora of household names, including contractor specialist SJD Accountancy and online accounting practice Nixon Williams (which it acquired in a deal worth more than £100m), ClearSky Accounting and First Freelance, umbrella firm Parasol, and tax refund shop Brian Alfred – all of whom will now operate under the Caroola name.
According to the press release, the name change is a “culmination of a two-year transformation project that focused on building innovative technology to unlock market-leading service levels, delivered through one brand,” with the new group “dedicated to further building on the company’s ethos of providing a customer-centric, modern approach to accountancy for the self-employed community”.
Pushing the word salad to one side, the release has a few key omissions. Most notably the fact that in January 2022, Optionis suffered one of the largest ransomware attacks the accounting industry has ever seen.
The hack, precipitated by ransomware gang Vice Society, knocked out Optionis’s systems and saw accounting clients unable to access information ahead of self assessment and VAT return deadlines, left umbrella clients unpaid, and eventually culminated in client details released on the dark web.
With complaints on contractor forums and one-star reviews for its brands racking up (coupled with the fact the group lost £25m in its last financial year and shed thousands of accounting clients), the rebrand was pretty much inevitable – even if it does leave a bad taste in the mouth of clients treated badly and left in the dark following the hack.
This leads to some broader questions for the accounting market: how much damage can be done to established, credible brands before they have to be ushered out into the barn and given both barrels? Should firms look to stick it out and recover their reputations, or look to move on at the earliest possible opportunity? This obviously depends on a huge number of variables, including the size of the transgression, market share, whether they have any intellectual property or fancy tech tied up in the brand, and many other factors.
The rise and fall of cryptocurrency was a veritable case study in pulling the rip cord. While firms initially scrambled to cater for the next big thing in accountancy, they were also just as quick to disengage when the going got rough. US auditor Armanino disbanded its crypto audit practice following worries from their core audit clients that they’d be caught up in the contagion surrounding the FTX fallout.
And bringing us right up to date, Johnston Carmichael may be a household name for accountants north of the border, but its association with the SNP (and the subsequent search engine results this will generate ) may mean the firm takes on its Moore Global mothership colours sooner rather than later.
But if accountancy watchers are worried about some of their favourite brands going the way of Woolworths and Opal Fruits, there’s good news – due to the complex nature of its global networks, it’s harder than you think to kill off an accounting brand completely.
Even being at the heart of a global financial meltdown wasn’t enough to wipe out the Arthur Andersen brand, which lives on in various guises around the world, while RSM Tenon’s first three initials survive to this day near the top of the largest accounting firm charts. Whether Optionis or the other brand names that went down in its wake return remains to be seen.
Caroola was asked to comment on this piece but has not responded – although the press release mentioned has been published in full on several accounting and business news sites.