Profile: The Numbercrunchers, Finalist for the Small Practice of the Year Accounting Excellence Award 2018

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How Accounting Excellence Award finalists, the Numbercrunchers, are breaking the mould and providing ‘tailor-made cloud accounting and business support packages’ to their target ‘sweet-spot’ market to return a 33% year-on-year growth rate

howard smith

‘The numbercrunchers’ is a new breed of firm that is focused on delivering best-fit solutions for its clients. Formed just four years ago, Howard Smith, Managing Director, saw that there was a gap in the market for a hands-on accountant to work with smaller companies with a turnover of up to £3 million. He said: “Our target sweet-spot is those companies that are looking for a hands-on accountant that can help manage their systems and provide a range of tailor made cloud accounting and business support packages. Our clients tell us they want more than a sole practitioner can offer and they aren’t interested in working with a big accounting firm where they end up with a junior on their account. I see us sitting somewhere in the middle.”

The judges particularly liked this approach and, in their summing, up said that ‘the firm was doing all the right things’ as evidenced by a year-on-year growth rate of 33.3%. The judges praised the firm’s principle of ‘surrounding itself with customers and suppliers that it likes doing business with and this extends to buying from its own clients. This helped to generate up to four times the amount it spends, all due to referrals between customers.

With a strong background that comes from working as a financial controller in industry prior to setting up his practice, Howard is passionate about the benefits that new technology can deliver. He sees cloud accounting and Apps as essential components in helping move the profession to a more proactive approach. “It used to be that we would be looking at figures that were up to 18 months old and now the cycle is monthly, and we are able to drill down into live information,” Howard comments. “In effect, this provides the client with an insurance policy and a strong sense of being supported by their accountant.”

It’s all about finding the best fit for the client

Howard estimates that in the region of 98% of the client base are now using cloud accounting and there are just a couple who still deliver their receipts to the office for scanning into the system. Although the firm has strong partnerships with Xero and Receipt Bank, its ethos is all about finding the best fit for the client. Howard says: “The majority of clients tell us they are happy to be guided and listen to our recommendations: they really aren’t too fussed about what they use: it just needs to work for them.”

The firm’s App is welcomed by clients as an exciting way of approaching a ‘pretty dry subject’

The firm’s commitment to digital technology has been strengthened in recent months with the development of its own App by the number one developers of Apps for accountants, MyFirmsApp and headline sponsors of the Accounting Excellence Awards.  Howard says: “The response to our App has been wonderful and clients are reassured that we have found an exciting and new way of approaching what is a pretty dry subject. It helps clients engage with the admin process and is introduced to them right from the start with the onboarding process, which is central to the building of the new relationship.”

His advice to other accountants considering an App is that it is important for the practice to have a clear offering and an App should be part of that. “It’s all about how you deliver that offering.”

More than just a boost to the admin and onboarding process, the firm sees the App as providing a single point of access to all the key platforms. This will inevitably make it easier for clients to fulfil their administrative tasks with a single sign-on through the numbercrunchers’ App, “This helps to make it quicker and simpler and allows ours to be the first name they see,” adds Howard.

There are some innovative ways of reaching out to clients with the App and Howard is looking forward to using ‘push notification’ messages to give a gentle prompt in the right direction to clients who may not have provided all their records ahead of the Self-Assessment return deadline.  “This will be very useful,” says Howard.

Push notifications are increasingly being recognised as a more secure method of communication than emails that are associated with higher malware spread probabilities

‘More brand centric’

“We like to use technology to its maximum potential,” he continues. “The App in particular, makes us more brand centric and it looks beautiful. It is all about finding something that differentiates the numbercrunchers from other firms.  We all deliver the same product, so it is about finding something that is slicker.”

This investment in technology is set to pay dividends when Making Tax Digital (MTD) arrives and the App will help clients to submit their receipts and invoices quickly and easily from their smartphones.  Howard says he is 100% in favour of the regime and has always been averse to payments being made on account based on last year’s income. “It makes total sense,” he says, “To pay tax quarterly on actual income.”

Although MTD is referred to as a challenge, Howard believes that ‘it is as much of a challenge as you want to make it.’ He feels sympathy for traditional accountants that only have a few years left before retirement and for them MTD represents a significant jump.

In terms of the future, the firm is focused on coping with the demands of a growing client base and delivering a consistently high-level service. “It’s all about processes and we have a clearly defined process for client work which we hope will keep us on top.”

ICPA offers a ‘tremendous service and great support’

The firm is a member of ICPA, the Institute of Certified Practising Accountants, and has access to a range of benefits including £300,000 professional indemnity. “Joining ICPA was one of the first things I did when I set up the firm,” says Howard. “The help desk is invaluable and with constant changes to keep abreast of, it is a tremendous service and a great support.”

As the judges of the Accounting Excellence Awards commented, ‘All of our nominees are at the peak of their profession. By shining a spotlight on what they are doing to succeed and how, we will be showing other practitioners new directions and techniques that they can adapt for their firms.’

The numbercrunchers are confident that they have found a system that works for them and clients particularly like the fact that they can choose from a ‘pick and mix’ range of services with a transparent pricing policy. The future for this Accounting Excellence Award finalist for the Small Practice of the Year is bright and the MyFirmsApp team wishes them every success in coming years.


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