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Acquisition
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Azets acquires award winning advisory firm Inspire

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Accounting Excellence Award winner Inspire is the latest firm to get snapped up by fast-growing accounting powerhouse Azets. 

1st Mar 2022
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After picking up an Accounting Excellence Award, the next step for Poole-based independent firm Inspire was to join the Azets fold. 

Inspire’s advisory and strategic advice service offering to entrepreneurial and growing businesses matches Azets’ client base and “trusted business adviser” speciality. One of the firm's strongest niches is “FD on demand” services.

The acquisition adds 30 employees and 1,000 clients across Bournemouth, Poole and the wider Solent region to  the Azets empire. 

Fast growth at Azets

Azets rocketed up the Top 10 of the accounting league table through an ambitious strategy to scoop up accounting firms across the UK. 

Backed by private equity firm HgCapital and originally masterminded by former Deloitte global chairman John Connolly, Azets acquired Top 50 names including Baldwins, Wilkins Kennedy and Campbell Dallas. The acquisition spree has taken Azets’ regional network to 86 offices across the UK. 

Azets said the acquisition will give Inspire clients access to more specialist advisory services such as banking and finance, data analytics, cybersecurity, forensics and restructuring.

The acquisition is another step towards Azets’ ambition to grow revenue by 50% in the next five years. Adam Wilson, regional managing partner for the Solent region at Azets, said: “Inspire has a strong regional reputation for its personable approach and specialist expertise which, combined with Azets’ local and international reach, opens up a wealth of opportunities for our clients.”

This is the second firm Azets has added to its portfolio in three months after acquiring Yorkshire-based Garbutt + Elliot in December. 

Inspire's founder Warren Munson called today’s announcement “a wonderful opportunity for Inspire and our clients”. 

He continued: “The acquisition demonstrates our commitment to the continued growth of our business, as we enter the next phase of our long and successful journey as part of the UK’s newest Top 10 accounting firm. Azets is a business which shares our clear focus on people and clients – it is the perfect fit both strategically and culturally.

Accounting Excellence winner 

Inspire won the 2020 Accounting Excellence medium firm of the year award after narrowly missing out in 2019. The judges were impressed with the firm’s ability to “push boundaries while retaining a focus on customer service and looking after their team”. 

Munson has since graduated to the Accounting Excellence judging panel and is set to again look over this year’s entries. 

Serving an entrepreneurial client base, Inspire has gone to great lengths to ensure it’s the right fit for clients and the firm is conscious of “not saying yes to every opportunity”.  

“Gone are the days of being a practice to everything and everyone. You’ve got to differentiate yourself from the competition,” Munson told AccountingWEB last summer. 

He also described client service as the firm’s “number one priority”. He said that as well as having a director, every client has a relationship coordinator. “That person is responsible for ensuring that they are regularly in contact with the client, but also that the information flowing in and out of the firm is in relation to their specific needs. That shared responsibility of relationships is really critical to our success.”

But Munson wasn’t just focused on external satisfaction, but also the culture of the practice. People are “the most important thing” he said, explaining that the firm sends out regular staff surveys, including a Friday Pulse which measures how happy staff are. 

“We collate that information, review it, and then have weekly team meetings to discuss the score. Has it improved, has it gone down and why? It all comes back to having an open and honest dialogue about how people are feeling.”

The 2022 Accounting Excellence Awards are now open for entries - you never know, if you win an award you could be the next firm to get snapped up.

Accounting Excellence partners

Replies (6)

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By User deleted
01st Mar 2022 13:26

86 offices............and as the ways of working change and the fees go up, the clients leave, firm gets into trouble................ Age old story. Rinse and repeat.................

Thanks (3)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
01st Mar 2022 16:00

This has been tried many times before and soon implodes.

There are no real economies of scale in accounting practices once you get beyond 2-3 people apart from complex business requiring multi-tax professionals. And even then you can buy it or collaborate.

Thanks (0)
Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
01st Mar 2022 17:27

There are economies re CPD and niche areas, getting a weekly update re technical areas from a firm's inhouse technical team, standard office file management and layout, so staff from different offices can readily be swapped, lent etc. (I was lent to the Edinburgh office a couple of times)

Even training courses which can be run in house at a national level and targeted precisely where the firm wishes them targeted, organised by a firm wide training partner, delivered by the firm's own staff.

What firm size works, not sure, I trained with a firm that had circa 50 UK offices yet our particular office was only three partners, circa 10 staff in accounts/audit, 2 or 3 in tax/vat and 4 secretaries/administrators,and it seemed to work but it was a long time ago so maybe these days there is little value added from economies of scale.

Thanks (0)
Replying to DJKL:
avatar
By User deleted
01st Mar 2022 19:21

The Big 4 get their cutting edge CPD from AWeb, don't they? ;)

Thanks (1)
Replying to DJKL:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
02nd Mar 2022 09:41

@DJKL, i think it depends how big the business are being serviced and what is on offer. I would need more staff if we did bookkeeping and payroll for example but we get others to do that on a contract basis.

For small business well under the audit threshold then generally big firms don't seem to do anything better than small ones at the tax/accounts end. Indeed it seems often the reverse especially at the smaller end when jobs are just given the the junior and the client ends up with little in the way of help. I don't think things like training and CPD really help these days as its readily available.

I have seen considerable fragmentation of firms in my area although a few are growing, they tend to be the "processing" style outfits employing few (if any) actual accountants and growing through fee acquisition and not real growth from reputation.

Thanks (1)
Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
02nd Mar 2022 11:35

Slightly larger firms do have an edge in certain areas, I doubt I would be chatting with my local 5-10 person firm if I was seeking significant loan funding or an injection of equity, larger firms do enable more large clients to be obtained and accordingly more senior connections are established re funding etc- a strong address book is handy.

They also, having a wider and often wealthier client base, have more experience dealing with things smaller firms see rarely e.g share valuations, s162 incorporations, company reconstructions, hive ups etc.

I certainly go to a bigger firm than that which I worked in post my apprenticeship, when my employer has trickier planning outwith my comfort zone we use (Currently Johnstonne Carmichael) firms that are not too large but not too small, these, in my experience, offer the best combination of service and technical knowledge.

I know times change but during my apprenticeship being with a smaller office in a national network brought work that would never have been obtained by a similar size stand alone firm, for instance I got to work on things like Nissan UK branch audits, Fenner plc pension schemes audits, Comet Group 's audit, notwithstanding I apprenticed in an office of only 20 people. We also locally audited some smaller local authorities (though I never got to work on these), I suspect firm name obtained these appointments.

I do appreciate the market must be very different today from the mid 80s, but firm size, in my opinion, can still open up the overall firm to clients they likely could not dream of winning were they a really small firm. Of course if the firm is merely 80 smaller offices servicing compliance for micro clients few bigger beasts will make the client list, but if each office has a critical mass there is likely scope to attract a better quality client and a much higher average fee.

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