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Cooper Parry acquires Haines Watts London

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Cooper Parry is the latest private equity-backed firm to grow significantly through acquisitions after snapping up Haines Watts London. The fast-growing firm has tripled in size over the last 12 months. 

11th Sep 2023
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Cooper Parry has risen up the accountancy league table this week with its acquisition of Haines Watts London — a move that makes them the UK’s 11th largest accountancy firm.  

The acquisition adds 11 new offices to Cooper Parry’s portfolio across London, the South, Birmingham and the Midland, sends its employee headcount to 1,150 and takes the firm's turnover to £125m. The deal also brings clients into the fold such as Lounge Underwear, Tide and Blakemore & Sons Ltd.

The move marks Cooper Parry’s fourth acquisition this year, following the additions of iHorizon and Acclivity in February and Future Perfect in April. Cooper Parry’s spending spree has been driven since December 2022 by the backing of Waterland Private Equity. 

Ade Cheatham, Cooper Parry’s CEO, said the firm was impressed by Haines Watts London’s growth and their “like-minded nature”. “Working alongside them, this deal underlines our determination to create the UK’s next gen accountancy firm,” he said.

Cheatham said the deal elevates the firm into “a UK mid-market heavyweight” and that it now has “genuine momentum” and “can demonstrate real strength and scale in London”.

Michael Davidson, Haines Watts managing partner, agreed that Cooper Parry is “an ideal fit” and said with its support the combined entity can “plug into their progressive, next generation and proven approach to both people development and client service”. 

“This is an exciting and rare opportunity to drive quality and change in the mid-market, as we look to further the Cooper Parry brand in London and the surrounding areas.”

The deal further supports the firm’s ambitions to drive five-fold growth to a turnover of £250m by 2025. 

The rise of private equity 

Cooper Parry's acquisition of Haines Watters London is another example of private equity firms spending big in the accountancy profession.  

The number of press releases heralding the latest acquisition or touting a ‘war chest of money’ has increased over the last several years, as larger firms backed by private equity investors like Tenzing and Hg have actively scooped up accountancy firms across the UK. 

A recent example of this is Tenzing-backed Gravita, which has been on its own acquisition spree recently, picking up household accountancy brands such as Propel, Jeffreys Henry and Carter Backer Winter. 

Meanwhile, Cogital-funded Azets boasts recent acquisitions such as Wilkins Kennedy, Cassons, Campbell Dallas and Baldwins. 

Sam Edwards, senior manager at PwC’s boutique team Strategy&, pulled back the curtain on the acquisition trend at AccountingWEB Live Expo last December. He explained that the accountancy profession is attractive to private equity investors due to highly recurring fees and 'sticky' clients, alongside the market growing at a pace of 5 - 6% a year.  

He also noted that private equity investors may want to take client bases and cross-pollinate them with other services within their portfolio. 

“The investors see the opportunity to benefit from economies of scale and cross-selling adjacent services,” he said. 

Picking up on the lively industry-wide consolidation activity, Caroline Plumb from Gravita told AccountingWEB late last year that she can foresee in 10 - 20 years' time the 42,000 firms in the sector being eaten up by larger fish in the accounting sea. “You're going to find there are not as many firms - certainly not at that volume - and there may only be 10 to 20 firms of note and maybe fewer focusing on the SME space.”

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By Mark Lee
11th Sep 2023 16:33

May I pick up on that final quote from Caroline Plumb from Gravita - for whom I have huge respect. Whilst I can accept that there MAY be fewer larger firms in the future, I believe that there will long be space and business for many thousands of sole practitioners.

Partly because the vast majority (now and in the future) prefer NOT to join or work for larger firms; and partly because the bulk of "the SME space" comprises MICRO businesses. The owners of such businesses neither want or need to be serviced by multi-partner firms - especially as recurring compliance work evolves and accountants provide more PERSONAL advice and services to their clients.

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By lukeoliver
12th Sep 2023 09:55

I think the future for 'Small Practitioners' is bright, most of us are just fed up with all the hassles, like the inefficiencies at HMRC for example. We are capable of doing as good a job as the bigger firms, when we get the time to spend with our clients.

We are constantly being advised the end of the world is coming for us. Compliance is dead. Go Niche. KPMG were going to take over the SME market place etc etc.

'The industry is attractive to private equity investors' for very good reasons.

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By almost_a_geek
12th Sep 2023 10:19

As a small practitioner, having left my bigger firm life behind many years ago, I can say what makes us small fry more attractive to the smaller client is not all about fees. It's the ability to deal with things in a more friendly, timely and understandable way.

The larger you become, the slower reporting lines become, the more bureaucracy and "risk management" comes into play, ultimately affecting client service.

We are more than comfortable being a small practice, bigger firms are no real threat to us, and I don't think they really want to be either. Let the big firms get bigger, it just takes them further away from the markets/clients we service.

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Replying to almost_a_geek:
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By Justin Bryant
12th Sep 2023 11:57

That's of course 100% right. Small clients do not like firms that are "too corporate" as it's often described i.e. diseconomies of scale eventually kick in at some stage.

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