Meet 2017’s Practice Excellence Award nominees

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After weeks of careful deliberation from our team of expert judges, AccountingWEB is delighted to reveal the 2017 Practice Excellence Awards shortlist.

After reviewing more than 200 submissions in 10 categories, our judges have decided on the firms and individuals who will be taking the next step towards Practice Excellence glory.

The number of entries was up by 16% on 2016, which was reflected in the intensity of competition in several of the categories, including the flagship Small Practice of the Year Award, which attracted 78 entries.

The races were just as intense in the innovative firm, growth and client service categories.

This year’s awards opened the doors to a couple of new categories including National Tax Practice and Specialist Team of the Year. The latter proved to be a hotbed of new ideas to confirm once again that practice development is zeroing in on the niche approach.

All of the firms included on the shortlists below put across strong cases for inclusion in each of the categories. With so many firms competing for these awards, they succeeded in putting across a convincing picture of where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

“The overall picture emerging from this year’s entries is that the wider profession is picking up on ideas and innovations coming from the profession’s pathfinders. That’s the whole idea of this competition, but it makes it harder for firms to stand out from the pack,” said AccountingWEB global editor and Practice Excellence judge John Stokdyk.

“A few years ago, cloud accounting was cutting edge. Now almost all of our entrants are doing it. Rather than seeing great leaps forward, the judges found a lot of incremental innovations in different areas such as marketing services, client account management and digital marketing. We’ll be delving into all those topics during Practice Excellence Week in October and beyond. Make sure to sign up for our weekly Practice Excellence newswire to keep up with all these developments.”

The 2017 Practice Excellence Awards would not be possible without the support of our sponsors and the efforts of their representatives on our judging panels. Our thanks go to them and all the other judges: Heather Townsend, Tony Margaretili (ICPA), Karen Reyburn (The Profitable Firm), Graham Lamont (Lamont Pridmore), Glenn Collins (ACCA), Chris Hughes (PracticeWEB), Richard Sergeant (Principal Point), Philip Fisher, Rebecca Cave, Paul Shrimpling (Remarkable Practice), Martin Bissett (Upward Spiral Partnership), Aynsley Damery (Tayabali Tomlin), Kevin McCallum (FreeAgent), Ben Heald (Sift), John Stokdyk, Richard Hattersley, Tom Herbert and Mark Purdue (Thomson Reuters).

Congratulations to all the firms and individuals who are driving excellence in the profession in 2017.

Small Practice of the Year

Purpose

Inform Accounting

Evans & Partners

Ad Valorem Accountancy Services Ltd

Inca Financial Services Ltd (trading as Inca Caring Accounting)

Medium Practice of the Year

Ramsay Brown and Partners

Seymour Taylor

Mitchell Meredith

Grunberg & Co

Fish Partnership

Dunkley's Chartered Accountants

Large Practice of the Year

Whitley Stimpson Ltd

Nixon Williams

Bishop Fleming

Mercer & Hole

Specialist Team of the Year

Performance Accountancy

Forrester Boyd

Ramsay Brown and Partners

Davis Grant

Fitzgerald & Law LLP

Innovative Firm of the Year

The Accountancy Cloud

Farnell Clarke

SRK Accounting

inniAccounts

Crunch

National Tax Practice of the Year

Rouse Partners

Milsted Langdon

Ad Valorem Accountancy Services Ltd

New Firm of the Year

Adrian Markey Ltd

Cone Accounting

The Accountancy Cloud

Soaring Falcon

Hive Business

Client Service Firm of the Year

Kreston Reeves

Inspire Professional Services

Mazuma

Tayabali & White

Kinder Pocock

2017 Practice Excellence Pioneer

Warren Munson, Inspire Professional Services

Hannah Xu, Xceptional Consultancy Ltd

Paul Donno, 1 Accounts Online Ltd

Will Farnell, Farnell Clarke

inniAccounts

Practice Growth of the Year 2017

Seymour Taylor

DNS Associates

Crunch

Fish Partnership

The Peloton

Practice Excellence Week is AccountingWEB's landmark festival of excellence, inspiration and celebration for the accounting profession. If you would like to hear more about the programme, please visit the Practice Excellence website or email info@practice-excellence.co.uk.

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Contributions from the AccountingWEB.co.uk editorial team.

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18th Aug 2017 11:43

Not this again.

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18th Aug 2017 15:21

What is the split between qualified and unqualified firms? Are we now championing gimmicks over getting results for clients, tax knowledge and service? Have an Ipad for everytime you recommend a client and don't worry about the figures, they won't be right. Seems like there is big money in the advising accountant's industry, perhaps a Chartered Accountant should have the business savvy to run their own practice?

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18th Aug 2017 21:41

Missed out again wont be bothering next year will just focus on making some money and signing up good clients.

All of the small business nominees are Xero Platinum partners which means you need 1000 Xero points to get or probably 700 plus Xero clients so not really small practices, as probably have 800 plus clients when you include none Xero clients and tax returns.

Same people get put through every year, most of them seem to subscribe to the judges paid for services which seems a bit cosy as imagine most don't complete the application themselves.

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to Glennzy
18th Aug 2017 17:16

Sorry to see that Glenn - anyone who's had even a cursory glance at the site knows what a great job you do with your firm.

Interesting point you make about the small business nominees. After each PE awards is over we sit down and review, so will make sure this is raised.

Just for clarity, all entries are anonymised before they go to the judges.

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to Glennzy
18th Aug 2017 21:59

"Missed out again wont be bothering next year will just focus on making some money and signing up good clients."

That's what its all about.

Not interested with getting a nice warm glow and a smug look on my face from winning an "award", would rather see a healthy bottom line and good client retention.

Seems to be that touchy feely wins awards - doesn't pay the bills though.

Good point you make about the judging panel.

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18th Aug 2017 23:14

To what extent does the award take into account applicant's contributions on Accounting Web?

AW is about joining in and contributing on this brilliant forum. The awards appear not to be in sync AW as a forum.

The true winners are judges. Improves profile = career progression and increased income. Also, it is another revenue stream for Sift. I understand this aspect. After all, Sift is a business. It is important Sift maintains its revenue stream to keep this valuable forum going.

Do awards alienate active contributors and those in the background who come to the forefront during awards time?

In the past comments against the awards were strongly silenced by Sift's employees. Further, the lack of comments on announcements of last year winners does it give a clear message to Sift, the vast majority are NOT for these awards? Is it the vast majority?

I am not sure, as a forum, Sift is the right party to run and judge these awards. I do not think the whole process unites the community.

An important emotional aspect is good old jealousy seeing the shortlisted and the winners. I am not sure whether anything can be gained by reading PR about how they become winners. The key component missing is their struggle to get to their destination.

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19th Aug 2017 10:24

@Glennzy - so glad you've finally seen sense!

As is so often the case, the real winners and pioneers quietly go about their accountancy businesses with far higher than average profits and/or a work-life balance, and yet these rather essential benchmarks are omitted in favour of marketing and happy Clappy-ness.

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21st Aug 2017 14:32

Thanks for your comments, folks – you’ve given us plenty of food for thought. But I also wanted to put to rest some of the assumptions you appear to have made:

First, it is not true that Sift staff silence any negative comments about the Practice Excellence Awards. We have clear terms and conditions about your behaviour on the site, but as long as you abide by those rules and are not denigrating anyone’s reputation, there is no restriction on what you can say here.

Second, these awards are not about celebrating community contributions. We do that separately at Christmas time. The Practice Excellence Awards are designed for a completely different constituency that wants to explore new practice development ideas. To that end we set out six years ago to uncover and celebrate the profession’s most successful firms – and to find out what makes them tick so that other practitioners can learn from them.

Yes there are some familiar names on the shortlists, but some firms are genuinely pioneering and continue to pursue that path by always looking at where they can improve next.

But there are also a lot of less well known names on this year’s shortlist, and the increasing number of firms taking part indicates that many of them find the exercise useful, whether or not they make the shortlists.
It is also certainly not a precondition for the shortlist to be a Xero Platinum Partner. I was a judge in the small firm category and am genuinely surprised to discover that now, as only 1-2 mentioned Xero in their entries. There are a lot of Xero partners who didn’t make the shortlist too (sorry Glennzy). From the Small firm judging panel’s perspective, Heather Townsend, Tony Margaratelli (ICPA) and I didn’t dwell on what software the entrants were using – the nominations were all about what the firms were doing with their particular tools to make a positive impact on clients.

The coincidence of that particular group emerging from our selection process may reflect that those firms who jumped early and most enthusiastically into the Xero world are pushing the profession into new territory. Rather than complaining about biased judging, perhaps it would be worth looking more closely at how those firms are scaling up their business models so effectively. As a hint here, it seems that moving clients onto cloud systems, focusing on niche markets and deploying cloud add-ons to support them do have a significant effect on client satisfaction and growth.

In answer to Sheepy306’s comment about real winners and pioneers going about their business quietly and applying their own benchmarks, I would fully agree. Even though a particular type of fast-growing, Xero-driven cloud practice may appear to be prominent, there was a lot of variety among our entrants and shortlists. There are some great examples of small, non-Xero firms doing really interesting things in niche markets like Performance Accountancy (music industry specialist); Hannah Xu (Xceptional Consultancy – medical specialist); and a smattering of contractor/freelance operations that focus on streamlining their processes and keeping really large numbers of clients happy – Crunch, inniAccounts and Mazuma among them.

We acknowledge that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for practice success, but through this programme we’re trying to celebrate innovative/effective firms and share insights and ideas across the entire practice spectrum.

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to John Stokdyk
21st Aug 2017 15:55

John my comments are not behind anyone using Xero as I would expect the best practices to use it.

My comment was that all of those listed in small practice category were Xero Platinum practices meaning they must have at least 500 clients on Xero so are neither small or niche unless the definition of both words has changed.

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to John Stokdyk
21st Aug 2017 20:08

Hello John

Thanks for the response.

The question, I ask myself when I see the shortlisted and the winners is what can I learn from them?

There is not enough detail. Understandably the shortlisted and the winners do not want to give too much information away. It means, besides great PR for them (I would love to have that as well) I do not see any valuable learning points from them. That maybe just me.

Would the shortlisted like to invite me to their practice and give me all the details? I am thinking about client satisfaction and small practice category.

On community awards, they are NOT given the same level of prominence as these awards. Community awards are just fun.

Thank you for allowing me to say what I want to say on this forum.

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21st Aug 2017 14:38

@John - what is the criteria to qualify as a 'small practice' as the entrants wouldn't fit my definition of small.

Perhaps there is a 'smaller' category needed?

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to Kent accountant
21st Aug 2017 16:29

I guess this is subsection of the small business definition debate. I've seen a small business defined as having up to 50 employees or £3m turnover in various government papers, and Simon Sweetman mentions this in his blog today.

As John says, food for thought for us. Would anyone want to win 'micro practice of the year'?

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to TomHerbert
21st Aug 2017 19:36

Tom, you're completely missing the point - I would have thought by spending a reasonable amount of time with Sift you would realise that a small accountancy practice is not one with £3m turnover and 50 employees.

That would be a medium/large regional practice.

There are approximately 25,000 accountancy practices in the UK ranging from the p/time to global firms and you have a size category catering for the top 1%?!

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21st Aug 2017 22:53

Hi Tom
This is an Accounts forum for accountants so you need to consider industry specifics not general business stats used by government.

A small practice would be up to £250k to £300k revenue
A medium practice would be up to £1.5m with 2/3 principals
Bigger than that would be large, with probably big 4 a category on their own.

If you class small as up to £3m, 95% of all accountants would be small.

Our comments are not designed to have a go we are just giving our opinions to try and make the PE something to aim towards.

If you notice that none of the PE posts apart form this have any comments on it's because everyone has switched off from it.

The application process is flawed as no evidence has to be provided or is qualified in any way and lends itself to paid content writers, writing applications that push the buttons of what you want to see, so the winners are not necessarily the best practicing accountants but simply the ones who are best at filling applications in or paying someone to do it for them. Anyone can say they have 100% client retention and score perfect on client satisfaction reports as it will never be checked.

Just saying your good is not the same as actually being good.

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22nd Aug 2017 13:02

Great comments which make a lot of sense. Not sure about 3 categories of up to £300k, next bracket £1.5m and the rest above that but certainly agree with the sentiment.

I felt our application was very strong and I can't think of any circumstance where all the other firms would have a stronger success story. I would be staggered if this were the case. The year we have just had will be difficult to replicate again in terms of growth. Not being a Xero firm (yet) may not have pushed the right buttons with the judges but then again, success is not one size fits all.

My main takeaway from reading the original article is that Xero is the new badge of honour overtaking the ICAEW for example. Has made me think twice about the shift of the profession in the future but is not fully intertwined with today's reality.

Categories definitely need looking at. £3m/50 employees can't be regarded as a small practice. I would think 2/3 Partner, 20 employees still ok as a small practice with a cap of approx. £1.2m turnover. I wouldn't have an issue with Micro/Small/Medium/Large/Big 4 as there are clear differentials at each level.

Does the ICAEW or any other body issue any formal guidance on this?

It would also be helpful if my question was answered on whether all the nominees are officially affiliated to an accountancy body and are regulated accordingly. Was this considered in the criteria as having reviewed some of the nominees websites, it does seem to me that some are not linked to any accountancy body and focus more on the presentation side rather than the substance. But do all these fancy websites actually have the tax knowledge and the business advisory capacity/experience?

My previous comment regarding a practice who have a fancy website giving ipads in exchange for referrals provided quite frankly the most shoddy work I have ever come across.

There is no doubt some of these nominated firms are exemplary and reputable and that many firms would be able to take on many learning points if sufficient detail was provided.

On the other hand, I do feel hot air is being championed so a mixed bag.

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