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Scholes Chartered Accountants AccountingWEB Driving growth by maintaining culture and standards
Accounting-Excellence_ Alistair-Veryard

Maintaining culture and standards to drive growth


As a firm grows it’s important that its quality remains uncompromised. Accounting Excellence Award winner Ivan Houston from Scholes Chartered Accountants reveals how maintaining a strong culture and high standards has led to the firm’s successful growth. 

22nd Apr 2024
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Scholes Chartered Accountants (Scholes CA) was founded in Orkney, an archipelago off the north coast of Scotland. Its location placed a geographical limitation on the firm’s expansion and Ivan Houston (above, second left) along with the two other partners, Karen Scholes and Ryan Allan, decided to adopt a new strategy to drive growth. 

“My two fellow partners and I are not people who are happy just to tick along – the interest is in seeing how we can fulfil our potential, providing opportunities for our colleagues to grow and make our jobs more interesting by working with interesting clients,” Houston said. 

In 2017, the firm began combining organic growth with targeted acquisitions of practices in major Scottish cities. They are now headquartered in Kirkwall in Orkney and have successful and growing offices in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Houston said that the firm’s successful growth is down to increasing the focus on supporting its culture, building and supporting the team, and developing client services. “We work hard to make sure that as Scholes CA grows, our culture stays strong and our processes and systems are robust so that our clients are well served and our team is looked after,” he said.

This strategy contributed to Scholes Chartered Accountants picking up the 2023 Accounting Excellence Mid-tier Firm of the Year Award

Don’t dilute your quality 

When growing a firm and taking on new colleagues and clients there is a risk of losing sight of the culture and standards. This is something that Scholes CA is intent on maintaining as it continues with acquisitions. 

“You’ve got to keep the whole culture and what makes your firm good in the first place, you have to make sure that it doesn’t get diluted. When you take on a whole new team and a lot of new clients, it’s hard work to keep the culture,” Houston shared. 

The focus has to constantly be on the clients and colleagues. Houston mentioned that this is core to their firm, it’s what keeps a strong culture and is therefore the key to successful growth. 

He did not shy away from the challenges that the firm has faced and acknowledged that it hadn’t always been easy. “On the tough days, I think maybe I should have just stayed in one place because there have been some pretty tough moments along the way, but I think as a firm, we worked really hard to help our clients on their journey.”

Developing client services 

Ensuring a high standard of client care is one way that Scholes CA continues to grow while also upholding a strong culture. “Our underlying organic growth is pretty good and that happens because we keep working hard to look after our clients so they keep coming back to us,” Houston said. 

He spoke about the ongoing initiatives that have been put in place to enhance their services for clients and client communication was at the forefront. “We prioritise proactive client engagement and satisfaction at every stage of our service delivery,” said Houston.

For new clients, Scholes CA ensures there are check-ins to “provide an early opportunity for interaction and guidance”. They employ periodic client satisfaction surveys to all clients to gather feedback and identify areas for improvement. 

Houston said that they have a strong commitment to responsiveness by having a policy of responding to all client communication within 24 hours, which is adopted by all colleagues. Alongside this, the firm operates a strong network of advisers and experts “which enables us to provide assistance through the network to clients in areas where we might not have expertise”.

“We continually develop our client service capabilities with some strong offerings coming on the market in recent years,” he continued, adding that the onboarding process is something that is currently being looked at to make the process more efficient.

Investing in employees 

As Scholes CA expanded to three locations, Houston emphasised the importance of investing in the team to make sure the quality wasn’t compromised. 

“Although we’re now three locations we’re reinforcing that notion that we’re all one team. There is increasing focus on building up the team, with a strong emphasis on developing and supporting individuals to grow into senior roles as well as better recruitment and training for graduate trainees,” he said. 

The firm has increased the amount of training and continuing professional development (CPD) and has recently employed a training partner “who has put a lot more structure in place around how we support our young people as they’re going through the training process”. 

Similar to their client care approach, Houston mentioned that they also have colleague surveys so they can voice their thoughts and opinions freely. Scholes CA also holds bi-annual strategy updates. He said, “We are very open with our colleagues about our strategy. They need to keep pace and understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.” 

Being process-focused is key 

Focusing on processes is key to the firm. Houston mentioned that the firm is “processed-focused almost to the point of obsession”. Having very clear and efficient processes across everything they do has enabled them to grow at the pace they have. 

“Without systems and processes, we would be all at sea. If you don’t have that, ultimately, you can’t grow because you have no consistency in the way you do things, client service suffers and you end up with unnecessary risk in the business,” he added. 

Scholes CA developed a software program that has become integral to their operations, enabling them to uphold the quality of their firm throughout its growth. 

“We use it for workflow, assignments, clients records and because it’s in the cloud – as we’ve acquired other firms in Aberdeen and Edinburgh – everybody’s able to access that. It’s been able to accommodate the needs of the firm, even as the firm has grown,” shared Houston. 

Continuing growth 

It’s a constant focus for Houston and his team to continue growing through organic growth and acquisitions. 

Houston said, “We will always make sure our culture, systems and processes keep pace. The bottom line is our clients and our colleagues are front of mind at all times, so further growth will always come from serving our clients well and looking after our colleagues.”

He emphasised the importance of being able to keep pace as the firm continues to grow. Scholes CA is actively developing its services, strengthening its team, and investing in technology to uphold both efficiency and its culture.

“We need to keep what’s good about what we are, serve our clients and look after our team,” Houston concluded. 

Could you be the next Mid-tier Firm of the Year winner? Enter the Accounting Excellence Awards for a shot at winning. The awards are open until 14 June. 

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