Several of the entrants in the large firm category of the 2017 Practice Excellence Awards reported recent mergers.
In the quest for growth regional accountancy firms are no longer shy about buying in expertise or geographical reach if it supports their underlying strategy. What was not apparent from all the entries, however, was a sense of what drove their acquisition and what the new entity brought into the larger portfolio.
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Merger activity also prompted brand updates at a couple of the nominees, which pointed towards a new, minimal approach to website design and functionality as firms sought to simplify interactions with their millennial clients.
At this level, employee engagement is a vital ingredient in sustaining client satisfaction and future growth. Possibly as a side effect of the merger trend, entrants to this category put a lot of emphasis on consistent appraisal and development frameworks to ensure their people knew what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.
Here are the four large firms that made it through to this year’s shortlist:
Bishop Fleming is a regional firm operating from Worcester in the West Midlands south to Bristol, Bath, Exeter, Plymouth and beyond. Supporting its claim to be one of the fastest growing accountants in the UK, Bishop Fleming boasts a record of consistent double-digit growth and added more than 1,900 new clients in the past year.
Bishop Fleming’s growth has been fuelled by focusing on niche markets, particularly the academies sector, where it claims to be the country’s largest specialist provider of professional services. Elsewhere, it enhanced its online services for clients and secured more than £66m in research & development tax credits for clients during the year.
Mercer & Hole
Mercer & Hole is a top 50 accountancy firm, specialising in private client and financial planning work. During the past year, it merged with another firm to expand its services and geographical reach into the South East.
Partner numbers rose from 16 to 20, and led the firm into the not-for-profit sector, including schools and academies. The fruits of this expansion are evident in a new Corporate Advisory Services line combining business tax, finance and restructuring. An outsourcing service has also been added to rationalise book-keeping and management accounts for clients. In addition to these new sources of income, Mercer & Hole maintained double-digit growth in its core services areas.
A specialist freelance/contractor practice operating nationwide from Blackpool HQ, Nixon Williams sets up new clients with a free limited company with bank accounts and tax registrations included.
It then supports them with a choice of two “Vantage” services that include compliance requirements as well as unlimited and direct access to a business advisor. Vantage includes a portal that lets clients view their accounts, create client invoices and track expenses online. In October 2016, the firm introduced a secondary package of “partnership” products such as business insurance, free business banking and contractor mortgages based on clients’ full contract earnings.
Whitley Stimson has grown in recent years through a series of strategic mergers to create a network of offices from Banbury, Oxfordshire in the north to High Wycombe, Bucks in the south. As part of this expansion programme, the firm invested in its underlying infrastructure and overhauled its procedures to improve efficiency and boost the recoverable time spent on client affairs.
Whitley Stimpson has also invested in specialists who took the firm into new sectors including education and travel companies. For education clients it operates a sister company offering school improvement services. On the travel side, it runs a specialist service for companies operating under the trade body ATOL’s money-back assurance scheme. It is also expanding into trust and estates work.
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