Interview: Rawlinsons' Colin Crowley talks farming and filing

by Beth Abel

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24 Aug 2012

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Colin Crowley

THE IMPORTANCE of online tax filing and banking is growing. But that doesn't mean it's easy to do – for some of our British farmers, there simply aren't enough hours in the day.

Peterborough firm Rawlinsons recently landed a contract with farming organisation the NFU designed to help farmers struggling to abide by the government's mandatory online filing requirements.

Colin Crowley, executive partner at Rawlinsons, talked to Accountancy Age not only about what this contract means for the firm and the farmers involved, but also about the means required to ensure clients are kept in the know.

As with most relationships, communication is key, and the firm drives lots of interaction with this client sector.

"There are farming newsletters that are sent to our agricultural clients, as well as access to the website and the free downloadable Rawlinsons app. We also run seminars to inform farmers of what we are doing for them," explains Crowley.

Looking beyond the typical image of farmers as being traditional or even old-fashioned, they are as enthusiastic as anyone else in using technology to help their business.

"As a practice we're always aware of new clients being ‘electronic savvy'. Anyone under 45 is used to dealing with things electronically and online, and anyone under 25 expects it! We have an ‘ecosign' system for clients, meaning that documents can be signed online as well as clients being able to share documents online. Our free app [Rawlinsons] is available on mobile phones and provides information about the firm," he says.

New technology often means new clients, and it would appear that Rawlinsons is quietly confident about the effect its modern methods of dealing with people might have. "With regards to expanding, we are persuaded that our mobile communication meets demands technology-wise - everybody does everything on their phones and online now and we are embracing this," says Crowley.

He describes the client situation in Peterborough as "good" and says: "Our office covers across the board with clients in manufacturing, lawyers and agriculture."

However, he is quick to assure that the firm is versatile when it comes to the varying industries they work with: "Geographically speaking, we have a link to agriculture but that doesn't mean that is solely what we deal with – we have more than 2,000 clients and 100 or so of them are farming enterprise clients. We're a good regional practice."

Despite extolling the virtues of a broad mix of clients, Crowley implies that its work with farmers, and a "good relationship" with the NFU, might have gone some way to winning the contract.

It is common knowledge that farming is a large industry in the UK, but Crowley thinks more needs to be done to support British farmers: "There are hundreds of small farms that find it difficult to deal with government legislation and need help particularly with the online side of things. If they're dealing with livestock first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening they're not going to want to deal with online tax at midnight."

And if you wondered whether the farming community was interested in receiving advice about online filing, a recent Rawlinsons seminar informing farmers about the new tax service deal was a great success.

"We had about 100 attendees representing 40-plus farms at the seminar. Not everyone that wanted to attend was able to, so detailed notes were taken and released to 300 or so enterprises so they know what was said," concludes Crowley.

Senior partner: Chris Collier

Number of partners: 7

Offices: Peterborough

Areas of specialism: Healthcare, legal profession, agriculture, education, charities, social enterprise

Founded: 1941

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