In September, Accountancy Age proudly launched the inaugural edition of the Mid-Tier Power Index (MTPI): a brand new ranking designed to highlight excellence in the accounting industry’s mid-market.
The MTPI seeks to go beyond typical, financial metrics. While Profitability & Growth were taken into account as one of the four categories, the entrants were also assessed on Strategic Planning, Professional Excellence, and People & Community.
Securing 4th place in the ranking was North London-based Grunberg & Co. The firm excelled across all four Index categories, despite just narrowly making it into our 50+50 – the single biggest swing between the two rankings for any firm.
During a conversation with Accountancy Age, managing partner Robert Bean outlines how an increased emphasis on soft skills and the emergence of new service lines have facilitated growth for the firm.
Professional Excellence – ‘Accountants are reactive rather than proactive’
RB: It’s difficult to differentiate yourself from other accountants, so we’ve had to look at how we can be slightly different and meet the needs of both our clients and staff. Staff are the most important thing in delivering professional excellence.
We have quite a lot of people that have been with us for a long time. So, with that, we’ve decided over the last few years to invest significantly in soft skills. That’s allowing our team to better support our clients, understand how to take initiative, communicate, and become leaders, rather than just focusing on the technical stuff.
And then there’s also the services we provide. Over the years we’ve invested in technologies, such as cloud accounting and a wide range of integrated apps, which help us look at our clients’ businesses in real-time rather than relying on data from the past. This means we’re able to react immediately if we see something that’s not where it should be, as well as being more proactive rather than reactive.
Historically, I think accountants are reactive rather than proactive. So, we’ve tried to do that little bit more than other firms. For instance, when we saw that the world was changing and MTD was approaching, we quickly transferred the majority of our clients to Xero.
That was really important – it gave us and our clients real-time information and deeper insights into their KPIs. We’re now Xero experts thanks to our speedy and early adoption.
People & Community – ‘Start at the bottom’ with talent development
RB: Again, a lot of our people have been with us for many years, and we also take on a lot of trainees. They start with no knowledge and we build them up. We’ve even got a partner within the firm who joined us as a trainee.
And likewise, many of the people who joined us through things like apprenticeships are now senior managers and associate directors within our firm. So, we’re obviously offering something that our people like.
Staff are obviously the most important asset we have, and so we listen to them. So, for example, the benefits we offer are tailored based on what the team requested, and likewise, with the new offices we moved into a few years back – we compiled a focus group and took what they said on board.
As you’ve probably heard from many others, recruiting staff has become really difficult in the sector because there’s a lack of suitable candidates out there. So, our view is, let’s start at the bottom. Bring fresh people in and train them up in our mould and allow them to move up the ladder.
As part of this approach, we came to the conclusion a few years before COVID that while technical skills are great, it’s critical that our team can manage their time, communicate with clients properly, draft an email, things like that. I’ve been in the industry in the while, and just writing something down now is unusual. So, writing a letter, for example, is a skill that people don’t necessarily have anymore, and that kind of thing can be critical when it comes to dealing with and retaining clients.
Strategic planning – Becoming ‘crypto experts’
RB: The main thing has been the rollout of our new services. The big development we’re launching now is the crypto tax, accounting and advisory service, which we’ve branded as Grunberg & Co Version 3.0. Version 1.0 being our traditional accounting firm, and 2.0 being our cloud and Making Tax Digital side. As you can see, we’ve evolved ourselves into becoming crypto experts and invested time to understand how that works from a tax and accounting perspective.
Most firms have the odd client that dabbles in crypto, and so we just had a look at the market and realised that not many firms are offering a complete and rounded service.
So, we just thought, why don’t we become experts in that area? And it’s something that has allowed us to differentiate ourselves from other firms.
Profitability & Growth – Winning Big Four business
RB: Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we’ve managed to increase our fee income by over 11% between the 20/21 and 21/22 financial years, and there’s plans to increase this again by at least 10% this year.
A key area of growth for the practice has been its audit and business advisory services. The firm has, on several occasions, won substantial audit work from the Big Four, and now audits several multi-billion-pound oil and gas companies operating in the UK, Asia and internationally. Some of this growth has also been achieved through the onboarding of new clients, with the firm gaining 350+ new instructions in the last year alone.
However, there has also been a considerable focus on cross-selling services. By offering more to existing clients, they have helped to retain more work and earn a higher fee income. Because of that, we’ve just grown organically. We haven’t bought practices or anything like that – much of our new business has come from recommendations and referrals from existing clients and contacts. Clearly the work we do is appreciated by our clients.
In terms of which areas of the business are going to grow the most, that remains to be seen. The crypto offering is the new part of the business and of course, we hope that explodes, but you don’t know with cryptocurrency being the new big thing out there. But as the world evolves, we will evolve and we’ll be able to provide our clients with the services they need.
What are the firm’s biggest challenges right now?
RB: I think the biggest one for us and every firm out there has to be staff. Everyone’s fighting for the same staff, so you have to differentiate yourselves.
We have high standards here, and we won’t tolerate a lower quality service. But we’ve taken on a handful of trainees in the last month or two, who we can train our way. Hopefully, in the future, that will alleviate that problem of finding high quality talent.
The full rankings for the Accountancy Age Mid-Tier Power Index 2022 can be viewed here.