Q&A: Gravita’s CEO on the challenger firm’s tech driven strategy

Q&A: Gravita's CEO on the challenger firm's tech driven strategy

Q&A: Gravita’s CEO on the challenger firm’s tech driven strategy

When I asked ChatGPT to show me a picture of a typical accountant, the output was not surprising – sat at a desk covered in paper and a calculator, was a white man with brown hair and glasses, dressed in a suite and tie.

I asked ChatGPT why they had depicted the accountant in this way:

The UK accounting sector is experiencing what some would deem an image problem , exacerbated by a talent shortage and confusion from clients about what they should now expect from their firms. Caroline Plumb, CEO of challenger accounting firm Gravita, could not be more different to ChatGPT’s accountant which is why she is such a great fit for the firm.

The highest ranked new entrant in Accountancy Age’s 50+50 for 2023, Gravita is not only challenging traditional business practices but also setting new standards in client engagement and operational efficiency. The firm recorded fee income £27 million after only entering the market in November 2022, after it was founded by European mid-market tech investor Tenzing.

Under Plumb’s leadership, Gravita is not merely adapting to industry norms but redefining them, creating a model that integrates cutting-edge technology with client-centric services.

“One of the things that we’re really focused on being is one firm with one agenda,” Plumb states, emphasising the unified vision driving the company’s innovative approach. This strategic intent is not only about enhancing operational efficiency but also about fundamentally improving how accounting services are delivered to SMEs.

The focus on SMEs

Gravita has deliberately chosen to concentrate on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), a sector Plumb describes as not just the backbone of the economy but also the most dynamic segment for impactful business practices.

“They are where most of the economic growth in the country comes from; they make a real difference to people’s lives, communities,” she says.  This commitment to SMEs is driven by the belief that they are often overlooked by larger firms, presenting Gravita with the opportunity to offer uniquely tailored services.

Plumb further discusses the diversity within the SME category and the nuanced approach required.

“People think of small and medium-sized businesses as a homogenous group… but their needs are so different,” she says, highlighting the challenges and opportunities in catering to this diversity, from micro businesses to companies on the cusp of significant expansion.

This strategic focus allows Gravita’s team to engage deeply with business owners, offering them personalized and effective solutions that larger firms may not provide.

“We’re passionate about it as a segment of the market to serve, and I think it’s just the most interesting as well in that the team here… tends to be able to have more impact earlier on in their careers,” Plumb says.

By investing in SMEs, Gravita not only supports the growth of these businesses but also fosters a stimulating work environment for its employees, where they can see the tangible effects of their work quickly.

Integrating technology services

Gravita’s strategic adoption of technology reshapes how services are delivered to SMEs, enhancing both client experience and operational effectiveness. Plumb outlines the firm’s technology strategy as multi-layered, aimed at covering all aspects of their operations.

“We think of our strategy as four layers,” she details, “starting with an infrastructure layer for core stability, followed by horizontal layers like practice management and billing, then vertical stacks for specific client services, and finally an interaction layer that enhances client engagement.”

This comprehensive approach allows Gravita to be at the forefront of technological integration in the accounting industry. For instance, Plumb mentions the adoption of cutting-edge software such as Data Snipper and Inflow to streamline and improve the accuracy of auditing and tax services.

“We’re starting to choose vendors who we know themselves are future-proofed from a technology perspective,” she asserts, indicating a focus on sustainable technology partnerships.

Plumb also emphasises the importance of technology in meeting contemporary consumer expectations for immediacy and accessibility of services.

Drawing an analogy with consumer experiences in other sectors, she explains, “If you had to go to your bank today and you could only walk in nine to five or only see your finances on paper… you would feel that was a really antiquated experience.” Gravita aims to eliminate such outdated practices in accounting through technology, ensuring services are as immediate and accessible as those in banking or retail.

Through these initiatives, Gravita not only enhances its service offerings but also positions itself as a leader in the technological evolution of the accounting industry, promising more efficient, responsive, and client-focused services.

Challenging traditional practices

Gravita is actively challenging the norms of the accounting industry by emphasising innovation and client-centric strategies.

Plumb articulates her vision for transforming traditional accounting practices to be more responsive and aligned with modern business environments.

“There’s a real expectation in consumers that there’s a kind of immediacy of service,” she states, highlighting the need for accounting services to mirror the efficiency and user experience found in other sectors, such as retail and banking.

Gravita’s approach involves not only adopting new technologies but also rethinking the entire client interaction model. “We’ve been focusing on how we can use technology to improve the interaction and engagement with clients,” Plumb explains. This includes everything from the way clients access their financial data to how they interact with their accountants on a daily basis.

Moreover, Plumb stresses the importance of viewing each client engagement as an opportunity to innovate and add value, rather than merely executing standard procedures.

“We’re trying to create something that’s modern… Gravita’s name is built around the idea of lifting off frontiers,” she elaborates, indicating that the firm seeks to pioneer new methods and technologies that better serve their clients’ evolving needs.

This proactive stance extends to Gravita’s internal culture as well, where a spirit of questioning and continuous improvement is encouraged. Plumb mentions, “It helps having someone who’s not an accountant because I get to ask lots of questions like ‘Why do we do it like this?’ and ‘How could we do it differently?'”

This openness to reevaluation ensures that Gravita remains agile and innovative, ready to adapt to changes and challenges in the accounting landscape.

Leveraging AI (tentatively!)

Gravita is only at the start of their AI journey, having recently acquired a number of co-pilot liscences to test across their departments. While Plumb had opted for a more informal approach – asking for volunteers to test throughout the course of a few weeks – a more formal feedback channel is being set up with a firm committment to use the tool a certain number of times within the pilot period.

“We’re looking for volunteers to spend 20 hours a month using them for the next three months, and we don’t mind what you do with it because it’s gonna be an input test,” she explains. This initiative reflects her belief in hands-on experimentation and practical application as a way to harness technology effectively.

The firm’s approach to AI is not just about enhancing efficiency but also about embedding the technology deeply into the fabric of their service delivery. Plumb is particularly interested in how AI can transform traditional processes, such as audit and financial analysis, to make them more efficient and accurate. “We think it’s going to save huge amount of time in some areas following testing,” she states, highlighting the expected impact on operational efficiencies.

Moreover, Gravita is leveraging AI for more than just internal processes; they are also looking at how it can improve client interactions. Plumb discussed using AI to automate responses to common inquiries, which could significantly enhance the client service experience. “We’ve picked people across the whole business, across all service lines and all functions to participate in the pilot. We’ll let you know in three months how it goes,” she says.

Plumb also highlighted the firm’s focus on ensuring their workforce is equipped to leverage AI effectively. Training initiatives have been implemented to enhance staff competence in utilising these new technologies, ensuring that they are not only users but also interpreters of AI-generated insights. “Training our team to work with AI is essential for maximizing its benefits,” Plumb states.

Talent management

Plumb prioritises fostering a vibrant and inclusive workplace culture that attracts and retains top talent. She has implemented several initiatives aimed at enhancing employee satisfaction and engagement.

“One of the first things that I did joining as CEO was change our maternity and paternity family-friendly policies,” Plumb states, underscoring her commitment to supporting employees through significant life changes. Understanding the importance of language in shaping corporate culture, Plumb has also led efforts to revise the language used in the firm’s internal policy documents. These changes were aimed at ensuring all communications reflect the diversity of the workforce and promote a sense of inclusivity.

Plumb’s holistic approach to talent management involves nurturing and developing talent at all levels within the organisation. She emphasises the importance of creating a supportive environment where employees can thrive and have an impactful career. This is facilitated by a comprehensive benefits program, including flexible working policies and a ‘fair flex pot’ that allows employees to customise benefits to their specific needs.

“We’re just launching a new benefits portal and reward program… the two main central pieces of that are care and fair,” Plumb explains. This program reflects her strategy to make every team member feel valued and supported, enhancing their commitment and productivity.

Moreover, Plumb champions a culture of open communication and collaboration, which is essential for fostering innovation and adaptation. “It’s about everybody understanding what is the alignment between teams,” she elaborates, highlighting the importance of integration and shared goals. This approach encourages feedback and ideas from all employees, promoting a sense of ownership and inclusion.

“We try to build a brand that is inclusive and diverse,” Plumb notes.

She is also a fierce advocate for supporting the development of women within the accounting profession, which historically has been male dominated. Since joining the firm, Plumb has been a huge advocate of a female leadership cohort called ‘The Sparkling Ladies’ – a wine-orientated social group aimed at allowing women within the firm to network and discuss their development. Their next meeting is rioja themed.

Plumb is also a fan of Nova – a corporate leadership group for women in finance in the UK which was established by former Milk & More CFO Billie O’Connor.

To boldly go

Gravita is carving a niche in the accounting industry by aligning technology and client needs with innovative business practices. By focusing on SMEs and leveraging advanced technology, Gravita is not just participating in the accounting market but actively shaping its future. Plumb’s vision extends beyond merely adapting to trends; it involves setting new standards that challenge the traditional confines of accounting services.

Gravita’s commitment to technology and client-centric strategies exemplifies a significant shift towards a more interactive and responsive model in the accounting sector.

“We want to build something that is in keeping with what we wanted to build as a brand,” Plumb asserts, emphasising the intention to integrate modern business values and technological advancements into every aspect of their service delivery.

As Gravita continues to innovate and expand its technological capabilities, it stands as a beacon for what the future of accounting can look like—a future where efficiency, transparency, and client engagement are not just goals, but foundational elements of the business model.

Plumb’s leadership and Gravita’s initiatives demonstrate that with the right mix of vision, technology, and client focus, even the most traditional industries can undergo transformative change.

 

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