IT ALL HAPPENED very quickly for Watt Busfield.
The idea of establishing a tax consultancy was first suggested in November last year, and just ten months later Watt Busfield is a fully-fledged firm, providing clients with tax advice from its Fleet Street office, and assisting when HM Revenue & Customs are challenging clients’ tax affairs.
Andrew Watt (pictured) was readying himself for retirement from his post as head of tax investigations at Alvarez & Marsal when his colleague Rebecca Busfield suggested they set up their own practice together.
“Rebecca approached me while I was winding down and asked what I’d think of setting up a practice with the two of us,” Watt explains. “I thought about it, and it suited her domestic circumstances – and I still love doing what I do – so as long as I have the health and energy to do it, why not?”
It didn’t take long for them to make more formal steps, says Watt. Within weeks, Watt Busfield was taking work.
“I felt we were properly up and running when our website went live about a month ago (August 2012), but I had started pretty well as soon as I’d left A&M in November 2011. By December 2011, I was approached by an old accountancy contact to take on a couple of cases.”
The market place conditions were favourable, says Watt, while setting up a practice of their very own suited both his and Busfield’s circumstances.
“The marketplace has fragmented hugely,” he clarifies. “It [tax] is no longer the prerogative of a few big teams; there are lots of one-and-two individuals in practice doing that sort of work. The marketplace is big enough for everyone.”
Having an existing and extensive list of contacts helped the cause hugely, says Watt, who has 25 years on “this [accountancy’s] side of the fence”, after beginning his career with the Revenue before moving on to West End law firm Blyth Dutton. Busfield, on the other hand, has a six-year stint at Ernst & Young to call on along with a spell at Novae Group.
With those contacts at their disposal, Watt and Busfield were able to effectively raise awareness of their enterprise.
“You’ve got to let people know where you are and who you are,” says Watt. “So we’re working on that at the moment.
“We’ve acquired quite a bit of new work from accountants who have known me over the years and have heard I was on the loose and able to offer the same skillsets but at a competitive rate.”
Although there was groundwork to be done, funding for the business came from their own resources. Relatively little expenditure was required, says Watts, citing administrative work, such as insurance, and sorting out a website as the main expenses, while locating a suitable office was relatively straightforward.
Perhaps most important, however, for both Watt and Busfield was maintaining positive relations with previous employers Alvarez & Marsal.
“I’ve already had new referrals from Alvarez & Marsal, so we’ve maintained a good relationship there,” he explains.
With all those elements in place, Watt and Busfield can afford to cast their minds to the future, and are already looking at bringing in junior-level staff, with tentative hopes of another full-time consultant joining in 18 months to two years’ time.
“We’re already at that stage where we might think we need more help,” says Watt. “It’s difficult to say where we’ll be in a year’s time.
“We believe we can attract a fair share of the market. The Revenue are being much smarter in their investigations,” he says, citing the Liechtenstein Disclosure Facility (LDF), the list of 6,000 UK-based HSBC Geneva clients passed to the taxman, and the various campaigns and taskforces taking place.
Given the tax climate, it would appear Watt Busfield’s arrival has been well-timed, and despite the number of small practices, they have stolen a march on their rivals, wasting no time in starting work.
In spite of the business’s embryonic state, Watt Busfield have had to run before it can walk.
“It’s quite exciting, really,” says Watt. “I’m very happy with how things have gone.”
Watt Busfield in numbers
Number of partners: Two
Offices: One, in Fleet Street
Fee income: N/A
Specialist sectors: Tax investigations, tax advice
Richard White, Nicola Westbrooke and Richard Ross all join from KPMG, where they oversaw the real estate tax practice
Sheryl Davis joins the firm's High Wycombe office from Barnes Roffe
The appointments have been made across the VAT, audit and international tax teams
The firm has made six partner appointments, including five promotions, to the audit, corporate finance and private client tax practices