Analysis: Top 50+50 ‘Ones to Watch’

COMPETITION to get into the Top 50+50 is fierce, and has moved on substantially since its inception in 2009. Back then the 100th position was taken by ReesRussell with a fee income of £0.63m which now would see it at 121st place. 

The popularity of the +50 survey has created a clearer picture of market competition, with 12 new entrants across the top 100 firms, and a further four in the ‘Ones to Watch’ chart.  The Ones To Watch comprises 21 firms, holding the 101st to 121th positions in the chart.

Due to the increase in new entrants many have been pushed out of the Top 100 despite growing their fee income. For example, Ellacott fell to 101 from 95 despite increasing its fee income 11% to £3.4m. Wellden Turnbull also grew 1% but fell to 103 from 94, with a fee income of £3.2m. The firm debuted in the first +50 chart with a ranking of 95 with a fee income of £2.42m back in 2009. 

Indeed, a 1.9% fall in fee income to £3.2m has pushed Begbies Chartered Accountants to 103rd place, despite the firm starting out in the top 100 with a fee income of £1.96m in 2009. Next year however, could see the firm rocket up the chart due to a merger with associate firms Begbies Playfoot, Shooter Greene and Begbies Lipowicz, changing its name from Begbies Chettle Agar in April 2012.  

As Boris Johnson’s accountant, managing partner Robert Maples was thrown into the spotlight when he came to the defence of the London Mayor last year. Former mayor Ken Livingston accused Johnson of paying taxes through a company structure. Maples wrote a letter to the Evening Standard in which he said Johnson “is liable to income tax on the entirety of his income. He is not party to any tax avoidance or deferral schemes nor has any of his income been transferred to other members of his family,” which probably boosted the profile of the firm as well as Maples.  

Lamont Pridmore slipped out of the top 100 to 107 from 97 despite seeing its fee income increasing 11% to £3m. The firm won regional firm of the year at the 2012 British Accountancy Awards, has eight offices across Cumbria and Lancaster and can boast of its managing partner previously being High Sheriff of Cumbria between 2008 and 2009.  

Overall in the Ones to Watch table, 12 firms saw growth with seven highlighting a decline and two which did not supply a figure. Of the 12 that reported growth, Magma Partners and Crunch Accounting were the clear leaders in this, with 23% and 71% respectively.

Some of the biggest losers were SMP Accounting & Tax with a 9.4% decline, although no explanation is given. However, Lambert Chapman put its 1.4% fall down to the firm’s introduction of a new computer system and claimed that growth is running at about 8%.

Knowledge is power

This is the first time that so much data has been provided by the smaller firms and we can now look at information such as male and female partner numbers at the lower end of the table. Ten of the smallest 21 firms have only male partners, four did not answer this question and one was 100% female – Coalesco – which has just one partner.

Operating as a limited liability partnership is the most popular structure for firms in this category. Nine of the firms are an LLP with six operating as a limited company and four partnerships. Two firms did not provide their structure details.

Audit is by far the most popular service line for the smaller firms. Combined they earned £13.5m compared to tax with £6.76m. Consultancy, payroll, corporate finance and insolvency were next in order of revenues.

Some firms appear to bracing themselves for the challenegss of an incresingly difficult small business market, with six of them planning to acquire another firm in 12 months, while 11 had no plans and four did not answer the question.  

Some have a carbon policy in place (six yes, and nine said no) showing a greater emphasis on environmental matters and its repercussions on a firm.  

Although this is the first time that this much information and this many firms have made it onto the Ones to Watch table, it will be good to keep an eye on them as the profession goes through several changes to audit re-tendering, ‘simplified’ accounting and a crackdown on tax avoidance.

To view the full Ones to Watch chart click here.


Related reading