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Best Practice: Beever and Struthers

WOULD YOU HAVE rather been a footballer than an accountant as a teenager? There are no doubt many advisers still daydreaming about the chance to score the winning goal at Wembley.

For Phil Roberts, managing partner at Beever and Struthers, the choice between the two professions was a reality.

After sixth form he had the opportunity to sign professional terms with Manchester City – then headed by City’s original dream team creators Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison – or join Beever and Struthers.

“I’d scored 60 goals in 60 games [as a youth], but it was an easy choice to make – the more exciting life of a chartered accountant,” says Roberts.

“I made the right decision, but it wasn’t easy watching my former teammates on telly.”

Ironically, the firm has just moved out of its Wembley office, where it focused on housing association clients, to operate in what may be described as the more exciting location of the City of London. The move is an attempt to pick up on the burgeoning high-tech industry growth around its eastern constituency of Liverpool Street and Moorgate.

While Beever could be described as a ‘traditional’ firm in many respects: a long-standing general practice with three offices (Manchester, Blackburn and London) of modest size (56 in the Accountancy Age Top 50 +50 with £10.4m fee income), Roberts believes that its structure is now quite uncommon, particularly in the north-west of England.

Where Roberts feels the firm is different to many is that it has consistently balanced out being stable and risk averse with leaping to take opportunities.

Examples of this approach include its strong housing association service line, which grew from then trainee and now senior partner Christopher Porritt, 40 years ago, doing such a great job with one client. The firm then built on its credentials to become one of the biggest in that line of work in the country.

The shift into the City of London followed market analysis, and decision-making through its executive team. The move, which saw it merge with The Company Books, was about grasping the nettle. “We paid for that deal out of our own cashflow,” he points out.

Beever knew it had to pick up work on “the other side” of Lancashire – Blackburn – due to the quality of the owner manager client base, but struggled “as many others had before”, says Roberts.

Simply put, “there’s a natural resistance for people not to have Manchester accountants,” he suggests.

So Beever had the task of finding a like-minded firm in Blackburn to tie up with. “We looked long and hard”, says Roberts, before merging with Waterworths. Beever’s greater depth of services were then provided to its new client base.

“Growth will be on the basis of being well thought-out, and strategically important.” International opportunities are also tempting for Beever. Last year it calculated that the practice carried out 41 pieces of international work across 22 different countries.

Creating a structure that allows it to carry out more cross-border services is a priority for 2013.

But it’s not all an easy, steady, ride for the firm.

Beever slipped out of the Accountancy Age Top 50 ranking, and now sits in the upper echelons of the +50 table at 56th. Revenues for the year ending 30 September 2012 were 10% down, to 10.4m.

For a business that prides itself on retaining its strong-growth private business clients alongside a base of recurring public sector fees, what’s gone wrong?

It’s not a case of losing clients, explains Roberts. In fact the business has taken on an average of a new client a [working] day for more than two years. Its fee base is 80% recurring, in contrast to other firms that “ride the wave of transactions”.

But clients are feeling the pinch, and have put off some of the compliance work.

“They’ve delayed getting info back to us,” says Roberts. But he is confident that the firm will see an uplift in the latest financial year, as most of the delays are around tax and audit – work that must be undertaken.

“We’re fine. Our treasury management is fairly cautious, we don’t pay it all out in the good years.”

A regret for Roberts is the struggle that Beever has to accommodate all its younger professionals. The firm has an “avalanche” of people looking to join, “and they don’t want to leave”.

The difficulty isn’t attracting people, but growing at a rate to keep them, he explains.

“That’s a balancing act, you don’t want to grow for growth’s sake. There are half a dozen who I’d have liked to have stayed,” he says wistfully.

Still, a ‘steady as she goes’ attitude, focusing on quality services, and an entrepreneurial spirit has kept Beever in business for more than 110 years.

“A branding firm told us ‘we don’t see you as sexy’. They’re right, but how long does sexy last for?”

 

Beever and Struthers in numbers

Offices: Three (Manchester; Blackburn; and London)

Staff: 180, which includes 22 partners (of whom 13 are equity)

Fee income: 10.4m (y/e 09/12)

Accountancy Age Top 50 +50 ranking: 56

Specialist sectors: Not for profit; SMEs; contractors; professional firms; and pension schemes

Bluffer’s guide: Formed in 1898. Recently set up in the City of London to win some high-tech high-growth clients. Managing partner Phil Roberts turned down pro contract with Manchester City to join the firm. Looking to provide more internationally-focused services.

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