Best Practice: CBW’s Peter Winter

IN the nearly three years since Accountancy Age last spoke with Carter Backer Winter managing partner Peter Winter, there somehow has been both a lot of change and none at all at the firm.

It’s a paradox, and one perfectly exemplified by the firm’s rather sleek and pleasant new office in Aldgate, which houses the firm’s 120 staff a full 150 yards from its previous home.

Completely different, and yet the same.

Similarly, CBW has focused on developing its established offerings. Tax, for example, is now about more than compliance; consultancy has grown significantly and acquisitions are still very much on the agenda, just as they were in 2012 when it had was bedding in financial outsourcing service CBW Dynamic Accounting.

People power
In-keeping with that theme, Winter’s message has remained consistent in the last two years: CBW will grow, both through acquisition and organically, but not for the sake of it. Culture is key.

“It’s about having the right people to deliver the services we want to offer,” Winter explains. “Growth comes from having the right people. In professional services, you can only leverage people, and we’ve assembled over the last few years an additional set of skills through different hires at manager, director and partner level.”

The result has been the receipt of more complex jobs as the firm’s service lines develop. Tax is no longer simply a compliance offering, says Winter, while consultancy has become more prominent. Similarly, corporate recovery and forensic accounting work have both become more established.

In the time since Winter and Accountancy Age last spoke in 2012, his firm has added £2.4m to its fee income, with 20% growth in the last year – taking it to £10.4m, something he’s rightly satisfied with.

Acquisition trail
Part of that can be attributed to acquisitions which have taken place over the past two years, starting with outsourcing business CBW Dynamic, which was added during April 2012, and has bedded in “really well,” Winter says. “It’s growing and we have high hopes for that still”.

More recently, firm Blackstone Franks was added to the portfolio.

“They had a strong tax specialism which we wanted to strengthen,” he explains. “We wanted to sell genuine, value-added tax advice and while we were capable of doing that beforehand, we’ve always been looking to strengthen that and our growth will be fuelled be providing great tax advice.”

And yet, despite the Accountancy Age Top 50 coming well within range after securing 56th place this year, Winter is unmoved.

“We’ve grown to a firm that has all the typical service lines you would expect a modern, professional firm to have,” he says. “We have all those services with people doing them as their focus. We’ve had organic growth, which has made up for attrition at the bottom. But size isn’t important.

“We’re not driven by turnover, we’re driven by our clients and profitability. If that helps us breach the Top 50, then great, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Culture club
Winter is determined his firm continues down its acquisitive path, whether in the coming year or further ahead.

In order for that model to work, staff at incoming entities have to be able to integrate well, and as such, an open, friendly culture is a must.

“We certainly have a policy of paying the right salary and believe in the market rates, but I think it goes beyond that in terms of looking after people and how you develop them. We spend a lot of time, money and effort on that,” Winter explains. “Rather than being a factory where we take on students, creating chartered accountants and having them pop out the other end and leave, no matter what their role is, we allow them to improve themselves, and we’ll invest in their skills.”

Such an attitude might sound straightforward but is not as widely practiced as one might expect, Winter claims.

“We try to have an open culture, and as such we’re open plan, with partners within the teams. You can’t underestimate the value you’ll get listening to someone in your team talking to a client, and you’re able to mentor them,” Winter says.

“I think there’s a culture of separation with having offices, and no matter how much you might say ‘my door is always open’, people might be scared to come in. When you’re sitting among everyone, and you use the same kitchen as everyone, you break down all sorts of barriers and you can have a laugh with everyone.”

CBW in numbers
Number of staff:
120, including 16 partners
One, in Aldgate
Fee income:
Specialist sectors:
Tax consultancy, business consultancy, corporate recovery and insolvency, audit and assurance, forensic and investigation, accounting support, online accounting, financial planning 

Peter Winter CV
Carter Backer Winter
BDO Stoy Hayward 

Related reading