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Best Practice: haysmacintyre’s Ian Cliffe

DOWNSIZING YOUR OFFICE might strike some as a sign that, maybe, things aren’t going so well. So, what about downsizing a website? Is that a good thing, or bad?

For Top 40 firm haysmacintyre, which has both shrunk its office space and its website, these are definitely good things.

It’s actually beyond ‘good’, as far as managing partner Ian Cliffe is concerned – the moves are about the firm rebranding and restructuring to work more efficiently, smartly; while showing off a more clean and sophisticated image to prospective and current clients.

“We’ve completely rebranded and ‘re-cultured’,” says Cliffe.

The big (small) move

The 27-partner firm has moved all of 500 yards up the road, from Fairfax House onto Red Lion Square in Bloomsbury. But the change is “revolutionary”, claims Cliffe, because it now operates out of 17,000 sq ft as opposed to 20,000 sq ft. More importantly, from two wings of four floors each with partners on one side and staff on the other, it now sits on one floor.

Where partners each had their own room, they now have a ‘pod’ – and it’s all open-plan. “Different people used to be on different floors and never the twain shall meet…now they’re within feet of each other. Client service in delivery and efficiency has improved, we now chat things through…it can only be for the benefit of clients.”

A more efficient use of space means haysmacintyre can actually expand by a further 50 staff, compared to its previous location, if required.

The move strategy was also defined, in part, by a relatively young workforce. The firm brings in 18 grads a year, and 40% of its partners are below 45 years-old. Break-out areas, flexible and wireless working – creating a vibrant atmosphere – are what they want, Cliffe explains. “We’ve most certainly seen an uptick in productivity and morale – in a climate where staff are key and retention is paramount,” he adds.

Where productivity is important for the firm is in leveraging its strong position in key markets: not-for-profit (secondary schools; faith; charities; and professional institutes) and corporate (OMBs and AIM).

Compliance and advisory growth

While the audit threshold continues to rise inexorably, haysmacintyre’s offering to clients still sees the service as ‘bread and butter’. Not-for-profits shift their auditor around more frequently than corporates, and, with the firm’s good name in the sector, it provides opportunity to grow market share. OMBs that move beyond the threshold often require an audit, says Cliffe, where they have external lenders or the owners are preparing an exit.

But the real value comes from advisory services, as can certainly be seen from the latest figures from the UK’s biggest firms. And Cliffe can see a “phenomenal opportunity” in offering more consulting, particularly around outsourcing small business’ finance function.

Whether it’s cutting costs, helping deal with auto-enrolment and RTI, the drive to outsourcing finance is strong, he believes. “We’re (UK) behind the curve on Europe,” Cliffe says, “Dutch firms are doing 50%+ on outsourcing consultancy versus audit. And we’re using Twinfield and Xero, depending on what the client wants.”

Ironically, with smaller firms having to make the decision to ditch their audit licence (currently falling at a rate of a few-hundred a year, according to the accountancy watchdog), there is still market share growth to be made for firms like haysmacintyre on the compliance side as well.

Going global

Business has, for even small businesses, become global. So its membership and part-ownership of the MSI Global alliance is an important part of the firm’s makeup.

Operating in 100 countries with 300 member firms, also including lawyers, Cliffe has seen its use as OMBs look to outsource manufacturing into the emerging economies of India and Brazil.

Member firms have no cross-commission or guarantee for being part of the alliance, and as such making a referral doesn’t engender a fee for the referee. “We see it as building a service for the client rather than as profit-making.”

Keeping it simple seems to be a big part of the firm’s mantra, and something Cliffe espouses. Haysmacintyre operates from the single (new) office, having been burned by past experiences with satellite offices. “The best thing we did was remove them in the Eighties,” he says. “Duplication of cost, cross-sharing, office politics…with one office it’s one firm.”

Logically, its management structure is also conventional, uncluttered. Cliffe is a year into a three-year term as managing partner, and is joined on the management team by two other partners and a non-partner – its former FD – who serves as COO.

While, like many senior partners, he maintains his valued client base, Cliffe doesn’t seem too hand-wringingly torn between the two. The firm isn’t exactly huge, and it has strong divisional heads and a collegiate approach to strategy. While he admits to “probably not spending enough time on management”, he pushes to focus on “high-level stuff”. “It’s never quite like that but that’s what you try to achieve.”

With some firms considering a CEO to focus solely on running the business, is this the way forward for haysmacintyre? Not at its current mass, says Cliffe, “maybe at 40 [partners] – that’s a different issue”.

Cliffe on the new website:
“I personally never thought our website would drive business, but I’ve been proved wrong,” says Cliffe. A “woefully bad” website, sprawling across more than 120 pages, has been chopped down to 18. It has given the firm its best ROI of the year, he believes, as it offer clients direct and clear contact with the firm’s sector specialists. The difficulty was in it highlighting the firm’s overall culture and ethos, while flagging up its different areas of expertise.

Haysmacintyre in numbers
Number of staff: 170; and 27 partners
Offices: One (Red Lion Square, Bloomsbury)
Fee income: £19.8m (y/e 31/03/14)
Specialist sectors: Not-for-profit (40% of the business): charities; secondary schools; faith; professional instititutes. OMBs/AIM clients.
Bluffer’s Guide to haysmacintyre
Yes, the ‘h’ in haysmacintyre is lower case – for branding purposes. It won ‘Mid-Tier Firm of the Year’ in the 2014 British Accountancy Awards.


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