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Best Practice: PM+M’s Jane Parry on north-west ambitions

WHEN A JOB is split across two new roles it does beg the question: why does it now take two people when one was fine before?

Accountancy Age didn’t beat around the bush when speaking to new managing partner of Blackburn-based firm PM+M, Jane Parry, about its recent structural changes.

For Parry, the answer was one of doing the right thing for the firm. The departure of former senior partner Stephen Anderson was one that was well-trailed and considered.

On his departure, Jane Parry added the managing partner role to her head of tax responsibilities. David Gorton, head of corporate services, was named senior partner.

“It gives us flexibility, an opportunity to mix and match depending on circumstances. David is great at getting out and about, getting us noticed, coming up with ideas. I’m really good at making things happen, juggling a lot of balls in the air – making the day-to-day stuff happen,” says Parry. “So he and I work very well as a team, we bounce ideas off each other and I make them happen.”

New heads of their service lines are a possibility, but at the moment they are juggling both roles.

“I’ve been getting up a bit earlier in to get things done when it’s quiet,” she admits.

They have also been busy organising the introduction of two new partners into the firm. Helen Clayton joins from Deloitte in Manchester, while another, currently unnamed, partner will join soon after.

New people, new office, new fees

The firm’s strategy is clear: to become the north-west’s best firm of finance professionals. Within that are targets: quantitative and qualitative. Bringing in new talent fits across a couple of key areas for PM+M, including helping to manage succession planning and its aim of running with up to 15 partners. It also wants to add a third office, expanding the reach beyond Lancashire and make it truly north-west. Parry also hopes that it will push fees up from £4m to £6m within five years.

“We want to be the right size: friendly and coherent, for partners to work effectively as a team. We don’t want a situation that we don’t know our partners,” she explains.

Recruiting the right people, and holding onto them, seems a constant pressure on firms. While bringing in grads, or conversely partners, has worked well for PM+M recently, the ‘middle’ has proved more awkward.

At manager level Parry has seen potential recruits receive several job offers within days of coming onto the market. “We have to work really hard to sell the benefits of them coming to PM+M,” she explains.

These are people that must have the right technical skills but also be able to face clients, “we don’t have people sat in darkened rooms”, Parry says wryly. “I won’t say we’re better technically [than other firms], but it’s all about how we do it – our relationships with clients. We need people to get on with clients.”

But in such a market PM+M, along with other firms, don’t have time to ponder over their decisions. “Some of it you’ve got to go with gut feel – but we also use psychometrics to get a snapshot of the person,” she adds.

Fixed fee offering

Parry is excited about the firm’s RunMybusiness offering, which provides a range of accounting, tax, payroll services at a fixed fee, all branded and presented in an ultra-modern fashion. It’s effectively a level up from helping a client file a tax return, to acting as their accounting function. PM+M is also picking up work as a member of the Praxity association, particularly in dealing with subsidiaries of international groups.

The firm has also built up legal expertise, a move enhanced with Clayton’s appointment. Its relationship with law firms was a big reason in its decision to steer clear of taking on the provision of legal services, such as probate, itself.

PM+M was also concerned about the impact its lack of deep knowledge on the topic would have, even if a probate expert was brought into the practice, or trained up. “We decided to stick to what we’re really good at. It’s all very good offering those services, but they need to be well understood – difficult if not an expert in that yourself.”

Local M&As

Parry is seeing lots of local businesses growing, and while there is more M&A activity, access to finance is still an issue for many businesses. “It’s still a challenge, where clients are struggling to make themselves more attractive to banks,” says Parry. “That dovetails in with our services…showing that clients are getting the right advice and producing the right management information.”

Despite the handholding, clients are sprung hard for accountant to show value, she warns. “We need to stay on our toes to make sure we’re competitive and providing value, and not complacent.”

But there are opportunities. Not only are senior staff from bigger firms joining the likes of PM+M, clients are leaving as well. “There’s more value in fee and partner time they will get,” she adds.

The KPMG effect

But a potentially seismic shift in the land of small business clients took place earlier this year, with KPMG stepping down into the landscape, launching its online-focused SME client-winning platform.

While many practitioners have dismissed KPMG outright, Parry is more wary and respectful. “They’re not stupid, and have invested a lot,” she says. But she’s “not frightened”.

Clients want to be able to talk to their adviser about tax, succession planning. A good firm has to be able to do that, alongside compliance and accounting services it provides. “I’m not quite sure whether KPMG have got that in their offering,” Parry suggests.

And the elephant in the room is: “At the point they introduce people to have those conversations, what will that do to their pricing strategy?”

What about PM+M’s pricing strategy? Where the runMyBusiness offering is built around set fees, PM+M takes a more traditional approach to billing. Talk of ‘value justification formulas’ sends Parry cold.

“It is difficult, sometimes, to justify value,” she admits, “but you manage fee expectations and discuss at the right time, then get it all finalised after the work’s done and it’s fresh in people’s minds. As for formulas, I’d be cynical, as a client.

“We much prefer clients to want to work with us because they appreciate our value and enjoy working with us.”

PM+M in numbers:

Offices: 2
Staff: 78, including 12 partners
Fee income: £4m up to April 2015
Specialisms: OMBS; SMEs; legal 
Bluffer’s Guide to PM+M: It’s RunMyBusiness fixed fee business operates from a separate website

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