Year Ahead Q&A: NWN Blue Squared’s Nick Lawrence extols audit agility

IN THE SECOND Q&A of our mini-series of articles taking temperature of the profession’s hopes and fears in 2016, Accountancy Age speaks to CEO of NWN Blue Squared Nick Lawrence, whose firm specialises in providing compliance and advisory services to creatives.

Accountancy Age: In what way has the shift to online, cloud and mobile platforms changed the nature of client relationships and how is your firm adapting to disruptive technology trends?

Nick Lawrence: NWN has been embracing technology for some years now. Partly because it would be foolish to ignore it, but largely because it brings genuine benefits to internal working and in enhancing service levels for our clients through ease of access to data and greater transparency. In fact, although I recognise the term, I don’t see technology as being disruptive, it’s the only way to go! Our challenge is working with some legacy systems which did not start as technology or cloud-based platforms and are now racing to keep up. This is where the likes of Xero have an advantage.


How do you view the growing legal service market for accountancy firms, and what is your firm’s approach to undertaking multi-disciplinary work?

There is a difficult balance here. It’s never good to be a jack of all trades, so establishing a strategic partnership with an appropriate third party could offer a positive solution to clients who need both accounting and legal advice. Given that accountancy and law often work hand-in-hand, it makes sense to provide access to both, in the same way that – as music industry specialists – we have added music business management and royalty services to our portfolio.

That said, there’s plenty of evidence in other sectors (particularly financial and insurance services) where, consumers will still choose specialists in each area rather than selecting a one-stop-shop offer, so care is needed in developing an appropriate suite of services.


How will the reorganisation at HMRC – including the closure of 137 offices to be replaced with regional centres – and moves to digitally transform the tax administration affect your firm and clients?

Certainly the digital transformation should deliver genuine benefits to our clients, particularly for those using digital accounting platforms themselves. I say “should” because, given government departments’ past history with technology implementation, there is potential for the digital tax dream to turn into a tech nightmare. However, HMRC’s record with online submissions is generally good so I’m optimistic this will help.

The HMRC is in complete meltdown at the moment and NWN, along with almost the entire UK accountancy profession, is in despair at the inability to communicate with, or obtain a timely response from, tax offices. It’s far too early to know what impact the Regional Centres will have on HMRC efficiency but, if they are run effectively and are fully integrated with the digital systems, we can only hope to see some improvement.


To what extent has regulatory changes to the large-listed and smaller company audit markets changed your firm’s approach to undertaking audit work? 

We have a small, but perfectly formed audit department which has, in reality, benefitted from the changes as some of the larger audit-dependent firms are becoming unsustainable. There are still plenty of reasons for clients to come for us for voluntary audit and, with a small team, we have the agility to be able to meet the demand and provide the business with a positive fee-earning department.


Which areas will be most important to the growth of your practice in 2016?

As an accountancy firm that predominantly focuses on the creative industries, continuing to develop our presence and appropriate services within the sector is vital and that means enhanced marketing and being totally immersed in understanding the specific needs of our clients.

Without doubt, further development of our use of technology – particularly cloud-based – and helping our clients to use it more effectively, will also help with business efficiency and our ability to stimulate and manage growth. We’re definitely excited about 2016!

Nick Lawrence is CEO of NWN Blue Squared, accountants to the creative and music industries.

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