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Best Practice: BKL’s Jeff Hartstone and Myfanwy Neville

IT’S IMPORTANT for firms to challenge themselves periodically.

Reconsidering branding and targeting clients more selectively help stave off staleness, keeping things fresh and focused for firms that might otherwise predominantly rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and reputation.

For Finchley-based Berg Kaprow Lewis, after riding out the recession focusing on clients, not taking risks and looking after cashflow, it was high time to take some brave, ambitious steps and find an image to go with it.

As traditional as the firm is, it’s no stranger to using the power of the internet to enhance its brand, as it did last year with the release of ‘Doing Taxes to Skrillex‘ on YouTube. The video features several members of staff frantically completing tax returns to the music of dance music sensation Skrillex’s anthem ‘Bangarang’.

Unusual indeed, but the video was a hit and has garnered more than 46,000 views at the time of writing. Although not necessarily a precursor for an entirely new direction, it was perhaps a hint at a more streetwise element for the firm.

As such, it will now be known simply as BKL, accompanied by the strapline “Delivering. Challenging. Thinking.”.

Changes

“We’re still what we’ve always been, but we’re modernised and up-to-date,” BKL partner Myfanwy Neville, who led the rebranding process, told Accountancy Age. “We wanted it to say to existing clients: we haven’t changed overnight into a firm you don’t recognise, but also to reinforce their view of us as a growing and dynamic firm of bright, capable and enthusiastic people.”

The abbreviated name has already been used in the firm’s online URL, e-mail addresses and divisions, and as such it is not seen as a significant departure from the existing branding.

“We wanted it to reach prospective recruits to BKL – we are always looking to bring more like-minded people on the bus – never more so than now, with mandates out hiring from partner to junior level,” Neville said.

“The five years to 2012 coincided with the recession,” said managing partner Jeff Hartstone, who took the post in that year. “The strategy employed at that time was one of not taking risks, making sure cashflow was good and looking after our clients, and as such we didn’t really invest in the practice. We were starting at a new birth as not much had happened for five years.”

The updated brand will be launched towards the end of the year, with no firm date set as yet.

BKL has enjoyed respectable growth in recent years, too, with 10% growth taking fee income to £8.8m in this year’s Top 50+50 Survey.

Alongside the branding move, a marketing drive including a growth plan and change in social media use have been brought in.

The social network

A cursory glance at BKL’s Twitter account (@bergkaprowlewis) will reveal a sharp, tongue-in-cheek approach to discussing the accounting issues of the day, both on a serious level – advice on handling tax investigations, for example – and wry observations that the killer on last week’s CSI was an accountant. “Cue forensic accountancy joke,” BKL’s Twitter writer quipped.

“Our social media has come on leaps and bounds. We wanted the personality of the practice to come across in what we do,” Neville explains. “We’ve been really fortunate in the past that a lot of our work has come without a huge marketing back office. We’ve kept growing on the back of people saying we’d done a good job. We want to grow, so we’ve needed to beef up the marketing drive, almost from a standing start.”

Crucially, all these changes are being made by BKL’s own people, rather than by excitable brand consultants or PR firms unfamiliar with the firm’s history.

Hartstone’s route into the profession was rather different to that of his peers. Instead of taking an audit role at one of the big firms, he chose to qualify with a small firm called Gerald Hyam, before spending two years at “mini conglomerate” Curtis White Holdings before returning to accountancy at the firm that would become BKL in 1986. Neville, meanwhile, has been with BKL since 2001, rising through the ranks to the partner role she now holds.

Familiarity

It’s that familiarity and entrepreneurial spirit, Hartstone says, that has allowed a balance to be struck between keeping BKL’s identity and updating it.

“I was unusual even as a trainee because I’d had four years’ fairly high-level and intense business experience,” says Hartstone. “The culture and vision here is what makes us different rather than our structure.

“Internally, our vision is sustainability, a practice that is going to be a growing and profitable practice in 20 years, and that means investing in the future,” he explains.

“At some practices that can be difficult to balance, between what the older and shortly-to-be-retiring partners want and what the younger partners want.”

BKL’s structure, though, is not without its curiosities – not least the appointment in February of former Mazars senior partner David Evans as non-executive chairman. He now spends about two days each week in the office – something Hartstone says is “pretty executive” for a non-executive – and essentially sees him take on half the role of managing partner.

That, in turn, saves Hartstone from spreading himself too thinly between client work and his managing partner responsibilities.

“I became managing partner in April 2012, and prior to that my predecessor had been managing partner for 15 years. When I became managing partner and started to involve Myfanwy and others in the management of the practice, we were starting again,” he says.

And so, after the sluggishness induced by the recession, it was time to grow and attract and retain talent, says Hartstone.

“If there’s growth, there are opportunities for people without people dying, retiring or leaving,” he says.

“It’s fundamentally based around attracting and retaining good people. We’d like to broaden the range of services we offer and deepen the quality of the services we’re already comfortable in and good at. We’re already doing that.”

BKL in numbers
Number of offices:
One, in Finchley
Staff: 13 partners, 110 staff including partners
Fee income: £8.8m
Service lines: Tax, audit, accounts preparation, assurance, consultancy, corporate finance, HR, wealth management, outsourcing, litigation support
Specialisms: Property, financial services

Jeff Hartstone CV
1986 – present – with BKL and predecessor firm – managing partner since April 2012
1984-86 – Curtis White Holdings – FC for small private mini-conglomerate
1981-84 – Gerald Hyam and Co – trained and qualified with 5 partner firm, no longer exists
1978-81 – Associate with Boston Consulting Group
1975-78 – Cambridge University, Economics degree

Myfanwy Neville CV
2001-present BKL, as audit senior, insolvency caseworker, audit manager and partner
 

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