Posts Tagged ‘auditors’
#Rip Off Britain, a Solution for SMEs
Or Accountants get away with £500+/hour charges; The Emperor’s New Clothes and why Aldi are right!
Nike, Adidas, Boss, Harrods, David Beckham. They are all recognised brand names, across the globe and all we know that we pay a significant premium for that brand. It does not, however, stop us from going out and paying the extra, for being seen owning these brand names, vanity, kudos, style, all combine to make us believe that these are quality must have items. We do this when we also recognise that the trainers we buy probably all come from the same factory in China or wherever or that perfume or aftershave is just water, alcohol with something that makes it smell nice. The brand is the value, when the content is usually pretty much undistinguishable.
Most people recognise this, but it does not stop them paying over the odds for the name.
Things are changing and certainly have changed in both food and many clothes ranges in shops, own brands are becoming more and more popular and most people recognise that many own brand labels of foods are actually made by the well-known brand manufacturers from the same factories and production lines. I have certainly personally walked around two well-known snack food factories to see both main labels and supermarket own labels being made and boxed.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
I would expect everyone knows the Hans Christian Andersen story about the Emperor’s New Clothes, but as a reminder you can always read the outline at Wikipedia:
To a business, there is a serious message here, for all of us. Sometimes there is nothing special, nothing new, nothing powerful or exclusive, nothing that can really add value, but we are expected to believe that there is and we act accordingly, recognising but never saying, “but, the king is in the altogether!”
Aldi are helping us see what the emperor is not wearing
I do uphold and applaud the current advertising campaign for Aldi. Two products, side by side, the main label and their own label, with the same message from the person in the advert. They like both products the same, but the message on the screen shows us that the Aldi own label product is a fraction of the price.
Professional Support is about people and experience and not a brand
What lessons can we learn about accountants/professional advisers and what should SMEs be wary of.
Well, brand values are prevalent in the accountancy profession and the same can be said of accountants and any professional advisers. Well, I believe that sometimes, it can. The brand will out. But, we fail to recognise that service businesses provide people as their product and it is really those people that make the real difference, rather than the name of business itself. In fact, the accountancy world is changing significantly both locally and nationally, with many established older independent firms being sold to brand names, but with many brand names failing in business and failing to develop their own businesses. Conversely, there are other independent firms, like ourselves, being developed from senior and experienced professionals from within the larger brand names.
The reason our business and similar ones are being developed is that we want to work with SME clients and help them achieve. It is what we do and what we enjoy. Any SME business from start-up to larger established businesses want to work with a trusted adviser, someone they can rely on and call upon for help, direction and advice. These are people and relationship issues and have nothing to do with a big corporate brand. We want to build a long lasting business relationship with our clients. At the same time, our clients can rely on the fact that our partners have been through far more business and finance experience than many others.
But we need a “name” because ….
Sometimes businesses say this as they believe that they have to have a “name” and accept the cost consequences for this. With the Emperor’s New Clothes in mind, let us have a look as some of the facts:
- Chartered Accountants are governed by standards set by the ICAEW and all operate within those standards.
- Chartered Accountants have the same qualifications but it is the business experience that distinguishes them.
- All audit work is carried out to the same standards under ICAEW guidance.
- Many firms, like ourselves, also have our work and files checked for quality by third party training companies.
- All work is insured under appropriate professional indemnity cover, in case of error.
- All accountancy, tax, audit and business advisory work is undertaken by individual professionals and it is the experience of those individuals that matters.
- Most accountants in practice have never been part of a business, never worked within a business, dealing with all of the day to day, support, operational or strategic issues and have never been integral to the growth of a business.
- Most independent firms, like ourselves, provide fixed fees for audit, accounts and tax compliance work and other fee structures based on performance/savings obtained for other areas.
- Referral or recommendations from others are great, but all businesses should test their professional support with other providers as well, they may be surprised.
- Most accountants pay fees for referrals so can you be sure that the referrer is not being paid.
- A brief search of big name recent issues finds the following:
- Arthur Andersen were a “big 5” name and went bust because of fraud and their part in the Enron debacle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Andersen
- PwC owned up to JP Morgan Audit mistakes: http://www.accountant.co.uk/news/2011/Aug/pwc-owns-up-to-jp-morgan-audit-mistakes-98971089.html
- Vantis entered administration weeks after suspending its shares: http://www.accountancyage.com/aa/news/1808535/vantis-enters-administration
- KPMG accountancy chief fiddled £545,000 to pay for his new wife’s luxury tastes: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1208975/KPMG-director-stole-500-000-expense-claim-scam-fund-wifes-lavish-lifestyle.html
- BDO faces questions in Healthcare Locums inquiry: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/supportservices/8613022/BDO-faces-questions-in-Healthcare-Locums-inquiry.html
- Mistakes were made at Tenon: http://www.accountancyage.com/aa/news/2073417/mistakes-tenon-raynor
- RSM Tenon warns of loss: http://www.accountancyage.com/aa/news/2140498/raynor-steps-rsm-tenon-warns-loss
- And the list can go on and on and on and on…….
I am not seeking to single out any particular firm, as the same “issues and things” can be found for most, if not all of the top 10 firms or top 20 or so franchises. The key point to raise is that the “names” are not whiter than white and sometimes do not offer a better level of service, they are prone to mistakes, errors and fraud and sometimes, these are major problems, yet we perceive that these firms are cleverer, offer better service, better value and we are willing to pay the cost. Many SME businesses using “names” can expect to pay up to £500 and sometimes more an hour for some directors, let alone partner/owner levels, at local offices for many areas of work, yet it is unclear why a business should accept that and what extra value they are getting for this premium.
How can we establish ourselves and take on the brands
We are building a brand, as you would expect, but by a quirk of fate rather than any pretentious reasons, we have corporate in our name, although we aim to be entrepreneurial in our approach. Being entrepreneurial and independent, however, does not mean that we do not have the same level of corporate skills, systems and experience and, sometimes, more than many of the largest of firms.
Our partners have many years-experience working both within the largest accountancy practices and as finance directors within a variety of business up to listed public companies. We have combined these skills and approaches to really ensure that we can be a valuable and trusted adviser to our SME client base.
Our approach is always to ensure that our client’s goals are achieved but we will always ensure that this is done by first addressing their personal and family position, after that we apply our commercial acumen and experience to really help a business achieve, working with them to set the agenda for what it is they want from a business and a business life.
This is not done by delivering pages of pre-prepared generic notes but is always personal to the client and is achieved with the support and expertise from business professionals with real wide-ranging experience and expertise. We also always aim to do this with a smile as we look to build a great long lasting relationship with our clients. We believe that providing the same level of services expected from large national firms, delivered locally by the same quality and experienced partners is key to what will prove to be our current and future success.
These are some of the ways that we do this:
- Our Audit Service provides quality controlled audit work using up to date systems and managed by experienced auditors, who have been involved in large complex audits covering most business sectors. We use this insight into a business to provide a commercial view of the strengths, weakness qualities and improvements required for a business and its systems.
- Our Statutory Accounts and Tax Compliance Service is carried out by experienced local professional staff with many years-experience working with SME businesses.
- Our Management Information Service works with businesses to create appropriate and tailor made reporting to help manage a business and its growth.
- Our Finance Director Service is controlled and delivered by partners who have been FDs, raising finance; growing businesses; starting businesses and turning businesses around. This ensures that your business can be lead in the same way as many large established business, but at a cost that suits SME businesses.
- Whether looking for finance to start, grow, acquire or eventually to retire or sell, our Corporate Finance Service ensures specialism, knowledge and trust in a business is combined.
- When looking to acquire a business or sell or re-structure a business our Transaction Support Service will really help. Managed by partners with real FD experience, unlike many other firms.
- Our Specialist Personal and Corporate Tax Service provides innovative structures and solutions, together with Probiz Tax, to really mitigate and reduce tax costs.
- Our Business Growth Service joins with our associated partners to help improve sales, whilst managing and reducing costs as well as controlling risks.
- Our Wealth Management Service protects an SME, their owners and their family and builds and protects their future wealth.
Advert over, but the key point is that many, newer independent accountancy firms, as well as ourselves, are being developed in the market today and these are being developed by partners and directors formerly from within the larger businesses, offering the same service from the same experienced senior team, but at a fraction of the cost.
The times they are a changing
The last 3-4 years has seen significant changes to the world of accountants, as well as lawyers, and this looks like it will continue.
Many of the large firms growth has slowed, stopped and gone backwards. National practices have gone bust, which cannot be a great advert to support your credentials as a business adviser, yet these firms have morphed into other competitors, who equally face problems. Some of the largest firms have completed takeovers and/or mergers which, again, have proven to be a disaster, with the businesses being acquired appearing to be works of fiction and the subsequent redundancy programs of 10% of their staffing as a direct result of bad business decisions and policies which amount to keep growing and acquiring come what may.
The loss of traditional independents
Many of the older and established firms have been lost or have been acquired by the national firms and franchises and this is largely because the existing partners could not develop a younger partnership to take on the future of their businesses and have had no choice but seek to sell to others.
As well as other companies that we know, we believe that we are amongst a new breed of commercial and entrepreneurial firms of Chartered Accountants. We also believe that we have the experience and provide the same level of service as the largest firms supporting SMEs, but we are keeping our costs low and we are looking to pass this on to our SME clients. Many of the larger firms serving the SME market have to service high local salaries, significant local office costs, higher national salaries and national office costs and on top of that provide returns to their shareholders. The pressure is on for local offices to earn more and more from their existing SME clients as well as seeking more clients with high recurring fee levels.
We stick by the Aldi business model
Aldi are striving to show consumers that they are offering the same quality of product but at a fraction of the cost and they continue to shout this out, loud and clear. To do this they also have to ensure that their own costs are controlled and the advisers and auditors that they have used are midlands based independents, so it is good enough for them.
We also work with colleagues at Expense Reduction Analysts, http://www.expense-reduction.co.uk/, to help our clients and contacts to source alternative supply chains in order to lower their costs for many direct supplies as well as overheads. They cannot recommend a professional adviser, but would suggest that a business looks at the charges for their audit, accountancy and tax compliance costs regularly as well and seek other firms to provide professional service proposals.
Two key reasons for my own return from Finance Director back to accountancy practice are that I really enjoy working with SME business and the other is about sharing with clients the things that I know now that I did not know when previously in the profession and these are both commercial skills as well as understanding the story of the emperor’s new clothes and trying to ensure that SME businesses do not fall for it.
We, like Aldi, aim to keep saying this, loud and clear, same service, same people providing the service just at a fraction of the cost.
Steven Mugglestone BA FCA,
Finance Director Services
McGregors Corporate, Entrepreneurial Chartered Accountants and Business Advisers
…….Really good for your business
McGregors Corporate are a Member of Probiz Tax, providing Innovative Tax Solutions to Owner Managed Businesses.
T: 0845 519 5659 T: 0121 236 3317
Connect, call, talk, email, contact us, send a messenger pigeon and arrange a discussion, review and free meeting.
Rhetorical question, I know, but having been on various sides of the table for differing sizes of business, I think it is a relevant discussion point.
From observation and discussion and having returned back into the professional accountancy world, it seems that many SMEs can sometimes see an audit as either a necessary evil or just an “insurance policy” to have a name on their accounts in case somebody needs to refer to them for credit or banking facilities (or to sue).
It also appears that many accountants to SMEs treat it pretty much the same. Carry out an audit (all very nicely done and within the relevant standards and guidelines), but in the end they have a brief meeting with the client, arrange the formalities of various letters to sign and then that’s it done for another year.
Having worked as an adviser in a large corporate environment and as a Finance Director for a number of years, I do not believe that it has to be this way. An audit and in particular the resulting memorandum produced, can add real value to a business and provide real support.
The Key Issues Memorandum
A large formal audit environment and large audit firm may look to produce a Key Issues Memorandum document as either a by-product of the audit or to report specifically to the audit company of a large corporate client. This is likely to address the following:
- To summarise and report on the key points from the resulting profit and loss, balance sheet and cash flow of the business
- To address, report and conclude on any material issue that is significant In the year
- To re-iterate the responsibilities of the director and auditors
- To report that the company complies with the relevant legal framework to be able to sign an unqualified audit report
- To report on changes on any other relevant and specific environmental or legal framework affecting the business
- Maybe to explain the tax charge for the year
- To report on any specific areas that the directors have asked the auditors to review
- Maybe to report on controls, but more likely to report control problems
- If really exciting to report on incidents of fraud perhaps
- To report a list of minor or non-material errors found during the course of the audit
The thing is, these reports are very good, but for an SME business and business owner they could be better and even more useful.
The Commercial Finance Directors Key Issue Memorandum
Taking a Finance Directors view, we can take the concept of the key issues memorandum and make it far more commercial and of real use to businesses to be able to drive their business. Consider what a Finance Director would include:
Results for the period
Financial information is a measure, but are we measuring it against. If we sit down with a business first, the basic is what is the plan? Where are you now and where do you want to get to? To get to that position there will be stepping stones along the way. We need to consider the stepping stones and use them to guide and judge the business.
There is basic information that we can use. It does not have to a grand strategic plan; it can be done on one page. Whether it is sales, gross margins, percentages, number of widgets sold, cash generated, unit selling cost or production cost, telephone calls per hour, number of customers coming into a shop, sales per head etc., etc. these Key Performance Indications, KPIs, are vital markers to how a business is performing.
But what do we judge them against. Again, keeping things simple.
- Prepare a 3-5 plan and highlight the KPIs in that plan, use them to judge on-going performance (amend them as you go, amend the plan as well, but do not throw it away, it is the framework of your business)
- Prepare a detailed annual budget, use it to monitor and control the business throughout the year
- Report the key changes from the budget and (more importantly), what is being doing to correct and amend these areas
- Benchmark the results. All FDs will use benchmarking data to judge, review and amend their businesses performance. If your competitors are performing better than you, then you need to understand why and take appropriate actions.
- We use benchmarking data from information from a UK wide database of financial information from accountants (not simply Companies House). We also use an easy “traffic light” method of benchmarking the performance against top, middle and bottom quartiles of similar UK wide business. If you are in the red, then we need to address that area, as 75% of your competitors already have done and are performing better than you. Moving up one quartile can have a significant effect on the performance.
- KPIs are not only used to control and improve the profitability of a business; they should also be used to improve cash. Stock holding, debtor and creditor days and other working capital areas all impact on cash, and as any FD knows, when times get tough cash is king and when times get better, cash is still king.
An auditor will look and report on an internal control in respect of potential fraud, areas where lack of controls may allow the opportunity to steal from the company. However, large audit companies are not whiter than white themselves in this area.
KPMG accountancy chief fiddled £545,000 to pay for his new wife’s £15,000-a-month luxury tastes
A Finance Director for an SME business may look at this differently and look at the area as controlled delegation, rather than internal control.
Controlled delegation is a more commercial approach and seeks to look at an area to free up the time of the entrepreneur/business owner from some of the area that they do not have to get involved with and allow and encourage them to spend more time on the areas that will enhance and grow the business. The controls need to be practical and allow the entrepreneur to work on the business, secure in the knowledge that those areas are appropriately controlled and reportable.
A practical example of how the information contained on an audit file and available for use by an auditor is as follows:
An entrepreneur was the main sales person for his business. He worked hard and was successful in growing sales, but in his opinion he was stuck, the business could not yet pay for another full time sales person, but the owner did not believe that he could increase the sales further in his own. On review of the monthly sales profile it could be seen that there was a consistent two months of good sales and one month of poor sales. On questioning the business owner it was ascertained that the product catalogue was quarterly and one month a quarter the owner would update the catalogue and not book so many appointments. A simple solution was that his assistant was trained to update the catalogue and report it back to the owner, allowing him to sell more. Needless to say sales increased and a future sales person was eventually paid for.
Internal controls are still very important. The report, however, should be able to come up with the practical controls that will allow the business to grow, but will also be able to highlight and recommend areas for improvement where the potential for fraud is high.
Permanent Finance Directors, Contract and Project Finance Directors and Project Managers generally will all consider a formal risk register. Consider what can go wrong, rank them in the probabilities that they happen, rank them in respect of the financial impact to the business.
If it possible to go wrong and it has a significant financial impact, then what is in place to control and mitigate this, procedures, manuals, disaster recovery plans and insurance policies should all be considered.
A risk register that considers these areas, lists and puts in the controls for these areas is not only valuable, it is practically priceless. Generally audit procedures cover these contingent areas and can assist in the development of a practical risk register. Some of the areas, such as HR/IT control will have a practical solution and the controls can be outsourced, but the key is the risk register.
This is practically a no-brainer. Yes the report should report on how the tax charge arises, but we can go further than that.
An audit gives insight to a business and practical tax planning can be applied to this knowledge. For example:
- Tax advantageous pension contributions to key employees/directors
- New product areas, new geographical areas and new markets may benefit from specific tax planning that can significantly mitigate the tax in this area for more than 5 years
- Company cars and benefits can also be managed within a similar arrangement as those dealing with new growing areas
- There are other tax strategies available, which will fit within the profile of the client and business, but the client needs to be aware of these
- Build-up of cash in a business may look good, but for tax this needs to be appropriately addressed. A business should have a strategy for cash extraction. Dividend v bonus is a simpler one, but there are more.
- Future tax changes need to be considered and appropriate strategies put in place. Again the audit and this document is a key tool to consider these areas and start an appropriate plan
The considerations can go further, but this is meant to be a short(ish) blog and capture some of the key points. An audit, a boring waste of money, with no practical use to the business, I do not believe so. SMEs should use an audit company that can call upon these valuable practical solutions and help while ensuring that the audit still results in the appropriate sign off of an audit report.
Without stating the obvious, I think we are one of this audit companies.
Steven Mugglestone BA FCA
West Midlands Area Director
T: 0845 519 5659
T: 0121 236 3317
Connect, call, talk, email, contact us, send a messenger pigeon and arrange a discussion, review and free meeting.