Taking the strategy to heart

In an economic climate when professional firms are doing well if they flatline, Scottish accountancy firm Scott-Moncrieff has set itself a growth target of about 10 per cent a year. Marketing Head Suzanne Chaudhry and Business Development Partner Gareth Magee explain their ambitions to Neasa MacErlean.

Once a month Suzanne Chaudhry leads the board of the three-office accountancy practice in a discussion on the implementation of the firm’s strategy. She was one of the main architects of the 2015-2020 strategy, and is also in the front line for delivering the five-year 50 per cent revenue increase that was written into that document. “We had very modest growth figures over a number of years before that,” explains Gareth Magee. “We decided to aim for 50 per cent and just writing that down has changed behaviour.”

Growth in year one (to April 2016) of the five-year period was 10.6 per cent, bringing turnover to £12.5m. Growth in year two is also keeping the 270-personnel firm on course for its 50 per cent goal. But there is no single development which is responsible for the revenue growth after the implementation of the new strategy. Instead, the firm says that the 19 partners and 250 employees are collaborating better together and sharpening their focus on how to make gains. They point to the way everyone, right across the business took the strategy to heart, the imagination they are using to fulfil it and the success of a plan to introduce more efficient working.

The strategy document itself was created out of the annual staff survey responses and the ongoing client satisfaction procedures as well as the input from the Edinburgh-based firm’s leaders. “We did a lot of consultation before we produced it, and we tested ideas,” says Chaudhry. Before the 2015 launch of the strategy, survey results showed that 50 per cent of employees knew and understood the firm’s strategy. That figure is now 100 per cent. “Internal communications could be seen as a poor relation,” says Magee. “But we put a lot of effort into how the strategy document that we produced for employees looked and felt.” Both say that communication of the document – and its small desktop version – was treated as seriously as a client communications programme would be.

There were fun items in the process – the mugs and post-it notes, for instance – and there were the serious, heartfelt parts, particularly the follow-up reports and updates to employees about how the implementation is going. “We are far more transparent about the progress we are making now,” says Chaudhry – and the firm even won the MPF Award for Best strategy implementation this year.

One of the most important features of the strategy blueprint has been the engaging of personnel in their various sector groups to focus on issues such as the nature of the ‘ideal client’ and the kind of work done for that person or organisation. Sector groups spanning financial services, charities and many other areas all worked hard on these issues. “The ideal client will look very different in one sector group to the ideal client in the next one,” says Magee, a partner specialising in financial services, technology and owner managed businesses. In high-tech, for instance, our client might have high growth expectations, angel investors and plans to expand abroad. “We also asked our sector teams to plan how their marketing budgets and efforts should be spent.”

“It’s also about working the network,” adds Chaudhry. “Scotland is not a huge place. We are engaged in public, private and charity areas – and those sectors interact. It’s about getting in front of them, in front of the right people. And our client research shows that the number one important thing for them is that we understand their sector and their business.” So successful is the strategy that the Scottish firm – located in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness – sets no geographical limits to its aims and has some thriving practices in other parts of the UK. It has been involved, for instance, in three-quarters of the mergers that have taken place between Venture Capital Trusts, a London-centric sector. It was involved in the UK’s first Social Impact Bond, at Peterborough Prison, in the east of England. And Chaudhry says: “The most immediate opportunity for us is in the North of England in the public sector… We are not limiting ourselves to Scotland. We’ll go where the opportunities take us.”

And those opportunities sometimes take Scott-Moncrieff to the US, for instance, as clients expand and trade there. In its thinking about the ‘ideal client’, the firm is assisting its clients to become more efficient by, in some cases, facilitating processes in which they do more of their basic accounting work themselves. This leads to the cutting of costs, also meaning that the firm is brought in to advise on higher value issues. With this approach in mind, it has helped numerous clients to switch to the Xero cloud-based software system, enabling them to work more efficiently with their accountants.

Scott-Moncrieff is doing its best to win what it has identified as ‘high calibre’ clients in pitches and to help its current clients operate at the top level. In 2017, the five-strong marketing team will be doing more to analyse the characteristics of its clients. One element will be the financial relationship it has with them. “It’s important that we look at all aspects of the relationship, including pricing,” says Chaudhry.

While the world worries about reports which suggest that 30 per cent of current work will be carried out by artificial intelligence (AI) in 15 years time, Scott-Moncrieff shows no preoccupations on that score. By helping its clients become more sophisticated in their accounting and business operations, the firm is pulling itself away from the basic level services that AI will take over. And the marketing team is vindicated in taking the broadest possible interpretation of its brief – reaching beyond marketing and BD to work on employee satisfaction issues and efficiency gains for clients as well as on strategy.