Thorne Widgery is a two office accountancy practice which was originally established over 75 years ago. Being Xero Platinum Partners, they have embraced the technology and use this in their practice to provide their clients with a very proactive and personal service.
We met up with the CEO of the practice, Daniel Crowther, to find out a little bit more about the firm, the innovative services they offer and how they use technology to meet their clients’ needs.
Thank you for taking the time to speak to me Daniel. Can you tell me a little bit about Thorne Widgery and your goals for the future.
Essentially, we have one main aim for our clients – to help and inspire the businesses we work with to achieve their goals. Our goal is to help, support and guide those businesses through the challenges they face and to get them to the place they want to be.
Whilst that is our goal for clients, we also focus on our team internally. We aim to have an inspired, engaged workforce who share our values and beliefs. This is really the core to our business and crucial to delivering the outcomes we want for our clients.
You’re quite an established firm so how easy was it to encourage the adoption of cloud-based systems within the practice?
Despite our historic past, we have always been forward-thinking. In fact, we were probably one of the earliest adopters of cloud accounting technology. We started on this journey some time ago when we were more of a “traditional” accounting firm. However, like any change, it wasn’t always easy to adopt the new technology but we were quite clear on our vision from the outset and the reasons why we were doing it. As a result, we were able to invest the resources and time necessary to meet our goals quickly.
I also think demonstrating our values was a key part of adoption throughout the firm.
You were awarded Practice Pioneer in 2019 – which is an amazing achievement. Tell me some more about this award and the impact winning it had on your firm.
This was a huge honour and something I remain really proud of. The award has given us the opportunity to share our story with a wider audience which is great. We have turned our firm from a traditional regional accountancy practice into one which I believe is helping challenge and change the shape of the profession for the future.
You have a very innovative service called XfE which is a Xero based accounting service specifically designed for educational establishments. Can you tell me some more about XfE?
We work a lot in the academy sector and it became apparent that many school’s existing systems and processes could be improved. Our knowledge of Xero, allied to what we have learned over many years as academy auditors, inspired us to create an intuitive, cloud-based solution for the Education Sector that is ideal for their needs and, because it has Xero at its heart, offers brilliant value for money.
We were able to supplement the core functionality of Xero by developing our own applications through our sister firm “Bridge3”. The applications that integrate with Xero are specific to the Education Sector which enables us to deliver a bespoke solution. The result is that we have an intuitive finance software package that gives the academy or Multi Academy Trust everything it needs to run its business easily and efficiently.
This dynamic approach has allowed us to expand our client base beyond our traditional catchment area and gain greater national recognition for our expertise. We even work with other firms of accountants who want to use our expertise and our software solution and introduce us to their own academy clients.
Some of your team are not what you would consider to be a “typical” employee in an accountancy practice such as Sam who is Head of Xero and XfE, Evan who is the Cloud Integration Specialist and Michael who is a Developer. What do you see as the changes in recruitment in accountancy in the future?
Most people I speak to in the profession seem to find recruitment a challenge and we are no different. However, we are fortunate to have some really great people in our team which is partly because of what we look for. We have worked hard to refine our values and we use them as a team to guide our decision making, drive our behaviour and measure our success.
There is a shift for other qualities required by the ‘future accountant’ such as tech and communication skills. Whilst certain skill sets need to be recruited, I tend to look for people with the right raw materials and values – if we can inspire those people, I truly believe success will follow. We can train the technical and provide the opportunities to progress.
Was there much resistance internally for the firm to branch out and hire team members with these more unusual roles?
Actually, two out of the three people in these roles made the jobs their own. They initially started in accountancy but they became inspired by the tech world so much that we couldn’t ignore what they were good at and the results they could deliver. Whilst it perhaps isn’t the norm, it was an easy decision for us to make and it is something that we continue to encourage others within the team to do.
Michael is your developer so what does his job comprise?
Michael is an integral member of our “Innovation Team” and has already built apps to help improve our offering to the Education Sector, XfE and also to supplement the functionality of Xero Practice Manager. He is very experienced in all thing’s API related and is always working on anything that can save us, or our clients, processing time or deliver them extra value.
There is a vast array of apps to choose from now so how do you keep up to date with the changes in technology? Have you a core app stack that you roll out to all your clients?
We do keep an eye out for those apps that seem to rise to the top of the pile – the “best of breed” if you like. We have an innovations team who are constantly on the lookout for anything “new and shiny” that can either help us or our clients. We have a core set of apps we use and then amend this as things change. It’s an area that constantly evolves and so we must too.
We also have a mindset within the firm to embrace this area – so I should probably name drop Sam, Lizzie, Sarah, Jarrett, Charlotte, Hollie and Harvey who actively embrace this area.
You are specialists in the Education and Agricultural sectors so who is your ideal client and why?
Regarding clients we work with and our ideals, whilst we have some specialisms in areas, it is not the specialism that is most important. We like to work with people who have a similar mindset to us. People with drive and ambition who are looking to achieve something with their business and who value a relationship with us to help them on their journey.
Specifically, regarding the Education Sector, our ideal client is any school, academy, multi-academy trust or college, that is looking for modern, cloud based, financial management software that offers brilliant value for money.
Although it’s a brilliant product Xero is not that well known in the Education Sector, although it is starting to gain traction. As we consider ourselves to be “disruptors” to an established marketplace, we really like dealing with schools that are up for change (obviously not just for change sake, but to achieve a better outcome) and have a forward-looking, forward-thinking Senior Leadership Team.
What would you consider to be the top 3 pain points that accountancy firms are facing at the moment?
One which I think is important is the move to advisory which is getting a lot of press and hysteria. My advice – it’s purely using your skills as an accountant and giving advice and interpretation on what you can see happening. Treat the clients and view their business as if it were your best friends or family members. What would you tell them if you saw their business and figures and wanted to help? Most accountants already do ‘advisory’ but probably don’t appreciate it.
Another issue can be the attracting, recruitment and retention of staff. Having up to date, cutting edge systems can be influential in attracting high-quality people.
Thirdly I would say moving to the cloud if a practice has not already done so. Take advice from others, there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. The profession is very collaborative right now if you need help.
Automation is becoming increasingly important so how do you go about streamlining your processes and automating tasks?
We have spent a lot of time developing this and improving the way we do things – it is something that is continuous and never finished. Tech is the main way we have streamlined certain processes and systems and I think that’s where our big wins have been.
However, firms must do more than just streamline. This isn’t about cutting back on the number of hours to do a job, but how practices employ the time saved to add greater value to a client’s business through advice and support.
What excites you about your business and makes you look forward to coming to work every day?
Inspiring colleagues and clients to do the things they enjoy and want to do.
Accountants are typically always busy and it is easy to allow work to take over. How do you manage to obtain a good work/life balance?
This isn’t always easy and I’m working on improving this! Particularly, I’m not good at shutting off from emails so it’s something I need to get better at!
What are your favourite podcasts and when and where do you listen to them?
My current favourites (it changes!) are the Tony Robbins podcast and Ted Talks Daily and I usually listen to them in the car to and from the office. I find them inspiring and there is always something to learn.
There is a shift towards remote and flexible working so is this something that your firm encourages?
For sure. We have flexible and remote working which I think will only increase due to the flexibility tech now creates. However, I do still think being in the office and collaborating with other professionals has its place – sharing of ideas and communication is hard to replicate and I still believe the best form of meeting is face to face.
What would be your 3 top tips to an accountant thinking about or who has just set up their own cloud based accountancy firm?
My first tip would be decide on what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. The WHY is very important here.
My second tip would be to decide on your ideal client you want to attract and then build your firm with them in mind.
My final tip would be draw up a plan of the above and make sure you take action towards achieving that plan every single week!
What about the future, where do you see yourself in 10 years time and what are your ambitions for Thorne Widgery?
Total world domination! Maybe a step too far, but we are keen on expanding our services and expertise so that we are ultimately recognised as one of the UK’s most innovative accountancy firms.
As for myself, well I hope to be at the helm guiding us along this path.