Nick Banks started as a trainee accountant at Scrutton Bland 25 years ago. It seems he liked it so much, he’s never left, becoming a partner in the business 15 years ago. He is now a Business Advisory Partner, looking after a portfolio of clients that include owner-managed businesses, family businesses, and farms.
Other than living in a rural county, Nick didn’t grow up with a farming background. But with a history stretching back almost 100 years, Scrutton Bland’s legacy in advising agricultural clients, allowed Nick to develop an interest and understanding of what it takes to run a successful operation.
“The agricultural sector in the UK is made up of some very interesting businesses, many of them diverse. Our clients’ farms vary in size from family farms to large scale operations with professional management, but they all face similar pressures and issues, and our role is to help keep an eye on the future, to ensure the farm gets passed from generation to generation in the most tax-effective way”, Nick says.
A Critical Friend
Nick calls himself ‘a critical friend’ to his clients, where his role is to challenge his clients in a constructive way, while also supporting them in achieving their goals. With so much happening in the UK currently with the potential to impact heavily on the agricultural sector, Nick says it’s an important time for accountants to step up, and ensure farmers are aware of what this impact might be - and how they can be prepared.
“Increasingly as advisors, we’re going to have to challenge farmers on their return on investment. Are farms viable with and without subsidies? How can they maximise returns? Do they need to consider diversification? Is there something else that could be done with the land for better return - forestry, renewables, or alternative use? And then do they have a business plan to see them through until these changes start to provide a return”, Nick explains.
Agility in the cloud
It is not only an interesting time for agriculture, but an interesting time for the accounting profession. Embracing disruption, Scrutton Bland has repositioned their practice, moving their internal mindset from a traditional approach to preparing a set of accounts to a tech-led approach.
“I think you either see it as an opportunity or a threat. We see technology as an opportunity. Because how we traditionally prepare accounts has changed, the role of a business adviser is now so much more than just crunching numbers. We have evolved our client proposition and now focus much more on our advisory role. Our clients are looking to us now for advice on strategy and succession planning, and that spins into more opportunities.”
In fact, two years ago, Nick played a critical role in developing a specific cloud accounting service for the firm offering called sblive. Partnering with Xero, sblive provides a complete digital business solution which is compatible with other products.
“We decided that our role in the cloud space is not just about telling our clients to use a particular accounting tool, but also looking at their business and how other systems could fit in to make them more efficient or productive. We started with Xero, then began to identify other apps that could work with particular industry verticals”.
Providing their clients with more back-office support has been a growth area for the practice, requiring the recruitment of two bookkeepers, as well as the creation of a new role, with a team member committed to investigating apps and developing stacks to best help their clients run their business.
But it’s not just their clients who have benefited from cloud technology. The desire to be as efficient in the cloud space as possible has meant that Scrutton Bland has also fundamentally changed their internal systems to work with technology in the most efficient and productive way.
With agricultural businesses representing a large proportion of their client base, Scrutton Bland were looking for a farming application as part of their sblive service. Nick was impressed by the maturity of Figured, and the way it was helping farmers focus on the financial performance of the farm, not just production.
Nick also recognised that the collaboration that Figured facilitated would prove invaluable to farmers as they increasingly look to their trusted advisors to help navigate their business through these impending periods of change.
“Collaboration is especially important in the farming space. The cloud is the perfect platform to connect farmers with their trusted advisory team, and Figured allows us to share data and intel so we can work together to best support the farmer in their decisions.”
Seeing this value, Nick also joined a small panel of UK accountants who would provide valuable insight as part of Figured’s UK beta development programme. He says it was a process he enjoyed being a part of, and with his contribution, we’ve been able to ensure that Figured has been shaped to best support UK farmers look towards a prosperous future.