Meet the accountant who has revamped his 140-year-old business
This summer, managing director Mark Fielding decided it was time for a change.
After a slightly awkward conversation with his father, Keith, who was a partner at Simpson Wood in 1970 when the previous blue and white ‘SW’ logo was created, Fielding commissioned a company rebrand, which updated it to a modern green and blue design.
"We’d had the previous SW logo for 50-odd years,” Fielding says. “When I told my dad we were making changes, he said ‘what are you doing that for?’
"I said: ‘Because it’s time to change, dad’, and when he saw it he said: ‘brilliant’”.
Fielding is clearly delighted with the company’s rebranding from Huddersfield-based marketing agency Paladin, but he admits he took a bit of persuading.
"I didn’t get branding at first, I wasn’t sure whether we needed to do it but once I saw the proposed design, I thought: ‘we absolutely need to do it’,” he says. “The thing I’ve learned in the last five or six years is that you can’t stand still. You always have to be developing and moving forward.”
Simpson Wood typically helps family businesses, which have turnovers ranging from £500,000 to £40m, with general accounts, auditing and taxation. It has around 2,000 clients on its books.
It also has a financial services division, which looks at the whole wealth of the business, and it’s this side of the business that Fielding believes is key to the company’s growth.
"When we’re working at our best, it’s not just doing accounts, it’s understanding the owner’s bigger picture in life, their work-life balance, and perhaps when they want to retire and how they’re going to have the sort of retirement they want,” he says.
He adds: "I believe that every firm of chartered accountants should have a financial services business. It’s so important in adding value and giving clients what they want.”
The company, which has had a financial services business for 20 years, started changing when Fielding became managing director in 2014.
At that point, turnover was £1.6m, of which financial services was £200,000.
Eight years later, the company now has a £3.9m turnover, with financial services accounting for half of the business.
Last year, it expanded out of its Huddersfield heartland – where it has spent over 100 years in the same office - to open a satellite office on Park Row in Leeds. Together the two sites employ 60 people.
"We’ve no desire to become the next KPMG but I do believe we can do a great job for people,” says Fielding.
The 52-year-old joined the company at the age of 22, shortly after his father retired from the firm and now Fielding’s son works in Simpson Wood’s financial services department.
"If I had my time again, I’d be a financial adviser,” he says. “I think a financial adviser makes more difference to people’s lives than an accountant.
The very obvious main challenge for many of Fielding’s clients at the moment is the energy crisis. “Some of our clients are in manufacturing,” he says. “One of the comments I got a few weeks ago was that this crisis we’re in now is far worse than Covid. With Covid there was help for businesses with furlough and then the vaccines.
"At this point in time, nobody knows when this energy crisis is changing and if you’re a manufacturer then how are you going to keep going? It’s not disastrous by any means but the uncertainty is the worst thing.”
However, economic challenges are good for accountants. "When the markets are difficult, that’s when there’s an opportunity and you need to do more at that time for clients,” says Fielding.
He adds: “There’s also a big shake-up in the accountancy and audit markets with bigger firms putting their prices up. We’re starting to see a trickle-down effect from that and we’re picking up new and bigger clients.”
Financial freedom is what Simpson Wood says it works towards with its clients. “If you’re going to have financial freedom, you need to start thinking about it when you’re in your forties, not when you’re in your sixties and close to retirement,” Fielding says. “You’ve got to give yourself 20 years to plan that financial freedom and you need someone helping you to do it.”
He adds: “We all know we’re going to have to take care of ourselves in the future. The state pension is not going to allow you to live a life that you think is wonderful.
"The cost of living crisis is a blip and there will be a recovery from it. It’s about making sure you’re managing your money in the best way now and spreading the risk so that when the recovery comes you’re in the best position you can be.”
Looking ahead, Fielding says he’s open to the idea of opening more satellite offices in the north of England to push the financial services division. “The new offices would come from a financial services point of view. We’ve started with Leeds because that’s the most logical place to be,” he says.
However, there are no plans for further acquisitions. Four years ago, the firm merged with Bamforth & Co of Slaithwaite, which came about because Fielding went to school with one of the directors. “That was about succession planning for them but we’ve no plans to actively look to buy anybody out,” says Fielding. “We think we can grow ourselves. Why pay somebody to buy clients from them when we can just be impressive, do a good job and pick up work?"
But it’s not just about doing the work and taking the money, Fielding insists, it’s about inspiring clients. “We’re not just accounts and financial advisers,” he says. “If you enjoy the people you’re working with, you’re more likely to inspire and help them.”