I completed year 12 in 1985, worked itinerantly in South Australia in Roxby Downs and Adelaide before returning to Pt Lincoln to study accounting externally in 1991. I completed the study and commenced a full-time position with a local firm in 1995, became a partner within 3 years and left that firm in 2001 to establish Complete Business and Accounting Services
The firm grew organically in the initial years, with Brad Giles moving from WA and was admitted as a partner in late 2006. During this time, I held outside commercial interests in property development, oyster farming, a freehold hotel, service station, shark cartilage business, and was also heavily invested and distracted in an alternative energy, hydrogen project from 2007 to 2013.
This was not only a distraction but a huge lesson in realizing that our client base was extremely resilient and sticky in terms of client retention. I also learned that is was very difficult to become actively involved in client engagement after an extended absence, especially those long-term clients I had passed my relationship onto other team members. Whilst clients are resilient, they also have long memories.
I had two choices, 1) go and get more clients or 2) conduct an intensive review of my business. I decided to attend to the latter, as what I had found there were too many different methods of processing compliance work. At the time we were a $1.5m firm, stagnant in terms of growth and we were building up with dead wood within our team of 13.2 FTE (full-time equivalent employees).
I took control of our systems, personnel, and management of the business, by simply treating the Accounting Practice as a business. By June 30th, 2017, we were still turning over $1.5m in compliance fees, however, our FTE was now a healthy 5.2.
In 2015 and 2016 I conducted a lengthy review of the financial planning industry to learn what I had been doing wrong in terms of our financial planning referral program. After sacking five separate financial planning firms over 20 years, I looked internally to realize that it was us that was failing, not the model or the referral partners. In April 2016 we founded Fitzpatrick’s Private Wealth SA in Adelaide on a 50/50 basis with an experienced licensed financial planner. For the year ended June 30th, 2018, we will earn a dividend after partners salary of $100k from the business, only two years after establishing it.
Over the last 12-18 months, we have continued to develop our systems, processes, and efficiencies and create a great working culture within our business. We have tried the outsourcing process with arguably the best outsourcing model in Australia for an 18-month period, which primarily didn’t work as we simply did not invest enough time into our offshore team members and concentrated too much on sending just lower end work. We decided to end the outsourcing option and invest in local talent. We found that there is local talent that is not interested in moving to Adelaide to study and an Accounting degree can be completed within 3 years, doing 4 subjects a semester. One of our local stars has just turned 23, now has 4 years’ experience and is considered a senior accountant with equity offers coming their way in the next 12-18 months. We now have 2 full-time students working in our team, 2 full days spent on study, with the other 3 on client work, then reverting to 5 days a week when there are no study commitments.
Our vision is to remain a highly efficient and productive firm, yet progress to a multi-functional business advisory firm. We will be focussed on investing in talent, technology, and innovation that is always evolving and ahead of the curve. In my view, this can only happen if you focus on and treat the firm as a business, not an accounting practice.