Back in their school days, business partners Chris Clarke and Richard Brownrigg went to the two best private, rival colleges in South Australia. Although they did not know each other back then, they only experienced good-natured school rivalry when fighting hard on the playing field. Little did they know they would go from rivals on the field to partners behind the desk of one of Adelaide’s most successful and longest-standing independent accounting firms.
Clarke & Brownrigg is a local Adelaide-based Chartered Accounting firm that helps honest, hardworking professionals and business owners maximise the financial fruits of their efforts. They also teach their clients that achieving wealth requires a smart tax strategy and a sustainable approach to business and family dynamics.
For over 25 years, the partners have shared a passion for helping their independent business get ahead while putting together a professional team who have stuck with the company for much of their careers. The secret to their success lies not only in their commitment to their clients but also in finding and keeping talented staff who uphold their unique idea of “good character”.
The Early Days Of Clarke & Brownrigg
Before commencing in partnership with Richard, Chris had been in partnership with John Simpson, practicing as Simpson & Clarke. They specialized in taxation consulting, financial accounting, and auditing, being Registered Company Auditors. Chris and John practiced from Lordello Chambers on East Terrace before moving to the current offices in Kent Town. Three of the staff who commenced with the ‘old’ practice are ongoing with Chris and Richard.
After years of corporate work, Richard gradually realized his passion for tax advisory. First, he traveled extensively, working as a contractor for banking and stock broking companies, where he gained insight into the financial world. Then, as a senior accountant and consultant, Richard eventually started his own firm as a sole practitioner in the mid-1990s. Ultimately, Richard decided he wanted to wean himself off the corporate consulting side of things; at the same time, Chris’s partner was ready to retire.
Coincidentally, Chris happened to be at a social function where he struck up a conversation with Richard’s brother. Richard’s brother told Chris that he should talk to Richard when he heard that Chris was looking for a new partner because Richard was at that moment in his career where he wanted to take the full leap into professional practice. The timing could not have been better. So they talked, and Richard acquired the retiring partner’s share of the business soon after. As a result, they have been helping clients together since 1997.
Benefits Of Two Principals At The Helm
There is a collegiate aspect to the firm, with two principals working alongside the senior accountants to share problems and take a collaborative approach to client service by holding peer reviews with their trusted team. In addition, the entire team is encouraged to assist each other without being penalized for performance because they realize the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As a result, everyone goes home to their families at night without an unmanageable burden on their shoulders, creating a loyal, happy group for consistent, high-quality client service
Nurturing Longevity And Loyalty Amongst Team Members
Chris says that if you add up all the time people have been working with the company, it is upwards of 200 years. However, the soft skills HR professionals focus on today are what Richard and Chris have instinctively done for years. Their flexible, trusting work environment allows staff to balance their work hours and personal time to address things like the kids, pets, and of course, their own health. As a result, they have built a team that willingly makes up any work hours taken up by their personal lives, ensuring they deliver the service their clients deserve. This trust has resulted in significant staff loyalty.
Core Characteristics In Professional Staff
Their team shares similar backgrounds, including experienced people with a passion for competition on and off the field; from a champion equestrian competitors and golfers to netballers and from tennis players to team coaches, their trusted team all share an interest in sports or other high-level endeavors through pure coincidence. The business partners also view resilience and strength as an excellent marker of the staff they employ.
The senior team are effective first-class client communicators with proven knowledge of tax accounting. Their ability to autonomously get on with their clients and manage the relationship without Richard and Chris having to interfere, except for high-level review, simplifies everything for both the partners and their clients.
Reducing Top Talent Turnover
Chris and Richard believe that keeping top talent boils down to dollars and sense. For example, if a firm experiences high staff turnover because employees find they’d be paid more elsewhere, you have to invest time in replacing them, which costs more in agent fees, client service dropping because relationships are not formed, and disruption to the business because you have to train new team members, etc. However, it is a very costly and time-consuming exercise that is easily avoided with a flexible workplace and great communication.
It also goes back to team trust, with their accountants having their own portfolio of clients. Although there is a risk that they might get too close to a client because they are entrusted with keeping the client happy, there is also pride in building and maintaining that relationship. Senior accountants also do not have the worry about “some young gun” building their experience at the firm’s expense and then going out on their own, taking their clients with them.
Furthermore, a reduced turnover also means clients see the same person year in and year out and feel comfortable with someone who knows them. They also do not have to go over the same old information at every meeting because they have an accountant who knows their portfolio and is always in a position to ask the right questions. As a result, Clarke & Brownrigg provides continuity for better service and efficiency, allowing them to build a deeper engagement with longer-term clients.
A Different Approach To Accounting
Each new client receives a forensic analysis to identify past accounting and tax issues not properly dealt with, which is one of the main things that differ from other basic accounting firms. Clarke & Brownrigg also look at each new account from a risk management perspective with the goal of providing a high level of assistance for their clients. They look for the “smoking gun” today, so they are never caught off guard tomorrow when evidence of issues is revealed because by then, it is too late to act.
Their focus is taxation, accounting, and business advice. As a result, they do not get tied up in telling clients where they should invest regarding shares apart, of course, from business and property acquisition, in which they excel. They will, however, refer clients to their trusted financial planners at their associated business, “Planning Forward”, allowing them to benefit from their independent experts and the professionals best suited to offer tailored investment advice.
At times they have to play hardball with clients who simply refuse to take critical advice. In fact, on rare occasions, they have had to end relationships with a few clients who wanted to pursue actions contrary to the advice given. They would never put themselves in a vulnerable position by being conflicted.
They also share collected wisdom based on their most successful clients so they have a model they can aspire to follow. As a result, clients start to get higher value adding and more proactive advice once they commit to this sophisticated approach to their financial management. For example, one of their most successful clients prepares monthly tax provisions for their business because paying taxes every month based on real-time performance means no more surprises. That is something any business owner would love to achieve, and it is something that Clarke & Brownrigg can easily help adapt as part of their accounting process.
Advice For Entrepreneurs
Looking back on their own histories, Clarke & Brownrigg has developed a methodology for young entrepreneurs to develop and build a successful business. However, patience and a commitment to quality work also allow a business to grow organically, as theirs did. As a result, their practice grows through a steady stream of referrals because of its commitment to quality.
Getting to know your accounting team well and setting up efficient and reliable systems is a simple but effective approach to achieving business success.
Professional life is a slow burn, and you do not achieve great wealth in the short term. With the background of a professional advisor and a long career path, just like the fabled oak tree, the firm’s character and strength are mirrored in its clients’ journey.
The firm’s advice is specifically tailored and continually evolving. They treat each client individually. You have got to look at the personality of the client you are dealing with and what the firm has done to offer timely advice for their situation. It is also about collaborating with the firm’s circle of influence with other professionals so everyone receives the best advice from the best in their field.
Clarke & Brownrigg believe long-lasting client relationships have allowed them to become more intuitive and able to understand their clients’ needs. They can anticipate problems, foresee what next moves clients should make, and become more analytical and proactive. Their strategic advice is always to ensure their clients have that big picture in mind, keeping their clients’ needs one step ahead of the rest.
Common Challenges Clients Overcome
Many clients tend to think in the short term. Some have the perception that accounting is a necessary evil after the event or a “dead cost”, but there is a hump that really good clients get over by seeing accounting as a proactive expense. When they spend just a little bit more money ahead of time, they get it right in real-time and become more strategic and proactive. As a result, they get a greater return on investment for the additional spending.
Clarke & Brownrigg have experienced longitudinal relationships sometimes lasting two or three generations, so they understand the problems that can rear their ugly heads down the track. It is a proactive, strategic method related to specific risks, be they tax or otherwise, that works best to avoid challenges. They aim to help guide their clients toward the future and consider aspects of their finances, such as succession planning and inter-generational wealth transfer.
Wills and estate planning are anotherr critical aspect. People with property or other assets who do not have a will create a complicated process their loved ones have to deal with when they die. But with a will, they avoid complications and ensure their loved ones get their fair share of the assets left behind.
Wills also have to be updated as life situations change, especially due to divorce or the death of a spouse, etc. It is all about intergenerational wealth and avoiding claims against an estate. For example, when families fund or distribute wealth to their kids early, they reduce the risk of a claim, or the claim is at least mitigated.
Additionally, they have also dealt with new clients who were totally oblivious to their tax position. As a result, they might have had an enormous debt buried under the carpet, or they simply failed to make tax provisions and ended up owing every year. Clarke & Brownrigg have helped to negotiate payment arrangements, remission of interest, or even the business’ recovery while showing their clients the benefits of proactive tax debt management. They also help their clients get on top of basic accounting and bookkeeping management roles, such as the difference between their cash flow and profitability. Although it sounds simple, it can be a foreign concept to some people that can get them into dire straits.
Clarke & Brownrigg’s Future
Inevitably, Clarke & Brownrigg will also grow and evolve, building their client relationships further and continuing their culture of excellence and strong character.
Richard and Chris are proud of what they have achieved for their clients and the community of staff members who look forward to the next decade and beyond.