Good Bad Ugly Case Study: Nurturing and Leveraging Our People
ESV Group is an accounting firm powering ahead of the pack. Their approach is to help business owners on their journey as they grow. They do this by predicting and solving problems, combined with taking the time to understand client’s business and industry to add real value.
ESV work with business owners of medium to large businesses who are growing and active in their markets. Clients come from a wide range of different industries, and partners have specialised expertise in a number of key areas, including food and hospitality, medical specialists, property fund managers and overseas businesses investing in Australia.
In 2013, the firm undertook an extensive strategic review (using Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ concept) and developed a core purpose of ‘helping business owners on their journey as they grow’. One component of this objective is to provide business owners with a personalised service including active access to partners.
Senior Partner, Kurt Baker says their strategy for targeting business owners falls under three key pillars:
They release a monthly Business Owners Bulletin, run targeted industry Roundtable events and hold a bi-annual Business Owners event to share the inspiring stories of successful executives, entrepreneurs and thought leaders. In the past 18 months they have hosted Tony Wheeler (cofounder of the Lonely Planet), Ken Gillespie (former Chief of the Australian Army) and Ita Buttrose (legendary Australian media editor) at these ‘inspire’ events.
ESV’s value proposition is based on ‘small firm personality, big firm capability’. They make sure of this by providing a high quality service to clients while maintaining a small firm approach in building high level partner relationships. Execution of a personalised client service plan and the ‘ESV Way’ on how to communicate with and approach clients’ complex business problems also ensures they deliver on this promise.
Baker and the ESV leadership team understand the importance of having a clear vision and being forward looking, especially as the nature of the profession changes. Baker puts it best, saying: “It’s about continually improving as a professional firm and knowing ‘why we do what we do’ for both our clients and our people in order for ESV to thrive and continue to move closer to our vision.”
As a firm with a clear vision, ESV has developed an internal code for how they do things. The ‘ESV Way’ dictates how they approach work, their team and clients, with the core purpose of helping business owners at the forefront. It governs their job engagement and ensures a consistent approach across the practice. It also forms part of the client service strategy that is implemented (together with the client) and reviewed every 12 months. The ESV way on information flow, electronic workpapers, compliance, risk mitigation and value-add services ensures the firm properly manages all clients and their expectations.
The firm has ‘ESV Way’ for how they approach special advisory work, starting with a briefing meeting with the designated ‘technical expert’ partner in that area, to ensure all matters have been identified for the client’s specific circumstances. The partners share knowledge and best practices across the firm for their advisory services, ensuring a consistent and positive client experience.
According to Baker, the key to overall efficiency is ensuring that clients, staff and the engagement partner are all on the same page. This is achieved by using a strong engagement process – it is essential the engagement letter, value-add meetings and internal client service plan are all aligned with client expectations.
A pivotal element to the success of ESV lies with the embedding of their cultural principles in everything they do – how they hire, train, communicate and relate to their employees. They have launched a ‘Culture’ video highlighting this, implemented a self-guided on boarding portal and as teams they regularly discuss ways in which they are living and breathing ESV’s cultural values.
Employees are encouraged to dare to challenge the status quo, which is evident through a number of staff led initiatives, including a professional development group called ESV Young Professionals run entirely by junior staff members. Senior employees are also encouraged to develop leadership skills through the Emerging Leaders Program, all part of ESV’s commitment to helping their people grow.
‘Cautiously embracing’ is how Baker describes their adoption of cloud technology. They have a plan and strategies in place to move their servers to the cloud within the next 18 months.
They are also in the process of rolling out a client portal (Nimbus) for clients to securely and conveniently access their information online. The key is communicating with clients to ensure they understand the benefits of this technology and eliminate any concerns they may have. Internally, ESV have strong IT support, and adequate cyber insurance cover to any online security breaches.
This case study was originally published in ‘The Good, the Bad & the Ugly of the Australian Accounting Profession’ 2016 report by Business Fitness. The full report is available for purchase on the Business Fitness Website. Alternatively you can click here to download the 2016 Executive Summary.