Going against the grain puts Norwich accountant on cloud nine

Norwich accountant Will Farnell is partner and founder of Farnell Clarke.Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Norwich accountant Will Farnell is partner and founder of Farnell Clarke.Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

The founder of Farnell Clarke has made a habit of disrupting the world of accounting. Will Farnell speaks to BEN WOODS about how technology is changing the profession

Call him an accountant, but do not call him boring.

While the unfortunate stereotype has long been associated with the accountancy profession, Will Farnell has made great strides in blowing it out of the water.

Wielding the power of technological innovation, the entrepreneur has created a business which has more in common with a disruptive Tech City start-up then a traditional accountancy firm.

Embracing social media, creating a mobile app, and shaping its business around the emergence of cloud computing, the practice has driven down costs while capitalising on the current zeitgeist which sees more people using tablets and smartphones to manage their lives and businesses.

So far, it has proven successful. The business has grown its clients from 100 in 2010 to more than 650 this year, with turnover also making strong headway, rising from £349,702 in 2013 to £472,937 at the end of 2014.

The majority of this growth has been underpinned by Mr Farnell's decision to become an early adopter of cloud-based accounting software KashFlow. The system allows people to do all of their accounting – and store all of their information – online.

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'We have used technology as our point of difference,' he said. 'Everyone in the accounting industry is now talking about cloud technology and cloud accounting, but we started looking at it in late 2007.

'When I was using Twitter back in late 2008, I got into an online conversation with a guy called Duane Jackson who was the founder of KashFlow. We then signed up and started offering the service to all of our clients in late 2009. While there were a very small number of accountancy firms using cloud, we made the conscious decision to buy into it 100pc and said 'every new client which walks through that door, we are going to give them access to an online accounts package'. We were one of the first firms nationally to fully adopt cloud accounting.

'Within six months we were KashFlow's largest partner firm. The growth that we were doing meant that we were putting on 100 licences a year on the software, as far as I am aware we are still their largest partner firm today.

'However, the technology has evolved. It is no longer just an accounting system,' he added. 'It enables integration with other systems. The best piece of integration we have used for the past 18 months is a piece of software called Receipt Bank. The way that works is that you have an app on your phone, you take a photo of the receipt and the software uses a combination of different technologies to pull the information off and present it in a format which can be published into the accounts software.'

'Cloud software has become a hub that enables our clients to change the way they do business,' he added.

'We are almost becoming a software company ourselves with a little bit of value added around it. What we are doing is finding the right software solutions for our clients and making that available to them, while giving the support that goes around it. There's a massive disruption in the software space, which is having a knock on affect on the profession.'

Embracing technological change – no matter how disruptive – is to be expected of an entrepreneur who has made a habit of going against the grain.

In 1993, when many accountants his age were busy taking their professional exams Will Farnell was managing local rock bands and running a second-hand record shop – Music World– on Great Yarmouth's King Street.

Since then, he has gained his accounting qualifications and worked his way up through the world of business and finance, with a stint at the Office for Government Commerce – a Cabinet Office department – and PwC, where he worked on an efficiency review in 2005 focused on Norfolk County Council. It was not until May 2007 that he left a job as a consultant in London to launch Farnell Clarke.

So what's the next step for the business? If the forecasts are right, Mr Farnell's firm looks set to achieve more rapid growth. The Norwich-based practice, which has its headquarters on Delft Way, recently joined forces with chartered accountants David Shawyer & Co – a firm owned by Mr Farnell's father-in-law.

The move, which will see David Shawyer & Co transfer into Farnell Clarke's offices, will add another arm to the business specialising in taxation for both UK expats and US expats living in the UK. Boris Johnson is an example of the type of new client they are after. The London Mayor – who is also an American citizen – ended an ongoing dispute with the US government in January when he paid an unsettled capital gains tax bill thought to be in the region of £100,000. All US citizens, including those with dual citizenship, are legally obliged to file a tax return and pay US taxes wherever they are living.

Mr Farnell is predicting that this additional service will help turnover grow 59pc to more than £750,000 this year.