Profile - GreenStones
The value of ACCA Approved Employer status
All small or medium-sized practices (SMPs) must fight for business in an increasingly crowded professional services marketplace. GreenStones, an ACCA Platinum Approved Employer, is no exception - but the strategy employed by its director, Simon Chaplin FCCA, shows how even a small firm can market itself successfully. And a key element of this strategy is the firm's Approved Employer status.
Based in Peterborough, UK, GreenStones works mainly for local businesses, although loyal customers can also be found further afield. The team of 15 comprises Chaplin, sole director, nine professional team members (either part or fully-qualified ACCA), and five administration and support team members, including a payroll manager and a bookkeeper.
GreenStones primarily prepares accounts for its customers, as well as providing tax planning advice and business consultancy. It has been an ACCA Approved Employer since 1997. When Chaplin took over the firm in 2005, he realised that the programme could offer further advantages, especially if the firm raised its status.
Calling on experience
'Until very recently, recruitment has always been a challenging issue for us, as I'm sure it is for any small practice,' explains Chaplin. 'In our case, however, not only were experienced team members hard to find, we also had to compete for them against local firms, as well as employers in London, Cambridge, and other big centres nearby. Approved Employer status, however, helps us attract the best candidates,' he says, 'and it means we can offer something more than just money, helping us compete with the bigger players.'
Chaplin notes further advantages: 'When introducing ourselves to potential new customers, our Platinum status shows our commitment to training, reassuring customers that our team members will give them the best possible service.'
For Chaplin, the decision to train his team exclusively with ACCA was firmly rooted in his own experience: 'My first employer offered nothing but ACCA training, and so I've decided to do the same. As an SMP, the range of experience we can offer our students is well suited to ACCA study, and they find it relatively easy to acquire the necessary work experience. Trainee accountants are automatically enrolled with ACCA when they join GreenStones; we pay for their training and give them time off to study and sit exams.'
GreenStones gained Platinum Approved Employer status in 2006. The firm was guided through the process by ACCA UK business relationship manager Helen Simons, who had noticed that GreenStones was gaining a reputation for its innovative business approach. In 2006, for example, it was a regional winner in the AVN Firm of the Year Awards, where it was singled out for being 'an inspiration' and 'truly… an extraordinary firm'. Noticing such enterprise, Helen worked with GreenStones to identify the further enhancements required to lift the firm to Platinum status.
'The process helped us refine some of our systems, and kick?started a reassessment of areas such as performance appraisal,' comments Chaplin.
Despite the current economic climate, and the difficulties reported by many bigger accountancy players, GreenStones continues to grow - proof that Chaplin's approach is working. 'Our results are as good as they were this time last year; and we're on track to hit all planned targets, including our overall ambition to quadruple in size - in terms of fees - over the next four years,' he comments.
Further accolades have followed, such as GreenStones becoming a finalist in the 2008 Accountancy Age Awards, Small Firm of the Year category and highly commended in a local award for workforce development.
Even recruitment - once so difficult - is getting easier, with two new team members joining the team in December 2008. 'Local and national redundancies, together with more aggressive tactics from recruitment consultants, have changed the employment scene - the boot is on the other foot, so to speak.
'But despite a glut of potential employees, we still only want to attract the best. We value the kudos that our Approved Employer status brings, and we know that it will help us continue to be successful.'
This is an abridged version of an article published in the April 2009 issue of student accountant.