Rural demand for one-stop shop leads accountants to become ABS

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28 August 2015

Matthew Boardman

Boardman: “natural evolution” for accountancy firm

A firm of accountants based in rural East Anglia has become an alternative business structure regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Churchgate Accountants said the move was in response to demand from clients, including farmers, who wanted a one-stop shop.

Matthew Boardman, solicitor and director at Churchgate Accountants, said: “Over the last couple of years we have seen demand from our clients that everything should be done in the same place.

“We see our clients fairly regularly, rather than solicitors who tend to see them once in a blue moon. It’s a natural evolution for us.”

Mr Boardman said the accountancy firm, based in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, began with a management buy-out from Grant Thornton in 2011.

Churchgates now has around 50 staff, six directors and opened a second office in Huntingdon three years ago. It was awarded an ABS licence by the SRA earlier this week.

Mr Boardman said that in the area of private client and estate administration, Churchgates “had moved into providing services that clients might usually have visited solicitors for.”

He said the firm could also provide commercial legal services for owner-manager businesses, such as company reconstructions and share reorganisations. This led to succession planning and inheritance tax planning work.

“We have focused on areas that are natural extensions of the work we currently do for clients. In the future we may branch out into property law, but it’s not a priority now.

“One of the areas we’re involved in is agriculture. There are quite a number of substantial farms in Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire.

“There is quite a lot of capital tax planning and succession planning. Some of this means moving land into a trust or moving property down the generations.”

As a result, Mr Boardman said property law would be “a natural fit” and, where the family involved did not have a relationship with a solicitor, Churchgates could “implement the planning we’ve recommended”.

Mr Boardman said the accountancy firm could have been regulated by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), but clients were “looking for something more than probate services”.

He said regulation by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers was also an option, but this would have limited the firm to probate and conveyancing.

“Regulation by the SRA gives us the most flexibility for the future as we expand – for example if we wanted to carry out litigation through tax tribunal work.

“We have a number of good relationships with local solicitors in the local area, who we work with closely. It’s not a question of stealing work from them, it’s a question of advising clients who don’t have a family solicitor in place.

“Where we’ve explained carefully what we’re doing, we find solicitors are mostly amenable to the idea and it has even made some relationships stronger.

“There is a tacit acceptance by solicitors that they have been doing the same to us over a number of years, by setting up tax or accounting departments.”

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