Interview: James Finnegan, head of corporate finance and partner at Bishop Fleming

Fast-growing businesses normally need to restructure management and understand available R&D credits when scaling up.

Here, the head of corporate finance at Bishop Fleming, James Finnegan, which serves clients across the West Midlands to the South West, explains in an interview how the accountancy firm serves scale up businesses.

What does the firm do, when was it founded and what is its vision?

Bishop Fleming was founded in 1919 and is a leading provider of accounting, tax and business consultancy in the UK, and the number one provider of professional services to the academy sector. With a turnover of £22.3 million, the firm saw organic growth of 12.3 per cent in 2016/17.

Currently ranked as number 30 in the Accountancy Age league table, Bishop Fleming has a wealth of knowledge and experience in areas such as personal tax, corporate finance, business recovery and insolvency, business & international tax, payroll services, forensic and litigation support, grant services, VAT, audit assurance and accounting. The firm is a top financial adviser for UK small and mid-market transactions.

With seven offices spanning from the West Midlands to the South West, Bishop Fleming has 29 partners and over 340 staff in the UK, and is ranked 26th in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For. Bishop Fleming is a member of Kreston International, a network of independent accounting firms in more than 100 countries.

How important is it to have good accountancy advice for scale-up companies, and are there any interesting industry patterns that scale-ups should be aware of when seeking advice.

Knowledgeable and experienced advisers make a crucial contribution to a company’s ability to scale up. Good advice that is based on years of experience, dealing with many different types and sizes of business, will challenge the scale-up’s management by introducing thoughts, concepts and different perspectives that will help it to see a bigger and wider picture.

A scale-up may not have the necessary vision and experience of how a larger version of itself might operate, and thus can be held back by its basic lack of understanding of what is needed to be put in place to grow.

For example, the scale-up will need to restructure the roles and responsibilities of its current management to reflect the changing complexity of the business. Additional management may well be needed for perceived skill gaps identified by the advisers.

There will be handholding and mentoring as the adviser leads the scale-up on its journey. Having on tap an experienced guiding hand that can turn problems into opportunities will reassure the scale-up team and give them the confidence, passion and determination to succeed. Mentoring helps develop extra skills in the team that will pay off in the long run.

An adviser will make a big difference in sourcing the right funding for the scale-up. Financing a scale-up takes skill, and advisers with corporate finance backgrounds and good connections to sources of finance, such as banks and venture capital, will be able to structure the right finance for the scale up.

Product development is another area where the adviser can make a difference. Research & Development (R&D) tax credits provide hundreds of thousands of pounds of extra funding to facilitate development. An adviser with an excellent relationship with HM Revenue & Customs and is trusted to make well-researched and well-argued applications will be able to deliver maximum R&D credits for the scale-up, with minimal problems from the tax office.

Bishop Fleming has already submitted successful claims for R&D relief in excess of £250 million.

A key USP for Bishop Fleming is our Grant Services specialism, helping businesses identify what support is available, advising on their eligibility, assessing compliance issues, and assisting in the application process. Value is added by helping clients to accelerate their growth plans with grant intervention and generating new jobs for the local economy.

As the scale-up develops further, there may be the possibility of a merger or acquisition of another company. This can accelerate the growth process significantly. The adviser plays an important part in assessing the financing options, including bank debt and venture capital, to ensure the right funding route for the scale-up is identified. The adviser will also provide the bank or venture capitalist with the assurances they need before committing funds, by communicating the business plan and forecast to them. The adviser can also structure the transaction in the most beneficial way, both commercially and for tax purposes.

What is the history of the firm’s advisory work on high-profile deals in the growth business industry and how does its services set it apart?

Bishop Fleming’s Corporate Finance advisory team provides the full spectrum of corporate finance advisory services to suit clients’ needs, from small entities to PLCs. Our qualified team of corporate finance specialists, accountants and valuation experts provides a professional and creative consultancy service based on many years’ experience to successfully complete the right transactions for our clients. We pride ourselves on listening to our clients’ objectives and tailoring our service in their best interests to suit their needs.

Our typical areas of expertise include: M&A Lead Advisory (disposals and acquisitions), Management Buy-outs, Due Diligence, Exit Planning, Finance Raising and Grant Services, Strategic Advisory Services, Strategic Board Support, Business Planning and Modelling, Options Appraisals, and Valuation. In addition to the full range of corporate finance services, our team also has access to specialist teams within Bishop Fleming including tax, VAT and pensions advisory services.

Bishop Fleming’s corporate finance team was shortlisted for ‘Corporate Finance Advisory Team of the Year’ at the Insider Dealmakers awards 2017 and credited for its part in winning ‘International Deal of the Year’ at the Midlands Dealmakers Awards. The team also won the Business Leader ‘Corporate Deal of the Year 2017’ for its lead advisory work.

What is the standout transaction for the firm in recent months and how did it apply its expertise to contribute to a successful deal?

The sell-side advisory in the sale of Beetles UK Limited, the parent company of Danbury Motor Caravans, the UK’s largest VW and Ford Campervan Converter to Pilote Motorhomes (GP SAS), one of France’s leading motorhome manufacturers.

The transaction involved cross-border tax and legal issues, as well as issues of language. Our advice to Danbury helped to secure the very best possible price and deal structure for the management, and underpinned employee security.

What are the key pieces of advice you would give to an ambitious, scale-up entrepreneur who seeks accountancy services for fundraising, flotations, or other transactions, and may not be familiar with the process.

I would say that they should expect to be challenged on their figures, philosophy and outlook to see how rigorous they are. It is the adviser’s job to identify the scale-up’s strengths and opportunities, as well as any threats and weaknesses, and to be innovative in inspiring the client to go beyond what they thought was possible.

Find out more: Bishop Fleming

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Michael Somerville

Michael Somerville

Michael was senior reporter for from 2018 to 2019.

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