Fitzgerald and Partners Ireland


Fitzgerald & Partners — a 20-year-old SMP based in the rural tourist town of Kinsale in County Cork Ireland — proactively addresses the changing environment by ‘turning environmental challenges into opportunities’. Founder and managing partner — Cormac Fitzgerald — has a special interest in the SME sector and is a past president of CPA Ireland who now serves on the PAO’s SMP/SME committee and CPA Council.

Challenges and opportunities

Networking with SMPs across Ireland, Fitzgerald is familiar with the changing role of the SMP. He believes one route to survival and growth, and becoming a successful SMP, is carving out a niche and unique selling point in that sector.

  • There are so many SMPs competing in the same pond, for the same business... The amount of time, regulation and administration involved in adhering to client's compliance needs is not understood by the client... It is difficult to ... get fee increases. The loyalty factor that was once there is no longer there.

The need to keep up with changes, regulation, GDPR and technology, and to be constantly innovating and growing, challenges SMPs. Full employment and growing wages make it harder to retain talent and recruit trainees. The emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, encouraging the younger generation to enter the IT sector, challenges accountancy, perhaps not as “jazzy or cool” as in the past. Fitzgerald explains to candidates that becoming a CPA allows them the flexibility to work in industry or practice, open their own business or practice, be an entrepreneur or enter academia. Accountancy should sharpen its image and market the opportunities more in schools. Accountancy should consider creating junior entrepreneurship programmes similar to BT Young Scientists and encourage studenis to consider accountancy and the CPA at an early age.

Clients can be demanding on the accountant's time, and many working for SMPs do not enjoy a good work-life balance and quality of life. The pace of change associated with, for example, staffing and technology can be demanding and stressful.

Irish SMPs have worked ‘through a deep recession with empathy, psychology and deep understanding of working with clients through the perfect storm’.

  • Many clients have started businesses in the tech sector and require a skill set different from the legacy requirements of SMEs... It is all about growth strategies... The futuristic SMP is becoming a business adviser to help clients deal with growth strategies

HR is a big challenge for SMPs with multinationals such as Google and Facebook competing for talent.

  • When we train a good CPA, far away, hills can be greener, and they like joining a multinational... It is hard to retain good CPAs and talent because SMPs do not have the deep pockets multinationals have.
  • We, however, offer a different type of flexibility — flex-time, part-time — to somebody who may have gone through the multinational experience. It suits maybe a more mature staff member, especially in a town like Kinsale, who may {have] move[d] from Dublin or London, and would like to work and be able to drop their kids to school. We offer that flexibility ... as long as the work is at a high standard and professional... The only way we can compete with multinationals is flexibility.

Proactive response and tips

° Hire the best people. Recruiting focuses on balancing three things — grades, ability to work as a team, and communication skills.

° Expand the client base. In a rural town, expanding the client base, adding value to existing clients and keeping innovating are challenging. Responding to this, the firm runs seminars, networking events and conferences, and produces a quarterly client newsletter (online and in hardcopy). The SMP provides updates via all social media platforms and stays in contact with clients. The firm serves two niche areas — tax planning for foreign expatriates moving to the area and the hospitality sector (eg bars, restaurants, hotels).

° Build a brand. The firm is well branded and profiled as a leading business adviser in the SME sector, which accounts for 99% of business in Ireland. The firm writes articles for local media, supports events locally in the heart of the community and constantly aims to innovate in areas such as online accounting. Its Business Centre outsources for SMEs. For a start-up client, the firm provides a start-up guide (downloadable on its website) addressing starting one’s own business. The guide is also available through the firm's referral network, which includes local banks, estate agents, solicitors, etc.

Fitzgerald & Partners has invested in a good digital presence via social media marketing, digital marketing, building a good brand, developing the brand and becoming the leading SMP in the area. The firm’s goals include being the number one CPA firm in the region, remaining the business adviser of choice in the area, and expanding its niche services.

° Automate where possible. Online accounts are a growth area. Small start-ups provide their data on a weekly basis, eg they drop it off, mail it or scan and email. The firm processes the data, and inputs it ina package such as Big Red Cloud for about €28 per month. A client can access its data while scuba diving in the Caribbean or driving around Ireland. They can invoice from their device. The firm and client all work off one package and in real time. Clients find value in always being up to date on their accounts in a very simple way. The firm works with whatever package the client prefers (Big Red Cloud, Zero, Surf or an industry-specific package),

° Business advisory. The firm views business advisory services — private advice on key points in business to help its growth strategy — as the future. A deep dive into a business via a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis reveals the issues the entrepreneur is facing. Being a good listener is important — running a business can be lonely. SMEs find value in an adviser who understands the key issues facing their business, is independent of their stakeholders and gives objective advice,

° Invest in accountancy and non-accountancy talent. The firm will strive to identify more accountants and CPAs to join the practice and seek out a few good business advisers to interface and add value to clients. Any new affiliated business advisers will need to be trustworthy, not those trying to befriend clients and then treat them like an ‘onion in order to peel off a couple of layers every so often’.