Case Study: Making a positive difference

Driven by fresh thinking and dedicated to expansive strategies that challenge convention, the team at new accountacy firm Bellingham Wallace gets up every day to make a positive difference to their clients’ lives.

After more than a decade as colleagues, you might think Aaron Wallace and Matt Bellingham would have had enough of each other’s company. But on the contrary, after years of working together at accountancy firm Hayes Knight, they’ve struck out on their own in a new strategic direction. Last month marked the birth of their new business, Bellingham Wallace, amid the rapidly changing landscape of the profession.

“When we started, computers used to take up entire rooms and people would often have to pack up all their bank statements and send them away to somebody to process,” Bellingham recalls.

“The bread and butter of that work has disappeared as technology has improved, and with today’s online accounting packages, what used to form the business for accountants has effectively dried up. There are a number of legislative changes that are hot topics right now, including changes that could see our tax system and the Financial Reporting Act simplified.

“We think this is a great move for New Zealand business, but in time will again reduce the amount of time, effort and therefore cost which goes into the preparation of basic accounts.”

To stay ahead of the curve, Bellingham Wallace is leaning towards expansive strategies that are more relevant and will have greater impact.

“It’s helping clients grow, keeping them safe and genuinely making a positive difference to their lives,” explains Wallace.

That ranges from assisting with governance and setting three- to five-year objectives, through to helping clients build their brand, future-proof their business and uncovering new ways to sell more to many more – and occasionally, the odd spot of personal counselling.

While accountancy is often considered a staid and arguably boring profession, Wallace believes that they bring fresh thinking to the table and will challenge stereotypes.

Bellingham says their goal is to reduce the cost of compliance for clients and ensure that they get better value for money, so clients can invest more into their businesses and increase growth.

“That’s what we get a kick out of – helping our clients. It’s a great thing to be able to come in to work and know that you’re going to be able to make a positive difference to somebody’s business and, in some instances, even making their day. For many people, their business is by far their most significant investment and asset. If we can help them grow, help them protect what they’ve already earned, and as a result help them continue to employ and contribute to the economy, we’re doing a good job.”

Their partnership is an easy one, built on mutual understanding, trust, values and respect. Wallace says they share similar skill sets and philosophies, and manage to have some fun along the way.

Auckland-based but not Auckland-bound, the company has a “wide and varied” base of local clients as well as clients around the country, and as far south as central Otago. That includes individuals as well as businesses from small to large.

But the real sweet spot is SMEs in the $5m-25m turnover bracket looking to grow further. In today’s climate, it can be harder to get to the next step when you already have an established business and things are reasonably stable.

“We are pretty ambitious for our clients and get a thrill out of getting them to that next step,” Bellingham says. “This means being there when they need some guidance or support, someone to help them seize an opportunity or navigate a crisis.”

Placing their names above the door was a carefully calculated choice: “Your personal goodwill, particularly in this profession, carries a lot of weight,” says Bellingham. “In building a new brand we were better to leverage off something that was already in the marketplace and trusted.”

The Bellingham Wallace brand was developed with help from branding specialists Radiation.

The ‘plus’ motif represents their commitment to making a positive difference.

“The two sweeping curves also symbolise two worlds coming together, our own and our clients’,” says marketing manager Damian Bennett. “There is a crossroads quality about it, an intersection where businesses meet and add to each other.”

The biggest challenge? Defining a point of difference.

“A mistake many businesses make is positioning their product or service with values or promises that really should be implicit and that all their key competitors share – in our case an accounting firm saying ‘it’s about expert advice’. So it should be!” Bennett says.

“In starting a new firm, we knew good enough wasn’t even close to what we wanted to be for our clients. Yes, we bring best practice accountancy to the table. But our greatest ambition, however, is to add more to the business of accountancy and deliver the acumen required to make a positive difference. Because for us, it’s all about the ‘plus’ – plus experience, plus inspiration, plus energy, plus insight, plus empathy. It’s everything we add to accountancy that makes the difference.”

That all comes down to the people – hiring not just A-grade accountants, but A-grade people. According to Wallace, the culture is “work hard, play hard”. With a family focus and flexible working hours, the company is involved in activities beyond just business and makes significant contributions to the community.

They are set on doubling staff numbers (currently just under 30) and continuing to grow their client base throughout New Zealand.

“We believe we’ve got a lot of value to add to the economy – not just our clients,” says Wallace.

Scaling up won’t be done at the expense of Bellingham Wallace’s exacting standards or their core values of family, excellence, integrity and staying on the leading edge.