flindr is a three-year-old start up on a mission to take modern accountancy methods mainstream. A key part of the strategy is to use data as a stepping stone towards better relationships and superior business decision-making, both inside and outside the business.
Taking on the Big Four
Founders Alastair Barlow FCCA and Luke Streeter FCA left PwC in 2017 to set up the company. Both had been heavily involved in PwC’s My Financepartner division – the firm’s lower-cost tilt at the SME market.
Their experiences convinced them could not only compete with the Big Four in the SME space. They could outdo them.
“This might be quite a bold statement, but we know exactly what goes on, how many clients, the margins, the growing pains, problems, processes, technology, we know everything about them,” says Barlow.
“We know this segment is certainly up for grabs. Our ambition is to grow further than the Big 4 in terms of the SME segment.”
Barlow says when PwC started canvassing SMEs, a third of people had never heard of PwC; a third were flattered by PwC’s interest; and a third thought PwC would be way too expensive.
“To have a big shiny tower in the centre of London [was] actually quite off-putting for a number of businesses. One, I can’t pay for this. Two, these might be my fees right now, but what are they going to be? Three, This isn’t how I do business, in a big shiny office, we’re lean, we’re mean and we watch the pennies.”
At the same time, flindr believed it could offer a product that would be superior.
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flinder has several feathers to its bow: it provides outsourced finance function and CFO advisory services in London and the South East. It also offers consulting and data analytics, which is global in reach – from Australia and New Zealand to North America and the UK.
The endgame is to be a value-adding business partner, far removed from the traditional accounting stereotypes.
“What excites us is getting really into data, systems, the whole business, bringing everything together, aggregating what’s going on in the business and delivering very rich management information (MI),” says Barlow.
Building the team
The first person Barlow and Streeter hired to fulfil their vision was a data engineer.
“Most accountants make the mistake of thinking that data is simply about financials, so while they’re comfortable with tools like Xero or Quickbooks, they have no idea about the sources of data for all the other functions in a business,” says Barlow.
Data can come from marketing, sales, logistics, HR, IT, CRM, EPOS, websites, and so on, but whatever and wherever it comes from, the idea is to blend it with the financial data to provide businesses with a broad and insightful real-time picture.
It’s more of a Chief Performance Officer role, as Barlow refers to it, where flinder provides financial expertise, data analysis and broader business strategy.
“The role of the accountant is shifting towards being a performance management advisor, of which accountants are just one part, as are data specialists and engineers,” says Barlow.
“Our accountants need to be system- and process-savvy, whether that’s with finance applications or bolt-on apps, or third-party apps for CRM, for example, so the world of an accountant being only comfortable with knowing FRS 102 is long gone in my view.
To support flinder’s finance professionals, the firm has a team of data engineers, who extract, extrapolate and help make the data flow as seamlessly as possible.
“We’re basically trying to eliminate the spreadsheet from mashing this stuff together,’ says Barlow. ‘Our engineers will strip out the data from applications and systems, help to make sense of it alongside the accountants, as it’ll be the accountants saying what they need and the conversations they want to have.”
But technology is an enabler, not an end. ‘I think too many firms are focusing on advising their clients on what technology to use, when technology is just a stepping stone on the way to the endgame, which is better conversations, better and quicker decision-making,’ says Barlow.
Brand first, business second, accounting firm third
The flinder brand is a key engine for the business, based on the notion that a brand has more intrinsic value, that it’s the brand that attracts and retains talent, while also differentiating oneself from the competition.
“Not to take anything away from being an accounting firm, we’re very proud of that but we very much run our business as a business, not as a traditional firm, which goes to what we’re delivering and also the way in which we deliver a more robust solution to our clients,” he says.
“The siloed world of partners owning clients doesn’t work for the solutions we’re delivering to our client base.”
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This focus on the brand is also helping to solve a problem – a bottleneck in talent acquisition and retention.
“We place a huge emphasis on employee engagement and track a wide range of data to build a picture of that relationship,” says Barlow.
This involves sending out five questions from a bank of 120 every Friday that measure everything from wellbeing, happiness, personal growth, ambassadorship and alignment. These are all quantified with a scoring system and the data is anonymised to encourage honesty.
“If we see something worrying, be it a low score or negative comment, we’ll address it within a 24 hour working period, usually on the Friday so the person goes home feeling reassured,” he says.
flinder also monitors retention, idea generation, team contributions, chargeable hours and gender diversity. “We have even tracked typing speed, as the connection between the human brain and technology is the finger tips, so if you can improve typing speed – the limiting factor – you can increase the value of that team member,” says Barlow.
‘We’re always looking for hacks and marginal gains.’
flinder has identified Instagram and YouTube as the most relevant channels for attracting talent.
‘We invited people to look inside and see for themselves what flinder is all about – videos of our ski trip, the imagery of our summer event etc. We even launched a video series for new employees to journal their experience with flinder.’
The initiative has helped the firm identify candidates with the right skillsets and cultural fit, while also making the firm more attractive to this audience and sped up the recruitment process.
‘Another benefit of living and breathing our brand is that so much of our marketing is generated as a by-product of our daily activity,’ says Barlow. ‘Rather than spending time artificially creating this cultural content, social media opens the door to everything we’re already doing.
‘And needless to say, we track all of the data – brand voice, number of awards, leads generated per channel, NPS score etc.’
flinder’s key data
- 0 – 24 in 3 years
- Marketing: 1
- Tech & Data: 2
- Finance: 18
- Directors: 2
- Support: 1
As well as the usual cloud applications to run client businesses, flinder uses the following:
- Airtable – part spreadsheet, part database, part visual planner.
- Klipfolio – metrics, dashboards and automated reporting
- Pipedrive – sales pipeline manager.
- Asana – team and project management software.
- UiPath Robotics – Robotics.
- In-house flinder proprietary tech under development
Number of clients
- 55 recurring clients
- flinder’s funded clients took an average of £2.6 million investment last year
- R&D clients claimed an average of £108,000 in credits
- Finance function work: London and South East
- Consulting & data analytics: Global – from Australia and New Zealand to North America and the UK in between
- Why the Finance Team is heading for a long-term relationship with IT
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Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.