January 2015 saw one of the most significant M&A events in recent accounting industry history with the Findex Group’s acquisition of ASX listed Crowe Horwath. In an in-depth Q&A with FeeSynergy, the Group’s CEO Spiro Paule discusses the recent partnership, placing a dominant focus on the areas of growth, strategic initiative and vision for the future.
FS: Congratulations Spiro on Findex’s acquisition of Crowe Horwath. What have the last few months been like for you and your team?
SP: Exhilarating and eventful. We join a great team to work together to realise the potential of Crowe Horwath. It’s an excellent brand with strong geographic reach and we are confident of realising its full potential. I am in the process of visiting 50 Crowe Horwath offices in 50 days, and in every office the talent and dedication is self-evident. My mantra is: let’s make a good business better.
FS: Crowe Horwath is a very strong brand in the accounting industry whilst Findex is better known in financial planning circles. Can you tell us a bit of the history of Findex and the strategic importance of the Crowe Horwath acquisition?
SP: Findex is an accumulation of accounting practices and financial advisory businesses - we have made more than 40 acquisitions since 2002. Before this acquisition, the mix was about 80:20 financial advice to accountancy. With Crowe Horwath in the fold, the business mix is now around 65 per cent accounting and 35 per cent wealth and related services. I have always believed in the primacy of the accountant in a financial services relationship, as well as being able to offer a suite of financial services under the management of one trusted adviser.
We have built a strong organisation by recognising businesses with potential and successfully integrating them. We have always instilled a strong culture and that’s at the core of much of our success. We believe in open and clear communications and frank peer assessment at all levels of the business. Innovation and ideas are encouraged; we want the best of breed ideas and to nurture them when we find them. Underpinning all this is a firm belief in the power of process.
We stand out in the financial services arena as we are quality accredited – ISO 9001 to be specific. A commitment to process coupled with a strong focus on clients is a powerful formula.
FS: Your group now has 200,000 plus SME clients and an additional 3,000 staff. It is the 5th largest accounting firm in revenue terms but has by far the largest client base in the accounting industry. How will you leverage this position and what is your vision for the new enterprise?
SP: Typically, accountants are one of the most trusted advisers; they are well placed to provide a wide array of financial services. With accounting remaining the bedrock service, we want to be able to offer the “Family Office” model to all clients. Once the preserve of the wealthy, we believe a one-stop financial services shop offering quality advice should be available, and affordable to everyone.
FS: Does the group intend to make further acquisitions and if so in what areas? Do you have plans to expand your international operations?
SP: Findex has grown rapidly in the past year and we are now focusing on integrating and growing our businesses to develop their full potential. As such, I don’t anticipate any major acquisitions in the near future.
That said, we are often approached about a range of opportunities both here and offshore and we would not categorically rule out any acquisition. But bedding down the businesses is our first priority.
FS: FeeSynergy has enjoyed a long association with Crowe Horwath in both Australia and NZ. We have long admired the Group’s culture of customer care and the professionalism and friendliness of the staff. How do you plan to build on these strengths ?
SP: Certainly the customer focus was one of the attractions of Crowe Horwath. It dovetails perfectly with a Findex strength, and as such nothing will change. We are the largest, non-bank owned advisory group in Australasia and Crowe Horwath was, and is, similarly non-bank owned. This means we only recommend best of breed investment products selected by an external advisory committee. It’s just part of why we are successful – it puts the customer on a pedestal.