We know that some of you will be turning off your laptops and starting the festivities very soon, we want to wish you a merry and peaceful Christmas and a happy New Year.
We're going to take some time to put our feet up over the holidays, but will still be available to support you on the phone and by email. The only days we won't be contactable will be the 25th and 26th December and the 1st and 2nd of January. Otherwise, please don't hesitate to get in touch!
We've really enjoyed working with you in 2019, and look forward to a great 2020!
Somewhat incredibly, as we find ourselves staring hungrily down the mince-pie-studded path towards Christmas, the cheeky green shoots of 2020 are clearly visible through the faded, well-trodden lawn of 2019. So what’s happened over the year in terms of HMRC’s R&D tax relief scheme – and what’s coming next?!
Well, it’s certainly no news that the R&D scheme overall continues to expand like a festive waistline. HMRC’s stats, released in October, showed that the projected cost of support for the 17/18 year is approaching £5bn, largely fuelled by growth in new SME applicants and the huge R&D budgets of Large Companies.
What is more newsworthy is how you, our WhisperClaims customers, are having a positive effect on that fast-growing SME market. This year, we’ve watched as a broad variety of accountancy firms and consulting companies have sat through software demos, launched trials, and thought deeply about how to integrate R&D technology into their business processes – all with the aim of being able to profitably cater to that ever-growing demand from SMEs.
Looking across the cohort of our 2019 customers, the firms (and consulting companies) that have achieved the best results are those that have:
This person is typically enthusiastic about technology and motivated to see it adopted within their organisation. They quickly become an expert user of the software, often running classes and workshops to motivate and educate their colleagues. In some cases this is a partner or business owner, in others it's a manager who's seen the benefits of using our system and is evangelising it across the firm.
Software doesn’t work in a vacuum, and depends on the aims, attitudes and skills of the people using it. The most successful firms have invested time in designing business processes around the software, giving staff clarity on how R&D work should be streamed between different delivery routes. For them, the software isn’t necessarily a magic ‘one size fits all’ solution, but part of a blended R&D service portfolio that spans pure-software to pure-consultancy.
The most proactive firms have trained up their Client Managers to recognise R&D at a high level, even developing scoring systems that allow prospects to be objectively rated before being entered onto the system or passed to a centralised specialist within the firm.
Finally, we’ve seen several firms set ambitious ‘digital’ targets (i.e. claims prepared through software) for R&D, both for existing clients and new business. Growth targets, coupled with internal competition between teams, can be highly effective in raising activity and motivation.
In general, the customers who've seen the biggest growth in their R&D service, and their profitability, are those who have utilised our service to deliver a highly differentiated and cost effective offering to those smaller SME's that are dominating HMRC's stats.
Looking ahead to 2020, what trends do we expect to see? Some are obvious (the scheme will continue to grow, of course), and also, we’d expect to see more accountants take R&D work back in-house, reducing their reliance upon external R&D consultants and earning more in the process. This growing trend of empowerment will heighten the already fierce competition between the specialists, resulting in ever more expensive PPC (Google advertising) costs for common online searches, incentivizing them to invest in other, more content-focused forms of marketing that will inevitably attract even more SMEs to the scheme. The SMEs, meanwhile, will gradually begin to realize that they have more options than simply shopping around for the lowest contingent rate, and we’d expect to see WhisperClaims accountants and consultants increasingly offering R&D as a fixed-price service to take advantage of this.
In short, it’s going to be quite a bustling marketplace in 2020 – even before the as-yet-unknown political impacts of the election are felt.
As for the team at WhisperClaims, there will be exciting changes afoot here too! We have a raft of new features to launch and will be investing heavily in the system’s ‘User Experience’ to make the software as intuitive, useful and convenient to use as we possibly can. We’ll also be staffing up, taking on new developers and boosting the remainder of the team as we continue to scale up. We’ll be launching and delivering a raft of new top-up consultancy services, designed to help our customers plug any gaps they may have in their teams by giving them access to very specialized services that build upon the capabilities of the software itself.
Before WhisperClaims, Richard was a Founder-Director of a large, Edinburgh-based R&D tax credit consultancy. With 9 years' R&D experience and a Software Engineering degree, Richard works closely with our developers to ensure that the products we build are a perfect fit for our customers.
We’ve all been there. You’re snowed under with work, whether that’s dealing with company year ends and or the looming horror of personal tax deadlines, when you realise that there’s a whole pile of R&D tax claims that you should be dealing with. Your heart sinks. You think about how hard it is to get the information out of the client, how time consuming writing reports is, and how it really is time to make sure everyone in the office has been trained in how to prepare R&D claims. You throw your hands up and declare that there must be a better way!
You are, of course, right. There are always ways to improve and optimise your process, and, being the helpful people that they are, Jen and Richard (our WhisperClaims R&D tax relief gurus) have pulled together some tips on how you might get started!
We know that getting information out of your clients can be difficult and frustrating. To avoid unnecessary repetition and to and fro, we recommend developing a structured set of questions to ask you clients about both the projects and costs. Making sure you work through the same questions each time makes sure that nothing is missed and there’s no need to keep going back to the client for more information.
There many ways to make gathering client data more straight forward. During the claim period, it can be helpful to encourage your client to gather and submit project information as they go along. Having shared access to online file-storage, like Dropbox, can make this easy, straightforward and, most importantly, secure.
The more people in your office that can work on R&D claims, the more the burden can be shared! We recommend making sure that you offer robust training in the CIRD guidance and the mechanics of putting together a claim to anyone with a client-facing role.
Even once you’ve been able to gather the information from your client, you still need their input in reviewing and approving the claim. Making sure that the client can access the information as you pull it together can be a massive help with this, as the client is already in the loop and can give immediate sign-off once the claim is ready.
Even with a well-trained team and a slick information gathering process, you still have to invest the time in writing a robust technical narrative to support the claim. No matter what, this isn’t a trivial task, and is a great candidate for automation.
WhisperClaims is designed to take the pain out of not only gathering information, but automates report production, meaning that a report can be generated within an hour. It’s also a great tool for educating your team in the intricacies of R&D tax claims, and can allow you to work with your client in real-time, overcoming the toing-and-froing that plagues anyone preparing a claim.
If you are already using WhisperClaims you can find the login page here.
Take the burden out of R&D tax claims preparation. Our award-winning R&D software makes it easy to prepare a claim, works directly from your data, and creates reports that have been specifically designed to be clear, concise, fit for purpose and as free from red flags and elephant traps.
It's always nice to catch up with WhisperClaims users. This month we met with Northern Accountants to talk about their recent expansion into R&D tax relief consultancy using WhisperClaims technology and how they used this to identify over £250,000 of tax benefit for their clients within 3 months.
We're a general accountancy practice. We do all the sorts of stuff you would expect like accounts, tax, bookkeeping on a sort of basic level. We don't have a tax team or a tax partner, so our tax knowledge is sufficient but not advanced. Fortunately, we don't have any complicated clients so there's no need to be more advanced.
We outsourced claims to a R&D specialist firm. If any of our clients mentioned R&D it was a case of: “Oh, right. Well, we'll pass it their way and they can deal with it.”
What we ended up finding was that you get dragged into the conversations anyway. Yes, there's a pay-away, and, yes, you get a cut in, but there's still a lot of work to do. We seemed to be doing the bulk of the work, managing the client and managing the partner. So when WhisperClaims came along, it gave us a template and a structure to allow us to manage the process ourselves.
Yeah, about the same. The first one was a bit longer because we were learning how to use the software – we spent an hour and a half with the client inputting information into the system followed by some set up time to synchronise the data with our accounting system, nothing major.
When the claim came through the client was over the moon – he received £15,000.
We are currently putting claims through for 9 clients and the tax benefit comes in at over £250,000, which is a substantial amount for our clients.
I'm part of a Mastermind group with other accountants from different firms. One thing we do is share wins that we've had and someone was talking about the successes he'd had with WhisperClaims and R&D.
We contacted WhisperClaims and set up a demonstration. They showed me around the system about a year ago. We said we'd start in January once some claims had backed up … and we did!
We liked the simplicity of it. It plugged a specialist tax knowledge gap that we didn't have within the team.
Moving consultancy in-house and using WhisperClaims technology meant that we were able to claim tax benefit for our clients within 28 days from submission to HMRC. It was closer to 45 days when we were outsourcing the work to R&D tax specialists.
What always held the R&D specialists up was the extraction of the financial information. The client wouldn't know what to do so they'd get us involved. The back and forth was time consuming, so it's much quicker just to do the work ourselves.
R&D wasn't on our radar as a primary sort of consideration. That meant that R&D didn't get talked about with our clients enough.
We've now got 15 clients who we are doing R&D with. We have an equipment company that has built a massive CRM; a software development company; a property agent that's built their own software platform; a food manufacturer; an IT company; a tripe reseller and so on. That's 15 sets of clients who hadn't been claiming R&D and potentially could have been.
You could argue that before we were doing R&D, we were letting our clients down to a degree. We're now able to talk to them about claiming and can put that opportunity in front of people.
Our clients give us lot of appreciation for this and they tell their friends about us: “My accountant got me £15k back from an R&D claim”. All of a sudden, someone's mate wants to get involved. Somebody rang us the other day and asked us if we'd do an R&D claim for his mate because his current accountant wouldn't do it.
I think we can build quite a good referral network off our existing client base and, potentially, smaller accountants. With smaller firms, technically, we could go and say: “Look, we'll partner up with you. We're no threat to your company. We'll do your R&D if you've got any clients who want this” and they become introducers to us.
I also want to do more to educate our client managers on how to find new business. We met with a food manufacturer yesterday who are trying to do some really innovative stuff with infused sausage rolls. It's funny but we need to find those types of projects.
It's crazy, I'd say over a quarter of a million in total. If not more.
If we weren't offering R&D consultancy that money wouldn't have been recovered. It would have been lost.
It has created a bit of a buzz about the office. When we landed our first claim – I think it was a £22,000 claim – there was quite a big buzz about it. As daft and boring as that sounds, the team were quite buoyed by that. Lots more claims are being made by other members of the team outside of me. They're now starting to think: “We can do a decent thing here. We can help with that.”
Before we started using WhisperClaims and doing consultancy in-house, our team knew about R&D because they're all accountants. They understood it and the concept of it, but it's one of those topics that you cover and then never really touch on again. Whereas, I think now, our ability to service clients is much better.
100%. I mean, we're very fortunate in our team that they do care about the clients they're working with. When we told Sean, our client manager, that we were dropping £15k into his client's bank account, he was over the moon for his client. It's one of those nice feelings rather than just: “There's your tax bill of £15k“.
We're changing the structure of our organisation because, historically, our client managers purely just did compliance. Now they're having R&D conversations with people so our team will have to familiarise themselves with the software. That means there's an upskill area that we'll need to work on. The guys at WhisperClaims are helping us with some of that through educational tutorials and written guidelines.
We're also really committed to technology. Our team have got trust in our view on that. If we say it's good, it's going to be good. We've demonstrated that with Xeros, Receipt Banks, Chasers … all of that. We've demonstrated how technology can help them in their day-to-day job.
It gives us, as the accountants, control and it rewards us appropriately for the work that we do. So by having complete control over a claim, and being rewarded appropriately for it, it gets the due care and attention that it should. It also gives the firm a focus to deliver the claim because the return is big, especially with the WhisperClaims subscription and reporting fee being so reasonable.
It brings a cash injection into your business and gives you so many opportunities to do other things that you might not have been able to do before. From my point view, most opportunities are missed because people don't have cash reserves. Growth needs investment. So this helps put cash into the accountancy practice to help us grow in other areas.
Technology makes you more efficient, saves you more time, and makes you more money.
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Last month we hit a really important milestone here at WhisperClaims … it was our one year anniversary! Yay! Now, we're a modest team but one year is kinda special and we decided a small intimate celebration with blue and white balloons wouldn't quite hit the mark.
So a vote was counted, it was unanimous, let's go full celebrity and take it to the media like the divas we really are! A few days later our news spread to the press and we basked in our moment of fame!
While all of this helped to massage our egos a little, a sudden realisation dawned on us … we hadn't actually told anyone about our story and who we are! (Cue a blog post about the light bulb moment when WhisperClaims came to be!)
So let us introduce our team…
Here's Mike Dean, Richard Edwards, Jen Badger and Rick Henry, our four directors.
Richard, Jen and Mike met when working at a successful Edinburgh-based R&D tax consultancy, founded by Richard in 2008. During Mike’s time as interim Sales Director, he noticed key trends in the R&D tax market, most notably the high number of claimants that were being turned away because their claims were too small to be economically processed by consultants. All three founders felt that automating the process of preparing R&D tax claims would be hugely beneficial to the industry, enabling smaller companies to access support and advisors to expand their offering.
While Richard and Jen took time out to polish up their technical skills and gain experience of software development and Agile management, Mike formed Whisperclaims and began gathering feedback on the idea of an automated, cloud-based system for the preparation of R&D tax claims.
Meanwhile, through his training at Codeclan, Richard met Rick Henry, our future Technical Director, and persuaded him to work with us to build the system.
Having gained all of the necessary skills and found a great developer, WhisperClaims was up and running! The prototype system was ready for testing within three months, and a few friendly accountants and consultants were recruited to help us test and refine the system. After only a few weeks of testing, the first claims were prepared and invoiced, and, more importantly, submitted to HMRC.
Having validated the concept and process, we set about building a front end and dashboards to create a great user experience. WhisperClaims officially launched in September 2018, and immediately gained traction. Rick Henry became Technical Director in October, and we were awarded ‘Best Use of Innovation’ at the UK Business Tech Awards in November 2018, which was amazing recognition of the hard work we’d put in up to that point.
Through 2019, WhisperClaims has gone from strength to strength. Highlights have included expanding our team, with our first additional developer, Upul, joining in January…
Suz, our Sales Coordinator, in April…
Then Gillian our Marketing Manager in June…
We won ‘Emerging Fintech of the Year’ at the Scottish Accounting and Financial Technology Awards in May, and were shortlisted for two awards at the Scottish Fintech Awards 2019.
One year on, we have over forty subscribed customers – from one-man band accountants to top 30 accountancy firms and leading R&D tax consultancies. That number has continued to grow every month since our anniversary.
While strutting our stuff down the streets of Edinburgh last week during a press photoshoot, we suddenly found ourselves forming a line-up that (with eyes a little squinted) might resemble something from the front cover of a well-known Beatles album or gangster movie. Though we may not be quite in the same league as the Beatles … yet (come on, there's nothing wrong with ambition!) … our little moment of fame give us a good chuckle and offered us some well deserved time-out to reflect on what has been an amazing year. Here's to 2020 and what that might bring.
Our fully automated, scalable and white-labelled software is capable of producing all the documentation needed to support an R&D claim within an hour. It is designed for business advisors of all kinds, including Accountants and R&D Tax Consultants.
Or get in touch to find out more about WhisperClaims.