We’re delighted to have Phil Ellerby from Northern Accountants on the blog today to talk about his firm’s expansion into R&D tax relief consultancy using WhisperClaims technology, and how they claimed over £400,000 of tax benefit for their clients within the past year.
Phil is also one of the three speakers at the WhisperClaims ‘Building an in-house R&D tax service’ webinar.
Tell us a little bit about Northern Accountants.
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.
How did you manage R&D tax relief opportunities for your clients before using WhisperClaims?
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.
It takes an hour on average for a claim to be processed using WhisperClaims technology. Are you finding that?
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.
In the first three months we started putting claims through for 9 clients and the tax benefit came in at over £250,000, which is a substantial amount. Since then we’ve claimed for over £400,000 of tax benefit using WhisperClaims technology.
What inspired you to take it in-house?
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.
What makes it quicker for you?
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.
How has it benefitted your clients?
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.
What do your clients think of it?
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.
What do you plan to do to grow your client pipeline?
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.
You mentioned earlier you’ve got 9 clients who are currently eligible for R&D tax benefit, what’s that worth to them?
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.
What impact has WhisperClaims had on your firm?
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.
Are they impacted by the fact that they’re helping organisations?
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“.
How did you find embedding it into the firm?
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.
If you were going to recommend WhisperClaims to someone else, what would you say?
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.
Looking to follow in Phil’s footsteps?
Phil is speaking at our free webinar ‘Building an in-house R&D tax service’ on the 22nd of October 2020.
Join us to get the inside scoop on how Phil, and accountants like him, are moving their R&D tax relief services in-house, adopting technology and finding eligibility within their client base.
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