Profile: Chris Horne, CEO of Azets
It is a particularly turbulent time for the accounting industry. Not only has the pandemic resulted in unprecedented levels of disruption, but with a historic upheaval in the audit industry added to the equation, the way forward is fraught with challenges.
Newly appointed Azets CEO Chris Horne is set to lead the company at a time when the industry as a whole is changing. However, with 25 years of experience as a chartered accountant and over a decade in senior leadership roles within the profession, Horne has a game plan.
Accountancy Age spoke to the new Horne to learn more about the firm’s recent recruiting drive and how its client-centric approach could define Azets’ next chapter.
Opportunities and Goals
Azets is a great example of a company with many hurdles to overcome. The audit market is being reshaped, the technology landscape is changing at a rapid pace, recruitment is experiencing its biggest decline in recent history and UK businesses are still grappling with the economic fallout from a pandemic.
But when asked about the challenges ahead, Horne remains positive, preferring to focus on potential opportunities ahead.
“The audit market is changing, but Azets as a company is uniquely positioned to take advantage of it. We continue to focus on providing services to owner-managed SMEs, ”he says.
“The Big Four will no longer provide service at our sweet spot – so if you’re a £ 50million or £ 75million business, we’re uniquely positioned to be your listener. This is a great opportunity for us.
This corresponds perfectly to what the Ministry of Commercial, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) describes in its consultation document as “competition, choice and resilience in the audit market”. With this broader goal, guidelines such as “shared audits” and market share caps have been touted.
Despite areas like the new reporting and director responsibilities that are at the heart of the reform proposals, non-Big Four companies like Azets stand to benefit from the reshuffle.
Horne then turns to recruiting at Azets, noting that it is “possibly the biggest challenge facing the entire profession”.
A recent study shows that 73% of companies in the accounting sector “feel the pressure” of the lack of skilled workers.
But Horne is optimistic, saying that if the correct formula is found, there is room for continued growth and improvement.
“I don’t want to make it too easy, but if you employ good quality people and give them good quality clients to work with, it gets pretty straightforward. “
In May, Azets announced plans to recruit more than 200 accounting graduates as interns, all of which are expected to start in August. According to Horne, the company also hopes to employ an additional 550 people in 2022, as part of a broader transformation strategy.
“Part of our transformation agenda is that we’ve completely overhauled the way we deliver career development to people, and more and more we’re encouraging people to get promotions,” he says.
“Apart from very strategic hires, we want to fill almost all the vacant positions that we have from an internal promotion. This is the great opportunity we have because most of the people who go into accounting in UK have got a degree and a professional qualification and they are looking for a career. But many of these businesses are not growing, which makes it difficult.
“So if we can make sure we’re growing and can make sure we’re proactively helping people manage their careers within the company, then that’s something we want to do. “
Streamlining services through technology
The pandemic has accelerated digitization in the accounting industry and, according to Horne, despite ambitious digital transformation plans in place before the outbreak, the crisis has accelerated the company’s adoption of the technology.
However, as the adoption of technology has accelerated, the investment has mostly occurred “at the customer base rather than at the center of the business,” says Horne.
“We have a large number of clients and we recognize that we must continually streamline our service and make the way we serve small clients attractive. Technology will play a big role in our ability to provide them with more business intelligence. “
The investment in the technology, Horne explains, will allow Azets to provide more granular, data-driven insight into how businesses operate, which in turn will enable the company to provide a more sophisticated and valuable service to businesses. clients.
“Digitizing data and the way you query it allows you to better compare companies. We can use the work we do to provide a compliance service, and rather than using it just to prepare tax returns, it gives us an incredible level of knowledge of our clients’ businesses, ”he says.
This is, according to Horne, what the true success of a professional services firm looks like.
“It’s really engaging with this SME market and providing the breadth of experience and knowledge that a large company can provide, while also providing this more local and relationship-oriented service.
“Some smaller accounting firms see technology as a threat and say they’re going to do the job for us – we see a huge opportunity.”
Keep it simple
The new CEO of Azets believes his experience and personal leadership style will complement the culture of the company and help him through a difficult time.
“My style is to keep it very simple. I think in this complex world it is very important that we understand what our goal is and why we are doing it.
“I am very clear that Azets is here to improve the lives of its colleagues, customers and the communities in which we work, and to do so in a sustainable manner. “
This, he says, is a mantra that generated success during his tenure as the head of Scottish accounting firm Campbell Dallas, which officially became part of Azets in 2017.
“We focused on caring for people and encouraging them to care for our customers. It was a very successful formula with which we have grown the business quite significantly and won this year’s Scottish accounting firm award. “
Horne points out that he carries this customer-centric approach with him today, noting that Azets’ main directive is to put customers at the forefront of everything it does.
“Our customers are the lifeblood of the UK economy. The SME market represents over 95% of UK businesses, and this is the market we serve.
“It’s important to me that they have the peace of mind that comes from being an Azets customer. Many of them own and live their businesses, so improving them and giving them some more financial security improves their lives. “