Crowe UK: supporting clients through COVID-19 and Brexit
29 October 2020: Nigel Bostock, Chief Executive of Crowe UK and board member of Crowe Global, gives ICAEW a local, national and global perspective on the huge economic challenges that clients are facing.
Bostock has a broad vantage point across businesses of all types and sizes in numerous sectors, both in the UK and across the world. But if he is concerned for any part of Crowe UK’s client base it is for SMEs, who may not be fully prepared for Brexit as they continue to bear the majority of the impact, costs and upheaval associated with COVID-19.
“Some SMEs have less ability, resource and experience and may struggle to generate management information and forecasts to help navigate them through challenging times and put them in the best position,” he points out. “While in recent years, Brexit has made businesses in the UK more used to planning for uncertainty than most other countries as we go through the COVID-19 crisis, for some there is a need for greater certainty.”
He continues: “it is only in recent weeks that Brexit has returned to the headlines. For much of the spring and summer, it received very little publicity and businesses were not able to devote resources to plan for it. We are still moving towards this precipice beyond which things are going to change for many. Although government trade negotiations are ongoing, the reality for a lot of businesses, including SMEs, is that there is still a lack of clarity over what Brexit means. There are also a number of myths about the trade negotiations, which adds to the uncertainty that businesses are having to deal with.”
Bostock points out that while many global and larger businesses have been planning for Brexit for many years, many smaller businesses simply weren’t able to invest the same level of resource in planning for the impact of Brexit. “This wasn’t helped by there being a period of speculation and hypothetical scenarios,” he says. “For a lot of SMEs, the challenge is that until they know what they are playing with, they could have risked spending a lot of time and cost undertaking these hypothetical plans to the distraction and detriment of doing what matters most – managing their businesses on a day-to-day basis, especially given the current crisis.”
In recent weeks, more information about the trading position between the UK and EU has been provided, but with time running out businesses, including SMEs, should now be preparing to ensure they have taken the minimum steps needed to ensure their goods do not become stranded come 1 January 2021. Only once that position has been achieved should they start to consider how to improve the impact on their supply chains.
Bostock is well-versed in the needs of Crowe’s clients. Within the firm, as well as being the Chief Executive, he is an audit partner in its corporate and professional practices groups, advising a wide range of listed and private large SME and professional practice clients. He also is involved in developing the firm's international profile. During his time at the firm, Bostock has also undertaken the roles of Ethics Partner, London Office Managing Partner and International Liaison Partner for Crowe UK and has been on the Audit and Accounting Committee for Crowe Global. He is currently a board member of Crowe Global.
Crowe UK’s revenue was £94m last year, experiencing positive growth across the business. The UK firm’s focus is primarily on delivering audit, tax, advisory and risk services to a wide range of clients. “We consider ourselves to be a full-service firm,” he confirms. The practice operates from six locations across the UK with 82 partners and just over 1,000 people in total.
Although Bostock expresses concerns for SMEs, he reflects on the challenges the current environment, COVID-19 and Brexit, create for the firm’s clients across their five key strategic sectors. These include corporate business, which covers anything from large listed businesses to large private companies to SMEs and entrepreneurial businesses. “We advise businesses of all sizes and there is a real mix across the sectors: property and construction, professional services, retail, manufacturing, tech and media, oil and gas exploration, among others,” he says.
Crowe has a strong reputation in its strategic sector of non-profits, achieving top charity auditor for 11 consecutive years. “We are market-leading for non-profits, acting for a wide range of clients including charities, international NGOs, trade unions, education establishments and membership bodies. We recognise the importance of continuing to interact and engage with our clients in this sector to help minimise the impact COVID-19 and Brexit could have during these difficult times,” he says.
Crowe’s other strategic sectors are pension funds and professional practices, and also advise a wide range of private and entrepreneurial clients.
Critical global component
But it is not just the UK practice that Bostock is focused on developing. “We’re one of the key members of the $4.4bn Crowe Global network, which is the eighth largest,” he says. “The global piece is a critical component to us, our clients and our people, as with any global network. Crowe Global is present in 146 countries. Many of our clients, and those of our fellow member firms across the world, regularly need global service delivery from their advisers, in a world of ever-increasing globalisation.”
So how does a network morph to keep up with global economic trends? He responds: “We look to build strength across the globe, ensuring we have a presence in as many places as possible with the right level of quality of member firms, service delivery and diversity of offering.”
Is that thinking immune to the huge economic challenges we have going on at present? Bostock replies: “We are proud that our global network proactively leads in these uncertain times, promoting collaboration, communication, innovation and quality as we help each other to service our clients’ needs wherever they are based.”
He concedes these are difficult times, with economic downturn, US/China trade-wars, Brexit, COVID-19, tensions continuing in the Middle East and questions raised over the concept of ‘slowbalisation’, and how global trade will be impacted by this now and in the future.
“When the pandemic first struck, there was a sense that there could be a slowdown of globalisation. Almost a retrenching,” he says. “I think that is short-term thinking. Naturally, we will all adapt and adjust. I am encouraged that we’re still seeing a lot of cross-border activity. With COVID-19, my gut feeling is that leading economies have to focus on their own interests first, but globalisation will continue.”
Commenting on the strengths of the Crowe Global network, he says: “Part of the network fit is around developing personal relationships, culture and knowing that our personal and professional style is matched in the other locations in which our clients might need to operate. It’s also about bridging all the cultural divides while delivering a quality service. All our member firms have similar goals and aspirations. A big challenge of operating cross-border is bridging all the cultural differences globally.”
It is important to work with all clients, both in and out of the UK especially when the issues are as big as COVID-19 and Brexit. Bostock concurs and concludes: “At a time where there is much uncertainty for businesses in the UK and what the future may hold for trading and operating internationally, there are a lot of intangible benefits to being able to say to our clients that we can help them globally.”