Phelan Prescott and Crowe Horwath – one year on

Audit Partner Brian Geraghty interview - Crowe Horwath Ireland

Brian Geraghty started as a trainee in Phelan Prescott + Co in 1983. After 30 years in Phelan Prescott, he discusses his experience merging into a larger firm and how this has benefited both him and his clients.

The pool of resources and expertise has given Brian more time to focus on his clients and enables him to work with them on a wider range of projects. His experience covers retail and manufacturing sectors, property investment, technology, legal, insurance and other services.

How did joining Crowe Horwath impact yourself, your partners and the twenty staff from Phelan Prescott?

Two of our partners retired, leaving myself and partner Neil Davitt and the rest of our people to merge into the Crowe Horwath practice, which had 12 partners and about a hundred and thirty staff.

We came from having a very hands-on and direct relationship with our clients into a larger firm that could have been somewhat impersonal. But this wasn’t the case at all.

Largely the reason why we chose to join Crowe Horwath was that they were very similar to us, but just doing it on a larger scale. They have a very similar heritage to ours and their experience working with local owner-managed businesses, mirrored ours very closely. The months leading up to the merger allowed both sides to cement a common ground and the ease of transition I think is down to the fact that both firms have come from a similar ethos and approach.

One year on from joining, we have found quite a sweet spot for us. We’re at a level where we’re a large firm serving small and medium sized enterprises on a personal basis. We now have more facilities and expertise around us to help us to deliver the same services better and where we can offer a wider range of expertise.

Can you expand on some of the expertise you have available to you now?

In the past, we had to do a lot of the research ourselves or sometimes we would have to look outside our own firm for specific expertise or assistance in particular areas. Now we are in a situation where it’s sitting beside us.

The tax expertise in Crowe Horwath is a key area where our clients benefit. With a dedicated tax team in-house, I can literally walk ten or fifteen yards and get the answer to a client problem within minutes rather than spending hours poring over sources.

That has allowed myself and Neil to get closer to our clients because we now have the time available. Spending more time with clients allows us to learn more about their business, to understand their pressure points and to be in a better position to help ease those.

I know my clients and my clients know me – it is a close personal relationship that I like to foster, where they know they can phone me to talk through any aspect of their business. Over the years I have enjoyed helping clients make the transition from a business that is a personal passion to a valuable asset that can be realised or passed to the next generation. This last year I have found I am in a better position to be able to add greater value to clients’ businesses.

After 30 years’ experience in Phelan Prescott, what kind of skills did you bring to Crowe Horwath?

There are many ways we can help clients leverage opportunities around the area of buying and selling businesses. I’ve also helped clients with tax planning for retirement, succession planning for the next generation, and cash extraction.

The practical experience I’ve built up over the years means I am well placed to address the various problems that are coming through and since joining Crowe Horwath I’ve been able to offer support at a higher level than I’d been doing previously.

Outside of Crowe Horwath, I’m a Director of Applegreen plc. Being part of the board has allowed me to see close up a business in significant expansion mode and this has been helpful to pass that experience on to clients.

I’ve also been involved in the insurance industry as a director of a broking firm for the last 18 years. Over that time, I have developed a deep understanding of how these businesses work financially, the pressures they can face and what regulatory obligations they have.

Since joining Crowe Horwath, is there anything you’ve done that you mightn’t have been able to do with Phelan Prescott?

We’re a larger firm now so it means we have the capability of doing things that in the past, clients or potential clients wouldn’t have considered we were capable of doing. We have a corporate finance department, a separate taxation department and a consulting division.

Consulting was always something we offered in a modest way in Phelan Prescott. But now with in-house expertise and it is great to be able to bring a colleague direct into a client meeting or project who has specific expertise in that area.

Also, being an international firm allows us to do work with clients on an international level. If someone comes to me and says “I’m going to buy a property abroad and I want to know how I should hold it or what’s involved”, we have the resources available to handle that with an office in all the major cities around the world.

Are there any shifts in the industry that people should be aware of for 2018?

We’re a country reaching full employment so the question is not only how do you get staff, but also how do you keep them? Bob Lee (founding director of Great Place to Work UK & Ireland) came in to talk at one of our Pinnacle Programme events and shared his considerable insight about how to build a workplace culture that attracts the right talent and how best to incentivise staff to stay with you. It is an ongoing challenge facing our business as well as our clients.

With the potential risks regarding Brexit, rather than relying on the UK as your second major market, a lot of Irish businesses are expanding into Mainland Europe. We are helping clients open offices throughout the EU where we have direct contact with colleagues in various offices. It means that you can touch the flesh, get to know the people and develop a stronger relationship in terms of delivering what the client needs.

Brian Geraghty and former Phelan Prescott + Co partner Neil Davitt are partners in the audit department.