It would be fair to say that the UK’s decision to leave the EU has rattled many companies in the UK. While some see it as an opportunity to do more business, many will be lamenting the potential loss of some of their closest trading partners.
Even before the Brexit vote, firms like Grunberg & Co – a top 100 accountancy firm – could see that success required expanding its horizons, which is why in 2016 it took the decision to form new partnerships overseas.
Having looked at which markets may benefit from the firm’s expert advice, Grunberg & Co chose to launch a new subsidiary, Reanda UK, which would establish it as the exclusive UK member of Reanda International – a global accountancy network.
Founded by a major accountancy firm in China, this network has grown significantly in recent years and is now made up of 30 firms with more than 120 offices and 3,000 professionals around the world with a global aggregate annual fee income of more than £132m ($185m).
Robert Bean, managing partner at Reanda UK and Grunberg & Co, picks up the story: “Like many firms of our size we could see that there were a number of opportunities open overseas to us to support businesses, but there are obvious barriers to overcome first.
“Of course there are the regulations and different laws that govern other countries, particularly when you consider the kind of tax, business and accountancy advice that we offer, but more generally there is the issue of culture and of language.
“There is a stereotype of British people when they go abroad that they expect everyone to speak English or to understand them if they shout and point enough. I think this can sometimes translate into the world of business and is something that we have always been keen to avoid, which is why it made sense to join a network of like-minded firms.
“Prior to us joining and setting up Reanda UK we were certainly no strangers to doing business overseas and we had a number of clients who had non-dom status or who spent part of their working lives overseas, but with a general feeling that the world was becoming in some way more insular, we wanted to look outwards, rather than following the trend of looking inwards, which we feel has been typified by decisions such as Brexit.
“Our initial interactions with our fellow colleagues overseas at other Reanda International member firms kind of revealed the benefit of forming international partnerships. We instantly not only had someone who spoke our own ‘official’ language, English, but they also spoke the language of our profession and they were able to translate that into their own native tongue when we were interacting with each other’s clients.
“The phrase Win-Win is banded about a lot, but there really were no losers from this kind of relationship. We gain fee income, our partners gain fee income and the businesses we support get experts in both of the countries they are trying to do business.
“We are also able to use our fellow members own local expertise. For example, we had found it difficult to attract Chinese businesses because our business culture and theirs was and still is different. I think this is best typified in the way we communicate.
“In the UK you would typically log in to your emails and send a quick message, but in China, much of the business is done over apps such as WeChat. This means that we have had to adapt and use the same tools as businesses overseas.
“We also found that, despite our professional qualifications, people in China prefer to speak to someone who is either from the country or who has Chinese heritage – it’s a trust issue in many cases. This is why we set up a dedicated China desk within our firm, which is manned by one of our accounts seniors who is of Chinese heritage and is a fluent Mandarin speaker.
“Once you get over these barriers then the conversations we have with those businesses either wanting to trade in another country, or conversely for those wanting to invest or do business in the UK is often similar.
“Despite the fears that Brexit has created we certainly haven’t ruled the European market out either. Yes there will be new barriers, but we have spent years assisting clients with French, Spanish and a variety of other continental connections.
“However, with the help of our fellow members at Reanda International, we are able to still gain access to expertise and new clients in these countries.
“I think it is clear that many companies are holding back and waiting to see what happens, but we are firmly of the opinion that the early bird catches the worm. Invest, innovate and form partnerships now so that you can exploit any new opportunities which may arise in the coming years.
“We are already seeing the benefits of this approach, with the number of international businesses on our books growing steadily. I am of the opinion that this approach can be taken by most businesses if they are willing to interact with the wider global business community.
“This should not just be exclusive to firms in the services sector and neither should it be exclusive to medium or large firms, but it does take time and you cannot expect results to happen overnight – patience is something that is often missed in the world of business, but good things come to those who are willing to innovate, collaborate and wait.”
Robert Bean is a partner at Reanda UK, the UK member firm of Reanda International and a newly formed, wholly owned subsidiary of accountancy firm Grunberg & Co Limited.