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A challenger bank for a challenger accountancy firm

19th September 2019

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“We don’t want to settle for the ordinary,” says Andy McGill, co-founder of accountancy business Ashton McGill. Andy set up Ashton McGill with his dad Alasdair two years ago. They now work with around 130 clients. “We choose to work with people who think in the same way as us and will only work with people that use online accounting software – that’s how it should be in 2019.”

When Starling launched multi-user business accounts, Ashton McGill were among the first to sign up. Ever since they found out about Starling 18 months ago, they’ve been recommending it to their clients. “Starling is part of our perfect setup for clients,” Andy says. “You’re a challenger bank, we’re a challenger accountancy firm – it just makes sense.”

Disrupting the accountancy industry

Almost every business needs an accountant. But they also often want help with business development, strategy, funding and cash flow. As soon as Andy and Alasdair started speaking to customers, the gap in the industry for a different type of accountant became clear.

“We’re not a traditional accountant by any means. People need the compliance and tax planning done, but they also want someone to come in and help them build a better business,” Andy says. “We’re coming at it with a completely new approach.”

A further insight gained from their initial market research was that people felt that accountants sometimes came across as superior and unrelatable. “Lots of people said that accountancy felt inaccessible or that they were made to feel stupid. We want to speak in a language everyone can understand, not one filled with accountancy jargon.”

A beautiful open space office
The Ashton McGill office, Dundee

Their office is an old flour mill, located in the centre of Dundee, Scotland. The bright, creative space speaks directly to their company values: be curious; never settle; challenge the status quo; life & work in harmony; make a difference and enjoy the journey.

This manifesto is outlined on the main wall as you come in. The mural was created by one of their clients, Abandon Ship.

A mural in the Ashton McGill office
Their values are outlined in a mural, designed by Abandon Ship

“We work with some really amazing people and have the pleasure of doing so. There are some really cool, young and growing companies that reflect the same values we have, such as 71 Brewing, and other companies in the Scottish growth scene,” Andy says. “People come to us because of our brand and reputation.”

Bringing skills together

Andy’s background is in advertising, marketing, graphic design and web design. He both conceptualised and designed the business with Alasdair and continues to manage the brand and sales, as well as client accounts and requests.

Alasdair first trained as an accountant with EY, then went on to become managing director and owner of several companies. He then trained in Service Design, learning how to take a service and make it better using a human-centred approach. When Andy suggested they start an accountancy business together in 2017, Alasdair was initially reluctant to return to the world of spreadsheets. But once they began to talk to startups and potential clients, his mindset shifted. They both saw how much more their company could benefit small businesses.

“We’ve always been customer-centric,” Andy says. “You’ve got to think about who your users are and what their pains and gains are. You can’t make assumptions about what they want or need either, you have to talk to them.”

Digital tools for accounting

The Ashton McGill team work with clients who use either Xero or FreeAgent to manage their accounts. “We’re software agnostic – it’s whichever works best for the client.”

Both Xero and FreeAgent are partners in the Starling Marketplace, a space where customers can access third party products and services, fully integrated with their Starling bank account. “It can be really difficult when our clients use traditional banks because the integrations with Xero and FreeAgent are so bad. With Starling, the ease of use is much better and they can set up the account tomorrow,” he says. Starling offers business accounts with no monthly fees for sole traders and limited companies.

“I have two or three conversations a week about banks and which one to choose, and Starling always comes up,” he says. He recently spoke to someone setting up an eco-shop in Dundee selling groceries and household items such as washing-up liquid and soap, all plastic-free. “She didn’t want to use a traditional bank with a history of corruption and scandals, so I suggested Starling – they don’t have that traditional banking history.”

A new business model

Following an initial discovery call where they can find out more about a potential client’s business, Ashton McGill then decide whether working together is a good fit. The team, currently made up of 7 people, 4 in the office and 3 remote workers, draw up a bespoke quote based on the services the client needs. The client is then charged a monthly fee.

“In the discovery meeting, we find out what kind of service they’re going to need and where they want to take the business and their personal life – do they want to grow it into a big company or do they want to arrange it so that they can work for six months and then take the next six months off? It’s a chance to get to know them.”

Ashton McGill use software called GoProposal to create the custom quote and process payments through GoCardless into their Starling business account. They also use design tools such as The Business Model Canvas to define aims and strategies with their clients.

Learning from businesses and sharing

Ashton McGill host a podcast called Never Settle, a phrase which captures one of their values as a company. “We didn’t want to make a podcast about accountancy, we wanted to highlight entrepreneurial people with interesting stories.”

From the conversations they’ve had both on the podcast and in their business, their advice to budding entrepreneurs is to just get started. “Start with version one and get going. Really understand your customer. Don’t underestimate how important it is to get your accounting set up from the start and make sure you use technology to help you.”

Find out more about Ashton McGill or listen to the Never Settle podcast.

Starling will be attending the Professional Accountancy Expo, 18th - 19th September, at the NEC Birmingham. We are at stand D60 - please come and visit us.

To speak with our Accountancy Partnership team, contact them via accountancypartnerships@starlingbank.com

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