To Infinity and Beyond
Success never ends for award-winning accountancy firm
Simon Cowie is back where it all began – only this time, his Aberdeen company is much bigger and better.
His accountancy and business advisory firm, Infinity Partnership, recently moved into prestigious stand-alone offices at 5 Carden Place, 15 years after he started out on his own in a small corner of the very same building.
From a cramped space on the lower ground floor, surrounded by paperwork, he sought to establish an accountancy firm that offered more than just a set of accounts. Today, he is speaking to Business Now as the leader of a team of 17, in premises more than twice the size of its previous office, a few yards round the corner on Albert Street.
Simon began his career in the mid-1990s as a trainee accountant at Rutherford Manson Dowds (RMD). The former Robert Gordon’s pupil became part of the corporate finance division at Deloitte after its acquisition of RMD.
After a spell at Anderson Anderson & Brown, where he was instrumental in the formation of its corporate finance division, he set up his own business, Infinity Partnership. He later became a partner at another Aberdeen accountancy firm after he merged his company with it, only to set up on his own again, as Infinity Partnership, in 2011.
The story really begins to gather pace in 2011. Since then Simon – a two-time Scottish Dealmaker of the Year – has completed more than 80 deals worth more than £300 million. The business has won more than a dozen awards, most notably British Accountancy Awards in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Infinity’s client relations manager, Greg Houston, has been highly commended twice and shortlisted once at the British Accountancy Awards.
The 2016 accolade – when Simon was named Practitioner of the Year by his peers – remains a proud moment for Infinity’s managing director.
It has not been glory all the way, though. Like many businesses across the North East, Infinity had to deal with the challenge of the low oil price and, for them, the resultant decline in valuable merger and acquisition activity.
Infinity adapted to meet market changes: it carved out a niche in research and development tax credit claims, with £80-million worth made so far. It is this ability to give clients what they need, when they need it, that led to the individual award win and, more importantly says Simon, a 99% client retention rate.
Simon said: “We’ve come a long way in the past seven years, from being on my own to having a team of 17. I’m proud that a company from the north-east corner of Scotland has won at the British Accountancy Awards in London three times in a row.
“The success of the business, however, has been built on an unwavering commitment to customer service. That leads to referrals from clients into other companies: it’s how we’ve grown year-on-year since 2011.
“It’s not all been plain sailing, though. We needed to change after the key revenue stream of investments, mergers and acquisitions all but dried up due to the low oil price. We developed a process for preparing and submitting R&D tax claims to counter the drop in M&A activity. It has now become a key part of the business. We have a 100% success rate for every claim made using our processes, and Infinity is now one of the leading R&D tax claim companies.”
Simon is beginning to witness something of a revival in M&A activity. He said: “There has been an increase in investments, mergers and acquisitions activity in recent times. Increasingly, it’s instigated by us, using our connections to find the right investors, sourcing the right business to be acquired, coming up with solutions to allow owners to sell their business to management teams. It’s all about exceeding client expectations.”
The firm’s broad scope of expertise has seen it work with six plcs and 100 start-up businesses in the past year or so. While most of Infinity Partnership’s clients operate in, or are connected to, the oil and gas industry, the business has clients in the professional services, legal, property and charity sectors – from Shetland in the north to Hastings in the south. It has worked with clients in the USA, the Middle East, Germany and Holland.
The move to the new Carden Place office, coupled with a continued commitment to staff training and investment in IT infrastructure, ensures a solid platform for further growth.
Simon said: “The relocation reflects our confidence in, and commitment to, the Aberdeen market. We know that our ability to offer strategic advice, complementing traditional accountancy services, is appealing to clients, so it’s important for us to have additional space available to allow us to grow.
“The move to cloud-based accountancy solutions is one of the biggest changes in the profession, and it’s something we’ve embraced. In fact, we were early adopters of new technology and that has made a huge difference to our clients. It provides them with instant, up-to-date information on which they can base informed decisions.
“Our staff have bought into the cloud-based accountancy strategy and we’ve supported them with training and development throughout. In turn, they’ve been able to pass on this knowledge to our clients.”
Infinity’s focus extends into the wider community. Greg Houston is on the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) regional panel and led the drive to revive the area’s annual dinner following the loss of a key sponsor. The company earned platinum level approved trainer status for ACCA at the start of June.
In addition, Infinity has raised more than £100,000 for the Renal Unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for new dialysis units. Most of the money was raised at a gala event attended by over 300 people. Simon said: “Working with industry organisations and supporting the local community are important commitments for everyone at Infinity.”
He added: “As a business we must continue to develop and grow but, at the same time, we must ensure our clients are satisfied with our service and continue to recommend us to others. This, more than anything else, will secure future success for Infinity Partnership.”