The Monday Interview: Keith Taylor, managing director of BW Medical Accountants

After years of working for others Keith Taylor took the plunge to set up his own firm - and it is already tripling expectations - He met Coreena Ford

Keith Taylor, MD of BW Medical Accountants LTD
Keith Taylor, MD of BW Medical Accountants LTD

Coming from a family of engineers Keith Taylor’s career path could well have taken him into business with his father and brothers.

But as a keen maths student, accountancy was the vocation that appealed most, offering all manner of possibilities for his future as well as, he hoped, stability.

Now 52, the accomplished accountant has worked with the whole spectrum of UK businesses in a lengthy career that has allowed him to meet and work with businesses of all shapes and sizes, meeting personalities of every description along the way.

That wealth of experience put him in good stead to achieve his personal mission.

It was last year that he decided to take the plunge and plough his wealth of experience into his own venture, narrowing his expertise to focus on one sector – the medical arena.

Founding BW Medical Accountants with an equally experienced colleague, Peter Waller, Keith and the team give specialist accountancy and financial planning services to medical professionals across the UK – everyone from salaried GPS and locums to dentists and hospital doctors.

He and Peter set themselves targets for their first year in business, all of which were smashed in record time.

Sixteen months after setting up in Newcastle, the firm has a client portfolio reaching over 400, and he believes there is much more room for growth.

Yet it could all have been very different if he had followed his brothers and father into engineering stalwart CA Parson in Newcastle.

He recalled: “My father was a successful engineer at CA Parsons in Heaton for many years until he retired and both my brothers became engineers, so my route was clearly different from the start.

“I’d always been strong at maths at school and when I looked to a career in the early 1980s my abiding impression of the job market was of high volatility and how accountancy seemed a good long term option.”

So in 1981 Keith began his articled training at Spicer and Pegler in Newcastle, later to become Deloitte.

Following his training he moved to BDO Reads, which took him to the Channel Islands where he progressed rapidly over the next 12 years.

Starting as an audit senior he climbed the ladder to become audit director, overseeing a team of 35 whose clients were extremely varied.

He said: “I loved Guernsey and it gave me an opportunity to work with the most diverse range of businesses imaginable. From one-man-band newsagents to huge unit trusts – even the local international airport was a client.”

As a high-flying accountant Keith always had his eye on the future – and a yearning to return to his beloved Newcastle.

“As a senior manager I formed a view on how I wanted to progress,” he said. “It always seemed to me that because of the huge sums of money involved with the corporate, big business sectors, often owner-operators could be overlooked in terms of service levels and the general focus.

“This has always been something that motivates me when you know you can help and see an immediate benefit to the client.”

As a result of this, Keith returned to his native North East and made successive career moves that led to him becoming group manager for owner-managed businesses in 2002, at RMT Accountants in Newcastle.

After six years of doing this he moved across the company to become head of medical services at RMT, working exclusively with medical clients.

He said: “My real passion has always been owner-managed businesses and particularly in the medical sector. It’s a challenging environment due to constant change.

“It is unique in terms of its high levels of regulation and financial complexities around the NHS and other parts of the sector, and it is often highly politicised.

“GP practices are very much owner-operated by the partners and vary greatly depending on the key personalities as a result. It is this variation that I love, it keeps life interesting – and no two practices are the same.”

After many years of working under the constraints of others Keith made the decision to take the plunge and look to head up a specialist healthcare accountancy firm, setting out to raise the bar in terms of expertise and service delivery.

It was a plan he had always worked towards, and discussed at length with colleague and friend Peter Waller.

“Peter Waller, a tax specialist who has worked in healthcare accountancy since 1985, and myself had often talked about setting up on our own. It was just a question of when.”

Then, in July 2013 Keith, with Peter as his first member of staff, launched the niche medical specialist company BW Medical Accountants Limited.

The company had the financial backing of Blackett Walker Independent Financial Advisers, which has more than 20 years experience in wealth management and manages a client portfolio worth over £150m.

Keith said: “We just felt the time was right because there have been huge changes taking place in healthcare.”

Just a few months before the firm launched, one of the biggest changes took place within the health service when primary care trusts were replaced with 211 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), commissioning the majority of services for community and secondary care.

As a result, all GP practices became members of their local CCG.

Pressures on funding and frequent service reviews also dictated that the timing was just right.

Keith said: “There were huge changes. The NHS manager led Primary Care Trusts being replaced by GP led Clinical Commissioning Groups as the main financial commissioners of NHS services, the increasing pressures faced by Accident and Emergency departments in hospitals driving the agenda towards more community-led service provision.

“The squeeze on funding at all points and the ongoing review of the NHS Pension Scheme and GP contracts are very real challenges for General Practice.

“The changes within the NHS and GP practices themselves having to transform their financial model have produced a lot of anxiety for healthcare professionals generally and GPs in particular.

“Standing still to address these changes is not an option, they need to be met head on.

“They need to be prepared to rethink the current delivery models, particularly if it is to be in a position to secure services for patients at a local level, whilst maximizing control of delivery and quality.”

Since launching in July 2013 the firm has grown to 15 staff and now has more than 500 clients.

That smashes its first year targets easily, almost trebling Keith’s expectations.

Keith said he has a sound base for further expansion, particularly as the firm has achieved so much without any external borrowing.

Almost 70 of the clients are GP practices across the North East, Cumbria, Leicester, Humberside, and Lincolnshire.

The rest are comprised of doctors, consultants, dentists, retired practitioners, other healthcare professionals and personal tax clients.

“We’ve had a fantastic start almost tripling our target of GP practices brought on board in the first 12 months,” he said. “Our business offers experienced specialist knowledge of the healthcare sector and our close working relationship with our sister company Blackett Walker has unrivalled specialist knowledge of the NHS, in particular the NHS Pension Scheme, which makes our offering powerful.”

Keith’s business strategy is to target GP practices across the country, together with the financial backing of Blackett Walker, a move which he believes has produced dynamic growth.

He said: “All we need is to bring 10 more practices on board and we will have moved through a critical mass figure that will mean we become self-sustaining with the current complement of staff.

“I think in the position we are now and our ability to recruit ahead of the game we should have 80 practices on board by the beginning of 2015.”

Rapid growth triggered a move into a bigger base, and BW Medical and Blackett Walker purchased 5,000sqft head office in Gosforth, Newcastle where it can continue to build a sustainable business.

“Because of the cash reserves of our sister company Blackett Walker we have been able to bank roll the growth without any external borrowing which of course is fantastic position to be in,” Keith said.

“Particularly as we enjoy such rapid growth and it is such a huge market – there are 350 medical practices in the North East alone.

“The trick is to always be ahead of the game in terms of employees and work load. We have been able to do this by rapidly growing the team, employing colleagues who we have worked with before.”

Keith continues to put into practise everything he has learned throughout his career and BW Medical Accountants has certainly got off to a flying start, and that gives him time to focus on developing his team.

Man management became a central part of Keith’s responsibilities at his days back in the Channel Islands and it’s an element of his role he has always enjoyed.

He said: “When you become a manager 50% of your time is taken up by man management so you really need to have empathy with your team and enjoy it because if you don’t you will struggle.

“This part needs to come naturally; I don’t believe it can really be taught.

“You see many individuals that excel at elements of their job getting elevated to management roles who fail because they cannot make the transition.

“This is something I learned along the way and I’ve been fortunate to have such a varied career path that has put me into contact with so many different types of businesses.

He added: “I’ve been able to incorporate the good bits and leave out the bad elements of all that I’ve witnessed. Learning from other people’s mistakes is a very powerful formula for success.”

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