WHILE the UK saw virtue in going it alone when it voted to leave the European Union (EU), Scottish accountancy firm Campbell Dallas envisaged a much brighter future by integrating and joining forces with something bigger.

The firm became part of Staffordshire-based Baldwins Group, in turn part of the Cogital international business services network, in a deal which raised some eyebrows when it was announced nearly six months ago.

Campbell Dallas had itself been an active player on the acquisition front, bringing other firms into its fold to bolster its organic growth through a series of mergers since it formed in 1999. It had completed no fewer than six deals in that time, aiding the growth of its turnover to the £16.5m expected this year. That compares with a combined turnover of £2m when Bearsden’s Campbell & Co and Paisley’s Dallas Nicoll & Co merged to form Campbell Dallas 19 years ago.

However, listening to managing partner Chris Horne expound upon the merits of the Baldwins deal, the case for Campbell Dallas joining its English counterpart under the Cogital umbrella is certainly compelling.

The change does not mark the end of a story, he states, rather the start of a new chapter.

“One of things I’m keen people realise is that the deal we did with Baldwins wasn’t the end of anything – it is the start of something,” said Mr Horne, who joined Campbell Dallas in 2002.

“My role is now to take the Scottish business from where it is to a much larger pan-Scottish business.”

According to Mr Horne, who trained as an accountant with FL Walker and then worked for HLB Kidsons (now RSM) before arriving at Campbell Dallas, the benefits of being part of Baldwins are manifold. The opportunities, he argues, are now much bigger for staff, partners and clients, with the firm’s growth potential now exponentially bigger.

However, Mr Horne is keen to emphasise that the merger only happened because Baldwins, whose parent group Cogital was established by former Deloitte chief John Connolly, has a similar ethos to Campbell Dallas. For the record, none of the Campbell Dallas partners exited when the deal went through – all have signed up to be part of a growth story with Baldwins.

“When we met with the guys from Baldwins it was clear that they had a similar view to us,” Mr Horne said. “The focus had to be on local delivery of that client service.

“They also shared our growth aspirations for Scotland. What we didn’t want was [to] join a group that didn’t really fit our own vision for where the Scottish accountancy profession is going.”

Along with Springfords, the Edinburgh firm which joined Baldwins at the same time as Campbell Dallas, the combined Scottish operation turns over around £19m. But Mr Horne sees no reason why that can’t be taken to as high as £50m.

Crucial to that ambition will be the continued pursuit of acquisitions in Scotland, with Mr Horne revealing that there has been no shortage of approaches from Scottish firms who are keen to come on board.

“We’re in talks with a number of firms who have expressed an interest,” he said. “It is early days, but there are people we have started having a dialogue with.

“If people buy into where we all see the profession going, I think that would be an opportunity for us to grow [in] Scotland significantly. In terms of numbers, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be looking to get the Scottish business to £50m.”

One of the big attractions he feels Campbell Dallas now offers clients is its enhanced digital capability courtesy of the Baldwins deal. In fact, it was one of the primary drivers behind the alliance.

While he was always had great confidence in the advice offered to clients by the firm, which has around 300 staff in five offices around Scotland, the increasing digitisation of services was an area where he felt it had to up the ante.

Gone are the days when clients would turn up at the office with plastic bags full of receipts expecting the accountant to make sense it all. Now clients take pictures of receipts on phones and provide live feeds of their bank accounts.

“The key thing for me is that accountancy is changing, and technology and the digitisation of compliance services is coming,” Mr Horne said.

“We were, as I’m sure a lot of accountancy firms are, considering how best do we best protect ourselves from the risk that generates and maximise the opportunities that generates.”

He added: “The technology play means that, more than ever, accountancy is starting to become a global marketplace and it was quite hard for a firm like Campbell Dallas as it was to fully service that globally marketplace.

“Through the Cogital and the Baldwins that becomes a bit more straightforward for us.”

Nearly six months on from the merger announcement, Mr Horne expresses satisfaction that the integration is progressing well. His own role has adjusted slightly, too, having passed over his duties as head of corporate finance to Graham Cunning to focus on leading the business to the next stage.

“The integration process has been smooth and at a manageable pace, and we are already seeing a number of major benefits arising from the merger, including access to very smart digital technology that will transform our client service systems and processes,” Mr Horne said. “The benefits are also reciprocal, and I am pleased that our technical and sector expertise in areas such as international tax and farming, are being shared across the group.”

He added: “We are on track to create a diverse accountancy firm that offers clients access to some of the best people in the market and our staff access to some of the best careers in the profession. That is the hallmark of a good deal for all, and we look forward to more of the same.”