The journey to B Corp status and a four-day week
Glasgow-based Brett Nicholls Associates became a B Corp company in February. Julie Burniston catches up with Partner David Nicholls and Accounts Senior Chloe Goodyear, an ICAS student, to discover the impact of progressive working practices
A growing number of CAs are choosing the firm they want to work for based on its purpose and values. Being employed by a B Corp offers assurance that you are joining a movement towards a more sustainable and socially responsible future. There are just 14 certified B Corp accountancy firms in the UK, one of which is Brett Nicholls Associates (BNA).
The firm was founded in 2004 by Nicholls’ father Brett, who set it up after several years working in various roles in Glasgow’s third sector. In 2009, father and son completed a charity cycle around Cuba and forged a plan to work together and grow the practice.
Nicholls Jr had been a team leader at Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, but turned to accountancy to join forces with his father. Following the birth of his first child, he began developing a flexible working policy, and in August 2018 BNA became an early adopter of the four-day week.
“We started with a six-month trial of compressed hours, but it wasn’t a good model for us, so we tried a true four-day week,” Nicholls says. “This proved successful and has been our working pattern since 2019. We learned that, with some modification to practice and culture, we could grow, exceed client expectations, and improve staff wellbeing and motivation.”
Being certified B Corp was a way of publicly demonstrating the firm’s existing commitments. “Certification is a rigorous process and requires changes in operations and practices to meet the high standards set. We began the process in November 2021, having learned about the B Corp movement at a TEDx event in Glasgow. The process highlighted many areas of learning for us, and it took nearly 18 months to achieve certification.”
Being B Corp certified means the practice, now based in B-listed Herbert House (see artist’s image above) in Kelvinbridge, operates differently from others. “We don’t take on certain clients, and we don’t work in paper-intensive ways or with shoebox clients,” Nicholls says. “The move to digitise our procedures and systems has been positive. Eliminating paper (almost!) has improved efficiency as well as improving our B Corp score. We also provide specialised accounting services to not-for-profits, including charities and social enterprises – a sector traditionally underserved by most practices.”
BNA believes in sustainable growth and has expanded steadily and organically through new client referrals year on year since the firm was established. “We do this by recruiting, attracting and retaining good staff,” Nicholls says. “The recruitment landscape is a particular challenge at the moment, and the four-day week has certainly helped. We are committed to building a business which is nationally recognised as a progressive employer and a great place to work – and one which provides a top-quality professional service to our clients.”
Caledonian University graduate Chloe Goodyear joined BNA in May 2021 as an accounts senior after four years in a similar role. She is about to sit her last two exams at the Test of Professional Expertise level, the final stage of the ICAS qualification.
“I decided on the ICAS route as it’s a prestigious Scottish institution that is well regarded globally. I’d already completed the first two stages of the ICAS qualification and decided to take a short break from my studies when I first joined BNA. With their support, I hope to complete the qualification and gain my CA status.
“Working for a firm that is aligned with my values, and which cares about its wider impact on the world as well as the work-life balance of its staff, is important to me. A four-day week allows me to catch up on life admin, and it’s surprising the amount of work you manage to get done in those four days.” This correlates with the results of ICAS’ recent career survey, in which work-life balance was identified as the top priority.
As Goodyear says: “Often, in the accounting profession, firms can become too focused on profit at the expense of transparency, staff wellbeing and the environment. The approach BNA takes keeps me engaged with my work and I feel I’m making a positive contribution to the world. I’m proud to say that I work for a B Corp. A lot of people haven’t heard of this status and what this means for a company. I hope in time that it will grow in popularity and recognition.”