Expanding horizons

Technology isn’t just helping Lancashire’s professional services firms meet the challenges of coronavirus – it is allowing them to widen their reach and take on their big city rivals.

Oliver Burton, chief executive at Forbes Solicitors, believes the ‘new normal’ of the post-pandemic world can work to the county’s advantage and by harnessing the strengths it has, opportunities can be seized upon.

He says: “Professional services firms are able to thrive in Lancashire because the county is home to a diverse range of sectors and innovations.

“This means our advisers build the specialisms and experience which meets the needs of national and international clients. The strength of homegrown businesses has helped weather some of the impact of Covid-19 and goes a long way in attracting talent.

Digital comms and tech mean you don’t need to be a big firm in a big city to attract the best professionals. Location is almost irrelevant nowadays and firms with national and international ambitions will appeal to talented people, no matter whether they are a firm in Lancashire or London.

“The wider adoption of tech during lockdown will only see this trend grow further and means a regional firm could become a national or international practice overnight.”

Forbes, which has offices across Lancashire, is also growing its reach through its partnership with LawPact – an international network of independent law firms.

Oliver says: “The network brings together leading legal expertise from many different countries to service clients internationally. This means that professionals living and working in Lancashire are able to share knowledge and best practice with leading companies from around the world.

Digital comms and tech mean you don’t need to be a big firm in a big city to attract the best professionals

“For us, this has the added bonus of attracting and retaining top talent as we’re providing people with evolving opportunities to test themselves, develop their skills and progress.”

He adds: “Looking ahead, I think that despite the challenges of the pandemic, there’s many exciting opportunities to be had. Innovative, forward-thinking firms will adapt and thrive in the new economy and we’ll see the county’s firms bringing in more business from outside the north.”

Stephen Robinson, director at Champion Accountants’ Preston office, agrees. He says: “Lancashire businesses have always been keen to buy from within and reinvest back into the local economy, which has been a driving force behind our success.

“Yet Covid-19 presents a real opportunity for firms to extend their reach beyond the county’s borders and win business regionally, nationally and even internationally.

“Social distancing measures have upended our way of life, meaning locality may soon present less of a priority in some business’ decision to appoint a new advisor.

“While Lancashire firms must work to retain our foothold within the county, we are also well poised to capitalise on this thanks to our cost-effective services and cultural values.”

Elaine Hurn, managing and commercial partner at Blackburn-based Taylors Solicitors, also believes that being a Lancashire-based practice has many advantages.

She adds: “We’re seeing more and more clients moving away from places like Manchester, as they no longer see city centres as ‘the place to be’.

“People are becoming more aware that quality work is available on their doorstep”.

We’re seeing more and more clients moving away from places like Manchester

Forbes isn’t the only Lancashire-based professional services business with a global outlook. Blackburn-based PM+M is part of Praxity, the world’s largest alliance of independent accountancy firms.

Managing partner Jane Parry says: “All of this means we have first-class work and global connections, but unlike our city centre contemporaries we are in easily accessible modern offices, with free parking outside the door and where our team can live in many of the lovely surrounding areas and be within just a short commute of the office.”

That offer, she adds, helps to recruit and retain staff. “Employees in many sectors are now realising that they do not have to be based in a city centre to get the best work. That was once the case but things are changing, and fast.”

Pennine Wealth Solutions (PWS) is a model portfolio manager based in Chorley. In an industry normally associated with the City of London or Edinburgh, how well does that work? Founder George Critchley answers: “Incredibly well”.

He adds: “All the technical behind-thescenes research and statistical work is done online. The key part of the equation, is then to connect directly with our market.”

Sean Fisher, business development manager, adds: “We bring in expertise as we need it. Most people skills we need, are here in the local community. We can easily import in specialist skills when required.”

Ross Shine, head of the Preston office at law firm Brabners, says major projects that would previously have used advisers from Manchester, Liverpool or London are now being serviced in Lancashire.

He says: “The proposed £85m Eden Project North is a great example of this where we, a Preston-based legal team, working with Lancaster City Council are helping to secure the prestigious seafront development in Morecambe."

Most people skills we need, are here in the local community. We can easily import in specialist skills when required