Highland accountancy firm becomes 'trailblazer' after switching to employee ownership

An accountancy firm operating two of the most northerly offices on Scotland’s mainland has been described as a “trailblazer” for the sector after switching to employee ownership.

All shares of Reid & Fraser Chartered Accountants have now been placed into an employee ownership trust (EOT). Established in 1915, the accountancy firm has been a cornerstone of the Highland landscape with offices in both Thurso and Wick.

Director Stuart Walker believes the move towards employee ownership secures the future of the business.

He said: “We have loyal employees who have developed relationships with our clients, so adopting employee ownership felt like the obvious route to take. It was an easy decision.

Director Stuart Walker believes the move towards employee ownership secures the future of the business.

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“This move will hopefully give both our senior and our junior accountants, and perhaps those looking to make the move to Reid & Fraser, a clear path of progression to director level and a sense of stability that may not be present at other firms.”

With guidance from Lindsays Solicitors and Ownership Associates, Reid & Fraser has been able to navigate the transition to employee ownership - under the sector regulator Icas - which will see all 17 employees own a stake in the company through the trust.

Walker, who has spent 25 years at the firm, added: “To think of selling or merging the practice didn’t sit right with me because there would always be that uncertainty surrounding the future for our staff and clients should there be a merger or relocation.

“However, with employee ownership it shifts the control and emphasis of the business to those which matter most, the staff.”

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Douglas Roberts, a partner at Lindsays, has advised on a string of employee ownership transactions.

He said: “Reid & Fraser is a trailblazer, setting the path for other firms of accountants to follow. They are possibly the first full service firm of chartered accountants in the UK to move to employee ownership so we are sure that others in the sector will be watching with interest to see the benefits it brings, which are many.

“By opting for a sale to an EOT, Stuart has secured the practice in its local community, employment is protected and the firm’s loyal clients will see no interruption to service.

”As Reid & Fraser is a chartered accountancy practice, we had to seek approval from Icas for the proposed structure, although that did not cause any delays. Overall it was a smooth transaction that has delivered positive outcomes for the sellers, the staff and the clients of Reid & Fraser.”

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Jeremy Clarke, assistant director, practice at Icas said: “Stuart contacted me in early February about his options and it was clear from the outset that employee ownership was the right route to go down.”

Carole Leslie of Ownership Associates, who has supported the transition of more than 70 companies to employee ownership, added: “This is a landmark moment for employee ownership in Scotland.

“Stuart Walker has demonstrated great vision in transferring Reid & Fraser to his employees. We are seeing unprecedented interest in the model at the moment, precisely because business owners like Stuart want what’s best for the employees and customers, as well as define their own exit route.”

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