Accountancy & Management: Stoy is flying its quality kitemark

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The Independent Online
IT IS perhaps surprising, given the amount of criticism directed at the BS 5750 quality standard lately, to find a leading accountancy practice trumpeting its success in gaining the accreditation.

But Stoy Hayward is unrepentant. Adrian Martin, a managing partner, sees it as a vital part of improving the service offered to clients in an increasingly competitive environment. 'There are profound changes taking place throughout the professions and in the service sector. Stoy Hayward has always been committed to innovation and excellence; I believe that we are leading the field in the drive for quality,' Mr Martin said.

While other firms have gained the kitemark for parts of their practices - usually the consultancy side - Stoy believes it is the first to have applied the standard right across its activities. The London office is the first to be registered - just nine months after the practice decided to seek it - and it is hoped that the rest of the South-east region will be accredited by the end of the year, with the remaining national offices following.

Cynics might suggest that events of the late Eighties called into question the firm's right to be allied with quality. The collapse of a number of audit clients, most notably Polly Peck, in the early stages of the recession did focus management thinking on procedures.

Certainly, the BS 5750 registration - which involves all 900 London-based personnel - is just part of a quality management programme based on staff views rather than decisions of the partnership. This process extends beyond pure quality matters to such areas as personal computers (everybody is required to use them with a view to building up a database). In addition, there is now a quality department headed by Kevin Miller, a partner, that will monitor progress regularly and report directly to the management team.

Pointing out that most of the criticism centres on the bureaucratic aspect of the standard, Mr Martin claims that the benefits of documenting everything that is done are not limited to improving systems. 'It enables you to go all the way,' he said.

Although there was resistance throughout the professions to monitoring, it was vital that there be some way to check on what went wrong if a mistake or problem arose, he added. Nor could a firm claim to have a quality programme in place if it had no means of measuring it.

With clients looking not just for reduced fees but also for a service that really meets their needs, it was essential that firms address these issues. But while clients would benefit from the presence of formal systems and service standards, the firm could, too.

'The efficiency aspect of a quality management system is often underestimated,' Mr Martin said. While the rich pickings of the Eighties had not put professional firms under any pressure to review their systems, the downturn had forced them to look at improving efficiency. And it was difficult to do that without introducing some form of documentation.

But the biggest impetus could come from the increasingly tricky area of professional indemnity insurance. If the underwriters start to require evidence of some kind of management system before providing cover, Stoy Hayward might not be out on its own for very long.