It’s a warm sunny morning and we are back in the corporate district of Manchester. The myriad of new shops and office blocks springing up along the city’s skyline mirror the growth and evolution of one of the UK’s most successful Insolvency Practices, nestled here amongst the busy streets of the country’s new “second city”. Twelve months on from our last visit, and we are visiting Clarke Bell’s King Street office once again.
As we arrive on the third floor, the senior leadership team are deep in discussion. John Bell, Toyah Poole, Katie Dixon and Jessica Williams are amongst the youngest senior management team in the country. It is their vision, energy and a combined 75 years expertise that has brought Clarke Bell into another record-breaking year; moving from 8th to 7th place nationally for total combined corporate insolvency cases and from 5th to 4th place for overall Members’ Voluntary Liquidation cases.
As we arrive, John gets up with a broad smile and we receive cups of steaming hot coffee and a very warm welcome. The 2018 awards clearly displayed on the sideboard and are very soon to be joined by the clutch of 2019 awards.
After our shots are taken, we sit down to hear about developments over the last 12 months and gain insights into the secrets to Clarke Bell’s success. With industry-wide figures showing small growth in Administrations and Members’ Voluntary Liquidations over the last year, Clarke Bell has bucked the trend. The firm undertook the second largest number of MVL’s of any practice in the first quarter of 2018 and ended the year moving from 5th to 4th place for total number of MVL cases. By the end of the year, the company had also moved from 8th to 7th place nationally for overall corporate appointment count.
This year John and Toyah are sharing the “No1 Insolvency Practitioner by Appointment Count”, having completed the exact same number of cases in 2018. John jokes that he is reticent to share his coveted “top spot” this year but is clearly very proud of the team’s success.
Early on in our interview, we discuss the practice’s recent achievements. The team firmly believes that the company’s continued success is down to a number of key strategic decisions including major IT changes and recruiting decisions.
Clarke Bell has been forward-thinking in its promotion and use of technology over several years. Where others hesitated, John and the team decided that investment in IT infrastructure would be key to future growth for the company. In the first quarter of 2019, the firm rolled out a bespoke suite of new IT systems. The senior leadership team took a very active role from the start. From early on in the project staff members were working hand-in-hand with software developers to create a set of systems tailored to the needs of the practice and designed to reduce delays as far as possible for clients. As Toyah explained,
“Getting the IT right has been absolutely essential. It’s allowed us to work in the best way possible, to move more quickly for our clients”.
This hands-on approach can also be seen on the company website. The freshly redesigned site went live in January and has been designed to be as intuitive and client-friendly as possible. Its clear instinctual design and a detailed directory of staff members allow clients to better navigate the insolvency process and make a connection with staff members involved in their case. As Katie explains;
“Insolvency can be a really difficult time for clients; so having that named contact, a person that you know and trust with your case is really important”
This client focus can also be seen in the live-chat function on the website, where clients and contacts can speak directly to a qualified staff member in real time, rather than having to wait or interact with a chatbot.
During 2019 a fresh set of graduate and A-level recruits have joined the team at Clarke Bell. Along with investment in their IT infrastructure, it is a hallmark of the company to place a strong emphasis on professional growth and internal development for all team members. This year has been no exception, with staff being placed through their initial CPI qualification, along with mentoring and guidance from senior members of the team. Looking to the Harvard Business School model of internal growth, John explains
“Stable companies with long term growth hire and grow their own people. This is what we do here.”
In addition to their CPI training, all of the new recruits receive soft skills training and are interacting with clients from early on, enabling them to become part of the client-centred practice that customers now demand in the insolvency industry.
It seems then that this client focus has been at the heart of Clarke Bell’s success in 2018. As the industry moves away from a traditionalist approach and into the brave new world of a client-centric approach, Clarke Bell has laid down the foundations and is blazing a trail for the rest of the industry.
As Toyah sums up succinctly;
“It’s about giving the clients the right help at the right time in a way and a manner that suits them best.”
As we descend the stairs back down to the ground floor after our interview, we cannot help but wonder what the next 12 months will hold for Clarke Bell and what projects will have come to fruition. But something tells us it’s likely that we will back at King Street in 2020 with another armful of boxes…