Sir Michael Snyder: how to turn committee chairing into an art form

Sir Michael Snyder stepped down in May after 37 years at the helm of Kingston Smith. Renowned as one of London’s most influential accountants, Sir Michael was knighted in 2008 for his ‘towering contribution’ to the City. These towering contributions include the Chairmanship of the City’s Policy and Resources committee and his instrumental role in the Crossrail project. Astonishingly, when the BDLN last counted, his multifarious roles during his Kingston Smith career totalled 28!

In spite of Sir Michael’s hectic workload, he still found the time to talk to us at the BDLN about how service beyond expectation is so crucial to differentiation and why every business adviser should be clued up on all matters financial and commercial.

BDLN: You will have seen a lot of change at Kingston Smith over the years, as you have steered it from a small firm with a few partners to a large mid-tier firm that has a very strong brand in the market. Of what are you most proud during your tenure?

Sir Michael: Well I never actually use the word ‘proud’, but I am happy that I have engendered a strong team spirit with an extraordinary group of people who have willingly embraced our ethos and who have wanted to stay at Kingston Smith to develop their skills in order to focus externally on our clients and our prospective clients.

BLDN: Would you say that you have been able to build a culture where people can be themselves?

Sir Michael: Yes. For me, it’s always been about creating a level playing field for those with whom I interact; whether that be with people within the firm or with people outside. I’ve always listened to what people say as that is the key characteristic of a leader – and if they have a better idea than me – and a lot of them do – then I take that on board and that’s what we go with.

BDLN: Do you think that large mid-tier firms are better positioned to partner with clients than the big firms?

Sir Michael: Because of their scale, size and the volume of fees that each partner is responsible for, I think that it is inevitable that the big firms will find it much more difficult to give that personal service to entrepreneurial businesses and SMEs.

For me, good regional medium-sized firms, like Kingston Smith, are ideally suited to getting close to clients, giving them added value in a focused and coordinated way as clients really want the close relationship and the expertise. Firms like ours are large enough to have the breadth and depth of services but small enough to engage and to care.

BDLN: Do you think that KPMG’s investment of £40million into their SME accounting service – and other such investment from the Big Four – will create potential risk for the mid tier accountancy firms who have traditionally serviced this sector?

Sir Michael: Everyone recognises that there will be some disruption to the market in the short term, but our experience shows that people want quality service. Yes, they do want a computer programme and they do want to drive down costs. But the reality is that people in a call centre can’t be trained to have the same experience and expertise that adds value to and offers the same personal service to clients as the advisors in mid tier firms do.

BDLN: What advice would you give to the modern-day business adviser?

Sir Michael: Audit is a very good way of understanding what happens in a business. It teaches you discernment and a level of scepticism and it gives you investigatory powers.

Being aware of tax in a rather broader sense is important too, but so is being aware of financial planning. Clients want their personal and their business aspirations dealt with, so I think it’s really important to find out about the whole person as well as the whole business.

I do believe that breadth of experience is vital – and I don’t believe that many firms at the bigger end give you that.

BDLN: How can firms differentiate themselves in such a crowded market?

Kingston Smith has built its reputation for being a high-quality firm over many decades, but it takes time. It’s very difficult to differentiate; especially when you’re a new kid on the block.

‘Service beyond expectation’ is very important. That belief comes from research done many years ago that showed that most clients change their supplier because of their perceived indifference. In other words, they don’t think that their supplier actually gives a monkey about them and most certainly don’t value them. It’s the little things that make a difference – we always do what we say we’ll do, we always get back to clients promptly…and we always show them that we care.

We gain about 70-75% of our business from our existing clients who recommend us to others so their client experience with us is vitally important. The quality of service is a given, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

BDLN: You have become extremely well known in the City as Chair of numerous committees and you support the Government on a wide range of councils and taskforces. How did that all start?

Sir Michael: I have been involved with various charities from a very young age, whether it be lending a hand to my local victim support or to the old people’s welfare committee – very Dickensian by today’s standards. Initially, I helped to run fetes and organise prize draws. It just went from there. I believe that you’ve got to get involved in other things in conjunction with your professional career – maybe not to the extent that I’ve done, where I’ve turned it into an art form, but it’s incredibly worthwhile for all of us to participate in the life of the community both within and outside the firm.

BDLN: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Sir Michael: I take advice all the time. If you listen, then you will always hear good ideas coming from left, right and centre so I continue to listen with my ears wide open.

Sir Michael Snyder was talking to BDLN founder John Maffioli.


Sir Michael led the top 20 Chartered Accountants firm Kingston Smith through a period of strong growth. His career there spanned 47 years – from trainee in 1968, Managing Partner from 1979 and then also as Senior Partner from 1990. He has been Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee of the City of London, Chairman of the Association of Practising Accountants and Co-Chairman of the Government’s Professional and Business Services Council. Sir Michael established the National Business Angels in 1999 and he is currently the Chairman of GLE Loan Finance and a Director of Metro Bank PLC. He is also a Governor of the City of London School for Girls and Brentwood School in Essex.

Sir Michael retired as Senior Partner of Kingston Smith in May 2016.


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