Revive and VGD: from accountant to advisor
Accountants are no longer mere number-crunchers whose sole task is to keep the books. Legal obligations such as preparing the annual financial statements and VAT return will of course continue to exist, but accountants have become more like consultants, and in SMEs in particular play the role of external CFO.
Today’s accountants are true business partners, growing together with the companies they advise. Since it was established, project developer Revive has been using the services of VGD, precisely because of its advisory character.
Accountants: an ongoing transformation into consultants
Joris Van Der Gucht, CEO at Silverfin: ‘The digitisation of the accounting sector is being closely accompanied by a transformation in which new services are emerging. Clients are asking for more and more advice, so digitisation is a genuine opportunity for the sector. For the first time, accountants can also become data-driven advisors. “Data is the new gold” is something you often hear, but the same is true of becoming an advisor – a CFO for businesses.’
‘For a number of years now, bookkeepers have thrown off their image as reclusive number-crunchers,’ adds Van Der Gucht. ‘Accountants have really become advisors, and that’s also created opportunities for them to start thinking a little more commercially. The main thing in the past was to capture and process the data, but nowadays it’s important to take the initiative of discussing things with clients. It’s given the accounting industry a real boost and actually made it very sexy.’
Revive: a great story
The Watt site in Ghent is home to the headquarters of property developer Revive, specialising in brownfield projects. It turns polluted, abandoned locations in the city into pleasant and sustainable neighbourhoods for living and working in.
Stijn Lannoo, CFO at Revive: ‘In the beginning we were quite small. Over a ten-year period, we’ve added 75 hectares of brownfield sites to our portfolio and 5,700 units that have already been or have yet to be developed. So we’re definitely not a small player any more.’
‘Our structure today consists of three private equity funds and a fourth which is being set up. Today we manage around 160 million euros from private and institutional investors. When we started Revive there were just four of us, but ten years later we have thirty-five people in Belgium and five in Poland.’
Added value as a consultant
When Revive was established ten years ago, it looked around for an accountant and found VGD. The working relationship soon proved to be multi-faceted.
‘VGD has grown with us. A lot of capital is managed, and VGD’s advisory role in that context is very important for our investors.’
Charlotte Pille, partner at VGD: ‘We started with their first project companies and assisted them with their legal obligations in terms of preparing financial statements, but the relationship has gradually grown. For instance we also started getting involved in tax issues and VAT, performed a number of due diligence assessments and assisted them in calculating the return within the fund.’
‘We can make a difference by helping set up the right structure, but we also ensure that the return for the investor is as high as possible during implementation.’
VGD’s advice is also decisive when Revive has takeover plans.
Charlotte Pille: There have been times when Revive has wanted to buy a particular site and we’ve advised against it. Obviously you sense a certain tension at such times, between the entrepreneurial character of Revive, which really wants to develop the site, and us, who instead advise caution because there are some red flags.’
Stijn Lannoo: ‘The red flags are discussed openly and transparently, and then it’s up to us to decide whether or not we want to do it. The team of Charlotte, Bieke and Jana pay us frequent visits, and our working partnership is very successful.’
Charlotte Pille: ‘As accountants we have the privilege of doing business together with our clients. I’m therefore always fascinated to see how a brownfield site is developed into a place where people work, live and do business.’
Accountants thus do a lot more than the bookkeeping: they have become consultants with a wide range of skills.
Charlotte Pille: ‘Our profession definitely still has a future, despite digitisation. Entrepreneurs drop in on us, we know them well and we have short lines of communication. We always see if we can solve the problem ourselves first. If not, we get specialists involved, and we have these in-house at VGD.’
This article is part of our Z-Business Advisor series on Kanaal Z. Would you like to watch the other episodes? Click here