D&L Scott are a Scots Law partnership specialising in trustee services for pension schemes and charities, having started in 1987 as a more conventional accountancy practice offering a range of services to small business, including other forms of co-operative. We started in Glasgow, but moved to Perth in 1988 and 1989. Client locations have ranged from Inverness and Aberdeen down to London.
What were your biggest challenges on day one?
Achieving a work-life balance between wanting to offer quick response times to client needs, while having a balanced opportunity for family and social needs.
What or who was the biggest help?
Clients, whose positive feedback encouraged us to believe we were helping to make a difference.
How did you go about getting funding?
Apart from a small government grant (regional development grants to support new businesses offering advisory services to small businesses), funding was through a small overdraft facility (no longer required) and through close attention to cash management. Clients were encouraged to agree retainer fees spread across the year rather than paying fees in arrears in larger lump sums.
What problem is your business solving?
Our experience (nearly 70 years of post-qualifying experience by both members as chartered accountants) enables us to assess client needs and influence more effective responses.
Trusteeship involves fiduciary responsibilities, which are usually shared with other trustees with a range of experiences and insights. Conventional responses in the areas of funding and investment have often been found lacking, and there really are better ways of meeting these obligations.
How did you find out that this problem exists?
Through observation and broad experience of working with a range of different trusts.
Why a coop, why not a regular business?
Some may feel a professional partnership is not a “pure” co-operative, but we were former members of the Industial Common Ownership Movement before it was absorbed by the Co-operative Union, now Co-ops UK, and our beliefs and values are consistent with co-operative beliefs and values.
We also practise the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance (to engage with greed), fortitude (to address fears) and justice.
What type of cooperative are you?
Scots law partnership with profit sharing based on time committed and including an appropriate level of charitable giving.
What is your cooperative’s income sharing structure?
Professional services are largely time dependent, although occasionally the clients prefer and agree a value-sharing basis.
Profit-sharing has varied from 60:40 to 80:20 depending on time commitments, allowing for maternity leave and other claims on available time.
What is your decision making process?
Regular face-to-face contact and use of text and/or email when working separately.
How quickly can you make decisions?
Very quickly, when necessary, although many funding and investment decisions should be given time to research and then to work. The “conventional approach” referred to earlier above is often to spend little time (or rely on others who are not co-fiduciaries) on research and on effective monitoring, resulting in poor performance, short-termism and frequent changes of direction (or fashion).
How would you compare the individual level of autonomy as compared to a regular employment?
Much better. You are more in control of your work-life balance (although client needs are ever present) and have a partner with whom to confide and compare experiences.
What extra advice can you give to would be founders of coops?
Do your research and plan and monitor cash flows, monthly, annually and longer term. DIY budgetary control of cash is far more important than relying on third party pseudoscience such as risk budgeting, attribution analysis, index benchmarking and similar so-called decision tools.