A road trip is always better with a good companion.
Alasdair McGill, Managing Director of Ashton McGill, provides bespoke accounting services to clients who want to take their business to the next level. He likes to think of it as ‘riding shotgun’ with clients, helping them map the road ahead.
Ashton McGill’s client, Miconex (founded by Colin Munro), has experienced massive growth over the last five years thanks to Alasdair and his team. This growth has allowed Colin to further reach his vision of strengthening local economies and small businesses.
At its core, Ashton McGill strives to provide ‘good work for good people’.
That’s exactly what Colin Munro has come to expect working with his accountant, Alasdair McGill. Though their trip is metaphorical, the ride is just as exciting.
Alasdair’s firm, Ashton McGill, has played navigator from the passenger seat for much of Colin’s company’s growth. Miconex, which uses easy-to-operate gift card programs to increase spending in local economies, is one of Scotland’s fastest growing fintechs.
Colin came from a marketing background, took a four-year detour to work as a chef and restaurant owner, then turned to the world of entrepreneurship where he has since found his passion and purpose.
Alasdair’s path took some similar entrepreneurial turns. He started his accounting career at the former Arthur Young, now EY. Because of his restrictive covenant with EY, he was unable to re-enter traditional accountancy, which pushed him to get creative with his next pursuits.
Alasdair then dabbled in a few small ventures and worked as a consultant with Xero on a customer experience program. The goal of the program was to get accountants out of a technical mindset and into a more service-driven one. That concept became central to the ethos of the firm he founded and continues to run to this day.
When Colin and Alasdair met in 2018, the business partnership quickly blossomed. Now, they have a symbiotic relationship: one gets to enjoy deeper work as an accountant, and the other gets to lead a business making an impact on communities around the globe.
They cover how strapping into the passenger seat for clients makes the relationship richer, how Alasdair helps Colin do what he does better, and why good work for good people helps when recruiting young accountants.
Starting from a helpful place
During Colin’s time owning and running his own restaurant, his marketing brain was hard at work.
“That's where I learned the most about business. [With] small business…. You have to be a master of everything,” he says on the podcast. “I was beginning to understand the real challenge of marketing your business. You've got a product, a local business, [but] how do you get the message out to your target audience?”
Eventually, Colin combined his experience with small business ownership and marketing and birthed Miconex. Colin believes that small businesses need as much help as they can get to spread the word. Through the use of his geography-based gift card program, cities are able to keep money in their local economies, rather than shifting it out to big box stores.
Now Miconex serves over 170 cities in 4 countries. But it has experienced its share of growing pains. After growing to 25 employees, it then had to reduce the workforce. Miconex has since recovered, thanks to the great divider of success: the pandemic.
“One of the drivers has been the pandemic. [There’s] a real desire within local communities not to just support Jeff Bezos and Amazon, but actually to try and keep their money in the local economy,” Alasdair adds.
The impact of keeping money in local economies is immense. And it’s not just the businesses and their employees that benefit. Some cities have chosen to use Miconex gift cards as a way to let less fortunate residents shop and dine with dignity. Cities distribute the gift cards to vulnerable populations, such as the housing insecure, giving them a way to support themselves and small businesses without revealing their current economic hardships.
“[The philanthropic aspect] gives everyone a lot of satisfaction of being involved in our programs,” Colin explains.
Forecasting for tech
Two major aspects push Miconex: tech and the need for forecasting. And those two things go hand-in-hand. Colin is constantly challenged to stay ahead of technological changes, and doing so requires cash.
That’s where Alasdair comes in as his accountant.
“This is a business that's cash hungry because you're investing in technology to keep up. And not just keep up, but keep ahead and innovate. A lot of the work that Colin and I do is around forecasting and modeling,” Alasdair shares.
Because of the differences between the four countries where Miconex has clients, Alasdair has plenty of complexities to manage. But keeping track of those complexities pays in dividends. Through Alasdair’s careful work as an accountant, Miconex is able to have a tangible impact on the communities it serves.
“It's easy to launch campaigns about loving local. It's easy for people to click on a Facebook post and like or comment that they support local, but how they spend their money is the ultimate indication of whether they do or not. Our product gives people an alternative—an easy way to make a change,” Colin says.
Service as a resource doesn’t stop with the people under Ashton McGill’s umbrella of talented team members. When a client works with the firm, they not only get the benefit of the staff and advertised service offerings, they also gain access to Ashton McGill’s greater network.
When Colin looked to launch his Irish branch, understanding international trade became a new, essential aspect of his business. Alasdair turned to his network of Xero users and identified someone who knew more about dealing with international trade regulations to provide additional support.
“We can tap into the networks. Even if we don't know somebody, there's generally someone that will be able to help,” Alasdair shares.
Good work for good people
Through all of his work, Alasdair wants Ashton McGill to provide “good work for good people”. Providing accounting services for people who want a partner and not just a number-cruncher is at the heart of what the firm offers.
In turn, he finds that doing meaningful work solves some of the recruitment issues faced by so many accounting firms today. Young accountants want purpose in their work, and Ashton McGill provides that opportunity.
The work that we do, who we do it with, and who we do it for helps us attract talent. And that sets us apart from the competition.
That attention to relationships pays off. Colin looks forward to more growth and success for Miconex with Ashton McGill’s support.
“This relationship gets stronger and closer the more we work…There's more that we can do together in terms of sharing how the companies work and learning together as both companies grow,” Colin says. “That's the exciting bit.”