INSPIRED: helping big business tackle tax head on

Ulster Business Magazine sits down with INSPIRED to discuss helping big business tackle tax head on.

In just two years INSPIRED has developed and grown its practice from a tax incentives business to offering big-name Top 100 clients a wide range of tax and advisory services – putting agility, nimbleness and strong face-to-face relationships at the fore.

INSPIRED’s workforce headcount certainly belies the sheer breadth and volume of the big-name Top 100 firms which it calls its clients.

In little over two years the practice has developed, evolved and grown its range of tax advisory services – with face-to-face client relationships, agility and nimbleness at the forefront in making its name in the industry here.

It counts some of Northern Ireland’s biggest businesses – many of which are in the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list – among its burgeoning client base, including the likes of Bamford Bus Company, FP McCann and SDC Trailers.

INSPIRED is led by Eugene O’Neill, Michael Heinicke and Colm Cavanagh, and is a Northern Ireland practice which thinks big.

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“Even though we are a small firm, we aren’t dealing with small firms,” Michael says.

As a highly specialist and experienced corporate tax team of around 20 staff, INSPIRED has grown from primarily focusing on areas such as Research & Development Tax Credits, Capital Allowances and Patent Box, to wider tax compliance and corporate tax advisory services for a range of clients.

“While on the face of it we appear to be a small team, we have a sharp focus on corporation tax – because of that, we don’t need a huge team as we don’t cover a broad range of services,” Eugene says.

INSPIRED has enjoyed significant growth in a relatively short period of time, with close client relationships being a focal point of the company’s ethos.

“A lot of our client relationships are very much like friendships,” Colm says.

Clients feel comfortable to reach out informally to discuss their business plans. “People will drop me a line on WhatsApp, or pick up the phone to ask for advice,” Eugene says. “We find our relationships remain strong as we’ve worked with some of these companies over the years in different roles. People buy from people – they want to deal with people like Michael, Colm and I.”

The company cites its non-traditional approach to billing as a reason why clients see them as being more user friendly than some of their competitors.

Michael says: “We charge by value. We don’t charge by the hour or fill in timesheets. Our clients aren’t scared to pick up the phone for fear of getting a big bill.”

And for INSPIRED, providing advice early and working with companies throughout their business journey is key in helping them save money.

“We want to be an integral part of your business decision making process to help you be more tax efficient,” Eugene says. “There’s no point in asking about reducing your tax bill when it’s already too late.”

INSPIRED sometimes work with companies to plan their tax affairs several years in advance.

Michael says: “With some of the work we do, we might never get a fee for it, or if we do, it could be years down the line. But that investment and time with the client is key for us and the relationship.”

Some of that longer term assistance can include working with companies on Patent Box claims and liaising with or introducing patent attorneys. “For example, if the corporate tax rate is going to 25%, that’s a big hit for a lot of clients,” Michael says. “But if a product has a patent on it, the profits associated with that product could be taxed at a rate as low as 10%.”

INSPIRED has now expanded with a new city centre office in Belfast, based at the iconic Scottish Provident Building, along with its headquarters in Cookstown and satellite office in London.

“Our city centre office not only suits our employees but provides a fantastic networking hub for us and our clients,” Michael says.

“That said, there is no substitute for visiting clients at their premises – these conversations are typically more productive and wider ranging than virtual meetings and put us in the best position possible to give the best advice.”

Some advisers and the R&D scheme have been the subject of a lot of negative press in recent months and the Government believes there has been abuse of the scheme by some SMEs in particular. Eugene is keen to emphasise INSPIRED’s approach to R&D tax credits, which is focused around genuine innovation.

“We’ve heard from many businesses that they’ve been approached by other providers suggesting that they have underclaimed, and projects which the company feel is not R&D, could in fact qualify for relief,” Eugene says.

“The hurdle is around scientific or technological uncertainty. Our view is if you don’t know you’re doing R&D then you’re probably not doing it.

“The scheme is there to reward genuine innovators, which are the businesses we are associated with.”

Michael says: “We believe some other providers are doing a large number of small claims hoping that they’re small enough to slip through the net. HMRC is increasing its compliance activity in relation to R&D and we think that these sort of claims are on borrowed time.”

With increased compliance activity as well as significant rule changes coming in from April 2023, getting the right tax incentives advice is crucial for companies, Eugene says.

“The tax incentives area is a fast-moving part of UK tax legislation – changes to overseas R&D costs, the rates of relief, the end of Super Deduction, and the potential merger of the two existing UK R&D regimes – these are all complex issues which businesses need to be taking advice on.”

INSPIRED has advised that they will be responding to the Government’s ‘R&D Tax Reliefs Review – Consultation on a single scheme’ and will be seeking input from clients and other interested stakeholders.

Like many local professional services firms, INSPIRED has found recruiting the right calibre of people to be challenging. Undeterred, the strategy has been to invest in the development of their own staff, and instil their ethos and values, as well as technical robustness, into the team.

“Leon Faulkner, Paddy Pringle and Cathal McGaughey are our senior team under Michael, Colm and I. They have a hunger and proactivity, a willingness to learn and develop other team members. We find they are truly passionate about the business in a way I haven’t witnessed before.” Eugene says.

“Cathal and Paddy are two senior managers and Leon is a manager. The experience they have built up within the firm is immense. There’s a lot less internal administration with a company of our size – therefore time spent on advising clients is increased and allows technical expertise to be developed rapidly.”

Despite the wider economy here facing a number of challenges in the months ahead, Eugene says he doesn’t see any slowdown for INSPIRED with such a strong client base.

And while Northern Ireland remains the primary focus for INSPIRED, Michael says there remain sizeable opportunities for growth elsewhere in the UK.

“There’s a massive opportunity for us across the water,” Michael says. “We have clients which are London-based listed companies. There’s enormous growth there.”

The firm says its ability to remain proactive, nimble and flexible in everything it does is key to its success.

“The way in which we operate with our clients is the same way in which we want to operate as a business,” Michael says.

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