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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 19, 2020 2 weeks ago

Results-oriented accounting firm makes bold move to stand out

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Hancock Askew & Co. LLP, seizing on a need, adds a Tampa-based M&A and investment advisory division. It targets more rapid growth.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Up until the COVID-19 crisis, the economy had been on a tear and business valuations were at sky-high levels, making it a good time for company owners to seek investment or even exit altogether. 

Seeing an upswing in demand for help with such services, accounting firm Hancock Askew & Co. LLP — which has offices in Tampa; Miami; Atlanta; Augusta, Ga.; and Savannah, Ga. — has launched Clarity Capital Advisors, a spinoff firm that handles interim/fractional CFO solutions, mergers and acquisitions and general corporate finance advice. Clarity Capital joins a growing field in the region of niche-driven M&A consultants.

A wholly owned subsidiary with offices in Tampa and Atlanta, Clarity Capital is headed up by Steve Keaveney and John Stanier, longtime clients of Hancock Askew who have been working together on various business ventures since 1994. Mary Roberts, managing director of Hancock Askew’s transaction and business valuation practice, also provides leadership support, as does Kristen Brand, managing partner of Hancock Askew’s Tampa office, which has 15 employees. 

“I ran a $300 million logistics transportation company and $100 million e-commerce distribution company,” Keaveney, 55, says. “We have a lot of experience that we can bring to the table.” 

The addition of Clarity comes at a good time for privately held Hancock Askew, which saw its revenues jump from $15.76 million in 2018 to $19 million in 2019. The firm also saw a substantial rise in its workforce, which increased from 96 to 135 across all locations. 

Clarity’s challenge? Finding a way to stand out in a market that, because of the roaring economy and easy access to capital, has become crowded with investment advisory firms. It plans to do that a couple of ways, Keaveney says. 

First, living up to its name, Clarity intends to have a clearly defined plan and end result for all of its client relationships. 

“We’re primarily focused, really, on helping companies that are looking to go through transactions,” Keaveney says. “That means getting companies prepared for a sale to private equity or doing a recapitalization or large fundraising [campaign]. That’s our core focus.” 

Clarity Capital Advisors partner Steve Keaveney. Courtesy photo.

A tool to help achieve that goal is the firm’s second point of differentiation: a fractional CFO service that Keaveney views as “a bridge to the next stage” instead of a permanent solution. 

“Other companies, they’ll come in, and they're like, ‘OK, we're going to be your fractional CFO for the next five years,’” he says. “Whereas we're coming in to help you fix a bunch of things. Once they're fixed, you're either going to hire a full-time CFO, or you're going to go through a sale of the company, which is the likely scenario we're focused on.” 

Brand, 42, whose accounting firm was acquired by Hancock Askew in 2018, says the formation of Clarity makes sense because the two entities will be able to funnel business to each other, keeping clients in the Hancock/Clarity fold no matter what stage of development they’re in. 

“The firm, historically, has had all of these business clients, and eventually, you have some that are ready to sell,” she says. “We were seeing more and more of a need for that. Just look at the cranes in the air in Tampa. It’s a growing market, and now we can take businesses from start to exit.”

Brand says the extension into M&A advisory and fractional CFO services is a natural progression for Hancock Askew, which already had the business valuation division, headed up by Roberts, that helps clients get a clear-eyed, objective view of what their business is truly worth in the marketplace. Many entrepreneurs and executives need that kind of information — even if they don't know it.  

“A lot of business owners have kind of an over-inflated idea of what true valuation is until they actually have a valuation done,” she says. “You need to benchmark yourself and understand both the public and private valuations and comps.” 

Financial reporting is another area where business owners are prone to stumble when entering the M&A or capital fundraising process. That's why affiliation with a firm like Hancock Askew makes sense and should be a strong selling point for Clarity, Keaveney says. 

“A lot of companies have financial reporting, but you can always take it to the next level with key performance indicators and business intelligence," he says. "There are incredible tools you can put in place that will differentiate you from a lot of other companies. With a relatively small investment, you can make a big impact. Not only will it be good for reporting, but it will help you run your business because what gets measured gets managed.”

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