With the COVID freeze on decision-making thawing and restraints on the proper application of debt recovery and insolvency laws removed, practitioners are launching new firms in increasing numbers.
Among them are Mark Robinson and Ken Whittingham, who’ve teamed up to form Fort Restructuring, an SME and creditor-focussed practice the pair plan to grow into a legacy brand.
Over coffee on Tuesday the old mates – both learned the ropes at PPB Advisory – confirmed they had parted company with their former firms.
In Robinson’s case that was dVT Group while Whittingham had for three years been a managing director at Kroll until last month.
They told iNO that the industry had lost a level of capacity after the takeovers of PPB and Ferrier Hodgson by PwC and KPMG respectively.
Late last year they said, conversations were had with unidentified lawyers. The need for well-regarded independent practitioners, operating out of independent enterprises and with strong relationships in banking and finance was discussed.
“They said the banks are getting busier, they’re looking for good people that have done receivership work in particular so why don’t you think about it,” Whittingham recalled.
He said that Kroll had been making a concerted effort to target the institutional space whereas his and Robinson’s view is that the SME space will provide the lion’s share of the work in the next few years.
“We’ve both done bank work in the past and we’re looking at the receivership market, the secured market, private credit,” Whittingham said, adding that people were telling them there were opportunities for a smaller boutique firm that wasn’t shackled by conflicts that plague the big multidisciplinary outfits.
In March this year Robinson and Whittingham incorporated Fort Restructuring, which lists as its registered office Assured Legal, the law firm founded by ex-Norton Rose Fullbright partner Chris Cruikshank.
The pair said they would also look to potentially partner outside of NSW, both having networks in Melbourne and Brisbane.
Robinson and Whittingham however weren’t the only insolvency practitioners contemplating doing things their way.
Sydney liquidator Dane Skinner has also struck out on his own with a venture called Raft Consulting.
Skinner, who was formerly at John Morgan’s BCR Advisory, told iNO he wanted to things differently, shake up the industry and remove the negative stigma that clings to insolvency.
“I’m proud of my qualifications and I wanted to create a brand that feels modern and is relatable,” he said.
“The idea is that Raft is a life raft to help you survive a storm.” Skinner said adding that he chose the word consulting instead of advisory because it conveyed a sense of working with debtors and creditors.
Having become a father in the past 12 months, he was also convinced that flexibility should be one of Raft’s primary values.
“Flexibility is at the top,” he said. “We have the technology allowing us to work anywhere. I’m not going to be analysing time sheets at the end of every day.”
Skinner also said that he sees Small Business Restructures (SBRs) as the future.
“I’ve done heaps of them now. I know what the ATO wants so I have clarity around what the SBR tool can do and I know the risks,” he said.
Skinner registered Raft Consulting at the beginning of this year. He, Robinson and Whittingham have all added to the growing number of practitioners prepared to have a go on their own. They won’t be the last.