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5 minutes with.... Alison Ashley, head of automotive, RSM UK

Who is RSM UK’s average customer?

We tend to work with what I’d call a mid-tier client base, which, if we were not talking about the motor sector, would include businesses with a £30 million to £100m turnover. Including motor retail, you can probably add a couple of noughts to that. Generally, we find ourselves working with growing or entrepreneurial businesses.


What is the business’s main function?

Brexit planning is part of what we are doing at the moment, but our real sweet spot is as a trusted adviser in an array of areas. Many franchised retailers are very good at what they have been doing with a certain brand, but we are able to bring in expertise from other areas and cast a new set of eyes over the business. That can really help, whether with auditing, compliance or restructuring. We also have our own team of surveyors, who can look into a dealership development and advise on what tax can be recouped. With the corporate identity (CI) demands of manufacturers, this can be extremely useful.


What is the scale of the automotive element of the business?

There are about 20 sector-specific partner directors regularly working closely with clients, but we have the expertise to bring in to deal with specific needs. We have a huge pool of expertise we can tap into. About 60 people work regularly on automotive retail sector audits.


How long have you been with the business and how has it changed?

I joined the business in April 2016 as an audit partner. Back then, RSM was better known as Baker Tilly, but it rebranded in 2015. RSM International is now in 120 countries. In the UK, we have 45 offices and more than 4,000 employees. We have huge resource, and specialism in every area, but we can send someone to your business from a local office and deliver a very local and consistent approach.


What are the biggest challenges facing retailers in the coming months?

R

evenue and cost reduction and the reduction in the franchised retail networks.

Technology, though, remains the main disruptor. Nothing will stop technology – especially in finance – and it will only continue to be considered a ‘disruptor’ as long as dealers attempt to ignore it, rather than embrace it.

Many dealers have remained optimistic about compliance because they haven’t seen any consequences, but it will happen. ‘Making Tax Digital’ is another thing they can’t afford to bury their heads in the sand about. It won’t be deferred.


Could other changes disrupt the market faster than expected?

It has been talked about for a long time, but I think the reward structure has to change. We are closer to that now than ever. I think it will have to change, so that registrations as a be-all and end-all KPI for retailers can finally change.


And the fallout from WLTP?

WLTP is also going to be played out for some time. The German manufacturers have really mismanaged the situation. Dealers are saying customers are still coming through the door, but they don’t want to buy something that they don’t want or that will take six months to get here. This really is an example of why retailers need to hedge their bets and operate across various brands.


Will dealers go out of business as a result?

WLTP is not alone in exerting pressure in the current market, but it will be a reason for some closed businesses, I’m sure. With some manufacturers keen to shrink their networks, the support may not always be there.


Are car retailers doing all they can to prepare for Brexit?

As a business, we’re Brexit-mad, but dealers just don’t seem to care. They say ‘what will be, will be’. From a manufacturer’s point of view, there is a physical, tangible aspect to the various repercussions, but retailers feel there is nothing significant they can do.

From a network perspective, they should be paying more attention and acknowledging that what is a manufacturer problem will soon become their problem. I just want whatever is going to happen to become clear. It’s the uncertainty that’s unhelpful.



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