Date posted: 22/12/2017 5 min read

CA's strategy for a scenic boom in NZ

Stephen Hill CA, along with other professionals, has set up a one-stop business services firm to support local businesses in New Zealand.

In Brief

  • Stephen Hill CA helped to form Strategy Collective to offer a unique end-to-end set of creative and finance services.
  • Taranaki was named by Lonely Planet as the second-best region in the world to visit in 2017 and tourism is a major export earner.
  • Despite the recent downturn in Taranaki oil and gas, the region has the highest GDP per person in the country.

By Alexandra Johnson.

Last year, travel guide book publisher Lonely Planet judged New Zealand’s scenic Taranaki area as the second-best region in the world to visit in 2017. It was high praise indeed for a corner of the North Island that only 2% of international tourists manage to see. 

But with its immense black-sand beaches, native forests, and rolling farmland – all dominated by one of the most spectacular mountains in the world, Mount Taranaki – that looks set to change.

One person who sings the praises of both the region and its main centre, New Plymouth, is Stephen Hill CA. Along with creative and human resources professionals, Hill has set up Strategy Collective, providing a one-stop-shop with support for local, national and international businesses.

(Pictured: Stephen Hill CA)

Hill says the region offers an interesting blend of agriculture, oil and gas, tourism and a thriving arts culture, exemplified by the world-class art gallery, the Len Lye Centre. He says the area is poised to grow and develop and he’s full of ideas about how that can happen.

“Tourism is becoming an emerging focus for the region,” he says. “Both locally and nationally, tourism is number two, but [it’s] edging out dairy as our main export earner.”

Related: Succeeding in regional areas is all about trust

Crowe Howarth partner Craig Macalister CA sees Invercargill as a wealthy regional area that requires a different accounting approach than a city.

Hill also points to infrastructure as a challenge for the region. Airline Jetstar has built a new terminal and increased links to New Plymouth from the main New Zealand cities, but Hill says more can be done. 

“With improved infrastructure, Taranaki will be just as accessible as anywhere else. The government has, for example, committed a massive spend on improving State Highway 3, which will be a huge improvement for the town.”

New Plymouth has a population of about 75,000 and despite the recent downturn in oil and gas, has the highest gross domestic product per person in the country. Developments such as the arrival of cruise ships in Port Taranaki, the construction of a new shopping and dining precinct and growing eco-tourism are all contributing to economic wellbeing. Hill says Taranaki’s rich cultural history also presents the opportunity to work with local Māori iwi, or sub-tribes, to provide tourists with an authentic New Zealand experience.  

New beginnings

Hill was born in Taranaki but moved to the Bay of Plenty with his family at a young age, then spent many years in Auckland. He returned to the region seven years ago looking for a change. “My three daughters were growing up in Auckland, and I thought it would be great for them to get a taste of provincial New Zealand.”

When the company he worked for in Taranaki was sold to an international conglomerate, Hill contemplated returning to Auckland. But a conversation with strategy consultant Craig Macfarlane changed his mind. Macfarlane already planned to add a full accounting service to his HR and creative branding company. So, Strategy Collective was born.

“Our approach is strategically focused,” says Hill. “We immerse ourselves in our client’s business, so we can fully understand and help them construct a clear business strategy with timely and measurable outcomes.” A creative team can assist in building brand recognition, a people and culture team can align employees and the brand and a finance team works with clients “to give them the financial acumen and smart tools they need”.

He believes that as a result of their services, clients spend less time on administration and more time working on those things that are more important to them and their businesses. “It’s a very unique company within both the province and the country as a whole. There wouldn’t be too many firms out there that have that service offering, especially chartered accounting.”

We believe this (business advice strategy) provides us unique insights into business, as we have not just sat in the adviser’s chair, but have personally felt the pain that our clients go through in trying to make a daily living
Stephen Hill Finance Director, Strategy Collective

As part of Chartered Accountant ANZ rules around offering CA services to the general public, Hill had to look closely at Strategy Collective’s corporate structure. To achieve their vision of a business beyond traditional accountancy services, the leadership had to set up two corporate structures.  

Hill says while there are some internationally affiliated firms, the accounting industry in the area is heavily weighted towards small accounting practices. “They service the farming clients, ma and pa businesses, self-employed individuals in the trades and services for our farming sector.” 

Hill says Strategy Collective has responded to the rise of cloud-based accounting software by ensuring its accounting team has a broad range of experience so they can add value to clients through business advice.

“We believe this provides us unique insights into business, as we have not just sat in the adviser’s chair, but have personally felt the pain that our clients go through in trying to make a daily living.”

Alexandra Johnson is a freelance journalist based in Wellington.