Country over city
Mike Crowley did not follow in his father’s footsteps. The son of a Manly Sea Eagles rugby league player, Mr Crowley fantasised about a career in engineering before changing his mind to become an accountant.
Growing up in Sydney’s northern beaches, famous for its stretches of golden sand and fresh ocean air, Mr Crowley did not foresee a career in accounting in dry, central-western NSW.
But life sometimes has a mind of its own. In 1977, Mr Crowley took his first number-crunching role in Sydney as a trainee commercial accountant. Over the next several years, he was transferred to country-based branches and then back to Sydney in 1982, before he eventually left the company in 1989 with great career prospects. By this stage, he had met his wife, they had two children and decided to relocate their lives to Orange to follow a promising job opportunity.
“I took up the role as accountant for a fast-growing rural business which eventually failed. Within 18 months I had to make another difficult decision, whether to move back to Sydney or to set up business of my own,” he says. “I chose the latter.”
He started from scratch. Although, Mr Crowley had never worked in public practice, he saw a need to help small businesses experiencing barriers to growth in a country setting.
“It was back in the day when there weren’t many computers around. We had no clients and had to rely on word of mouth,” he says. Back in the 1990s, businesses operating in rural areas faced countless obstacles, and Mr Crowley was no exception.
“There were bookkeeping systems like Cashflow manager, which we promoted. MYOB was just in its infancy. So, things were quite manual, although we adopted the old Cee Data for tax and accounting work,” he explains.
"My focus was to help small business and provide them with advisory services, but that market was immature and difficult given the manual systems, so I relied on tax returns and accounting for our bread and butter."
As things developed, and with the advent of the GST in 2000, Mr Crowley spent time teaching his clients to automate the BAS process. “My view was that we didn’t want to be a sausage factory, we wanted to provide better advice to our clients,” he adds. To round out the advisory piece, Mr Crowley completed a Diploma of Financial Planning (DFP) in 1994 and acted as an authorised representative for a couple of dealer groups.
But by 1997, he realised that financial planning was destroying his small accounting practice and gave up his licence, while continuing to work in the SMSF space. Gradually, Mr Crowley built a business that helped small businesses grow into bigger ones.
“One of my clients when he sought our help had had four or ﬁve employees, he now employs 150 people. So, it’s really enjoyable and rewarding to be a mentor to those business owners and grow with them,” he says.
In 2016, Mr Crowley decided he needed to share the load and so he brought in a partner. And in July 2019, Mike Crowley & Associates merged with a local peer CKC Accountants, giving birth to Thrive Advice. Today, the business numbers four partners and 14 staff.
He tells Public Accountant that although he became a qualiﬁed adviser in 1994, and kept up CPD in the area of superannuation for 22 years, in 2016 he had to go back to school to obtain a limited licence to practice in the SMSF space.
“I didn’t mind that so much, but by January 2024, under FASEA I need to go back to university and study subjects like ethics,” Mr Crowley says.
“It seems to me a sledge hammer peanut approach. I’m certainly giving thought as to how I might continue in that ﬁeld, which is extremely disappointing given the study, ongoing education and experience over 25 years”.
Aside from the professional burdens, Mr Crowley explains that throughout the years he has watched many small business owners weighed down by the heavy-handed rules and regulations that govern this space.
“I’ve often said Paul Keating and successive governments have provided accountants with plenty of compliance work,” Mr Crowley adds.
He adds that the current extreme drought has also had a signiﬁcant impact on country-based businesses.
“When it does rain, for many it will take years to recover,” Mr Crowley says. Another issue close to Mr Crowley’s heart is mental health. Just recently he used his his know-how to help a local group looking to set up a charity to aid the mental wellbeing of young rural doctors.
“I am fortunate enough to have been involved in a few charities. I’m also involved with a Legacy where each year we determine the benefactors,” he says.
“Last year the funds went to the farmers in need and this year they will go to rural and remote mental health.”
But his charitable outreach doesn’t stop there. In 2020, Mr Crowley is setting off for Tanzania to assist a small Australian-based charity, Communities Assist Australia, of which he is the founding director. The charity supports AIDS-orphaned children and works with them to create and nurture sustainable communities.
As for the football, while Mr Crowley played at a younger age, he says his skill set never quite reached his father’s, but he admits to having a close afﬁnity to Manly and being a proud Eagles supporter.
“My father’s 1957 framed jumper and photos of him playing at the SCG in the 1950s are hanging here in the ofﬁce. And my kids brought me a replica jersey to wear just recently,” he adds.
While enjoying the country life, Mr Crowley and his wife travel to Sydney fairly often to visit their three daughters. He talks fondly of the burgeoning food and wine district in Orange, and says he enjoys tasting the local produce and sharing a glass of wine or two with family and friends.