The human accountancy firm
Alfa Accountants en Adviseurs has been an organization with a clear moral compass ever since it was founded in World War II.
The story of new Dutch B Corp Alfa started in World War II, when the German occupiers of the Netherlands demanded to oversee the activities of Christian Dutch farmers. The courageous farmers did not cooperate. As accountancy organizations did not fall under the supervision of the Germans, the farmers decided to organize themselves in a Christian farmer accountancy organization as a pretext to gather independently. After the war, the organization had build such a strong network, that it decided to continue its accountancy services.
Today, Alfa remains a cooperative with strong roots in Christianity and agriculture. “A large part of our employees and our clients live by Christian values and beliefs,” says Valentijn van Poucke. “Generally, respect for people and nature is large among our stakeholders.” His colleague, Annemiek Pelle, adds that Alfa has a no-nonsense culture. Pelle: “In fact, I think we are a bit too humble. We are a beautiful company, it would not hurt to be a bit more proud of that. Becoming a B Corp is part of that.”
One of the most interesting characteristics of Alfa is its organizational and ownership structure. All employees that work longer than two years at the firm, have the possibility to buy shares. Most of them do so: out of 800 employees approximately 650 own shares. When people leave the company, they have to sell their shares. The largest shareholder barely owns 2% of the company. “My secretary had shares before I did,” remarked the laughing CEO Fou-Khan Tsang during a recent B Corp event.
Although Alfa's employees enjoy economic ownership, the cooperative is not democratically run. “That is simply not possible with so many people,” says Van Poucke. “Besides, I think that everybody has their own knowledge and skills. As a marketeer, I am happy to leave the management to someone else.” Alfa has strict rules and standards for the quality of the service they deliver, but all 28 offices throughout the Netherlands are relatively independent and largely responsible for their own business. “This makes employees even more committed and engaged,” says Pelle.
Obviously, Alfa's clients benefits from the company's culture. While most accountancy firms are not very approachable, Alfa makes a point of being very open and transparent. Pelle: “The mobile phone number of our CEO is on our website. We want to be close to everything, as our slogan says.”
Sustainability is at the core of Alfa's work – especially financial and social sustainability. Van Poucke: “Most farms have been in the family for generations. The owners have a long term view and so do we.” The B Corp certification and the B Impact Assessment will help Alfa to make progress on improving its environmental sustainability as well.
Van Poucke: “Although most of our employees and clients share the B Corp values, they do not know much about CSR, let alone what measures they can take to improve our environmental impact. One of the first steps we will take is to create awareness among our people. In a later stage, we plan to offer CSR-workshops to our customers as well.”
The company hopes to reduce the environmental impact of its core business, the production of annual reports, soon. Alfa is currently testing new software that can digitalize the process of signing annual reports. Pelle: “Imagine that we do not have to print and transport 3 copies of 12.000 annual reports of approximately 40 pages anymore. This will help us to significantly reduce our CO2 footprint. The pilot has been a success, so we hope to start rolling out by April 2015.”
Another plan is to add a green annual report based on the B Impact Assessment to every financial report Alfa publishes. Van Poucke: “This will create extra awareness among our customers. Plus, it will give our clients clear sustainability indicators that they can use to improve their all-round sustainability performance. This can increase our impact enormously.”