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Business Of The Month - Van Cotter Partners

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Kevin Cotter is the Founder and Managing Partner for Van Cotter Partners – an accounting firm established in December 2019, specialising in advisory, bookkeeping and accounting services with a particular focus on Veteran and First Responder-owned businesses across Australia.

Born into a military family, Kevin served 12+ years in the Royal Australian Navy and Army Reserves, as well as a policing some of Sydney's toughest suburbs with the NSW Police. During his time in uniforms, Kevin gained some great experiences:

  • Army Reserves - Artillery, Infantry and Military Police

  • Royal Australian Navy - Electronic Warfare Linguist

  • NSW Police - General and Operational Duties including working Anti Street Gang operations in Western and South Western Sydney and CBD during the peak of gang/drug wars. Kevin also acted as an instructor and assessor at the NSW Police Academy.

A great example of Kevin Cotter's connection to the ADF and Firs Responder communities.

After finally deciding to hang up his various uniforms, Kevin took up accounting, and upon earning his CPA and CA qualifications, established Van Cotter Partners with a simple vision - to help fellow Veterans and First Responders to prosper in civilian life by building thriving businesses.

For Kevin, accounting is the civilian version of defence intelligence. This is his way of serving people in a whole new way. His mission is to have clients know and understand the numbers which are force multipliers that can put businesses on the path to great victories.

Van Cotter Partners aims to be the number one Veteran and First Responder owned accounting firm in Australia, and be recognised as a credible reference point for anyone looking to start new ventures. This includes not only spouses and family members of former serving members, but the many who have a 'side hustle' whilst still serving.

A young Kevin Cotter, following a family tradition during his time in the Royal Australian Navy.

One of Van Cotter Partner's key points of difference is their ability to understand the culture and environment that Veterans and First Responders come from, so as to quickly connect with them through the same mindset, mentality and terminology. The results ensure that all clients gain rapid trust and confidence, which is critical when deciding on professional advice to help guarantee the success of your business.

Beyond business, Kevin also regularly donates to Veteran and First Responder organisations and proudly undertakes pro-bono work. During the Covid pandemic, Kevin lobbied to the Office of the Prime Minister for a Veteran sole trader (that wasn’t a client) who had been refused COVID-19 financial lockdown support. With Kevin’s assistance, this successfully resulted in changes to Centrelink’s protocols.

Family values are at the core of every service and Kevin takes the time to assist Veterans who need help, demonstrating the values of having each others' back and looking out for one another.

After presenting a recent online Business Accounting 101 workshop, InnoClub Program Manager Tim Lewis sat down with Kevin, to better understand the Van Cotter Partners business.

moulage knee injury
Kevin augmented his time in the RAN by serving in the Army Reserves.


Tim: Tell us a little about Van Cotter Partners; what was your motivation for starting the business?

Kevin: I created Van Cotter Partners because I was over working for accounting firms that would talk the talk but had no real clue what it was like in the ADF and the Police. Teamwork has a whole different meaning between the two worlds. So was culture, language, and beliefs.

I wanted to bridge that gap between the ADF/First Responder communities and the civilian world to lessen the transition issues for the next generation coming through. The only way for me to set the culture and drive to achieve that was to start my own firm from the ground up.

Born into a military family, I served 12+ years in the NSW Police, Royal Australian Navy and Army Reserves before taking up Accounting earning my CPA and CA qualifications and establishing Van Cotter Partners. With a thorough understanding of the military mindset and communication style, my vision is to help fellow veterans integrate into the civilian lifestyle and build thriving businesses.

Tim: Does your business retain any special connection to the ADF / First Responder communities?

Kevin: I was born and raised in a military household; both my parents served, and it extends back generations. It is in my blood and when I had to make the shift into the civilian world, I really did struggle at first. I was fortunate in being able to find my feet relatively quickly, which has strengthened my commitment to supporting the Veteran and First Responder communities to ensure prosperity in civilian life.

Having a look at my website, I have focused a lot of my firm on providing the tailored services to the ADF / First Responder communities as I’ve lived and breathed both over the years. I still carry many scars - both physical and mental - and know that with a little help, Veteran and First Responder businesses can achieve great things in the civilian world without compromising their integrity and culture.

I have a contingent of ADF and Police clients and they some of my favourite types of clients scattered across Australia.

Tim: What was the "moment" that led to starting the business?

Kevin: There was not just one moment, but a series of moments that led me to creating Van Cotter Partners.

I had worked for a number of larger and specialist accounting firms including Ferrier Hodgson, which recently became part of PriceWaterhouseCooper. That experience gave me a great foundation.

The problem was however I just didn't feel a connection. Having spent so long in service, whether Defence or Police, I realised one day that I needed to be driven by more than just a focus on profit. As corny as it sounds, my work needed to align to a 'purpose', and I realised I wasn't going to get that satisfaction working for large corporates.

I felt a constant friction between my beliefs, and their cultures. I just didn’t seem to fit inside the normal environment of an accounting firm. The only way to reconcile this was to create it from the ground up - Van Cotter Partners was born.

Tim: What's your single biggest business challenge today?

Kevin: The biggest business challenge today has been finding the right staff that fit into the culture we have built here at Van Cotter Partners.

It has been a major problem across many industries to find and retain staff, but for us it is extra hard as we are trying to build a specific culture. Finding people with the relevant skills and experience has been difficult enough in the past few years, but ultimately we can take someone with the basic qualifications and groom them into capable professionals with our mentoring and support.

It's much more difficult however to teach someone how to fit into a particular culture.

Culture is my main priority here, one based on teamwork and pride, and many of the other behaviours I benefited from during my time in the ADF and Police. Sadly, we've lost staff over time. not because of ability, but due to a disconnect in values.

We work hard to get it right and I have a tremendous sense of satisfaction when we do. I'm proud of the team we've built, including a new staff member who left nursing to become an accountant who has fitted in perfectly and already returning the faith I put in her tenfold.

Tim: What's been your single biggest success?

Kevin: I recently signed a billionaire and his related entities (about 150 all up) for taxation work after advising his group of the benefits of setting up an in-house tax team. Our services have included mentoring one of his management team until he gets his tax agent licence.

It may only be a short term assignment for the remainder of this year, but it shows that Van Cotter Partners has what it takes to play just as comfortably at the large corporate end, as we can sole traders and start ups.

It's not about the revenue, but the satisfaction of knowing our skills and experiences allow us to guide our clients to success, as they grow from start-up to hopefully one day, Billionaires.

flesh wound moulage military emergency training scenario
Kevin Cotter during his time in the NSW Police.

Tim: What's a favourite mantra that keeps you going?

Kevin: My favourite mantra is one that I picked up years ago. I can’t remember where I heard it (or if I made it up) but it fitted so well in those roles.

“There is no such thing as a problem, just a solution that hasn’t been found yet. So let’s focus on finding it.”

I share this mantra with my staff, and had a lot of satisfaction when someone I trained a decade ago recently quoted it back to me. It stuck with him for all those years too.

Tim: What advice could you offer other Veterans / First Responders thinking of starting their own business?

Kevin: The advice I would give would be:

  1. Remember the 7 Ps. You need to plan before starting. You don’t go on operation or exercise without workups, pre-deployment and knowing your “actions on”. Use these skills in the civilian world too. However, this planning isn’t about paralyses through analysis. Point form and contingencies can be covered in 2 to 3 pages in most instance, followed by some basic actions you might take based on the likely hurdles you can see.

  2. You can’t do everything. As it is like in the ADF and Police, you don’t do all the jobs yourself. Build a team, it doesn’t have to be a formal team or fulltime employees. I’m talking about a network. Find an accountant and lawyer you trust, and who takes the time to understand you as an individual. Reach out to other Veteran or First Responder business owners and seek their guidance; so many are willing to help. Join business chambers and other networking groups where you can connect and collaborate.

  3. Take every opportunity to learn and grow. Things change and businesses and industries shift - Covid showed us that the hard way! You need to keep adopting as you and your business grow.

  4. Constantly review, shift and take advantage of the opportunities on the battlefield of business. That is one thing that Veterans and First Responders can excel at once they understand how their experiences can be adopted to the civilian world of business.


Although Kevin and Van Cotter Partners specialise in providing business advice, they also offer a broad range of accounting services for individuals. To learn more about their services or for an obligation free chat, visit their website.

We love giving Veteran and First Responder businesses a free plug. Get in touch and tell us who we should be catching up with next month. And feel free to put your own business forward!

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