Local accounting firms battle to stand out from the crowd.
As they seek to carve out market share, local accounting firms are taking steps to differentiate themselves by offering a unique blend of products or services they hope will give them the edge they need to stand out in the crowd.
Managing the money
Ericksen Krentel LaPorte LLP got into the wealth management business about 15 years ago. “Prior to that, CPAs were not allowed to accept commissions and contingent fees,” Managing Partner Kevin Neyrey says. Several years ago, the company increased its commitment to wealth management, using what Neyrey calls a tax-optimized approach.
“Instead of just managing (clients’) money, we wanted to get more involved with their entire financial situation,” he says.
Ericksen Krentel partnered with 1st Global Research & Consulting, which acts as its broker-dealer. 1st Global also helped Ericksen Krentel recruit Bill Hodapp as director of wealth management. Hodapp is both a CPA and a certified financial planner. To reflect this change in focus, the firm is rebranding itself as Ericksen Krentel Financial Group.
The firm uses a program it calls Method 10 to help its clients accumulate, protect and then transfer wealth. The emphasis is on coordinating a client’s efforts in such key areas as estate planning, taxes, retirement, debt management and “special situations” like divorce. This makes sense, Neyrey says, because accountants are often their clients’ most trusted advisors.
“The thing that differentiates us is how we treat our people. “We’ve rolled out what we call LaPorte University.” – Ted Mason, chief executive and president of LaPorte CPAs and Business Advisors
Photo courtesy of LaPorte CPAs and Business Advisors
Another boon for its clients is Ericksen’s use of cloud-based software under a program Neyrey calls CAS – client accounting services. Instead of tying up many hours on data entry, document transfer and the other time-consuming bookkeeping tasks, both clients and accountants can work from a shared database.
“Their books, if you will, are in the cloud,” Neyrey says. “We have real-time access to them, as do they.”
CAS frees up Ericksen Krentel’s professionals to use their expertise to help clients with strategic planning, market analysis and other higher-level services. Costs are also lower; small companies can outsource their accounting needs rather than maintain a full-time accounting department. As Neyrey explains it, companies spend less time recording “history” (transactions), and more time planning for the future.
Ted Mason, chief executive and president of LaPorte CPAs and Business Advisors, says one of his firm’s strengths is the support and education it gives its staff. The company’s efforts go well beyond professional training.
“The thing that differentiates us is how we treat our people,” Mason says. “We’ve rolled out what we call LaPorte University.”
The company trained about 25 of its directors as certified coaches so they can advise staff members with such challenges as balancing work and family. Emphasis is on helping people meet their career aspirations so they can become well-rounded, trusted business advisors.
LaPorte also ensures that its staff interacts with the communities they serve. The firm requires each employee to become active in two community organizations.
“We allow them to choose where their passion is,” Mason says. Being active means spending time helping out with the organizations’ activities, such as serving on a board, rather than just joining. As a result, the firm’s 160 employees give back to literally dozens of causes.
Mason also cites LaPorte’s membership in the McGladrey Alliance, which gives the company access to the resources of McGladrey LLP, one of the country’s premier accounting and consulting firms. LaPorte is the 140th-largest firm of its kind in the country, out of about 6,000 firms, Mason says.
About four years ago, LaPorte added a Houston office to its locations in Metairie, Covington and Baton Rouge. Mason says the company saw tremendous overlap on the part of its clients. “Many clients in Southeast Louisiana work and operate in Houston, and vice versa,” he says. The firm has hired some Texans who moved to Louisiana to attend LSU but wanted to return to Houston to work. It has also attracted Louisiana residents who went to college in Texas but always wanted to come home to work.
For Gregory Brenan II, CPA and partner at Hannis T. Bourgeois LLP (HTB), it’s all about relationships. “We become trusted business advisors for our clients,” he says. “We’re vested in our clients and what they do and their success.”
HTB, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2014, has served many of its clients for 25 years or more. The firm specializes in a variety of industry sectors, such as automotive, construction, not-for-profits and government. Within each sector, the company has staff members who follow the industry’s associations and attend conventions.
“Our involvement helps us keep on the up and up of what’s going on with the industry,” Brenan says. “We look for how changes will affect our clients.”
For example, Louisiana had numerous tax-law changes that took effect July 1. While the new laws were in the pipeline, HTB gave its clients a heads-up, Brenan says. As soon as the laws were passed in early June, staff members were meeting with their clients to make sure they were ready.
“The decisions you make today impact the next five to 10 years, based on where you want to go.” – Gregory Brenan II, CPA and partner at Hannis T. Bourgeois LLP
Photo Courtesy of Hannis T. Bourgeois LLP
HTB has 125 employees in three offices — New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Denham Springs. The firm has 20 partners, 15 of whom have more than 25 years of experience. The company knows its clients have made a real investment in hiring the services of an accounting firm, Brenan says, and it makes sure the investment pays off.
For each client, HTB asks, “Where do you want to be in the next five years, and how can we help you get there?” Brenan says. The firm’s professionals look at how decisions affect their clients’ financial situation, both company-related and personal. “The decisions you make today impact the next five to 10 years, based on where you want to go,” he says.
The founders of Postlethwaite & Netterville APAC set great stock in the principle of giving back to the communities they served, says Lynne Burkart, a director at the accounting firm. More than 65 years later, the company’s employees keep that spirit alive, volunteering hundreds of hours to a wide variety of causes. The company also sponsors community events, especially those held by groups with P&N directors on their boards.
The company has grown since its founding and now is the largest of its type in Louisiana and in the top 100 nationally. P&N has nine offices, eight of which are in Louisiana, and employs more than 700 people. “That gives us the depth to cover all the major industries out there,” Burkart says, including health care, construction, oil and gas, public companies and nonprofits. The company did business with clients in Texas for many years, she says, and more recently opened an office in Houston.
The firm’s staff members also support the professional organizations associated with the industries they specialize in, which helps them keep up with industry trends and regulations.
P&N prides itself on its emphasis on integrity and confidentiality, Burkart says; in 2003, it received the Douglas Manship Sr. Torch Award for Ethics in Business from the Better Business Bureau of South Central Louisiana.
In addition to professional training, P&N offers its employees training in the “soft skills” that help people become well-rounded. It’s part of the company’s focus on lifelong learning, says Rachael Higginbothem, marketing manager.
P&N is also a founder of LEA Global, the second-largest international association in the world, which gives the company access to a global network of 220 accounting, financial and business advisory firms.