Why join an accounting association?
Accounting associations do not all look alike, but they exist because firms are looking for benefits like brand validation, sharing opportunities, access to expertise, and potential for referrals.
“CPAmerica International offers all these benefits,” said Alan Deichler, president of CPAmerica. “We are a group of trusted firms that share best practices and proven methods and support each other’s client requirements.”
The reasons for joining an association vary by firm, but generally boil down to synergism, and center around the following themes.
The Internet has broken down walls. It is now possible for even a small firm to have a global presence. Global reach is another matter, however, and requires solid international connections. Association is key, according to Crosley+Company's Gale Crosley, CPA, listed as among the 10 Most Recommended Consultants in INSIDE Public Accounting and among the Top 100 Most Influential in the Profession in Accounting Today.
“With the continuing evolution of global markets, active involvement in an international association will be the single-most important strategic move a firm can make, whether large or small,” Crosley said.
Kevin McGrath, chief executive officer of international accounting network Crowe Horwath International, of which CPAmerica International is a member, elaborates, “In today's world of rapid globalization and increasingly competitive markets, clients around the world can testify to the benefits they have drawn from Crowe Horwath's member firms. The greatest strength of our member firms is their ability to understand the strategic needs of their clients combined with the business experience of the professionals they bring to help clients meet those needs. Instead of seeking merely to export professional expertise, Crowe Horwath has welded a truly international network of business experts drawn from the leaders of their professional communities. All share a commitment to delivering technical excellence and a higher standard of client service."
Deichler agrees, “It also means that, as a local firm’s clients grow and require international accounting support, they can remain with their trusted local accounting firm and still have access to a top 10 accounting network.”
The image below shows where CPAmerica International ranks among other accounting organizations.
Best practices and the inside edge
Firms that want to hang on to existing clients continually strive to find new and better ways to serve those clients. Membership in an association that offers sharing opportunities provides access to fresh ideas and best practices.
Through affiliation with an association, the firm’s “small fish in a big pond” dilemma is turned around. The firm can now leverage the power of hundreds – even thousands – of expert connections across a broad array of industries and specializations.
Tim Arter, managing partner of Brickley DeLong, P.C., in Muskegon, Mich., says, since joining CPAmerica 13 years ago, “There’s no question our bottom line has improved. We have improved efficiencies in our auditing practice as well as our administrative processes.”
Access to supportive sounding boards
Often, managing partners feel isolated. At state and local networking events, when they meet other managing partners, there’s a hesitation to share due to shared geographic locations and the competitive nature of the business.
Steve Tatone, chairman of the board of Oregon-based firm Aldrich Group, which also has offices in California and Alaska, says his firm has benefitted tremendously from its membership in CPAmerica. “When we joined CPAmerica in 1998, we were a $4.5 million firm and thought we were doing pretty well,” he said. “Then we participated in the Practice Management Survey the association offers each year and learned from the benchmarking data it provides that we had a lot to learn.”
Tatone says the relationships he was able to build with managing partners at larger successful firms were key to his firm’s growth. Aldrich Group had revenues of more than $46 million last year and is still growing.
“CPAmerica was very influential in our growth,” he said. “We’ve been able to pick the brains of some very successful firm leaders, and it’s been extremely helpful and motivational.”
Mergers and referrals
Larger firms appreciate the networking ability with smaller firms. Often the smaller firms will refer business or collaborate on projects they don’t have the staff or expertise to handle in-house. When an association has a non-compete agreement or understanding (as do the CPAmerica member firms), the fear of losing the client to the larger firm is minimized. The larger firm, in turn, may look through for a deeper connection through a merger.
CPAmerica’s companion association, CPAConnect, serves small firms and sole practitioners. It allows the larger CPAmerica firms to sponsor the smaller firms – to invite them to the party.
What to look for in an association
When shopping for an association, Gollob Morgan Peddy PC Managin Partner Tony Morgan says his firm put a lot of thought into it. The firm was with another association for several years that was no longer meeting their needs.
“I looked at about a dozen associations, went to two to three conferences,” he said. “We selected CPAmerica, in part, because the net income per partner was considerably higher than others. That’s a little bit tongue in cheek, but not too much. That was a big part of it.”
Morgan says they also liked the size of member firms. “At $11.4 million, we’re about mid-point. There are a considerable number of firms that are larger than that. You learn from bigger firms. They’ve already gone through the types of problems you’re having or about to have.”
Other factors firms often consider when determining which association to join are stringent membership criteria, regular member consultations, controlled growth, geographic consideration, regular meetings and opportunities to network, and investment in the brand. And dues.
Dues were cited by both Morgan and Arter as the main reason they believe some firms don’t join associations. But, as Arter says, “We just consider it a part of our budget. We’re receiving a lot more in added value than we anticipated. We consider the cost very reasonable.”
Morgan concurs. “I’m a notorious top-line revenue guy,” he said. “This is a business where the margins are very good. You don’t want to be pennywise and pound foolish. I just can’t believe it when a firm doesn’t join. But a lot of them don’t.”
Morgan is also a bottom-line guy.
"Membership in associations helps firms broaden their capabilities and offer clients a winning combination: a hands-on, local presence with national and international connections."