Steve Chaney, CPA

Managing partner, Chaney & Associates, Roseville, Calif.

One month shy of six years at Arthur Andersen, I left the firm and started my own practice in the same day. My church contacted me because I was the treasurer on the board. They told me that the business administrator had resigned and asked me, “What are we going to do?” I told them I had an idea. That afternoon, I had lunch with the pastor and on a napkin created my business model. I had my first client. I then resigned from my position with Andersen.

We saved my church over $350,000 a year in accounting costs the first year. We restructured debt, laid off seven people in the accounting department, and moved the church to a completely online system. In the faith-based community, there’s a strong social network. Word started to travel, and other ministers said, “If you could do that for that church, you can do that for our church.” Within three months, we had 10 churches as clients.

We grew to about 75 churches and then got stuck at that number. We were limited by the on-site accounting systems. So I started researching software as a service in 2008. In 2009, we moved to Intacct. That was like redeveloping the whole firm. 2009 was the hardest year. But in 2010, we grew our revenue 89%. Chaney & Associates now has 11 employees. I am the only CPA, but we are looking to add at least one more. We have three relational managers who are the contact points for clients. Each relational manager has clerks who do data entry work. We have about 130 full-service clients. For them, we act as an outsourced controller or outsourced CFO. For our other 220 or so clients, we do payroll and write-up services.

Across the board, there has probably been a 30% cut in tithes and offerings over the last couple of years. Most churches do an annual giving statement because that’s what the IRS requires. We said, “Let’s do a quarterly giving statement. That will refresh people’s memories.” When they get their statement, they’ll say, “Wow, I’ve only given $100. I need to give more.” Every time we send out quarterly giving statements, the next couple of weeks see a lot of revenue come in because people are catching up. If you wait until the end of the year, people say, “Well, I can’t catch up the whole year.” Another thing we’ve been able to do by having these web-based systems is dashboards. Directors of departments can see what their budget is and know when they are about to go over budget or whether they need to cut back.

I believe that this is my mission in life, a calling. My entire life is church. Our social life is church. I’m the pianist of the church. My children are involved in church. My wife is involved in church. It’s really a lifestyle for us.

My wife, at the end of 2010, was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery. I took off almost two months. I could do my job from the hospital because I had my laptop and a free Wi-Fi connection. When she started chemo, we took two weeks and stayed in a cabin in South Lake Tahoe (Calif.) in the snow. My staff did most of the work, but if I needed to, I could get online in the cabin and work a little. What cloud-based computing has done for me is free me to do whatever I want. Last summer, my wife said, “We’re going to go to Maui.” And we did. We decided to stay for an extended period of time, and I decided to work one or two days here and there. She had to have another surgery in December as a precaution, then had a massive infection in March. She had another surgery June 20 and now she’s in recovery and doing well. She’s cancer-free.

—As told to Jeff Drew, jdrew@aicpa.org , a JofA senior editor

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