Many Small Firms Remain on the Fence



Many Small Firms
Remain on the Fence

Others see new competitive asset.

any CPAs practicing in small firms appear to be taking a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to the proposed global credential. “My clients tend to be small companies, so I honestly don’t know if my having this new credential would be attractive to them,” says Rodney Harano, a sole proprietor in Hawaii who offers a wide range of audit, tax and consulting services. “It certainly wouldn’t turn them off. I’m still interested in seeing both sides.”

The new credential is not intended for every CPA, of course, and there is a certain segment of the AICPA membership, particularly among sole proprietors, who don’t need it or don’t want it. “I just don’t feel it’s on target for small firms,” says Stephen Saxenian, partner at Melvin Goldman & Company, a two-partner CPA firm in Mamaroneck, New York, specializing in corporate and individual tax preparation. “I can see how it might be useful for a 150-member firm, but it’s not something our tax clients will care about.”

But Mike Blackburn, the immediate past president of the Utah CPA Society and an attorney who gets about 75% of his clients through referrals from other CPAs, believes that even CPAs who might never apply for the new credential will want to allow others the opportunity. “Isn’t it our job to make our profession as strong and as diverse and as creative as possible?” he asks. “Personally, I could never picture myself applying for an IT designation, but as a member of Council, I sure voted for it.”

Other sole proprietors see the new credential’s commitment to strategic partnering and alliances and to a database of information and resources, as a way small firms can compete not only with larger CPA firms, but with their nonCPA competition as well. “A significant amount of time and resources are necessary for a small firm to formally operate in a global, strategic-focused arena,” points out Jim Carr, chairman of the Indiana CPA Society board of directors and a sole proprietor for the past 17 years in northwest Indiana who provides a wide range of services to individuals and small businesses. ”Small firms simply do not have these kinds of resources.”

Still other CPAs working in small firms don’t really understand the concerns they hear from some of their peers. “The biggest criticism I’ve heard is that the credential could put you at a disadvantage if you didn’t have it,” says Randy Watson of the Denver-based, four-partner firm, Yanari, Watson, Lyons & McGaughey, PC. “That may be true, but it seems to me that anyone worried about it could just get the credential. And remember our profession is creating this thing. Most of us should be able to jump the evaluation hurdle pretty easily.”

Steve Wilber, a partner with Wilber & Townshend, a small regional firm servicing western Michigan, further argues that the new credential is only formalizing what has already taken place. “Over the past decade, CPAs have used their trust relationship with clients to expand their basket of services far beyond the attest function,” he explains. “The new credential simply brings a certification to this new core of services.”

“We’re already facing stiff competition,” adds Jim Carr. “I would never support anything that would diminish the CPA designation, but clearly times have changed. We cannot sit idly and watch our profession become eroded by market forces, government regulation and societal changes. We cannot cling to the ways of the past that simply do not appeal or interest today’s youth. We must change to remain vibrant and meaningful.”


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