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CPA's no longer limited in service offerings

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When three brothers recently inherited a New jersey-based business, one of them wanted to sell off his interest. The other two said they couldn't afford a buyout, promoting the dissident brother to accuse his siblings of blowing away their inheritance on frivolous spending.

A lawsuit seemed to be in the cards, so when the holdout brother realized he needed professional help, he placed a call to Marcum LLP, an independent CPA and advisory services firm.

Pushing the boundaries

“We’re not limited to traditional accounting services,” said Ilan Hirschfeld, the Neptune-based partner-in-charge of Marcum’s New Jersey Advisory Services group. “We have a variety of specialists in a wide range of advisory services,” including litigation support.

Ilan Hirschfeld, partner-in-charge, Marcum LLP.
Ilan Hirschfeld, partner-in-charge, Marcum LLP.

Marcum expanded its reach “because our clients want us to have specialists that can address their needs with a national reach,” according to Hirschfeld. “In Roseland, for example, we’ve got a respected real estate services group that assists with development, tax planning and other matters for clients across the country. We’ve also got a microcap group that can match up venture capitalists and others with firms that are seeking seed money. We even have a recruiting group that helps other CPA firms, including from the Big Four, find the right professionals.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Marcum’s website lists categories like modern family and LGBT services, workplace security & investigations, and anti-money laundering among the firm’s specialties.

Coordinating the new disciplines under the umbrella of the organization takes some discipline.

CPAs as psychologists, coaches and detectives

The woman who leads one of the fastest-growing practices of the full-service advisory and accounting firm EisnerAmper LLP has a bachelor’s degree in organizational psychology. It’s all part of the new direction for CPA firms, according to Jay Weinstein, the firm’s Iselin-based managing partner of markets and segments and partner-in-charge of the firm’s New Jersey office.

“Lisë Stewart, director of our Center for Family Business Excellence, is working with a family-owned, significantly sized New Jersey-based manufacturing company that’s transitioning its leadership,” related Weinstein. “The generation that started the business is retiring, and Lisë is helping them to transition the leadership to their grown children. At the same time, the original CFO is retiring and she’s working to help them select a new one. We are not an employment or recruiting agency, but we are helping the family members to come up with an outline of what they’re looking for in a CFO.”

The heart of the engagement is not just a matter of dollars and cents.

“Lisë has to thoroughly understand all the dynamics and motivations that are involved in the engagement, so she can help to ensure that everyone’s needs and goals — as well as the business’ needs — are satisfied,” he added. “Some of these engagements can take months or even years. You become a kind of counselor, first helping the client to set up the transition, and then staying by their side as the changes work themselves through.”

EisnerAmper also has leveraged its expertise to help other companies improve their own operations.

“Benchmarking is one of our new services,” Weinstein explained. “We’ll analyze a company’s performance and then advise if it’s doing better or worse than its competitors. Then we can generate a list of suggestions and start a conversation about bringing the business to the next level.”

The firm is also getting more involved with digital services, he noted.

“Recent hires in New Jersey included a leader for our robotics practice, and a cyber specialist who focuses on dark web matters,” Weinstein said. “Also, we recently launched a group that focuses on blockchain technology and its business applications. Clients are asking us to do more, and we’re responding to meet their needs.”

“We have a national partner-in-charge for each group, and they go over issues and help to design an overall strategy,” he explained. “We’re also vigilant about potential conflict-of-interest and other quality control matters. In addition to the PIC, a second independent partner has to concur on each report. This kind of check-and-balance can take a little longer, but it’s important to maintain the highest standard of quality control. Clients expect it of us and we expect it from ourselves.”

As CPA firms evolved to offer additional services, their marketing had to reflect the expansion, which is why organizations like Marcum refer to themselves as “an accounting and advisory firm.” Top specialists may not even have to be a CPA, depending on the particular discipline, like information technology.

CPA firms will continue to evolve, according to Hirschfeld. “Our IT practice, particularly; cybersecurity is mushrooming,” he said. “So are our advisory services. The U.S. is a litigious country so there are always business lawsuits. And marital is also a growing area.”

Getting closer to clients

One of the reasons that CPA firms have been able to branch out is “because we’re deeply involved with our clients,” noted Lou Miele, managing partner of Fairfield-based Leaf Saltzman. “As trusted advisers we learn a lot about their business and their operations, and then we can use our firm’s knowledge capabilities to help them in different areas.”

Among the firm’s current and recently completed projects is an assist to an upscale, third-generation New Jersey-based food market engaged in a multimillion-dollar facility expansion.

“We’ve helped them with the local planning and zoning boards, as well as assisting them with securing financing, finding the right architects and engineers, and monitoring the construction process,” Miele detailed. “It’s all part of being a full-service accounting firm. We want clients to know we can provide all services of a larger firm — bringing in trusted outside experts if needed — without losing sight of traditional services like our tax practice.”

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