Accounting Steps Up: Three firms embrace tech, services to lure clients

Math nerds. Quiet, sit-in-a-corner types. Dull and boring. Accountants fight stereotypes like these and more. Or not. At the business school Golden Gate University, there’s pushback against such stereotypes.
On its website, it says: “Think of an accountant like a FitBit® for management and investors. Accountants give a quick, easy-to-understand picture of the company’s current financial health, clear guidance on how to improve this health, and solid metrics as the company develops.”

Locally, accounting firms offer a variety of services with those goals in mind. They may be one-person operations, or part of an international conglomerate with hundreds of offices and thousands of employees.

Below are profiles of three different local accounting firms:

MoneyFit

MoneyFit’s Beth Melcher and Stephanie Wilson.

Beth Melcher, owner and CEO of MoneyFit, offers what sounds like an ominous warning: “A.I. is coming.”

Not to worry. Her point about artificial intelligence is part of her company’s strategy. MoneyFit is cloud-based, which she said makes her client’s information both more secure and more readily available.

“What is available online and the cloud [provides] quick turnaround. It can help business,” she said.

MoneyFit is a two-person operation, just Melcher and employee Stephanie Wilson. She said the company is centered on two complementary lines of thought. One is utilizing cloud-based applications for business processes, making them available anywhere there is an internet connection. “I love being actionable. That’s what cloud accounting can do. Open your iPad, phone or computer. You go from ‘I’ll check on it’ to ‘Here it is,’” she said.

The second is that being cloud-based allows both them and their clients to easily access and improve the health and fitness of their business. Melcher said that is really what drives people. “Business owners love their product or service, but not bookkeeping,” she said.

Not only are their data accessible, the supporting applications are compatible. “The system is powerful and secure,” she said. “A lot of people put together their own cloud-based accounting, but [the applications] don’t talk to one another.”

While MoneyFit is a small firm, Melcher is one of 16 people who serve on the Intuit Accounting Council, alongside accountants from firms large and small across the country. “Intuit wants to keep us connected with the development of software,” she said. “I can provide a voice for northern Michigan to Intuit.”

Hofstra, Bott and Kraft

John Kraft, Dan Hofstra and Chris Bott.

Dan Hofstra and Chris Bott were longtime friends. They both attended Ferris State University before going to grad school at Grand Valley.

“Dan’s and my history goes back 20 years,” Bott said. They both found their way to Traverse City and though they worked for different firms, they maintained their friendship. “Dan and I stayed connected, and over the years I got to know John Kraft.”

They each have different areas of expertise, and would reach out to one another when a question arose that better suited the other’s skill set. They occasionally discussed the possibility of actually working together, but it wasn’t until last summer that they seriously began to consider it. “We use the same software, and last summer asked, ‘Why not merge?’ We have complementary skills, and it started to make sense,” said Bott.

They began working on combining forces in earnest, and as of the first of this year, Hofstra, Bott and Kraft, PC debuted, combining the Traverse City location of Schepers & Hofstra with Bott & Company. In addition to the three principal CPAs, the firm boasts two other CPAs, three full-time staff and several part-time staff.

“Critical in the combining of our two firms was that we had similar philosophies and approaches to working with our clients, providing them with full service with a small-town feel,” said Bott.

In addition to filing taxes and bookkeeping, Bott said an area which he brings to the table is in accounting litigation.

“For example, divorce mandates an estate summary. If there’s a business entity, you have to compute the value,” he said. “Spousal support always used to be deductible [on the one side] and be part of income [on the other]. Now it’s not. We offer litigation support if an attorney needs numbers.”

He also noted that the ease with which people can quickly and efficiently contact and work with one another has changed the competitive dynamic. Previously, those in the same town would likely be viewed as competitors, but if they were an hour away that wouldn’t be the case. Now those lines have become blurred, making it less potentially onerous to connect with others locally, as the playing field is larger and more level.

Rehmann

Rehmann Principals Steve Peacock, Matt Grigsby, Josh Sullivan, Kim Schwaiger, Chris Morse, Mike Lipp, and Tom Ackerson. Not Pictured: Ryan Sullivan, Cathy Shoemaker and Kerry Nelson.

With multiple offices in Michigan as well as in Ohio and Florida, Rehmann is one of the largest firms doing business in this area. It has more than 1,000 employees in its offices across the country, approximately 40 of which are in its Traverse City office.

The company has received numerous accolades, including ranking 24th among the top 50 accounting firms, according to the Vault Research Co. It is also ranked 13th in Vault’s best accounting firms for work/life balance, and 16th in the best for hours and best for women categories.

Rehmann is growing both nationally and locally, said Steve Peacock, who was recently named managing principal for the firm’s Traverse City office. “The growth in this office over the last 12 to 18 months has been outstanding,” Peacock said. The local office has increased by between 50 and 75 large corporate or estate-type clients in the last year, according to Peacock.

He said the firm’s size allows for services that other accounting companies do not offer in-house. In addition to accounting services, Rehmann has wealth management and administrative office expertise. Peacock said that gives the company’s clients more insight and information regarding their finances.

Rehmann also has a two-person local business development department, and it offers corporate investigative services, such as forensic accounting. Some of its staff have backgrounds in law enforcement, allowing Rehmann to research all financial activities through digital means and interviews. “It’s another tool in the [accounting] toolbox,” said Peacock.

It’s all for assisting clients in their growth and prosperity and keeping them abreast of how changes in tax laws and the like will impact them. “A prosperous business owner is a happy client,” he said.

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