December 1998 Issue


By Edwin J. Kliegman

The picture that is being painted by some is that the future of traditional services performed by typical local CPA firms is bleak. The painter is saying the way to survival is to move into consulting type services and get out of the attest function and other traditional services. To do this may mean looking to merge up or join the consolidation movement. An outlook of doom and gloom for the non-national firms is predicted, saying that by the year 2000 small practice units will be dead and buried.

Change, and the ability to change, to seek better ways of improving products and services, to look to the future, are tasks that have helped the United States to become the great nation that it is. CPAs have traditionally been in the forefront of recognizing change. The smaller local and regional CPA firms have always had to keep up and be willing to change. If they didn't, the market would displace them. The marketplace has always been the ultimate arbiter.

Rather than cast the future as presenting the demise of the profession, especially the local and regional practitioners, I believe opportunities for the future growth and the future prosperity of the profession abound.

The smaller practice units, which are entrepreneurs just like the hundreds of thousands of clients they serve, the small closely held companies that make up the backbone of this great country of ours, know what they are doing in spite of what others may think. These people are in the forefront of the technological changes that take place every day, they have been consultants since the day they started in practice, they have been guiding and planning with their clients throughout the years and have helped their clients' businesses thrive. They have been slow to learn the importance of marketing but are catching on quickly. They have been afraid to charge for the "new" services that they have been giving for free for a long time, but will soon realize that the service they give is worth a premium billing.

The smaller practice units and sole practitioners must be taught to market themselves better, to believe in themselves more and to promote themselves as that elite group--practicing CPAs, the independent, trusted and able advisors and consultants to small, closely held companies. Clients prefer doing business with their CPA, rather than an outside, unknown consultant. Clients recognize the value of the CPA. Sometimes the CPA has to begin doing some self-promotion with his or her client and to walk tall and confidently in providing the services clients find of value.

A service that the AICPA and state societies could provide for the local practitioner is to help them market themselves better and elevate their self-esteem. It would not be the same kind of program larger firms use. It requires an entirely different approach. They should become cheerleaders and find unique ways to help this constituency.

What needs to be emphasized are the strengths of the smaller practice units and sole practitioners. Let the public know that their entrepreneurial talents and skills--knowledge, experience, ability and desire to help--can help businesses grow. Let the public know that these CPAs have a vast storehouse of knowledge and if there is a need for specialists in the course of business, the CPA will lead the way, act as general, and be on hand to evaluate the results every inch of the way. This is what the smaller practice units and sole practitioners have been doing and are doing and will continue to do. This is their niche, this is their specialty.

Not every CPA wants to be a partner of a large firm. There are benefits and advantages to "being your own boss." The feeling that one gets knowing that one is the master of one's own destiny is powerful and extremely fulfilling. It's hard work, the hours are sometimes arduous and long. But there is nothing like the feeling you get when you know that you're doing it your way. The smaller practice owner and sole practitioner can be creative, imaginative, and resourceful.

They will not die and fade away *

Edwin J. Kliegman, CPA, is retired from Marcum & Kliegman LLP. He has been the champion of the local practitioner all his career and is one of the founders of the National Conference of CPA Practitioners.

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