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Accounting for your accountant Featured

10:06am EDT April 26, 2006
Randy Myeroff made a number of cold calls when he opened the Akron office of Cohen & Co. 17 years ago, and one of his first visits was to a tire importer that seemed more than happy with its current accounting firm.

“We met this client through a banker,” says Myeroff, now president and CEO of Cohen & Co. “They were paying $2,500 for an audited financial statement. We were very quick to say, in the best possible cases, a certified audit for a company (their size) is going to be $20,000 or $25,000. We already knew there was some mismatch.”

That company didn’t listen, not at first, anyway. But during the subsequent year, internal personnel issues created some complexity in the company’s accounting records.

“A year later, they showed up at our office ... and said, ‘We think we ought to talk to you guys,’” Myeroff says.

It’s something Myeroff has seen many times. Many companies look to accounting firms simply to fill in the blanks on their tax return once a year. But business owners should expect more from their accountant, starting with a long-term relationship — like the one he developed with that tire importer years ago.

“We ended up being very involved in helping them set up proper internal controls,” Myeroff says. “We were extremely involved in a succession plan because there were a father, two sons-in-law and an outsider running the business. We helped strategize from a tax standpoint, from a structural standpoint, how the father passed the wealth to the next generation, who was going to manage what kinds of things. That was 10 years ago. We’re now talking about succession amongst the three there.”

Any number of accounting firms are more than capable of handling the average tax return, but Myeroff says they can do so much more. And Northeast Ohio offers a great deal of opportunity.

“Sitting in Cleveland, we’re pretty lucky,” Myeroff says. “We’ve got some great firms in town. The bar should be high. People should expect a lot out of their firm. They should expect it going in, and they should keep pushing to make sure they’re getting value of the relationship.”

That value includes more than just business knowledge. It also means offering business advice in a proactive way.

“The first issue is, do you have a meeting of the minds?” Myeroff says. “You don’t know if somebody did a good job for you unless you had some sense and they had some sense for what it is you wanted to accomplish.”

That comes from meeting on a regular basis. A company should expect to hear from its accounting firm several times a year. Often those meetings have no agenda, Myeroff says — accountants visit with clients just to get an update on the business and the issues going on in the lives of owners and managers. Through those meetings, an accountant can get a feel for clients’ needs.

“Most of the time it couldn’t happen in an hour meeting,” Myeroff says. “There are times when a client will meet for half an hour and say, ‘OK, let’s get started.’ We may be the ones to back up a little bit and say, ‘Let’s make sure we really truly understand what it is you need before we presume we’re the right firm for you.’”

It often takes a great deal of time to develop the right relationship.

“We are more than just bean counters,” Myeroff says. “It’s easy to say and very hard to execute on. Sometimes relationships will blossom. They take time. We’ll bring on some clients where we know they need more than they think they need. You don’t want to push them into something they don’t understand.

“We’re very long-term thinkers. We think 12 months is too short of a time to measure almost anything. We’re looking for longer-term trends. We’re looking for the retention of our people, retention of our clients, the depth of our expertise.”

HOW TO REACH: Cohen & Co. Ltd. (216) 579-1040 or www.cohencpa.com