Anthony Lombardi of the Lombardi Group aims to be an essential resource for the CPA firms he works with in Southern California.
His Carlsbad, Calif.-based financial advisory firm has developed a system it calls Perfect Client to help CPAs in areas such as tax planning and estate planning in-house, without needing to refer the business outside of their practice. The goal is to have the client tell the CPA’s story to friends and colleagues, rather than the story of a financial advisor who wants to sell the client a service. He created his company 15 years ago to provide an alternative to the traditional model in which CPAs refer work to outside financial advisors.
“There’s a problem with the referral model,” he said. “They get you to make it look like the CPA is in need of someone to do what the CPA can’t do in-house, and then his very best clients end up working with an outside source. At the end of the day, the CPA puts himself at risk by putting his client in someone else’s hands. They can be having a bad day. The secretary can miss an appointment. All you can hope for is cash flow, and that you’ve still got your client and everybody’s happy. When your client is out there surrounded by other business owners, the story he’s telling is the story of the person you referred him out to. He’ll say these people did a good job, that they saved him some taxes.”
Lombardi’s company instead provides a team of specialists to the firm itself. “We bring this team in your office,” he said. “We put our arrows in your quiver and train them how to be more efficient handling your clients, to integrate what you’re doing and raise the level of expertise at the firm. We bring in multiple players and increase the brain trust.”
Richard Muscio, a CPA in San Diego who services family offices with a net worth of $250 million and above, is one of the experts who works with Lombardi. Separately, he also consults with about 30 CPA firms on servicing their high net worth clients.
“Tony Lombardi and I got together two years ago,” he said. “We were talking about essentially the same thing in public. But we were coming from a slightly different perspective. I’m a CPA. He’s not a CPA. But they’re servicing CPA firms and law firms as well.”
He collaborates with Lombardi on offering family office financial planning and other services.
“When I met Tony, his platform wasn’t broad enough,” said Muscio. “It had things on it like premium finance life insurance, ESOPs, defined benefit retirement planning, and I think CPAs found him to be slightly life insurance focused,” he said. “When we combined resources about two years ago, I basically brought in my platform, which is much broader. We added captive insurance planning, a whole family office solution for very high net worth clients who want to have everything internalized. I brought in what I would describe as macro accounting for clients or CPA firms who tend to always be behind on stuff because the accounting is always late or not done right. The most important things that I think CPAs miss when they’re working with their best clients are cost segregation for their real estate clients and business valuation for their private equity clients or clients who own private or closely held businesses. I basically brought in my platform and combined it with his to create a much deeper and broader platform that CPAs and CPA firms that are looking to provide better value to, say, the top 10 or 5 percent of their clients can tap into.”
He and Lombardi are working with about 35 CPA firms and approximately a dozen law firms. “Our plan is to basically cap our CPA client base at about 100 because we don’t want to be too big,” said Muscio. “Our feeling was that if every CPA on the planet is doing this, there won’t be any differentiation. We’re trying to cater to firms that want a more consultative approach as opposed to perpetually generating most of their revenue from more traditional services, like just cranking out tax returns and financial statements. That’s one reason why we don’t ever plan to do this on a massive scale because we want to work with the 10 percent of the profession that’s really trying to be this firm of the future or most trusted business advisor. We don’t want to work with everybody.”
For Lombardi, the key is that the CPA never lets go of his or her clients. “Now they’re telling their own CPA story, not a referral,” he said. “We do not allow our CPA firms to refer business out. We bring in people. Our company is a conduit to more things that affluent business owners need. We teach them to look at their CPA firm’s fact pattern to enable them to do it in-house. We interview firms. We see about 150 CPA firms. We’ve solved the referral model. We take a look at every single firm.”
Joe Ventura of Ventura, Kuehn & Associates in San Diego, is one of the CPAs who has turned to the Lombardi Group to help his eight-person CPA firm offer extra services to clients. He has been working with LG for about three years.
“They in essence are providing me with a variety of what we call specialties,” he said. “They call it quivers or arrows in the quivers. They provide insurance services and bookkeeping services. The insurance services cover both life insurance and property and casualty. We’ve got different people working in different areas. They help with estate planning. They have lawyers available. There are people who can provide financing for various insurance products or business entity financing. What they’re doing is providing the CPA who has high net worth individuals with some resources that maybe your typical CPA firm does not have, or even some of your larger firms would not have this available. I think they’ve done a really good job of shopping for these resources throughout the United States and brought together probably some of the best people in each of those areas.” When clients want more than just the traditional compliance services, he lets them know that he has the extra resources available in his back office. “If the client wants to meet with these people, there’s no problem in bringing them in on meetings, or they can just stay in the background and I can meet with my clients and then just relay the information for them to research and come up with a solution,” said Ventura. “It’s very flexible.”
He has partnered with them for about half a dozen clients and finds the revenue split fair. “The principals of the group, Tony Lombardi and Alex Sonkin, I would label them as team players,” said Ventura. “They’re there to always assist you in coming up with answers and solutions. They go above and beyond anyone in this industry. They’re genuinely concerned about doing the best for the clients.”
Lombardi said they have to be the best at preserving the integrity of the relationship between the CPA and client. “Give them a true story and make it a story worth telling,” he said.