3 Accounting Associations Merge to Form IGAF Polaris

Three international accounting associations—Polaris International, Fidunion and IGAF Worldwide—are merging together to create one of the largest associations of independent accounting firms in the world.

The merged association, which will operate under the name IGAF Polaris, will contain 385 member firms with combined annual revenue of over $1.82 billion. The association will include a combined total of 2,402 partners, and 16,304 professional staff operating out of 846 offices in 88 countries around the globe.

The merger is expected to be completed between March and May, following various procedural requirements, but the associations have already begun operating on a combined basis for about three weeks, according to Raymond W. Buehler Jr., president and CEO of the Pittsburgh-based accounting firm Schneider Downs. He will become chairman of the world board of directors of the merged association. He said the merger occurred because of the need of the member firms to have greater depth in different parts of the world.

“From a historical perspective, some mega-dynamics were happening to us in the industry, including the growing need of our membership in IGAF, whose clients were demanding more and more that we have expertise and depth in all the regions of the world in order to properly service them,” he said. “Another thing was that membership inside the associations was difficult to obtain. We made significant efforts over a lot of years and we would pick up some members. At IGAF, we picked up two of the top 100, but then we had some smaller firms merge into larger firms. Ultimately one could argue that we did well, but if you took a perspective of it over five years, the growth through significant effort and membership drive probably wasn’t enough to get us to where we needed to be five and 10 years out in order to be the accounting association that we thought we needed to be.”

Exclusivity agreements were also becoming increasingly difficult to maintain at the associations, with as many as five firms operating in the Atlanta area, and IGAF came to the conclusion that there were too many associations operating.

IGAF conducted a study in 2009 to explore a merger strategy and began reaching out to other associations of independent CPA firms last year. Some wanted to remain part of larger accounting firm networks, and two others wanted to remain separate associations. But two others were interested in merging with IGAF: Polaris and Fidunion. Each of the associations had different bylaws and organizations, with some that varied in different parts of the world, according to Buehler. But ultimately the three associations received approval from enough of their member firms to go forward with the merger.

“The leadership from all three associations came to a common vision of what we were attempting to do,” said Buehler.

The substantial increase in size of the merged association is expected to provide the member firms with greater resources to meet international client demands. IGAF Polaris will have a regional governance structure, with boards of directors providing oversight for each of the four regions: North America; Europe, Middle East, & Africa; Asia Pacific; and Latin America & Caribbean.

A world board of directors comprising members of the regional boards will provide global guidance and governance for the merged association. The leadership for the merged IGAF Polaris will be as follows:

• Chairman, World Board of Directors – Raymond W. Buehler, Jr., Schneider Downs (Pittsburgh, Pa., USA)
• Vice Chairman, World Board of Directors – David R.M. Frame, Littlejohn LLP (London, UK)
• Treasurer, World Board of Directors – Jean-Marie Vandergucht, FITECO (France)
• Chairman, North America Board of Directors – Edward A. Davis, Petrinovich Pugh & Co. (San Jose, Calif., USA)
• Chairman, Europe, Middle East & Africa Board of Directors – Ulrich Britting, GHP Revision GmbH (Frankfurt, Germany)
• Chairman, Asia Pacific Board of Directors – Akshay Shah, Rajendra & Co. (Mumbai, India)
• Chairman, Latin America & Caribbean Board of Directors – Andres Moreno R., ASTAF Colombia S.A. (Bogota, Colombia)

Kevin Mead will become CEO for the global association. Julio Gabay will serve as chief regional officer for the North American and Latin American regions. Kevin Mead will serve as temporary chief regional officer for the Asia Pacific region, and Jens Chr. Aarup, Lydie Jubin and Norbert Schmitz will provide services for the European region.

The association will include several of the top 100 firms in the U.S., including Reznick Group, based in Bethesda, Md.; Watkins Meegan, also based in Bethesda; Schneider Downs in Pittsburgh; Hein & Associates in Denver; SingerLewak in Los Angeles; and Berkowitz Dick Pollack & Brant in Miami.

Beginning in late 2011, the associations will have their first combined meeting as a world organization in Miami.

Buehler said he expects to see other associations merging once they see the results of the merger of IGAF, Polaris and Fidunion.

“We think as a result of doing this that if somebody is in the market to look at a different association for whatever reason, we believe we are a much more attractive candidate right now in terms of the many choices that firms have out there,” said Buehler.

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