New vice president James Metzler seeks input from members

by John M. Covaleski

New York - The American Institute of CPAs’ new advocate for small firms, James Metzler, plans to very actively reach out to smaller practices and to try new things.

“I need help from members and we will seek their input any way we can get it,” said Metzler, who is best known as one of the first CPAs to develop a highly successful technology consulting practice. He created that multi-million-dollar practice with the Gaines Metzler Kriner & Co. CPA firm, in Buffalo, N.Y., where he was a partner before going on to create a technology practice management consulting company, ConvergenceCoaching, in 2000.

Metzler, 54, is also a former president of the Buffalo chapter of the New York State Society of CPAs, a member of the AICPA Member Innovation Advisory Panel and a past chair of the AICPA Information Technology Executive Committee. In taking the new post, he relinquished his interests in ConvergenceCoaching and dropped his membership in the AICPA’s governing Council.

As the AICPA’s vice president for small CPA firm interests, Metzler is charged with supervising the institute’s firm practice management initiatives, including the Partnering for CPA Practice Success and the Management of an Accounting Practice committees, as well as advocating for small firms to the AICPA and in legislative areas. His seven-person staff includes Sheryl Martin, the AICPA’s director of firm practice management and the chief staff contact for the PCPS and MAP groups.

Metzler’s outreach to the profession included sitting down for an interview a week after assuming the post in early August. He was still determining his exact strategies, but was clear about his mission.

“We need to build our community,” he said. “There’s no doubt that our small to midsized firms - small firms more specifically - have voiced concern over whether they are being heard in the right places, so the No. 1 objective is to build a closeness, an overall tightness.”

Metzler estimates that he is representing about 45,000 firms, ranging from ones with less than 50 employees down to sole practitioners. And he hopes to communicate with as many of them as possible, asking concerned practitioners to e-mail him with thoughts and questions at jmetzler@aicpa.org.

He is also considering creating an e-mail exchange forum listserv, similar to the CITP Talk listserv set up by holders of the institute’s Certified Information Technology Professional designation to discuss information technology and practice management matters and strategies for their designation.

“It’s amazing the community that’s been built up with CITP Talk and some of the others. What’s preventing us from doing that and gaining input that way? We can communicate in ways that we never could before,” Metzler mused.

Metzler also plans to work closely with state CPA societies to determine what small firms need and what “deliverables” the AICPA should create. “I’d like to hear a year from now: 'I got this from the AICPA,' or 'I figured how to transition my firm through the AICPA,'” he said.

Metzler said that he ultimately wants members from small firms to think of the institute as more than just a place to get insurance. “It’s a great insurance program, but there are going to have to be other key deliverables,” he said.

Metzler has tentatively identified the following as some of the small firm concerns he plans to address:

● Succession planning;

● Partner unity;

● New leader preparation;

● Services mix; and,

● Dealing with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Metzler is considering programs that help small firms generate revenue from new opportunities created by Sarbanes-Oxley, which sets new rules for how firms can work with their public company audit clients, And he plans to participate in the profession’s efforts to limit the extent to which individual states apply Sarbanes-Oxley regulations to private companies. “Kathy Eddy [head of the AICPA’s Special Committee on State Regulation] is doing a great job in this area, and I need to be deeply involved in that,” he said.

He also expects to participate in the institute’s development of a new business-reporting model by gathering and sharing small firms’ and small businesses’ input on the matter.

Several profession authorities noted that Metzler’s big challenges include dealing with the alienation that small firm practitioners felt regarding a lack of input in the institute’s failed attempt to create the global multi-services designation, once known as XYZ, and its role in establishing the CPA2Biz Internet portal.

“I hate to go over history, but there is a disconnect that stems back to those initiatives,” said Ralph Thomas, executive director of the New Jersey Society of CPAs. “Members still feel their voices were not being heard in how those initiatives were approached.”

Metzler acknowledged that those initiatives may have impacted some firms’ feelings about the institute but, like Thomas, he does not want to review history. “That will come up all the time - but I am looking forward and not at what’s behind us,” he said, adding, “My sole passion is to build our community.”

Indeed, it appears that small practitioners are also ready to forget the XYZ and CPA2Biz debates. “CPA2Biz is really history now,” said David G. McIntee, a partner with McIntee, Fusaro & Associates, a five-person firm in Kinellen, N.J. “That was two or three years ago. It’s time to move on from XYZ and CPA2Biz.”

However, Mitch Freedman, a CPA and spokesman for CPAs4Reform, a Web site and one of the most active listservs in the profession, said, “It’s no secret that a number of practitioners have felt disenfranchised, and many still question whether the institute is looking out for their interests.”

CPAs4Reform spun off from XYZTalk.org, a Web site and list set up by practitioners, many from California, to voice their opposition to both the XYZ credential and CPA2Biz.

By and large, regulators and profession-watchers applaud the AICPA’s new outreach to small firms and its appointment of Metzler. “Jim Metzler is highly qualified to lead the small-firm initiative,” said Troy Waugh, president of Rainmaker Academy.com, a Nashville, Tenn.-based practice management consulting firm. “He’s an excellent communicator and can make a huge impact.”

“I am more enthusiastic about this than about anything the AICPA has done in the past few years,” said Louis Grumet, executive director of the New York State Society of CPAs. “Someone who knows the membership like Jim does is a tremendous asset.”

“Having someone approach small firms on a national level is very good,” added Thomas. “The challenge will lie in whether [Metzler] has the infrastructure to support what he wants to do.”

Freedman said, “I met Jim Metzler and was very impressed. The fact that he is on board as a staff person is an indication that the AICPA is taking a serious look at representing the majority of its members - small firms. I’m optimistic, but this is just a first step.”

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