by Seth Fineberg
New York - There is little question about the advantages of being part of a network of your peers. Such networks can also be the right path for accountants eying some international exposure, as well as deal flow from the legal community.
The International Accounting Group is aimed largely at local and regional independent accounting firms in the U.S. who not only want an international presence, but future partnerships with lawyers from around the globe.
Rising from the ashes of a troubled accounting network, TIAG currently has over 40 accounting firms in its membership, only a handful of which are in the U.S. The real attraction, TIAG officials hope, is its connection to TAGLaw - an established “sister” network of nearly 125 law firms from 70 countries including the U.S.
TIAG did not come into being until earlier this year, when a relatively established network, BR International, lost its leadership. The London-based firm Blick Rothberg administrated the network, but had a difficult time attracting members - particularly in the U.S.
BRI grew to 45 members during its time, but had strict guidelines that did not allow firms to be part of other networks. Blick Rothberg eventually decided to step down as administrator, due to growth difficulties with the network and its decision to join another network. That’s when St. Petersburg, Fla.-based TAGLaw administrator Appleton Group stepped in.
“We actually started TIAG earlier in the year, with the intention of developing a separate accounting network with the same model as TAGLaw,” explained Appleton Group founder Peter Appleton Jones. “We were part way through early recruiting in March, called a firm in Paris who told us they belonged to BRI, and they explained they lost their leadership. After months of negotiations, we now have nearly all of the former BRI members and are looking for new ones.”
Practice management consultant Allan Koltin, chief executive of Chicago-based PDI Global, sees the clear advantage for such networks, particularly those with ties to the legal community, as clients are driving the need for strong international representation.
“Business owners want less complication and they like things to be seamless, so the concept of [accountants and lawyers] working together in a one-stop shop format is becoming very attractive,” Koltin said. “The big firms have been all over this concept for years - Andersen employed more lawyers than anyone - but now you are seeing it more at the local and regional level.”
Koltin also noted that there has been more discussion on how accounting associations can form such partnerships since BDO Seidman’s launch of a national alliance of law firms last year.
Appleton Jones said that 70 percent of TIAG’s recruiting efforts are focused on the U.S. market, and he expects that the network will grow to 50 members by the end of the year, and a total of 200 after recruiting ends. He also noted that TIAG is looking for midsized, local and regional independent firms, as well as those that he and his researchers feel that they “just like to be with.”
“We are looking at the top 100 cities in U.S., as well as certain cities in Europe where discussions are underway with about 20 firms right now,” Appleton Jones said. “We want to find firms that can bring a bit more to the table, like litigation support, corporate finance or a certain industry specialization.”
In addition, TIAG’s rules are not as limiting as BRI’s - though there are some restrictions. Members can belong to other networks; however, there is some local and regional exclusivity. For example, there can only be one member in the New York metro area, but there may be others in the state that can join.
Former BRI member Cornick, Garber & Sandler fits that description. The New York firm joined TIAG earlier this year after a call from Appleton Jones to partner Peter Frank.
A few of Frank’s reasons for making his firm a part of the network include protecting the client base, differentiating the firm by having access to a law network and other international accounting firms, and inbound referrals.
“You become the focus of other firms with the ability to get answers to questions anywhere in the world within 24 hours due to the breadth of our membership,” Frank said. “Referrals should be encouraged between lawyers and accountants. I am going to our four-day meeting in London and will meet an attorney from New Orleans. They have a client opening up an office in New York that doesn’t have an accounting firm, so we are looking forward to talking to them.”
Frank also chaired BRI’s board and now sits on TIAG’s advisory board.
Firms such as Raleigh, N.C.-based Hughes Pittman & Gupton that belong to other networks here in the U.S. still see merit in being a part of TIAG.
The firm, another former BRI member, recently came over to TIAG. It is also a member of CPA America, a more U.S.-focused network. Partner Brooks Malone had questioned joining TIAG after the problems BRI had, but “gave them a chance,” which has already proved advantageous for his firm.
“Just in the past few months, we’ve had chances to propose on a company with a subsidiary in Japan, simply because there was a TIAG firm in Japan,” Malone said. “We also had opportunities with a company in Toronto that is on the same street as a firm there. It’s like we have an international presence.”
New business aside, Malone still wants TIAG to be worth paying the membership fees, as well as those for CPA America. Though he declined to reveal what he pays, he said that TIAG is reasonable, while CPA America is “a bit more expensive, but we need to be competitive.”
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