by Melissa Klein

The trend toward financial conglomerates courting CPAs as a distribution channel is alive and well. The roster of broker/dealers and registered investment advisors working with CPAs - which includes GE Independent Accountants Network, 1st Global and H.D. Vest - has proven as much.

And at least one more firm is banking on CPAs’ abilities to maintain their reputation as their clients’ "most trusted advisor."

Boston-based Signator Financial Network, a distribution arm of John Hancock Life Insurance Co., has become the latest entrant in the field of companies that are offering a proprietary turnkey program for CPAs.

"It’s no surprise that many firms are looking to build relationships with CPAs," said Kathy Klingler, vice president, marketing and business development. "With the changes in the regulatory environment allowing CPAs to accept fees and commissions and CPAs’ being perceived as trusted advisors to businesses and individuals, they’re an obvious partner for us to work with."

Klingler said that the company’s just-launched True Alliance program is aimed at working with CPAs who want to offer additional services, such as wealth accumulation, protection and distribution or trust and estate planning, to their business or high-net-worth clients.

The relationship is based on the services that CPAs want to offer and how involved a CPA wants to be in the financial services process. CPAs can provide the services themselves, or they can work with one the firm’s 1,800 registered reps.

"The CPA can choose to offer just fee services, or to offer both fees and commissions. They can offer investments, insurance. They can just act as a referring source," explained Klingler. "Some CPAs make the decision to offer broader services but don’t want to do the work themselves, so they bring in expertise to do it."

"We’re trying to make it as flexible as possible," she added. "The CPA owns the client relationship. They can bring in a Signator rep to do the work and share in the fees if they are licensed properly, or they can do it themselves."

"First we do discovery - we identify the CPAs’ objectives and help them develop a business plan. Then we help them decide what markets they want to target, which clients they want to target and what type of services they want to offer," Klingler said.

As is the case with similar programs geared toward CPAs, the licensing requirements vary based on the types of services that CPAs want to offer. Those CPAs who want to do everything themselves have the option to become a registered rep with the firm.

Through Signator, CPAs have access to a full range of proprietary and non-proprietary investment products, such as mutual funds, stocks, bonds, annuities and insurance.

In addition to licensing support, Signator offers training with a special training track for CPAs through its own Web-based training portal, Signator Virtual University, as well as face-to-face training through national and regional meetings, with a series workshops targeted to CPAs.

Signator provides marketing materials, such as client letters, PowerPoint presentations and brochures, and back-office support, including access to business development tools and advanced business and estate planning group.

"The CPA owns the client relationship, they continue to be the point of contact. But we have specialists in the home office and in the field who provide expertise in certain areas. We also have local sales groups they can call for support," Klingler noted.

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