Seven of the country's top-ranked accounting firms with a combined fees of $300 million are joining forces to form a new association geared to firms with annual fees of more than $15 million.

The group, which has tentatively chosen the name "The Global Alliance," will focus on recruiting members that can target larger private and smaller public companies on a national basis and that can provide related 404/SOX work; and on sharing best practices and expertise at the managing partner level and at the practice level.

"A big part of this is firm size. When you're a firm with fees of $15 million or more, the issues you want to talk about are very different than those of firms under $10 million," said industry consultant Allan Koltin, chief executive of PDI Global, who is helping to facilitate the new group's formation. "There are only a few associations that are exclusively for large firms. In many existing associations, there are only one or two firms over $15 million in fees, and those firms find it's a somewhat lonely world. The others can't share resources in areas like going after SOX work or private companies."

Koltin said that some of the firms were clients "who made overtures that they weren't getting enough out of their existing associations," while others didn't belong to a network and were looking to join one.

For Wasau, Wis.-based Wipfli, it was a matter of finding an association where geographic exclusivity wouldn't be an issue. The firm had belonged to Moores Rowland International, but left about a year ago, because cross-geography became an issue, according to managing partner Greg Barber.

"Moores Rowland is a great group, but geography was the issue. In order for people to feel comfortable sitting around a table and sharing best practices and ideas, you need to not be sitting with other firms that cross over into your geographies," said Barber.

The firm wanted to be part of a group with firms similar in size. "You can learn a lot by sitting and talking with others who are experiencing the same things you are today, " said Barber. "You can also learn from those who are a step ahead of you in the stage of evolution and from those who are a step behind you. The cross-pollination of thoughts and ideas is very powerful."

"We approached Allan and asked, based on our goals, where would we best fit in? While there are a number of organizations out there, we didn't feel that any of the current ones would meet our objectives," Barber said. "When we looked at the [associations] we could consider that would fit us best for our size, the current groups all had members in our market area."

The other founding members are Norfolk, Va.-based Goodman & Co., New York-based Mahoney Cohen & Co., Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt in Los Angeles, Rea & Associates Inc. in New Philadelphia, Ohio, and Dubuque, Iowa-based Honkamp Krueger & Co. The group will also include a regional firm that didn't want to be named until it notified the association to which it currently belongs.

The member firms are in the process of interviewing international accounting firm alliances to identify an international partner with similar interests in terms of types of clients and projects. A search is also underway for a full-time executive director, who will likely be based in Chicago or New York, according to Koltin.

Koltin said that the group is in talks with other firms that might be interested in joining, and is targeting as markets San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Texas. "Of course, we'd consider a firm even if it weren't in one of those markets, if it was the right kind of firm," he said.

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