A look inside Keats, Connelly & Associates

In the 1970s, Canadian native Robert Keats, who holds a Certified Financial Planner designation in the U.S. and Canada, as well as a Registered Financial Advisor designation in the U.S. and a Registered Financial Planner designation in Canada, worked in finance in Calgary, Alberta, the oil center of Canada, where approximately 40,000 Americans toiled or lived most of the year. Keats was inundated with questions from these Americans on finances and taxes on almost a daily basis. In all cases, he was able to find suitable answers for all American needs. However, the role was reversed when he transferred to Arizona in 1983 - where there were thousands of Canadians living and working in the state, with no one to help any of them.

"After figuring out how to do everything from paying both sets of taxes to investing my bonuses, I decided to create a business that focused on this seemingly under-served market," said Keats. "But before my founding team and I got into the niche full force, we hired a consultant to research the size of the market and demand for the service we could offer."

So in 1990, Keats and others founded Keats, Connelly & Associates in Phoenix, a wealth management firm that services primarily high-net-worth Canadians living, working, retiring and investing on both sides of the border. During this time, Keats remembers "eating grass" and hiring his son part-time to get by. He worked for a couple of years without a salary so that the founding team could assemble an educated, salaried staff.

After a few years in business as a steadily growing concern due to word of mouth and increasing Canadian seasonal and permanent residences in many areas of the U.S., two major things happened that helped to propel the firm to where it is today.


Since Keats had been living on both sides of the border himself, he wrote a book in 1992 on how to do it properly. Keats worked with Self Counsel Press to publish The Border Guide, written specifically for:

* Canadians who are considering some form of permanent or seasonal residency in the United States;

* Canadians who have resided in the United States for employment and are contemplating returning to Canada;

* U.S. citizens living in, investing in or moving to Canada; and,

* U.S. citizens married to Canadians, and vice versa.

The book became a bestseller in Canada, and he began traveling throughout both countries giving cross-border-living workshops to Canadians.

Keats subsequently hired Dale Walters, CPA, PFS, CFP (U.S. and Canada), in 1994. Walters was put first in charge of the Tax Department, then the Financial Planning Department, and eventually became chief executive officer in 2004. "As our business skyrocketed, it gave us the chance to re-evaluate our business plan," said Keats. "We realized that in order to be successful, we needed to create, expand and delegate our business dealings to our expert staff, while still keeping our hands on the pulse of the business."

Added Walters, "We saw and responded to the need for specialists in all areas of our practice - management, tax professionals, planning professionals, investment professionals and immigration experts."

Keats and Walters did just that. They have expanded and now have nearly 40 employees from the U.S., Canada, Germany, Bulgaria and Mexico, as well as offices in Phoenix, West Palm Beach, Fla., Naples, Fla., and Detroit.

With the addition of so many experts, including CPAs, chartered accountants, an immigration attorney, and professionals with Chartered Financial Analyst and CFP designations in both the U.S. and Canada, Walters and Keats knew they had to re-evaluate their business structure and let go of some of the reins.

"Bob and I are analogous to construction supervisors - you would have a complete disaster if you hired architects, framers, electricians, drywallers, plumbers, roofers, etc., separately, and told them to do their part without someone developing the plan and coordinating the work," said Walters. "Together, we are always developing and evolving our plan and coordinating the work for the offices while maintaining a high level of customer service."

"Our management team understands that the success of our business ultimately rests in our ability to recruit, train and retain outstanding team members and experts in the field," said Jon Schade, chief operating officer of Keats, Connelly.

Part of the firm's retention strategy lies in the office culture created by Keats, Walters and their various office committees, which they have for everything from compliance, ethics and volunteerism, to birthdays and office retreats. A blend of experts from across the globe, the entire office makes it a point to volunteer together, to take company retreats, and to foster an environment of sharing and ongoing education.


"Each year, we get about 500 prospects inquiring about our services," said Walters. "About 15 to 20 become our clients, and we are able to help many others through our sister company, Cross Border Tax & Accounting."

Keats acquired CBTA in 2007 and converted it to a registered investment advisor to serve clients with international tax concerns and offer a full range of tax planning and preparation. While Keats, Connelly & Associates focuses on high-net-worth individuals, CBTA caters to more of a middle-class clientele.

The firm is looking to expand internationally by opening a Canadian office and offering planning to people looking to buy property or invest in Mexico. "We even talk about duplicating our successful formula for cross-border planning and starting a branch of the firm for clients who travel between the U.S. and U.K. borders," said Keats.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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