Art of Accounting: Déjà vu all over again

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I’ve been on a time travel merry go round since the end of May, as I’ve been emptying a self-storage warehouse with the goal to be out of it by the end of August.

I had about 70 boxes in the warehouse and out of sight, out of mind. I originally got the warehouse so my wife would stop telling me to get rid of my “stuff.” I didn’t want to throw away my “treasures” and figured it would take me too much time to go through the boxes to decide what I was throwing away and what I was keeping, so I left them alone and did nothing.

Occasionally, I went there to retrieve something or add to it, but the number of boxes remained pretty steady at 70. When I first rented it, the rent was $125 a month. Through the years, they added an insurance fee and then sales tax and modest annual increases. Toward the end of May I received a notice that the rent was increasing on July 1 and the new total was going to be $210 a month. That’s $2,500 a year, and it was an awakening that the stuff in there wasn’t worth keeping for $30,000 for the next 10 or so years, hence my adventure to clean it out.

I gave myself a quota and timetable. The paper recycling in my neighborhood was every two weeks, so I decided to have about a dozen or 15 bundles for each pickup. Right now I am down to 16 boxes, so I think I am doing well, and actually ahead of schedule.

I have many interests and have been involved in many things. I have set up and started many projects I would like to do. Some of these are managing an accounting practice and some are niche areas. Some involve organizations I am an active board member of. Some are for my various hobbies and some for nonprofessional books or serious articles I would like to write someday. I have a lot of “stuff” that relates to these and many other facets of my life.

I am also a pack rat, not wanting to throw away anything that I might need. If I’ve done it once, I might do it again, and why should I start from the scratch when I could build on what I already did? I could point to quite a few blogs and articles I’ve recently posted, based on some of the stuff I’ve been looking at and tying up for recycling. I’ve even recycled some articles. Many of the techniques have changed since I started, but the ideas, personal interactions and entrepreneurial skills have not.

One poignant thing I’ve come across is the issue of staffing in accounting firms: hiring, training, retaining and growing staff. Some of what I’ve gone through goes back to the 1960s and includes professional journals and newsletters showing an overriding concern about staffing and an overabundance of articles on that topic. A 1981 article in The Wall Street Journal about my firm also indicated our concern about staffing, as did my 2001 award-winning article in the Journal of Accountancy.

In 1968, my boss suggested I join the Staff Accountants Committee of the New York State Society of CPAs, so I’ve not only been around a long time, but been aware of and involved in staffing issues. What blew my mind looking over the articles was that nothing has changed! It hasn’t gotten better. The complaining continues. The blame on the younger generation hasn’t changed, except that now there are fancy labels or names of the generations. Careless training, or the lack of directed relevant training, still rules most firms. Staff turnover because of a lack of excitement, opportunity and supported motivation is still ranked higher than salary. Agree or disagree all you want, but this is what I saw and see. As far as I am concerned, it is the reality.

My trip down memory lane is bringing back many things that I did and providing ideas of what I could do. But when all is said and done, as a profession, I do not see anything new in the way of improving staff management and development that has been done in 50 years.

When I am finished, I will have about 15 boxes left in my garage, with the rest recycled. I am not stopping with this, and these will be gone before I am. Nothing is being added because everything I do now is digital. Also recycled were many boxes of my books, some of which were published in the early 1980s, about tax changes.

For me, as an immediate tangible benefit, starting August 1 (I will be out a month ahead of my schedule), I will be $210 a month richer.

P.S. The fee increase I received was ill timed and was a wakeup call that I was spending money I did not need to. As much as I recommend increasing fees and rates, it cannot be done on auto-pilot or by rote. Increasing a fee for a nonessential service at a time when many people are facing financial ruin seems misguided to me.

P.P.S. After I told them I was vacating the warehouse unit, I received an almost immediate email offering me a $40 reduction for the next six months if I stayed. They would have been much better off delaying the increase. Seems like an uncoordinated strategy.

Add on: I will be presenting eight one-hour free CPE programs at www.cpaacademy.org starting Friday. Go to that site, search my name and register for the programs that interest you.

Do not hesitate to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com with your practice management questions.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People list. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 743-4582 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Practice management Ed Mendlowitz