Art of Accounting: Research associate

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I joined Withum 14 years ago when it had 250 people. It’s now 1,100 strong. As Withum is growing, the needs of the firm continue to expand with newly created positions to ease the growth for the staff and provide better and more value-added services to clients.

Some of the nontraditional positions for an accounting and advisory practice that we added include a chief utilization officer, chief talent officer, chief financial officer, chief marketing officer and general counsel. Each of these is filled with highly gifted people. Many have been chosen from our talent pool, maintaining and strengthening our firm and culture. Today I want to concentrate on a new position that grew out of the skills of a longer-term employee: Christina Giorgio.

Chrissy joined us with the merger of Morrison & Company in December 2010. That practice concentrated in forensic litigation support. Chrissy was hired in 2006 as an administrative assistant. She evolved into providing background investigative research on the cases that were being worked on. Eventually her skills expanded to cover a wide array of research, not just on forensics. She recently has been appointed as a resource for our entire firm and has a dedicated email address: research@withum.com. As our industry specialization groups expand, and we take on the roles of not only being the “numbers” guys but also trusted advisors to our clients within their industries, the need for quick, current and reliable information has become more critical than ever. Having a dedicated research specialist has become more essential than ever.

Her functions are many. Here are but a few:

Her research starts with industry information, usually made available by trade organizations, and then moves on to commercial resource subscriptions that provide both current and historic industry reports, laying out trends, challenges, opportunities, past performance and expected future performance of various industries. The reports generated are beneficial to gaining an understanding of the industry in which a current or potential client, and even an adversary, operates and is also an added value to the client service we provide. Additionally, these reports also provide management interviews with questions that are geared toward the specific industry, helping to ensure the questions being asked by us are relevant. Depending on the industry, these reports are not just national but can be narrowed down to a specific state. She also utilizes business information reports, which can be helpful in advance of meeting with a new client as those reports can be pulled on specific companies by name. Extra helpful features of these reports are credit information and financing liens.

Current and historic economic data is also available, both nationally as well as locally to a specific region. This is beneficial if a client is looking to expand operations elsewhere but is not sure of the demographics, area, economic performance in the past, or pending changes. If the resources Chrissy accesses do not have this data specific to a region, she then reaches out to municipalities, libraries and local chambers of commerce and gathers her own external data.

Industry benchmarking and market data provide ratios and can be used when comparing a client’s performance to how it aligns with the overall industry. This data can be narrowed down by location and can show historical trends over a multiyear period.

Compensation data is useful when compensation paid to a company’s staff member at any level, from executive down to administrative, needs to be verified. The resources Chrissy accesses can be narrowed down by specific job title, zip code or general location, and when possible, by specific industry and revenue ranges. This is also a value-added factor if a client is looking to hire new employees and wants to know what industry norms are for salaries or is looking to review what those norms should be for said client’s existing staff.

In addition to the industry data, Chrissy performs various levels of public record research, including searches for assets, properties, corporation filings and background checks. Her years of on-the-job experience eventually led to her becoming a licensed private investigator within the state of New Jersey in 2013. This designation has aided her in obtaining public record documents that may not be otherwise easily accessible.

Chrissy also has both a print and digital “lending library,” making such resources available to staff and partners almost on a 24/7 basis. Furthermore, she has a database of scores of specialized journals, periodicals and newsletters and is able to search through them to obtain articles on a technical topic or ones referencing founders, owners and higher-level management of many companies.

I have used her a number of times to research potential investors in clients, often saving the clients substantial time and costs dealing with some people who were not what they described themselves as.

What Chrissy does has become a necessity as the accounting industry evolves, but for us it is a luxury we appreciate. She gets great accolades from everyone benefiting from what she does. I hope this information introduces you to an area that accountants can access when performing services for clients or to get a heads-up when meeting with a prospective client. If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact me at emendlowitz@withum.com and either Chrissy or I will be pleased to point you in the right direction or share resources you could use.

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) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Accounting firm services Ed Mendlowitz WithumSmith+Brown