International Associations

By Glickman, Richard | Journal of Accountancy, January 2000 | Go to article overview

International Associations


Glickman, Richard, Journal of Accountancy


Reach across borders for new clients.

The world is our horizon! How can we--a midsize accounting firm with three regionally based offices--make such an assertion? Simple; we formed an association of firms of similar size from all over the world and we share ideas with and refer clients to them. CPA firm associations (also known as networks and alliances) are not new to the profession; however, few small and midsize U.S. firms go beyond their states or regions to develop their practices in just this way. My 12-member New York City firm created INTEGRA International and invited other small and midsize firms from around the globe to join together and emulate larger firms by establishing our own network of noncompeting firms.

Joining or creating your own such network is not as daunting a job as you might expect. Read on to learn what a network can do to give your firm an international or, for starters, a national presence, and see what it takes to build one of your own.

NEW BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES

Although the networks and associations with international presence are organized differently from each other, most are created to expand their members' markets. For example, our network wants to have one member firm in every significant city or aeographic area in the world--my firm represents New York City, and Albany, New York. The following examples of how INTEGRA members exchange ideas and refer business can give you a general idea of the benefits of being a member of an international network.

Reaping such benefits can be as simple as sending an e-mail or making a call. For example, Jonathan Kendall, a CA with a small firm in London, called our office to see whether we could help him with a potential client that wanted to open a business in Manhattan. Our role was to provide the company with tax planning advice to help it get up and started in New York City. After our two-hour conference call with Kendall and his potential client, that client retained both Kendall's firm in England and our office in New York City.

Another client, who was flying to London to settle his father-in-law's estate, asked my firm for the name of our London member firm to handle all of his affairs. By not asking for a fee, we earned the intangible benefit of our client's goodwill. In fact, most referrals between INTEGRA members are not fee- or commission-based. In another example, a colleague in an INTEGRA member firm in Antwerp, Belgium, told us his friend (a New Jersey software developer) needed a smaller New York CPA firm to provide financial planning, tax and accounting guidance. Since we had software development experience, we got the engagement.

The international communication between our members is ongoing. This is not unique to our network. As many as 30 CPA firm associations are international and provide their member firms with cross-border contacts and referral sources. The key to the success of any international alliance is the commitment from each member firm to take its membership seriously. For example, we require all 40 of our member firms to send at least one representative to our worldwide conferences each year, and we ask each firm to actively participate in our committee structure. We have not measured in dollars the contributions the network has provided our members, but most members have increased their client bases through member referrals and strategic alliances made with other INTEGRA firms.

SHARING IDEAS

We hold two conferences annually. We invite well-known speakers, often consultants to the profession, and schedule breakout sessions on managing and operating a practice; client services; and technology, accounting and auditing updates. Conferences are held near a member firm; the executive committee selects the location, and the local firm organizes the event--finding the hotel and organizing dinner and entertainment. We require members to pay only for their rooms and travel costs. …

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