Accounting leader KatzAbosch has built its reputation on the personal approach to doing business. First and foremost for founders John Abosch and Alvin Katz in 1969, building relationships remains the priority today as the firm and its staff of 100 delivers accounting and financial advisory services throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Equipped with telephones and an answering machine, Katz and Abosch joined forces while both teaching locally at the community college level. Their instructional careers lasted just one semester before they realized the potential for growing an accounting practice.

According to Katz, in the late 1960s, lawyers and accountants could not directly solicit business. They resorted to asking insurance professionals, business bankers and attorneys for third-party recommendations and to organizational networking, a practice that still rewards firm leaders today. It wasn’t until attorneys began advertising on television that direct solicitation became an acceptable practice in Maryland.

“I love interacting with people, advising people, meeting people,” says Katz, who admits he didn’t envision the firm in operation 50 years later. “Even with Facebook and LinkedIn and all those digital sources, we still meet with clients face to face.”

Back then, there were no formal written agreements; their partnership was created with a firm handshake, as was the addition of partner Al Windesheim a few years later to form KA&W. Always thinking ahead, the principals agreed they would prioritize diversification, adding individuals with strengths that would complement their own, not mirror them. Later, Steven Gershman and N. Mark Freedman signed on as shareholders, and the firm became KAWG&F, PA, expanding accounting and tax services and personal financial planning even further.

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Technology Leads Practice Innovation

Back then, technology began to play a role. Although the firm outsourced tax returns to data processing firms, Katz Abosch was one of the first in the area to add its own computer system in the mid-1970s and as technology grew, the firm moved most functions in-house. Today, all data is saved in the cloud, ensuring security for all clients. The addition of computers reduced the time needed for essential functions like bookkeeping, freeing employees to focus on larger needs for clients.

“Things that would take us hours to complete we aren’t doing anymore,” says Mark Cissell, who joined the firm in 1985 and ascended the ranks to president and CEO 10 years ago. “It gave us more time to act as consultants and business advisors because we no longer had to perform manual tasks such as bank reconciliations, payroll tax returns, etc.”

KAWG&F also led the industry in hiring women, offering alternate schedules for those with young families. Women were offered employment two or three days a week outside of tax season, and many “figured out how to make that work,” Katz says. The female voice was always valued, as women were involved in the firm’s leadership and on the operating board beginning in the late 1970s. Today, Katz estimates, there are more female accountants than males in the field.

During tax season, all accountants logged six days a week or more and worked late at night on weekdays. Technology streamlined processes, yielding a “more reasonable schedule” that prevails today.

“If we practiced the way we did in 1969 or 1970, we would have 50 percent more people now to do the work,” says Katz, of handwritten returns, financial statements on carbon paper, and calculations on adding machines. “Now computers complete most of the calculations, creating financial statements and tax returns. We do the thinking and analyzing.”

Just as processes evolved back then, today’s firm operations have progressed in turn. Katz is the only remaining partner to continue in the firm full time, as a director, and as a result, the firm rebranded to return to the KatzAbsoch name in the early 2000s.

Cissell has led the focus on new enterprise, specifically BlueStone Services, LLC, which concentrates on outsourced accounting and other business services. KatzAbosch is also looking to strengthen its efforts in the executive search arena. Its other new entity, Setera LLC, was recently developed with the goal to connect high level accounting professionals with admired institutions. Setera leverage’s the firm’s heritage of understanding what makes an effective financial leader in an organization to place and recruit top talent in the marketplace.

“A lot of compliance services have become a commodity,” Katz says. “This gives us an opportunity to provide value-added services for our clients.”

Expanding the service lines has precipitated expansion of staff, and the additions are not all CPAs. Many have business experience and are mathema-ticians, data analysts and valuation analysts, well prepared to provide the non-accounting functions of the firm and with automation, analyze more deeply beyond tax returns and financial statements.

“We can help the client work on the business, not in the business,” Cissell says. “That is critical because so many of our business clients are wearing several hats at the same time.”

A Dedicated Team

As more staff joined the fold, Cissell continued the legacy of the founders in taking a progressive approach to hiring. This included adding more advanced technology to make jobs better for staff and focusing on ways to make employees comfortable, with the likelihood these concentrations would lead to better job satisfaction, increased efficiency and longevity, which would transcend to the client as well.

“That was part of the allure of the organization for me back in 1985,” says Cissell. “The small, family type culture. Employees came first and we always do the best we can to make sure they’re comfortable. Without happy and dedicated employees, you’re not going to have happy and dedicated clients.”

With the increased demand on mining data, and a future that will only see it continue exponentially, Cissell expects accounting firms in the next decade will employ 50 percent CPAs and 50 percent consultants, changing the makeup of the industry. Today’s staff comprises about 80 percent CPAs with the rest of the staff serving functions that are synergistic and in an advisory capacity, enhancing collaboration for the client.

The Future of Financial Management

The firm marked its 50th year in business with a staff celebration in October, close to the actual anniversary date. The original partners returned, and the staff and their spouses marked the milestone with a tribute to Katz and Abosch as well as Windesheim, Gershman and Freedman.

Katz acknowledges the direction that Cissell is leading the firm ensures its growth as the industry continues to change. Just like Katz and Abosch, who went beyond the traditional practice of completing tax returns and audits to meet with clients to discuss projections and business planning and tax planning, the focus under Cissell is working proactively for clients.

“We want to raise issues with our clients before they raise them with us,” says Katz. “We focus on an overall picture of the business, a much broader scope, and we’ve always tried to help our clients be profitable in any way possible.”

This translates to forecasting accelerated growth for a company or planning a personal exit strategy for an executive eyeing retirement. Meeting the needs of the owner of a medium-sized business means not just focusing on the company’s accounting needs and transactions but looking at the larger view to provide added value to the relationship, helping to increase the bottom line and grow the business.

With the creation of additional consulting services, KatzAbosch continues its expansion into unchartered waters. Recently, the firm merged in a medical practice management firm, which goes much further than accounting and tax work for a medical practice.

“We will continue to look for opportunities to bring under the KatzAbsoch and BlueStone umbrellas,” says Katz, who anticipates more mergers, new services and growth via further technological advances.

Regardless of the changes that may come, one tenet will remain the same for KatzAbosch – its people.

“Sitting with somebody and being able to look them in the eye and talk with them directly giving them advice, listening to them, empathizing with them is just different than doing it over the phone or by emails,” Katz says. “The human element is still important.”

This point is not lost on Cissell. “No matter how much technology improves or enhances (the operation), that human element is always going to be there. People want to talk to people, to feel reassured and bounce ideas off other people. They want to meet and talk with people they trust and can confide in regardless of the topic.”
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