We Are Different

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We’re Different

by Adrian W. Hollander, C.P.A., CISA, CIA, CBA, CFSA,
President of COMPLUS Inc. – Professional Controllers

 © 2003

One of the most important issues for building brand awareness is differentiation from other similar businesses. Accountants are not all alike. COMPLUS Professional Controllers lead accounting departments. We serve companies (20-100 workers) that are too big to run with just a checkbook and too small to hire one of us full-time. We enable business owners to run their businesses without feeling blindfolded.

Some of the differences among accountants are very subtle; some are dramatic. I hope to increase awareness and clear up some misunderstandings. It’s hard to shorten something with lots of content. Please bear with me. Let’s examine several alternatives (in no particular order):

CPA – the independent accountant. The classic functions are auditing and tax preparation. Their primary role is to represent the interests of third parties. Without the clout of the police, CPA’s encourage compliance with laws and regulations. COMPLUS Controllers work “for” the interests of our clients. We are trusted advisors for our clients. We draw the line at illegal and immoral, of course (but we’ll stretch a point on fattening – we want invitations to the parties). Enron and other recent accounting scandals have illustrated the costs of ignoring the conflict of interest created by consulting for audit clients. In my opinion, bankers should never accept an “audit report” from a CPA who is described as “the client’s trusted advisor.” That CPA obviously fails the independence test.

BOOKKEEPER – the worker. The bookkeeper supplies the perspiration. COMPLUS provides the inspiration. Many controllers in small businesses do clerical work just to be busy. That is very wasteful of resources, not to mention expensive. Bookkeepers and clerks should reasonably be expected to learn how to perform tasks that occur at least once a week. We delegate the most frequently occurring tasks to them. They still need a coach, though. We’re it. If bookkeepers could really do all of what we can do (by themselves) why do they work for such low pay.

CRISIS MANAGER – the rescuer (???), sometimes known as a troubled company consultant. This person’s objective is to save a company that is in danger of failing. The difference between us is in the orientation. COMPLUS gives control to management by improving the information system. The crisis manager’s job is to take control away from management who has put third party interests (money) in jeopardy.

TEMP – the cavalry. When peak-load work volume might overwhelm the capacity of the regular work force, extra help may be needed for short periods. Projects usually involve full-time attention for from a few days to a few weeks. People who do this work are often “between jobs.” They will work for relatively low wages (because that’s better than nothing at the time). COMPLUS work, by contrast, is intended to be part-time, indefinitely, and it is part of the regular workload plan. COMPLUS personnel are business owners, committed to a long-term relationship. We’re more expensive (per hour), but we’re worth it.

INTERIM – the stand-in. When a job/position is vacant, this is the person who fills in until the organization leader chooses a long-term replacement. It’s a short-term solution. We would usually try to persuade the owner of a company (with fewer than 100 workers) that the CFO/Controller job doesn’t really warrant a full-time employee. The COMPLUS strategy is long-term, part-time service.

CONSULTANT – the advisor. One joke plagues consultants. When asked, “What time is it?” some will explain how to build a watch; some will just study the issues raised by the question; some will take the watch (and keep it); but no one will say what time it is. The consultant is often aloof, “above it all.” By contrast a COMPLUS controller serves as part of the executive team. We will roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty and fix problems.

EMPLOYEE – the worker who is “owned” by the business. Employment is a relationship created by government. An employee is entitled to be paid as long as he/she appears for work. There are no performance requirements in the regulations. COMPLUS controllers are contractors. We are each business owners. Payment is expected in exchange for providing a valuable service. A relationship covered by contract is a “value-for-value” exchange. Would you be willing to work for a company to whom you had to send a bill for your services -- that the company could refuse to pay? That is the position of our clients (business owners) relative to their own customers. We understand the stresses of running a business in these especially challenging times.

EMPLOYMENT/STAFFING AGENCY – the head-hunter. Search firms look for people to fill jobs or jobs for people who are looking for them. COMPLUS controllers are looking for work for ourselves. We can share opportunities among members of the group because we have developed a revenue sharing formula to recognize the contributions of participating associates when serving each client.

CONSULTING FIRM – the employer. Associates of COMPLUS, by contrast, are not employees of COMPLUS, nor of any client. Each Associate owns his/her own autonomous business. Associates are contractually allied with COMPLUS to serve the interests of clients as part-time Controllers. Accordingly we are each accountable directly to our clients, rather than to each other. A revenue sharing formula defines the method of distributing payments from clients to those who earn shares. Associates may have an office wherever they wish, at home or in more traditional business space. Associates may hire employees (or not) as they deem appropriate for their own businesses. Associates may spend their own money however they see fit.

CFO/CONTROLLER – the administrative/financial executive. Accounting should be a feedback process to improve decision-making. The Controller should enable decision-makers to run the business without feeling blindfolded. In an owner-operated company with 20-100 workers, whether served by an employee Controller or a COMPLUS Controller, the expectation of results should be the same. However, a person who looks for a full-time job where the workload should call for only part-time attendance is absolutely our competitor. COMPLUS Controllers object strenuously to Parkinson’s Law (work expands to fill the time available). We can usually do a better job than a full-time controller in our “target market” for less than half the price.

COMPLUS is certainly not the only source for Controller services. How do you choose among several offerings? First -- are there any disqualifying characteristics in resumes of individuals who may seem very similar? Then ask questions, and evaluate the answers. (See “Interview Questions – Controllers” on the web site.) Who from the organization will really do the work? What happens if this person is not available? What does this person want to do? How will the person identify with your interests, relative to others? How will the candidate deal with the problems you want fixed? Who do you “like” best? When skills seem very similar, chemistry is even more important.

COMPLUS Controllers are seasoned pros. We try not to “live down” to the stereotype. We raise the bar. We fix problems. We want to work with small companies. We understand the challenges of limited resources. We never work in conflict with the interests of our clients. We try to make each client feel like he/she is the only client we have (even though everyone intellectually knows better). We like what we do, and we hope it shows. May we have an opportunity to serve you?

A business owner will always pay for good accounting -- one way or another.