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April 11, 2016

Accounting firm grows through value, diversification

Laura Finaldi Matthew J. Boyle was promoted to partner at Westborough-based AAFCPAs earlier this year. He was one of five employees to receive the promotion in 2016.

Regional accounting firm AAFCPAs takes up three floors of the downtown Westborough building it's in. On the first floor, about a dozen employees sit and face each other, chatting away and typing on their laptops while they work. It's a vibrant environment, which partner Matthew J. Boyle chalks up to an evolving customer base, a sense of social responsibility and an ability to recruit and retain some of the best talent in the area. The firm, which rebranded itself from Alexander Aronson Finning CPAs in early 2015, added 20 new employees last year, and promoted five of its employees to partner roles.The firm is expected to add as many as 30 new employees this year, Boyle said.

Over the past few years, the company has had steady sustainable growth, which is starting to pick up a bit.

AAFCPAs is growing because of its commitment to value, which it defines as a combination of expertise, service and price, Boyle said. An increased consciousness towards value from commercial clients plus the firm's yearly commitment to donate 10 percent of profits to local nonprofit organizations have made it an attractive option.

“Nobody wants to overpay for services, so everyone is seeking good value, and they're finding it with AAFCPAs,” Boyle said. “They're driving the growth that we're seeing.”

Founded in 1973, AAFCPAs has 180 employees across three locations in Wellesley, Boston and at its headquarters in Westborough. The majority of the employees are based in Westborough, and in January the Boston office moved to a new space that is triple the size of the old one. The firm offers tax, audit and advisory services to its clients, including business and information-technology consulting, and nonprofit tax services.

Growth areas

The company's fastest growing service is its commercial practice, a realm that has been growing since the recession.

“Since the downturn in 2009, [private companies] appreciate exceptional value more and more and more, and as that continues to happen, that aspect of our business continues to grow,” Boyle said.

AAFCPAs is also growing in its wealth management division. The combination of tax experience on the accounting side plus wealth management is a great combination for clients, Boyle said.

Plus, AAFCPAs is a registered investment adviser and doesn't give employees commission compensation for selling certain packages. This leads to better transparency.

The firm is also seeing growth in its business valuations area and its information-technology consulting services.

“They treat us very well. They are responsive, helpful, any help that we can get from there,” said Koh Han Seow, chief financial officer of Woodstock, Conn.-based home and body product retailer Crabtree & Evelyn, which uses AAFCPAs for audit and information technology consulting.

What sets AAFCPAs apart from other similarly-sized firms, Seow said, is its commitment to providing a pipeline for its employees and its versatility as an organization.

“They do a lot for nonprofit organizations, and I think they are well-balanced, working with their commercial clients,” he said.

Every year, the company donates 10 percent of its net income to local nonprofit organzations. That commitment, which started in 2014, allows AAFCPAs to give back to some of its clients and help them enhance their missions, Boyle said. The organizations the firm donates to change every year, Boyle said.

In its nonprofit consulting practice, Boyle said, AAFCPAs encourages companies to work effectively and leverage technology the same way a for-profit company would, because that is the only way the organization will be able to fulfill its mission.

“There's a couple of the partners here who constantly tell nonprofits when they're in education mode, 'If there's no margin, there is no mission,'” he said. “We feel a connection to the nonprofits they serve, and their missions and the impact on the community.”

Staying regional

Rapidly-growing regional companies with national and global clients are becoming more of a rarity these days, Boyle said, because many similarly-sized firms are being acquired by larger national businesses. When that happens, the regional aspect gets lost as the focus becomes more corporate.

While corporate and regional firms both have their benefits, Boyle said one of the advantages of a regional firm is its ability to stay more in tune with specific regulations that affect the communities served.

“The expertise we have incorporates the state regulations and the local flavor that – a lot of time – the industries that we work in require. So really knowing the players in the industry, the state regulations, the compliance issues, that makes a difference,” he said. “You're really able to keep your finger on the pulse, for a lot of clients, as a regional CPA firm, more so than at the national level.”

One of the ways AAFCPAs hones in on its niche market is a stronger online presence, complete with a blog that breaks down industry issues, or new laws that could affect clients in ways that they will understand.

Focus on the future

AAFCPAs prides itself as being a place where a young recent graduate can begin a great career, Boyle said.

Working at a regional firm rather than a bigger one can expose people to all types of businesses, plus tax and auditing at the same time.

“There's less rigidity, so it's sky's the limit from a promotional standpoint,” he said. “If you're a go-getter and you really want to hustle, you can move up the ladder quickly here. You'll move more quickly. It's a less structured, more entrepreneurial environment.”

The company promoted five of its employees to partner earlier this year, including Boyle, Julie Chevalier, Daniel Stanhope, Matthew Troiano and Charles Webb. Usually, maybe one person a year would make partner, but all of those people were ready, so the firm promoted all of them.

“When you're a partner, you are the leader of the brand, and you lead the client relationships. You lead managers and staff working with those clients. You become very much of a visible ambassador to the firm,” Boyle said. “It's very significant to be a partner in a public accounting firm.”

Down the line, AAFCPAs will continue to focus on serving its clients, nurturing its employee base and giving back to the region it is a part of, Boyle said.

“If we do a good job of continuing to exhibit this exceptional value, the potential for our growth is tremendous,” he said.

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