IGAF Firm Interview with Maria Hurd of Belfint, Lyons & Shuman P.A.
Superior accounting, tax and management services... that's what Charles I. Belfint envisioned when he opened his office, 85 years ago. He knew that by applying an interactive and personal approach to dealing with clients, his firm could give clients what they really wanted, and that's just what he did. Since then the company has expanded and become known as Belfint, Lyons & Shuman P.A. With the expansion, the professionals at BL&S continue to recognize the importance of building and nurturing long-term relationships with their clients, business associates, and community members. That probably explains why clients just don't leave BL&S.
In many cases, the team members at BL&S got to know clients when their businesses were not much more than an idea. Over the years BL&S guided them through those first baby steps -- setting up their general ledgers and internal controls -- then through the process of strengthening their cash flows and finding additional financing for growth, right through to succession planning or the sale of business.
The BL&S team's dedication to quality service and quality control extends also to its own practice. Team members are actively involved in industry and professional groups, such as the AICPA and the Delaware and Pennsylvania Societies of CPAS. These associations keep the team up to date on industry trends and financial regulations that impact their clients. In addition, BL&S is a member of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and IGAF Worldwide, both of which enable them to provide an array of services that meet the changing global needs of their clients.
To ensure that employees have the best possible resources to efficiently serve their clients, BL&S invests in cutting-edge technology, like double computer screens, paperless software, and portable scanners and printers.
Now that the staff has grown to 75 employees with 12 Directors, BL&S is one of Delaware's largest and most established certified public accounting firms. A key focus of the company is the building of longstanding, mutually beneficial relationships with employees, clients, and business associates, as they continue to grow in size and breadth of services. This commitment stems from the firm's mission of providing exceptional services through exceptional people. Their client list includes individuals, estates and trusts, businesses, corporations, and partnerships, private schools, nonprofit organizations, and large foundations, as well as Delaware Investment Holding companies.
Though the client base is diverse, team members strive to provide the same high level of personalize service to each client in order to help them effectively address their changing business and financial needs.
Employee Benefit Plans
Maria Hurd, CPA is the Principal in charge of Employee Benefit Plan services. She is responsible for planning supervising, and reviewing audits of single and multi-employer benefit plans. She also provides benefit plan design and implementation consultations and recommendations to clients. Because of her close working relationships with local ERISA attorneys, she is frequently called upon to perform the final audit of terminated benefit plan financial statements for publicly traded companies undergoing bankruptcy proceedings in Delaware.
With over 15 years in public accounting -- some of it with Deloitte & Touche -- she's seen economic slumps before. According to Hurd, the stock market's prolonged downturn has shrunk retirement savings by about $2 trillion in the last 15 months, causing Baby Boomers and even Americans in their mid 40s to postpone retirement. Many employees are sacrificing retirement plan contributions to fund other necessities.
The shaky economy and rising energy costs cause employers to re-examine their defined contribution retirement plan design and amend the plan formula to reduce employer contributions. Companies that sponsor defined benefit plans are still obligated to pay the pension benefits that have already accrued, but they are choosing to freeze the defined benefit plans going forward and switched to defined contributions arrangements, like 401k profit sharing plans.
In Hurd's view, the economic downturn has opened many opportunities for BL&S to assist clients in restructuring their plan design to achieve their financial goals. Her team has helped employers design automatic enrollment plans or match formulas to encourage employees to participate... at least at the minimum level.
In addition they have helped employers decide whether they should freeze or terminate benefit plans, considering the stock market's effect on plan funding levels. And they've helped employers who wish to amend their plans to maximize the disparity of the employer contribution to the owners and other employees within legal limitations.
While it's a stretch to say that all of these changes amount to a silver lining in the slow economy, the need to slim down expenses does have a way of streamlining processes for leaner, cleaner operations. Clients that rely on trusted advisors like those at BL&S should be better able to hold on through the storm and rebound once the economy starts back on the upward climb.
For accountants who want to increase their value to their firms, raise their own productivity, and possibly secure their futures, Hurd has written an article Taking Departmentalization One-Step Further - Developing a Niche describing how she built her own niche by pursuing expertise in the area of retirement audit. BL&S supported her professional development in this area of special interest to her... that's one of the ways that the firm ensures the quality of all its services.