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Tax-season merger doesn’t stress these Charlotte CPAs

By Caroline McMillan Portillo
cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com

Two certified public accountant firms merging in the middle of tax season seems like a difficult proposition.

Nevertheless, the south Charlotte firm Blair, Bohlé & Whitsitt and the South End-based Austin & Falls are going for it and are confident that this is the right decision at the right time.

Here’s why – and how – they are making it work:

A standing invitation: John Blair, 54, who helped found Blair, Bohlé & Whitsitt in September 2000, says he’d been eyeing Austin & Falls for years.

Blair’s 25-employee firm is known for offering auditing, accounting and tax services. Falls and his five-employee firm, which he co-founded more than 50 years ago, are well-known for their business valuations – rare for a small, local firm, Blair said.

If they could combine their expertise, he reasoned, they’d be a more attractive firm to potential clients and a more well-rounded firm for existing clients.

So every few years, Blair broached the subject over lunch.

“I’d … say, ‘Do you have any interest in putting something together?’ ” Blair recalled.

Nothing ever came of it though, until October.

This time Falls reached out to Blair. He’d reconsidered that standing invitation.

Informing clients: Blair, Bohlé & Whitsitt officially acquired Austin & Falls on Jan. 1. The timing was great for several reasons, Blair said.

For one, it made for a nice cutoff point for accounting.

It also was the time of year firms normally reach out to clients (both sent their clients organizers with important dates noted), while also offering clients the opportunity to meet with their CPAs and ask questions.

“We sent out a letter to the clients and told them I did the merger to better serve them, so I would have more of a pool of talent to draw on,” Falls said. “They responded really well.”

Key to that satisfaction was letting clients know that yes, there’s new letterhead, and yes, there’s a new message on the firm’s answering machine. But Austin & Falls clients would be able to keep their former CPAs.

That’s one reason they’ve decided to keep the Austin & Falls South End office for the next year: to make the transition as seamless as possible for clients during the busy season. After that, “the expectation is that we may move to another location … or bring them all here to this location,” Blair said.

Two locations, one server: The road to merging documents and computer systems proved more difficult. Blair’s firm has been paperless since 2007. Falls’ firm was transitioning to a paperless operation.

After the merger, employees of Blair, Bohlé & Whitsitt had to set up remote access to the company’s servers for the South End employees, along with installing the company’s risk assessment and planning software.

But now, with training underway, they’ve started planning the next big event: a social gathering for the new, combined staff.

That may have to wait a few weeks, Falls said: “After tax season.”

McMillan Portillo: 704-358-6045 Twitter: @cbmcmillan
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