Q & A with George Warner, CPA

george-warner-headshot-300x312What do your clients tell you they like about you?

That I can bring the discussion about tax planning down to a level that everyone in the room can understand what we’re talking about.

Of course, they like that I can provide them with tax planning ideas that can reduce their federal and state tax liabilities.

They also know that they can get an answer from me in plain English, that they can understand, as opposed to tax jargon.

They also like that I pick up the phone (laughter), usually on the first ring. A lot of accountants don’t like to answer the phone, but I do.

How would you describe your firm?

We’re a boutique tax firm, specializing in tax planning, estate planning, and tax compliance. No GAAP audits. One of the opportunities about going out on our own is taking what we’ve learned with larger companies and being able to apply it to smaller businesses.

Tell us about your typical client.

With the exception of a few corporate executives, they’re entrepreneurs — because anyone who owns a business today, in my opinion, is an entrepreneur. Many of them are family companies, with a lot of moving parts. They’re typically a privately held company with multiple entities that does business in multiple states.

What types of industries?

Not so much manufacturers anymore, though there are a few — more so distributors, wholesalers, real estate developers, attorneys and technology companies. The company size is typically $1 million to $100 million in revenue. That’s where I can add the most value.

How do you work with your clients?

I try to really get to know my clients, listen to them, spend a lot of time with them, learn about their companies — to figure out what tax strategies will work in their situation and what won’t. And also understand their risk profile: How aggressive they want or don’t want to be with the opportunities I do find for them. I try to be creative about my clients’ situations, and identify the opportunities they have for tax savings.

What about estate planning?

A lot of times I’ll start the conversation with the client, get the ball rolling and throw out a few ideas: Should we do a family limited partnership, or some trusts? We usually meet and talk about gifting. It depends on the size of the estate and the client’s willingness to give up control of their assets. A lot of my clients are entrepreneurs, who typically want to retain control. So we structure it in such a way that we remove the value from their estate for tax purposes, but still allow the clients to retain control.

How would you differentiate yourself from other accountants at your level of experience?

A lot of accountants are good historians, who specialize in looking behind them. I’m more pro-active than historical. I’m interested in going forward, what are strategies that will minimize the tax burden for a client?

How has the tax landscape changed over the years you’ve been in business?

I think we’re seeing more sophisticated structures. There’s likely to be more regulation in the future, not less. Referral sources are bringing me into more complicated situations, because they know that I have a lot of experience that I bring to the table.

Have you been doing this a long time?

Since I was in high school. (Laughter.) I started out doing tax returns for friends. I even convinced my high school business class teacher to let us do tax returns for students during lunch.

What do you consider your strengths?

I’m really good at problem-solving, at coming up with solutions to what other accountants might consider unsolvable problems. I don’t look at them as ‘problems’ — I look at them as ‘opportunities’ to come up with a strategy to do something that nobody else has thought of.

You’ve also got to know what you can do and what you can’t, and when it’s in your client’s best interest to bring in another professional. Your client has to know they’re getting the best advice they possibly could when they’re sitting across the table from you and maybe their lawyers, saying, ‘I’ve never heard any of that before,’ or, ‘We don’t get any of this from our accountant who we’ve had for 40 years!’

What’s an ideal client for you and your practice?

Someone who needs more sophisticated tax planning than they’ve been getting. There’s lots of things you can do for clients if you take the time and pay attention to what they’re saying. Over the years, a lot of my clients have become friends, because I do take the time to get to know them and their businesses.

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