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Close-up: Richard Evans

Independent accounting firm overcomes marketplace challenges via industry, local expertise

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As one of the top 100 largest accounting firms in the nation, independent firm Squar, Milner, Peterson, Miranda & Williamson LLP works with both emerging and established businesses, and creates its leadership position in the marketplace in part by honing in on a few key industries.

“We have particular strengths in small public companies, real estate, financial services and also with tech and biotech companies. These areas typically are very strong in the San Diego economy, and we are well-versed in what those industries need,” said Richard E. Evans, CPA, managing partner of Squar Milner’s San Diego office.

In the challenging economic climate, which has meant downward pressure on fees and increased competition, Squar Milner is capitalizing on its long-term tenure in the market as well as on its strengths.

“We are well entrenched in San Diego in that we’ve been here 59 years and have a good size office here in San Diego; I’ve also got lots of contacts and referral sources,” Evans said. “Having said that, over the last several years there have been a number of large firms out of Orange County and L.A. as well as national firms that didn’t previously have a presence here that have now opened offices. Thus, the number of firms has grown that are competing basically for the same work, and firms that might not have bothered to consider going after a particular company as a client are now actively seeking clients of all shapes and scope.”

Despite the competition, Squar Milner continues to find new business not only from local connections but also from PKF International, a network of independent member firms that facilitates the exchange of services among firms in both the United States and abroad. For instance, if a company needs specific real estate expertise or San Diego market insight, it can consult with Squar Milner and use the firm’s resources in that specific area.

“From a new business perspective, we may get referrals to assist firms in Europe or Asia that have clients that are investing in a Southern California business or have a business interest here that needs an audit,” Evans said. “The international piece is what really intrigues us because we have international expertise in the tax side here at our firm. Because of this, we are well positioned to help members of the international group by coordinating what their clients do here with the tax laws in their home country.”

In the United States, many of Squar Milner’s clients will be affected over the coming year by recent key tax law changes. Considerations for high net worth individuals include potential new estate tax planning legislation being considered by Congress, the expiration at the end of this year of the income tax cuts for the wealthiest that were enacted by former President George W. Bush, and the health care bill’s excise taxes for those with income above a certain limit.

“The tax area over the next couple of years will require some additional thought and planning in an attempt to mitigate some of the increases that are going to occur. It’s a hot topic for a lot of people right now,” Evans said. “And I haven’t familiarized myself with it yet, but the (interchange-fee regulation) bill that was passed yesterday that regulates banking institutions is going to cause a substantial amount of turmoil -- that’s the word that comes to mind -- within the banking industry.”

Evans, who has been head of the San Diego office since 1981, joined Squar Milner in 1977 after starting his career at Arthur Young & Co. (now Ernst & Young). Evans expects Squar Milner’s growth areas moving forward to continue to mirror the aforementioned sectors in which it’s actively seeking new business: financial services, real estate and technology as well as the consumer and industry products group, which includes subgroups such as manufacturing and distribution, defense contractors, restaurants and certain private firms. But Evans doesn’t expect that growth to happen yet.

“Our goal is to continue to grow in San Diego and to grow considerably, but as I say, we are cautious about the next year or so. We want to make sure we have the right people in place when we do bring on new clients, but we also need to make sure we have work to keep people busy. Our primary goal right now is to fill the holes that we have since some of our work is seasonal,” Evans said. “We’ll continue to hold our own right now, but we’re not looking for substantial growth in either the San Diego market or in our own firm over the next year or so.”

Blackford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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