Most business people, or those seeking advice on managing their financial affairs, are already juggling a lot of priorities. Therefore, when you find a trusted advisor, whose guidance is both personalized and professional, you tend to look to them for an ever-increasing range of specialties. When they also can juggle a number of skills, like Flavin Nooney & Person, they have the ability to provide knowledgeable and objective guidance on a wide range of financial issues.
Tom Flavin, who founded the CPA practice of Flavin Nooney & Person 30 years ago, built a reputation for supporting clients with informed advice on accounting, taxation and business financial management. Over time, many of these clients came to him to review their retirement and investment portfolios.
This was not part of the firm’s initial core expertise. However, as Flavin became a trusted source of advice, it was a natural progression for the firm to branch into wealth management. This sensitivity to the current and future needs of their clients has always informed the firm’s growth and guided its expansion.
“I’ve always enjoyed being involved with clients and some of my first ones are still with me today. They have grown and we, as a firm, have grown along with them.” -Tom Flavin
But, do they care?
Like many CPAs in the area, Flavin landed his first job in Brevard working for Roger Dobson, one of the area’s most celebrated business leaders. After a few years, he decided to branch out on his own. “I’ve always enjoyed being involved with clients and some of my first ones are still with me today. They have grown and we, as a firm, have grown along with them. Part of that growth is recognizing the types of services and solutions we need to provide. By doing that, we remain as valuable to them, as they are to us,” he said.
Flavin recognizes that what he offers is a commodity, namely, accounting knowledge, tax knowledge and analytical ability. But more than that, he truly cares about each of his clients and their individual situations.
“One of my accounting professors told me that if I became a CPA, there would come a time when people would tell me things, they wouldn’t tell their spouse, their priest or their rabbi,” Flavin said. “Some of it you ignore, some is because they are anxious, and you can help ease that anxiety.”
He added that most families dealing with estate issues, or business owners struggling with financial issues, think they are the only ones facing these problems. But of course, they are not, and his firm is able to address those concerns.
As the business scaled, Flavin found he could be much more selective with personnel and clients. “We can’t be all things to all clients,” he said, “but as we added new accountants, whose capabilities and specialties differed, we expanded. Also, in some ways, our clients have driven the development of the firm, as they are successful, their needs change and grow.”
Finding the fit
Unashamedly, partner Barbara Nooney said she and her husband wanted to live, not just retire, where the weather was warm. So, they moved from Massachusetts to Florida in 2007. She cold called on Flavin’s firm, with a resume in hand, and her timing could not have been better. One of his key people had just resigned, right before the heavy tax season hit.
Nooney’s love for accounting was discovered as a senior in high school and she earned her accounting degree at night school, then joined an accounting firm in the northeast. Landing the job with Tom Flavin, she found her skill sets as a business manager positioned her as a strategic member of the leadership team.
“Because of the size of the firm there was a great opportunity for me to diversify my scope of work. Some people are attracted to that and some people aren’t. For me it was best of all worlds,” she said. “I was no longer just a preparer, I was reviewing work and managing staff.”
Flavin said that to retain people you have to treat them well, which means both compensation and opportunities for promotion. He soon saw Nooney’s “indispensable” value to the firm and the partnership grew. Nooney described Flavin as a people person, who always treats both clients and staff with kindness. Nooney described herself as straight forward and pragmatic in her approach, bringing an emphasis on strategic and tactical processes and planning to steer the company’s growth.
Chuck Ellefson is another example of how the firm expanded by organic, not merger growth. Ellefson grew up on Merritt Island and left the area to pursue a swim scholarship at George Washington University in D.C. He returned to Brevard after graduation, then moved to Denver, where he earned his Master of Accounting degree and worked with several firms in that area. It was the idea of raising his family here in Brevard that brought him back and led to him joining Flavin Nooney & Person almost seven years ago.
Focusing primarily on the tax side of accounting, Ellefson reflected a common theme among the team members, namely the flexibility of being involved in a variety of different tax and auditing issues. This broader scope, he asserts, enhances the depth and knowledge of each of their staff and enables nearly any of their team to respond quickly to client inquiries.
Both Flavin and Nooney have their Personal Financial Specialist (PFS) certification, which is similar to a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). The difference is only a CPA can be a PFS. The firm tried to hire wealth management specialists, but eventually, Flavin chose to build that dimension of the company, while Nooney continued to focus on the tax and auditing side. Having this full portfolio of services provided clients with a level of both ease and comfort in juggling all their responsibilities.
Just like Flavin Nooney & Person realized they were not in business to compete with H&R Block, but to provide higher level CPA services, so they wanted to target their wealth management services to serve their CPA clients and to attract new clients that saw them in this broader scope. “We not only want to help with accounting and tax services for those we work with, we want to help set up 401(k) and retirement plans for clients and their employees,” Nooney said.
“Clients came to us to ask about non-traditional CPA issues, like their investments,” Flavin explained. “The more we probed, the more we realized how eager people were for objective advice, that was in fact advice, not a sales pitch for a particular product.
“We have so much expertise, at seeing the whole picture, to bring to bear for the client,” he continued.
Since that time, this holistic approach to financial services has continued to expand. Part of that expansion includes bringing on new talent.
Aaron Stitzel met Flavin when he was just 13 years old. His grandfather, Robert Stitzel, a successful builder/developer, was one of Flavin’s early clients. “The combination of being a public accountant, one of the most trusted advisors to any business, and being a wealth manager was a perfect fit for me,” Stitzel said.
Like Ellefson, the size of the firm and therefore the ability to do a lot of different jobs also had a special appeal to Stitzel.
“This area is projected to double in the next few decades, plus there will be an unprecedented transfer of wealth from one generation to another, some $30 Trillion. This positions us very well in that trusted advisor role,” Stitzel said. “Accounting is the language of business, we as CPAs and PFSs are able to be the translators, of what can seem very complicated and confusing, for every type of business owner.”