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Slow, purposeful and always in the race is goal of Jackson firm

Collins & Corbin eyes tortoise when it comes to growth

Collins & Corbin hasn’t grown at an exponential rate. Nor has it tried to. It’s one of the few accounting firms in Jackson whose growth rate has been characterized as that of a tortoise: slow and purposeful but always in the race.

When Wallace Collins and Joe D. Jones, now publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal, were burning the midnight oil at Ernst & Young in the early 1970s, they often talked about starting their own accounting firm. When they did just that in 1976, they decided on the name by the flip of a coin: Jones won. Thus, the firm was known as Jones & Collins. Another flip of the coin determined who got the corner office: Collins won that one.

“That’s how easy our partnership was,” Collins said, with a chuckle. “Before Joe and I worked together at Ernst & Young, we were old schoolmates at Mississippi College and good friends. Then, when we were at Ernst & Young, Joe specialized in income tax and my emphasis was more on the audit end. When we decided to strike out on our own, we went on faith and hard work.”

Of Collins & Corbin’s 14 employees, three are partners, nine are professional staffers, two are support personnel and five are CPAs.

“Harold Corbin became a partner in 1984,” he said. “Joe left to pursue other business interests in 1985 and the firm name changed to Collins & Corbin. Robbie Barr was added as a partner in 1998.”

A significant change in the accounting profession has been a shift away from traditional accounting work, such as audits and tax returns, to more value-added consultant services, like mergers and acquisitions, litigation support, transaction planning, and generally assisting clients in business situations, he said.

“That’s a big part of our future here,” Collins said. “We’re fortunate that we perform about 20% of our work in this area, about double what most accounting firms in Mississippi are doing. That’s where everyone’s moving in the accounting profession.”

The full-service CPA firm offers audit, tax and management consulting services with a broad range of clients in small to medium-size businesses. A significant individual income tax practice includes income tax and estate planning services.

“The most challenging concern is finding an adequate number of qualified personnel,” Collins said. “There has been a shortage due to the decline in the number of students electing to pursue a career in public accounting. One factor is that the profession is more demanding now — accountants must have 150 qualified hours to sit for the CPA exam in Mississippi.”

Starting salaries for entry level CPAs has increased 15% to 20% and continues to rise at a significant rate annually. That must be reflected in accounting firms’ rates, he said.

“The shortage in the accounting labor pool is an issue the CPA industry is studying,” Collins said. “We’re very concerned about it. One of the reasons for a decline in accounting enrollment is that it is more demanding. A lot of states are requiring 150 hours, which is the equivalent to five years. That’s putting more pressure on students.”

Collins keeps in contact with professors around the nation who have told him there’s an almost 100% placement rate for graduates, he said.

“We’re finding that a lot of people, like our own firm, are hiring people right out of the four-year program,” Collins said. “Then, they’re going back and getting their master’s degrees at night to meet that 150-hour requirement.”

With the Y2K-related employment winding down, the number of accountants in the job market may increase, he said.

“We’ll have to see how the Y2K shakes out,” Collins said. “The Y2K demand for computer people probably did draw from our normal pool of accountants. As for our firm, we didn’t have any Y2K problems. None of our clients had significant problems. We were very pleased with the outcome. Of course, everyone made efforts to make sure it went smoothly.”

Accountants and lawyers often partner in Canadian and European firms, a practice not yet allowed in the U.S. If this practice was acceptable in the U.S., it would be good for consumers, Collins said.

“I don’t know how that would impact our profession,” he said. “If it comes about, I’m sure it will be for the positive. It will probably increase competition, which is always good for consumers. Some people fuss about competition and times are different now than 30 years ago. Overall, competition is good for the profession. It keeps us working harder.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.


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