[Image ©Dan Videtich]
Small-town life isn’t for everyone. But for those who put people first, it’s a perfect fit.
And that’s why Integrity Tax & Accounting — with twins Chelsea Abercrombie, CPA, and Kalena Bruce, CPA, at the helm — is finding big success and chasing even bigger dreams in the small town of Bolivar, Missouri.
Their firm’s motto, “People you know providing services you trust,” sums up their secret to success. Abercrombie and Bruce grew up on a farm in nearby Stockton and graduated from Bolivar’s Southwest Baptist University in 2008. They left to pursue careers in public accounting but were lured back by the idea of helping friends and neighbors.
“Knowing our clients. Knowing their history and how the economy has changed for everyone throughout the years. That all helps us to serve them a lot better,” Abercrombie says. “To them, we will always be the Kenney twins, and it’s nice to provide good client service to people who have known you forever.”
An Idea was Planted
Abercrombie’s and Bruce’s interest in accounting started early, helping with bookkeeping on their parents’ farm and at their family-owned business. “We learned at a very young age how to pull our weight. A big portion of that was helping with the books. It’s something we’ve always liked to do,” Bruce says. So they chose to attend nearby SBU for its strong accounting program, and during their college years they worked for a woman who ran a tax service out of her home.
“When we graduated, she really wanted us to stay, because a lot of her clients had become our clients,” Bruce says. “But we were moving on.” A year later, the twins were asked to come back and take over the practice. This time, they said yes. “It was a door that opened for us,” Bruce says, “and we are so glad that we walked through it.”
They didn’t just walk through that door. They blew it off. Since taking over in 2009, they’ve grown the business over 68 percent to more than 700 clients.
Basics: Chelsea Abercrombie, CPA, and Kalena Bruce, CPA, took over a one-person tax business in 2009. The sisters have grown the client base 68 percent to more than 700 clients and increased revenue by more than 80 percent. Based in Bolivar, Missouri, Integrity Tax & Accounting has three full-time employees and offers tax, audit, payroll and tax-planning services to individual and small-business clients.
Website: “People you know providing services you trust” is not just their motto. It’s how they live their lives. On their website, integrity-tax.net, you’ll find employee bios as well as a client portal.
Software: A Thomson Reuters client for six years, Integrity is a firm believer in Practice Forward™ and NetClient CS®. The firm also uses Practice CS®, UltraTax CS®, Fixed Assets CS®, FileCabinet CS®, Checkpoint®, Quickfinder® and PPC’s SMART Practice Aids®.
And they have even bigger goals for the future. Part of their plan is to get all of their clients to use portals through Thomson Reuters. “We are pushing-slash-pulling our clients into the technology world, including client portals,” Bruce says. “We have several clients who think it’s the best thing since peanut butter, and then we have lots who just are not there yet. But we have a five-year goal to move everybody to the portal. If we could do that, I think we could increase our client base at least 30 percent, maybe 50 percent.”
Abercrombie adds, “The first time we had someone complete their organizer and upload their documents, and all of that went right into FileCabinet CS, it was like a magical experience.”
“Yeah,” Bruce says. “We were high-fiving. We were so excited.”
Abercrombie says, “If we can get them to scan and upload their documents themselves, that saves us so much time. Even if it just saves us 10 minutes per client, 10 minutes times 700 is a lot of time.”
Smarts, Service and A Little Something Special
Serving mostly small businesses, including farms, Abercrombie and Bruce believe their background perfectly prepared them to provide better service.
“If our clients have a farm question, we can answer it,” Bruce says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s tax-related or not. Clients appreciate that we know the difference between a piece of equipment or a certain type of fertilizer.”
Their other special preparation started before they were even born. “Being twins, we have such an advantage over other firms, because we were raised the same, we went to the same college, we are on the same wavelength a lot,” Abercrombie says. “A lot of times, I really know what Kalena is going to say, and she knows what I’m going to say, and that helps us when we’re looking at projects and we’re trying to interpret some tax law and how that would apply to our clients. It gives us an advantage, so we can serve our clients better.”
Sowing Seeds of Opportunity
As you might have guessed by now, those “Kenney twins” are partners with a plan. So, when their Thomson Reuters representative invited them to the Partner Summit in 2016, they jumped at the chance. And they’re glad they did.
“We were trying to find a way to provide better service to our clients and to get them to buy into some additional services that we thought would be helpful to them. But we hadn’t been able to do it,” Abercrombie explains. “When we went to the summit, we thought, this conference was tailor-made for us.”
They found the tools they needed to bridge the gap with their clients. And when they returned from the summit, they hit the ground running. Particularly with Practice Forward, which increased the firm’s revenue by $49,500 in just four months.
The Practice CS software paid for itself in three months or less, Bruce says. Its most important impact: demonstrating to Abercrombie and Bruce their own value.
“It helped show how much time we were giving away,” she says. “We weren’t quoting people correctly because we didn’t realize the time we were spending on things.”
Practice Forward also contributes to Integrity’s capital by helping the firm set up monthly automatic clearinghouse (ACH) payments.
“We want our small-business clients to be successful, so we were willing to sometimes reduce their annual bill because we understood cash flow was tight for them at that time,” Abercrombie says. “It’s a lot easier for them to pay $450 a month than it is to pay $5,400 once a year. ACH has been key for helping us bill what we should.”
The Next Growing Season
What will Abercrombie and Bruce do with their newfound wisdom? Grow, of course.
With Practice Forward, they are using their time more wisely and being more efficient, and that’s helping them build the capital they need to take their next big step.
“Our goal is to hire another CPA to do the auditing and help during tax season,” Bruce says. “Thomson Reuters products are helping make that possible.”
Those small-town Kenney twins. Always thinking big.
Cultivating a Rewarding Culture
Although it’s becoming more common, Integrity Tax & Accounting in Bolivar, Missouri, stands out as a women-owned accounting firm, with an all-female staff of three. But they don’t think they’re anything special.
They’re just trying to create an environment they couldn’t find themselves — one that provides a healthy balance between work and family. “We wouldn’t ask our staff to miss something in their kids’ life if we weren’t willing to miss the same thing in our kids’ lives,” says Chelsea Abercrombie, CPA, who owns Integrity with her twin sister, Kalena Bruce, CPA. “If someone needs to take off to go to a piano lesson or a doctor appointment, we help each other, because we know how hard it is to be a mom and work full time and have other obligations.”
Outside of tax season, Integrity is open Monday through Thursday, offering even more opportunity for work-life balance. “We ask people to put the time in during tax season, but we try to give them the opportunity to have extra time with their family when we can,” Bruce says. “That has developed some really good employees.”