Bland & Associates, P.C. (Omaha) Becomes 1st ESOP CPA Firm in Nebraska
Published on February 05, 2020
After over two years of planning and achieving a major change in state law and Nebraska Board of Accountancy approvals, Bland & Associates, P.C. (Bland) is officially the first 100 percent, employee-owned ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) CPA firm in Nebraska — among only a handful of CPA firms structured this way in the country.
The firm’s shareholders made the decision to transition the ownership to all of their employees because of Bland’s unique culture and a desire to be an industry leader. A significant consideration is to incentivize and reward the management team and employees who have made Bland one of the fastest growing firms in the U.S., based on industry rankings. In addition to public accounting and business advisory services, Bland has developed a large practice in government consulting, specifically with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The ownership model as an ESOP allows all employees meeting certain eligibility requirements to become owners of firm stock on an annual basis. Initial financing of the ownership transition and guidance came through Bankers Trust based in Des Moines, Iowa, which has a niche in ESOP-owned businesses.
“This is not how you transition a CPA firm in the traditional sense, but Bland isn’t a typical CPA firm. We realized that it fit our culture and goals perfectly,” said Jeremy Vokt, Managing Partner. “As the majority shareholders, Jason, Troy and I want our clients and employees to know that we are truly all in this together, and nothing will change with our day to day operations. Jason, Troy and I are going nowhere and are actually re-energized to grow our firm even more than the last 10 years. We are excited to see how this also re-energizes our employees now that they have a ‘piece of the action’.”
Employees are starting to learn about the value and structure of the ESOP, and initial response is positive.
“One of my goals has already been met, to become a shareholder,” said DeVon Billups, a recently promoted Senior Associate who started at Bland as an intern in 2011. “I have worked at Bland since I was 17 years old, and I went to college as a first-generation college student and continued working at Bland. Now I am a full-time employee with responsibilities, client relationships, and many more things that I never would have imagined for myself. This gives me one more reason to stay with the company, and it feels great.”
To become an ESOP in Nebraska, Bland had to pursue a change in state law. With the assistance of Nebraska Senator John Stinner, LB 49 was introduced, relating to section 1-162.01 of the Public Accountancy Act, regarding CPA firm ownership in the State of Nebraska. It amended and authorized the ownership of public accounting firms by Employee Stock Ownership Plans. Under this bill, Non-Certified Public Accountants are not allowed to exceed 49% of total equity interest. The bill passed unanimously and was signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts on March 6, 2019.
Sen. Stinner, a retired banker and former CPA himself, said: "I am glad to provide the opportunity for CPA firms to engage in ESOPs. I think it's a positive move for the industry to include employees in stock ownership."
After exploring their options and learning more about ESOPs, Bland’s shareholders decided to move forward and start the process through Bankers Trust in Des Moines, which focuses on ESOP transactions.
“Normally banks just work on a transaction and the clients come and go, but our ESOP division is different because it’s an ongoing advisory relationship with those clients,” said Joe DeJong, Vice President, Senior Commercial Banking Team Lead at Bankers Trust, Des Moines. “I actually went to high school with Troy, so I’ve known (Bland) a long time and understand how their employees helped them build the firm it is today. I think the ESOP structure fits them perfectly, and I’m excited to have them as one of our ESOP clients.”
DeJong and Vokt noted that the legislative change in Nebraska increases the focus on employee ownership for other companies and professional service owners going forward. It can be a viable and rewarding option for succession and business transitions if planned out early.