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IDEA User Spotlight: Burton McCumber & Cortez

Burton McCumber & Cortez: A Regional CPA Firm with International Clout

Operational on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border, and with clients worldwide, Burton McCumber & Cortez may be a regional company, but they have behaved like a national accounting firm since their inception.

Known by their initials, BMC specializes in commercial accounting, with the bulk of its clients being mid-sized firms based in the Rio Grande Valley. A full-service firm, BMC's partners approach their clients with a can-do attitude.

For example, a manufacturer with production and distribution operations can count on BMC to bring in Mexican accountants to handle their audit and tax issues in Mexico. And as their work flow crosses the border, the firm's Brownsville and McAllen offices handle their audit and tax issues on the U.S. side.

BMC long ago shed the stereotype image of the green visor, pencil sharpening accountant overworked by towering stacks of paper. This is a high-tech, paperless-capable versatile team.

BMC's structure benefits from its legacy. It was once the RGV branch of Grant Thornton, one of the largest accounting institutions in the nation.

Richard Burton, an external auditor, started the RGV office in 1979. Greg McCumber, a tax specialist, left Grant Thornton's Houston office to join Burton two years later.

"We purchased the practice from Grant Thornton in 1991," said McCumber, the managing partner. "Grant Thornton had a Mexican-affiliated firm. We decided that to give a really good, coordinated service we also had to have a presence on the Mexican side."

Burton and McCumber, then doing business as Burton McCumber & Prichard, bought Grant Thornton's share in Salles and Saenz. That relationship continued until 1996 when the third partner retired.

Burton and McCumber had a difference of philosophy on how their Mexican counterpart should operate and the former Grant Thornton certified public accountants approached Sergio Fragosa. The resulting affiliation became BMC y Fragosa S.C., with offices in Reynosa and Matamoros, Mexico.

"In 1998, Richard Cortez merged his firm into Burton McCumber and BMC had the final component in a partnership structure that has continued to this day. It is the second largest accounting firm in the RGV behind Long Chilton LLP," McCumber said.

"We currently have seven partners on the U.S. side, and Fragosa in Matamoros," McCumber said.

Cortez, best known as McAllen's mayor, is a senior partner and heads up the firm's litigation support department. In essence, he is an expert witness. Law firms hire Cortez, for the defense or the plaintiff side, to talk to juries about damages.

A valuation expert, Cortez explains what assets are worth. He also does valuation work outside of the courtroom, as well as preparing retirement plans, McCumber said.

Cortez's work is but another aspect in a company that prides itself on a state-of-the-art accounting process.

Ricky Longoria, an audit partner who arrived in 1989, shows off BMC's comfortable familiarity with 21st century accounting. And he uses what he knows to add value to clients in ways they don't expect.

"Historically, auditors have been seen as a negative," Longoria said.

Auditors and the numbers police. They come into another company's corporate culture and comb through records. Akin to a drill sergeant's inspection, the auditor brings and white glove, examines every nook and cranny and asks a lot of questions – sometimes embarrassing questions.

"Our approach is we are there as part of your team," Longoria said. "We're there to make your business better."

In the late 1990s, BMC look a leap of faith and went paperless cold turkey.

"It's been one of the best decisions we made, operationally," Longoria said.

By taking full advantage of their commercial clients' transition to Microsoft Word, Acrobat PDF, Excel and the other popular electronic data entry programs, BMC was able to match these with the best tools being introduced within the accounting industry.

Longoria and his team were able to harness the power of modern data mining. They could take corporate records and massage information out of them using high-powered statistical analysis software. Longoria uses IDEA Data Analytics, a Canadian program that drill into millions of records and find inefficiencies and fraud in seconds.

"IDEA is arguably the best tool out there," Longoria said.

Mastering new age accounting has helped BMC's bottom line by requiring fewer accountants to do ever greater amounts of work. And it gives them a competitive edge over other accounting firms by helping BMC keep their fees lower while still remaining profitable.

Surprisingly, one might think that the competition would have caught up. After all, paperless systems and data mining software have been touted and developed since the 1980s.

Advantages in technology tend to flatten out over time as the early adopters are mimicked.

"It only flattens out," Longoria said, "to the extent your competitors have not switched to paperless. In our part of the world, the competitors still use the paper audit approach."

BMC benefits by companies that resist change, content to do things as they always have, but it's enough to make Longoria grin.

"In the old days, when we were going to a big client we would say, 'Let's pack a trunk,'" Longoria said.

Accountants would literally haul around a foot locker for all the documents they would have to accumulate.

"Now, we walk out of a client's headquarters with their files on a flash drive," he said.

BMC has about 70 employees, with approximately 40 working on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. And while they operate out of four offices, the firm conducts business with clients, not by where its employees are located, but by what they know.

Some companies function as if accounting is a jack-of-all trades business, McCumber said. But accounting has become too complex.

"I do not get involved in any of the audit side," McCumber said, "Just like Richard Burton does not get involved in taxes. We feel like that is a better way of providing a service to our clients."

Following that logic, when BMC got involved with doctors the company splintered that business into a separate in-house entity called BMC Medical Billing LLC. Josefina Mireles, another partner, has managed medical billing for more than seven years.

Looking ahead, McCumber is optimistic. The firm did not have to reduce staff during the Great Recession. But as a loyal employer of accounting graduates from the University of Texas campuses in Edinburg and Brownsville, BMC has lately had to be more selective in its hiring.

That may soon change, McCumber said, adding he has noticed new confidence among the firm's clients. Their sunny outlook is not seasonal, but appears to be long-term, he said.

"We've seen an uptick over the last six months in how they are projecting their business going forward," McCumber said.

Published in Valley Business Report, January 2011 Edition
Written by Adolfo Pesquera a journalist and independent business writer.

Best Practices , CaseWare IDEA , News

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