CPA Hilda Polanco Matched Opportunity with Passion
Reprinted with permission from CPA Practice Management Forum
Through her efforts to serve a market she loves, CPA Hilda Polanco has markedly elevated the level of financial and professional services available for nonprofit clients. New York City-based Polanco is founder of the consulting firm Fiscal Management Associations, LLC, part of CPA firm ERE LLP. The impressive accomplishments of her niche reflect competence, combined with a marketer’s eye for identifying emerging needs.
Following auditing stints in the 1990s with Ernst & Whinney and later as AVP of Citibank, Polanco acknowledged that the corporate world was not an ideal match for her. Undaunted, she ventured out on her own consulting to a CPA firm providing audits to NFP organizations. . The clients they attracted were largely from the NPF sector who would consider a smaller CPA firm to do their audit.
As a small practitioner this came as no surprise to Polanco – through her experience with the Bigs she knew that larger companies seek out more robust firms for audits. Rather than a liability, she saw this as an opportunity and worked to gain expertise and visibility in the nonprofit environment. Listening to the marketplace and remaining flexible led Polanco to the sector in which she would ultimately make her mark.
In The Door
As Polanco gained entrée and credibility with NFPs, she continued to keep her eyes open for new services. Over time, she observed that many of the NFP clients whom she visited to prepare for audits were in fiscal disarray. Polanco found herself spending more time getting them ready for the audit than actually doing the work. Helping clients bridge the gap between what was needed and what they provided their auditors would become her next big growth opportunity.
Guided by a market need that presented itself and legal mandates that prevented doing both, Polanco made the strategic decision to move in the direction of client preparation rather than actual audits. Her client base expanded. She found a natural lead referral by E&Y and other top firms that recognized significant value in her client preparation expertise. The readier the clients, the better CPA firms could perform on the audit and the better the outcomes.
Polanco’s skills were recognized by The Robin Hood Foundation, a NFP funding organization that believed Polanco could be highly valuable to its grantees. The Robin Hood Foundation engaged her to assist grantees in preparing for their external audits, and also leveraged Polanco’s abilities in leadership and management development, services sorely needed by the NFPs that Robin Hood funded.
With her demonstrated ability to spot opportunity, Polanco was ready for a merger by the late 1990s. Her goal was to ally with a CPA firm that shared her passion for the nonprofit sector, but offered more expanded financial services. That firm was ERE, which, Polanco says fully understood and valued the unique offerings FMA provided clients, and the clients themselves.
Today, Polanco is managing director of FMA and a partner in ERE, which conducts audits for nonprofit clients. Although she contributes her vision and guidance to ERE, she remains comfortably behind a firewall that operationally separates the audit and consulting divisions of the firm.
Polanco says the two sides have created exciting synergies. For example, ERE has found that its affiliation with FMA serves as a retention tool, attracting CPAs who like the association with nonprofit consulting, albeit from a distance. The firm’s consultants and CPAs learn from one another and apply those learnings to better serve their shared clients.
Not only are Polanco’s NFP clients better prepared for their audits, they are better prepared for overall success — as better managers and businesspeople, they can better attract the funding that is their lifeline.
Look. Listen. Launch!
What’s the take-away lesson from the experience of Hilda Polanco? Look for the right match. Listen to the marketplace. Then thoughtfully launch an offering that responds to the need. Imbue these steps with passion for your niche and you, too, can expect great things.