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The new accountants.

The term number crunchers still applies but the accounting field has evolved and broadened into a natural extension of financial auditing


THE WINNIPEG OFFICE OF PEAT MARWICK THORNE, FOR EXAMPLE, RECENTLY HELPED A LOCAL union choose which computer cables to install in the walls of a soon-to-be-completed office.

And is doesn't stop there. The Information Systems Group interviewed all the union's staff and conducted a business analysis to determine what kind of computers, networking capabilities and software the union needs right now, and for years to come. Once the new computers are installed, the accounting firm will help train the staff.

John Giavedoni, the man in charge of PMT's Information Systems Group, says computerization is a logical extension of what the accounting firm does.

"Most company books and records are computerized, so it's only natural that we help businesses acquire and install computer systems, and then provide support."

According to Leonard Hampson, executive director of the Certified General Accountants Association of Manitoba, it should be no surprise that accountants are now marketing technical advice. In some ways, such advice is a byproduct of the more traditional business of books.

"Most accounting firms have a great deal of systems expertise. After all, they use a computer every day like a telephone," he says. Furthermore, such diversified services are becoming increasingly common. "An accountant used to be someone who only turned up once a year to do your books," says Hampson. "The trend over the last few years, though, is to more specialized services. Accountants are more involved with financial planning, business plans, projections and cash management systems."

That is certainly the case outside of Winnipeg. Fourteen years ago Grant Kirkup started an accounting firm called Grant Kirkup and Co., in Souris, Manitoba. What began as a part-time job has since grown to a 19-person operation scattered throughout several small towns in southwestern Manitoba. The primary emphasis is on farm-related services.

"Our strength is very much in agriculture," says Kirkup. "We do enterprise analysis, farm financing proposals and offer mediation services between farmers and banks and credit unions."

Although the rural economy is currently in bad shape, Kirkup says his company is poised to profit after the shake out. "In three to five years farms will be larger. We feel the people who are going to be left out here will need different kinds of services, more specialized farm financial management, for example, and we will be in a better position to know than anyone else."

In general terms, Hampson says the outlook for accountants, in both the traditional and the newer fields, is "healthy". Due to the poor state of the economy, business owners want more controls and increased financial management. As well "bankers want more information," says Hampson, "and the first person to turn to is your accountant."


For Accountants Bankruptcy is Business

It is a sign of the times that Leigh Taylor's workload is up. Taylor is president of Sill Streuber Fiske Inc., a trustee in bankruptcy firm owned by the established Manitoba-owned accounting firm Sill Streuber Fiske and Co.

Taylor, a chartered accountant, will not say what kind of volume increase his firm has logged, but he did mention that last year the number of employees in the bankruptcy department was doubled to nine. Taylor says business is "good". He hastened to add that 'good' is a relative term. What is good for Taylor is not necessarily good for the financial health of Manitoba.

Taylor tends to the casualties of the economic battlefield; the "honest, but unfortunate debtor" who finds himself in personal or business trouble.

"The general economic statistics are really reflected in the grassroots," he says. Down at the grassroot level, it's not cheery.

Large bankruptcy figures tend to have 12- to 18-month cycles, but this time, according to Taylor "we started to see reasonably good increases in business in 1990. The rate of increase continued even more throughout 1991, and I suspect it's going to go awhile longer."

The last time business was "good" was in 1982. There is, however, a real difference between then and now. In the early '80s the prime rate was high, and the majority of bankruptcies were businesses. Today, Taylor estimates that 80 per cent of those with no money left and high debt are individuals. The other 20 per cent is businesses, and when they crash, it tends to be for larger amounts than 10 years ago.

Personal bankruptcy has been a growth industry for the past two decades. In fact, every year it grows by four per cent to eight per cent, and with the increased amount of consumer credit in society, it doesn't look like those growth rates will ease.

In 1966 -- the last time the federal Bankruptcy Act was amended -- there were 12,000 insolvencies in Canada, about half were business failures. This year, it is projected that there will be 74,000 bankruptcies -- more than 80 per cent of them personal.
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Peat Marwick Thorne; on bankruptcy management
Author:Ryan, Bramwell
Publication:Manitoba Business
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:Against all odds.
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