With Charles McKissick
Charles McKissick joins Randy for Episode 79 of The Unique CPA, and they discuss how accounting firms can benefit from outsourcing. Charles’ company, Unison Globus, provides dedicated outsourced teams to accounting firms across four continents, providing an innovative solution to tackling ongoing problems with staffing and employee retention in the accounting profession amidst the “great resignation.”
Today, our guest is Charles McKissick. Charles is with Unison Globus. Unison Globus is a firm that provides dedicated remote teams for tax and accounting professionals in North America. Charles, welcome to The Unique CPA.
Randy, thanks very much for having me today.
Yeah, that’s no problem. This is attempt three for you and I, and I’m glad we’re able to do it today. We will probably talk about this, but first attempt, you were not in the country. You were in India, actually, probably I’m sure working on businesses, working with the teams that you do remote work with, correct? I assume that’s what you were doing?
Yes. We recently opened our brand new facility in Ahmedabad, which is in the state of Gujarat, in India. So I was there for three weeks, visiting, working with the team. And then on May 1, we opened our brand new state of the art facility, which was a really great day, and we have a super facility there. Hopefully someday maybe you’ll get to come see it.
Alright, I’ll do that. May 1 was the last day of my 50s. The next day I turned 60, so May 1 was a nice day, May 2 was nice too.
Thank you. That just means I’m still alive, so thanks—you know, “congratulations for being alive, Randy.” Nice, thank you.
Alright, so I jumped forward. Why don’t you give us a quick intro to what Unison Globus is. But I’m really excited about this, because I just think that there’s this huge need for what you’re doing. But why don’t you give us a little background on what Unison Globus is.
Yeah, so we’ve been providing remote resources to accounting professionals. We first started in the UK in 2006, and then we branched out into the United States in 2015. So we are now in our 16th year of helping accounting professionals, tax professionals, in staffing their teams, and helping them focus more of their time on the tasks and business development activities that they prefer doing, and allowing them to take a little bit of their time out of the weeds, so to speak.
It’s interesting, you know, with the pandemic, over the last couple years, everyone’s talked about the “great resignation,” and the difficulties in finding good qualified staff—people are retiring early, a lot of people don’t want to work, I think there’s also some generational issues going on. But the reality is, if you look back—the AICPA private client practice surveys, as far back as I’ve been able to find, 2015—the number one issue that accounting firms have faced in this biannual survey is finding and retaining qualified staff. And that’s been one of the top issues in 2015, 2017, 2019, and still in 2021. And also, there’s things like keeping up with tax law changes and data security and things like that, but staffing has been an issue prior to the pandemic.
I was actually listening to a call a couple months ago, and the presenter used the term the “war on talent,” and he quoted a very interesting stat. And I’m around your age range, so, in 1990, approximately 2% of graduates of university were getting degrees in accounting. And then over the 20 year period, between 1990 and 2010, that dropped to 1%.
And as evidenced by the surveys, I think it’s been going down ever since. So, you know, technology has offset a little bit of that, but ultimately, it’s just not enough young people entering the profession. The average age of the accounting firm is well into its 50s, and there’s just folks not coming in to fill the gap. So we’re able to help firms who want to continue to grow, whether it’s a question of growing the revenue, or just streamlining how much time the partner or the main partners actually spend doing the work. And we have well trained, qualified people who are very eager to work to supplement that need.
I think that’s awesome. Because I’ve had that thought, and I don’t have any stats to back it up, that we just don’t have as many people coming into the accounting profession. And if they are—I have no idea—but I was like, “I don’t know if this has many people sitting for the exam as there used to.” There probably is, I don’t know if that’s the fact, it just seems like I know more and more people who are not becoming CPAs but maybe working in public accounting still, or in accounting for a couple of years.
But now, we’ve got this, there is this need. Obviously, we all know that it’s the number one topic, just about every conference, I go to people talking about this need for people, and now you can fill that. So I guess there’s a couple of ways we can go here. One, we can just talk about the benefits, which you were just going in. But maybe we should go to, how do you do this? How do you get set up with an outsourced—a dedicated, which is important—a dedicated outsourced team that is overseas? Are all your people in India? Because I know that’s obviously where you were. Or are they across the world? Or where are these teams?
At present, the majority of our team members are in India. We are starting to recruit specially qualified professionals in the United States. You know, the challenge here is that the same challenges you face trying to recruit somebody locally, we’re facing the same thing trying to recruit professionals in the U.S. also. So we are, for some management and more specialized positions, we’re finding people in the U.S., but the majority right now is is out of India.
Because one of the great things about India—you’ve got the British education system, so people speak English. They’re IT savvy. They’re actually rule followers from a cultural standpoint, so they’re very good employees. And they have good family values. And it’s a pretty robust legal system. So it’s a good place to find good, hardworking, honest, dedicated people.
We are looking at other areas of the world. I mean, there’s outsourced firms that utilize resources from different places. And that’s certainly something we’re considering, and probably will be something hopefully we can unveil in the future.
Alright. And so then, with this outsourcing, let’s say India, what are—let’s go to the benefits, what other benefits. Obviously, you were talking about it, you know, it frees up your leaders in the company to do business development or concentrate on special projects. Can you give us a list of all the benefits that you can get by setting up an outsourced, dedicated team?
Yeah, I think the main thing and you would be talking about this, and in some of your other calls, as well, as you talk about in conferences—most accounting and tax professors really understand where things are moving, they’re trying to move away from being more of a transaction-oriented business model to a more advisory, year-round service—”I’m doing your taxes, I’m doing your planning. If you have a business, we’re doing your books. We’re playing the strategy of, and giving you advice year round.” And that takes more time to be able to provide that level of service to clients.
So you know, depending on the the nature of the relationship, we have various levels from entry level to more senior level tax and accounting professionals. One of the areas we found that some firms have, a really having difficulty finding audit professionals, is another resource that’s we’ve been placing audit people this year for the first time.
But, you know, again—moving to an advisory role, actually charging the proper amount for the value you’re adding, is another big hurdle. It takes time. And it’s a mind shift for an accountant to really realize, you know, “If I spend an hour doing work, and I saved my client $100,000, how much is that hour of time worth,” you know? Is it worth $500 an hour? Is it worth $10,000? You know, that’s still something that people have to really come around and do the mind shift to embrace. And I think that if the more time you have to plan for that, and work on that, you’re better able to have that conversation with your clients.
In addition, people are starting to think about outsourcing, or remote teams, as a way to solidify value when you’re transitioning a practice for sale. You know, if you have a business and you’re looking to exit over the next five years, most deals, as you know, have some sort of workout. It’s rarely “Cut a check, here’s the keys, have a good life.” And a lot of times people don’t have the staff to ensure that there’s the continuity of the business over the next 2, 3, 5 year workaround, because they’re having trouble keeping people. So if you have a dedicated team from outside of the country that is really excited to work, and wants to be with you, that just guarantees a much smoother transition towards the final sale.
So you know, essentially the benefits we have—we have well educated people. They’re trained in US GAAP and tax, we’re encouraging them to work towards their EA designation, CPA designation, and other professional qualifications—you know, QuickBooks Advisor, whatever. So they’re upgrading their skills. And depending on what area of the country you are, I mean, there’s different costs—labor costs—depending where you are. But generally, our cost is at least 50% less than what you would pay for a comparable individual in the U.S. And the good thing about it too, is, it’s just a single cost. They’re not your employee, they’re our employee. So you don’t have to worry about a 1099 or a W-2, benefits, insurance. And other than the remote connections, you don’t have to have a desk or any physical real estate for them in your office.
So, you know, as offices tend to try to, you know, a lot of folks are going virtual, they’re trying to downsize their footprint. If you have a team that’s overseas, it’s not adding to your footprint locally. So those are just some of the advantages.
Okay, I was gonna ask about the pricing structure. So, you know, 50%, less is great. I didn’t even think about those ancillary savings as well, I mean, you know, 401(k) matching, or health insurance, or, you know, rental of office space.
Okay, so the savings are great. It sounds like very well educated, hard working, dedicated people, rule followers, which is important in tax and accounting, we have specific rules. So that’s great as well. Let’s talk about one thing, I think, that everybody is curious about: Data safety. Is that an issue? Or what can you tell me about that?
Yeah, so data security is one of the top issues that everyone has. And I think, you know, as we go forward, we’re doing a much better job, all of us collectively, being aware of what we need to do to protect our clients’ data. Anything can be hacked. So, you know, it’s gonna be a constant issue moving forward.
So it’s no different though, than I mean, everybody right now is using cloud storage for everything. So right now we’re just using cloud storage, we’re doing the same thing. It’s just that we have people from India that are accessing that. And so in reality, I mean, that should be no different, I assume, right? You were just gonna say from your standpoint.
Yeah, no, it is no different. And essentially, so we have ensured, on our end, the strictest security protocols. And as I mentioned, we have a new facility. It has 24-hour, closed-circuit surveillance. You have to use biometrical identification to enter the facility, and you have to surrender all your electronic devices to go in. So our workers essentially go into their cubicle, where they have dual screens, and a keyboard. There are no thumb drives, no printers, no CD or disk drives, so they’re essentially working remotely on a screen. And on our end, we do not backup or download any data.
We’ve also gone through independent third party certifications. We’rere ISO-27001 certified for data security practices. And also ISO—I think it’s 9001—for information management practices. In addition, because we’ve been doing business in the UK, we had to qualify for the EU GDPR General Data Protection Regulations back in 2016. And actually, as part of our new facility, we’re being recertified again—updated.
So at least from our end, we’ve taken all the precautions to ensure that we carefully vet our workers, we have a background check, which we can provide for the people who want to utilize our team members. And, touch wood—I always do this—in our 16 years, we’ve never had a data breach. So I’m not trying to tempt fate—
Yeah, everybody touch wood! But we do a really good job of vetting our people and ensuring that they’re compliant. On that end too, when we set up secure connections—and depending on whether it’s on your remote desktop, or through a server, or in the cloud—we follow the highest level of encryption in our connectivity. And you know, I think the systems are very secure. Many of the tools we work in have dual factor authentication so our people have that set up on their screens. So, you know, it’s only that one computer on our system, or seat that can log into your system, whether it’s your tax software, your accounting software. And at least on our end we have daily, weekly, monthly quarterly virus scans and security software. So we have a very robust IT process.
And I think the most important thing is just collaboration between our clients and our team members to ensure that everything is done properly. You know, nothing that’s insecure is sent on email. We’re doing everything we can.
Alright. Well, I mean, it sounds like everything’s great down that end. Let me ask a couple final questions here. What about, one question I know that comes into my mind, and I think people, you know, probably are thinking the same thing—I’m now using your services, I have this dedicated person, this dedicated team that I’m working with. What’s my responsibility as this firm owner to let my clients know that we are outsourcing this work to somebody in India? Or, it doesn’t have to be necessarily India, but we’re outsourcing it to someone else? Do you know what kind of responsibility I have to inform my clients of that?
Yes. You know, so depending on the work you’re doing for your clients—we’ll break it down into a couple of categories. So for accounting and bookkeeping, there is no disclosure requirement, and also for corporate or business tax, there’s also no disclosure required. It’s only when you’re disclosing work on 1040 type work, and the person’s social security numbers. So the IRS has a regulation 7216, which is about disclosure, and it covers a a couple of different areas of disclosure, but particularly related to utilizing an offshore provider to do work. There’s a templated wording that you have to put into your engagement letter, and it’s pretty straightforward.
The funny thing is, because our team is in India, but our firm is out of Florida, so you’re stating that you’re just you’re disclosing—you’re asking for permission to disclose your data to a foreign firm, and then you have the address of Unison Globus in Florida. So it’s it’s kind of funny, but I think it’s pretty straightforward.
You know, the Big Four have been doing this for 30+ years. And probably, you know, 75 to 80% of the largest firms in the United States are also outsourcing to India, the Philippines, or a variety of other countries. So it’s not like it’s anything that’s new. And so most people are comfortable with with having their data—because ultimately, it’s still your accountant, your accounting professional, who is signing off on your return, they’re verifying the work. It’s just the data entry, and some of the analysis, is being done overseas.
But the disclosure is fairly easy, and anybody who works with us, we share the disclosure template with them. And actually, depending on your tax software, many of the tax softwares already have the disclosure wording as one of the pieces you can add to your your engagement letter.
Alright. I had a friend on before, that I’ve known for a while, Stephen Vono, who is a professional liability insurance guy. I’m sure he has plenty of things that I can ask him that we would need to do, as well. But it sounds like it’s a pretty straightforward operation to do so.
One last thing that comes to my mind, and then you can tell me if there’s any things I missed, but one last thing that comes to my mind is, this is great, and I keep saying it, but “dedicated team”—I love that, that it’s not just “Hey, I have a new person every time.” It’s a dedicated team. These really sound like they become my employees, you know, employees in quotes because they’re part of the team going forward. Is there any issues with the time zone differences? And how does that play into things?
Yes. So I think—India standard time as an example, is currently nine and a half hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. So depending on if you’re in the Eastern United States or the Pacific Time Zone, the amount of overlap you have with your India team is usually confined to morning time or early afternoon. We’re not a sweatshop.
You know, we try to encourage good employees. We pay them well—we probably pay a little bit more than many of our competitors. We give them, you know, 12 days’ vacation a year as well as the statutory holidays. And we don’t really want people working till five in the morning.
You know, we want people with balanced family life. You know, we encourage, you know, we give maternity leave, you know. So we’re really great employer. The tax team usually works till 9 or 10pm, India time. And the accounting team works till 10:30, 11 in the evening. We do have certain special cases for folks who are out on the west coast where our person will come into the office a little later and stay later.
But usually there’s at least two hours a day of live communication between the client and the remote team members. And it does take a little bit of planning too, you know. I think one of the big aspects of challenges of keeping employees, both in your location and also externally is people don’t invest the time in properly training and developing the relationship with the employees. So we really try to stress, in those first three months, a rigid onboarding process with regular communication—both through email and Microsoft Teams and other things—but also live calls. You get to know the person, you can explain to them what you need done, they can ask you questions. We also do live interviews. So if, let’s say you were gonna hire one of our team members—we would present you with a couple of resumes that you could look at, and then you could actually have live interviews before you even bring the person on.
We’ve had firms that they’ve done the interviews, they get them to do an accounting and a tax test, we’ve actually had people do Myers-Briggs type personality tests, as well as the, you know, as the background checks we provide. So you know, whatever you would normally do, to bring on an employee, we try to facilitate that as much as possible. So you at least have an idea of who your person is, you get comfortable with them, you can establish that there’s a basis for communication, and they do have technical qualifications.
And then as you move forward to onboard them, we try to ensure, and it really varies—some firms have daily meetings, some firms have you know, two or three times a week, some people only have one meeting a week—but you’ve got to have that live touch base, to make sure that everybody’s on the same page. And it really, you know, if you do that for the first three months, a very high probability for the successful long term relationship.
And, you know, we have folks that have been working with us for five years. For various reasons, sometimes people on our team leave, whether it’s a maternity leave or a life change. And we’ll come up with a good replacement for you. So that’s the thing, if you’ve asked us to provide five resources, and one of them happens to leave, it’s our responsibility to give you notice, let you know that we’re sourcing the replacement for you, introduce them, make sure you’re comfortable, and then make sure that the re-onboarding, I guess, if you want to call that works well.
Alright. Well, it sounds like to me, what you have is fitting the need in the industry. And again, not just our industry, but the profession in general. But the country in general, are probably the world looking for people. So I think the opportunity is great. Everything I heard is positive. And really, in reality, it sounds like how we’re doing business now anyways—people are working remote, people are working on their schedule, at least a lot of companies are starting to do this, “Hey, as long as you get your work done, we don’t care when you do it. You do it at two in the morning, you do it two in the morning.” I think giving people freedom to do that’s great. And really this is just following that same structure that I think firms are starting to go to as well.
Any last thoughts that I missed on there that you’d like to tell us about?
No, I think Randy, you hit the nail on the head, you know. There’s more than one way to skin the cat, so to speak. I mean, we have people who have onshore employees, and our offshore people supplementing them, we have people who are 100% offshore except for the principals. And we also work with clients who’ve worked with other outsourcing firms too. I mean, it’s kind of good to have an A team and a B team, you know. There isn’t just necessarily one size that fits all solution. And you know, we’d love to talk to anyone who’s finding it difficult to hire and retain quality staff. We give free trial work to let you test drive, you know, we don’t expect you to buy the car without having a chance to kick the tires and drive it, and I don’t think the problem’s getting any easier right now.
So we’re here to help.
That’s great. Alright. One final question will be I’m going to ask you to give your contact information. But before I do that, I like to end with, “Okay, great. We’re talking business right now. This is great information. I honestly think this is great information. I think people can be helped by this.” But let’s get away from business. Let’s find out more about you. Besides filling a need that an accounting firm has, what do you personally like doing outside of business? What’s your passions?
Well, gosh, there’s a couple of things. So I’m a former athlete, so I love sports. I still participate in biking and skiing in the winter, and my wife and I love to walk. I used to play rugby when I was younger, so I’m still a big fan of international rugby and periodically travel overseas to watch that. I’m very excited to see that the U.S. has been announced as the host of the 2031 Rugby World Cup.
So that will be a great event, nine years from now in the U.S.—very, very excited for that.
I live in Canada, so I’ve become a hockey fan. So we were very crestfallen on Saturday night when the Maple Leafs lost a very tough match to the Tampa Bay Lightning. But you know, the Lightning, they’re the defending champions and at the end of the day, they stepped up and did what needed to be done.
Yeah, but I am happily married, have two daughters. Just try to take every day as a great day, and go from there and try to spread a little kindness if I can. And I’m looking forward to having a craft beer with you. I definitely am a craft beer aficionado.
I know, I was going to ask, I thought we’re going to get to craft beer, you and I. That’s our goal. We’re gonna get together and have a beer one of these times before. I assume I’ll see you sometime in the fall at a conference. But it was great to see you here. And if anybody else wants to reach out to you, and find out more information about Unison Globus, how can they get ahold of you?
Well, so I can give you my email—it’s just Charles@UnisonGlobus.com. That’s probably the best way to connect with me. I would be happy to have a conversation and tell us about what you need. And we’ll see if we can help you out.
Well, Charles, this has been great. I’ve been looking forward to having this discussion for a while. There’s actually a CPA firm I know that has been doing this for a long time—a very, very well respected, pretty large firm, that they’ve been doing this for years. And they are always telling me how successful it is, so I’ve been wanting to get them on the show. Maybe I’ll call them now and say they can tell me how positive it is from their aspect. But I got you on the show first, which was great to tell us how it works. So I appreciate the time.
That’s super, Randy.
About the Guest
Charles McKissick is the Head of Business Development and Customer Experience in North America for Unison Globus. A former CPA, Charles seeks to address the challenges in running a professional practice in the ever-changing accounting environment. His goal is to support individuals and businesses in providing exceptional results for their clients while growing revenue.
Unison Globus provides dedicated staffing and technical support working in concert with accounting firms to meet their clients’ accounting, payroll, tax compliance and tax planning needs.
Charles received his B.S. in Accounting from Oklahoma State University and earned his CPA license in Illinois in 1993, as well as his CFP designation in 1999.
Meet the Host
Randy Crabtree, CPA
Randy Crabtree, co-founder and partner of Tri-Merit Specialty Tax Professionals, is a widely followed author, lecturer and podcast host for the accounting profession.
Since 2019, he has hosted the bi-weekly “The Unique CPA,” podcast, which ranks among the world’s 5% most popular programs (Source: Listen Score). You can find articles from Randy in Accounting Today’s Voices column, the AICPA Tax Adviser (Tax-saving opportunities for the housing and construction industries) and he is a regular presenter at conferences and virtual training events hosted by CPAmerica, Prime Global, Leading Edge Alliance (LEA), Allinial Global and several state CPA societies. Crabtree also provides continuing professional education to top 100 CPA firms across the country.
Schaumberg, Illinois-based Tri-Merit is a niche professional services firm that specializes in helping CPAs and their clients benefit from R&D tax credits, cost segregation, the energy efficient commercial buildings deduction (179D), the energy efficient home credit (45L) and the employee retention credit (ERC).
Prior to joining Tri-Merit, Crabtree was managing partner of a CPA firm in the greater Chicago area. He has more than 30 years of public accounting and tax consulting experience in a wide variety of industries, and has worked closely with top executives to help them optimize their tax planning strategies.