VonLehman Announces New Vice President of M&A Advisory Services

Ely Friedman

Ely Friedman

Fort Wright, Ky.-based VonLehman & Company Inc. (FY17 net revenue of $21.9 million) announced Ely Friedman as vice president of the firm’s mergers & acquisitions (M&A) advisory services group. Friedman joins VonLehman with nearly a decade of experience dealing with the sale and acquisition of private businesses. As Vice President of the firm’s M&A advisory group, he will be directly responsible for consultation and advisory services relating to founder-owned private businesses.

“Ely’s experience working exclusively with founder-owned private businesses is a perfect complement to our team’s dynamic,” says Keith Carlson, director of VonLehman’s M&A advisory services group. “There is a tremendous need for this type of advisory service in the Tri-State area. Our region is a hotbed for founder-owned and operated private businesses who need professional assistance in handling critical sales and acquisitions. Needless to say, we are very excited about the expertise Ely brings to our group.”

With the continued growth of the mergers and acquisitions market, VonLehman launched the M&A Advisory Services group over one year ago. Success in the group’s first year resulted in the need for additional resources. With the addition of Friedman, the group is now comprised of five individuals. VonLehman’s M&A Group offers expertise in mergers and acquisitions (buying or selling), succession planning, financial restructuring, valuation, due diligence, and strategic consulting.

“There are so many things that can go wrong when a business owner attempts to handle sales and acquisition transactions on their own,” says Friedman. “I have a passion for working with business owners to guide them through this process so they are able to make well-informed decisions. I am thrilled to be working with Keith Carlson, one of the best in our industry, and I’m excited to be part of the growth of our M&A Group at VonLehman.”

BKD Wealth Advisors Expands to Denver

Jack Thurman, president of BKD Wealth Advisors, a subsidiary of Springfield, Mo.-based BKD (FY17 net revenue of $564.4 million) announced the expansion of Wealth Advisors into Colorado. Justin Wheeler, a senior managing advisor, will relocate to serve clients from BKD’s new Denver location.

Justin Wheeler

Justin Wheeler

“We are excited for Justin to transition and expand our presence to Denver,” says Thurman. “He has been an important asset to our team and we believe he will continue to be one as we expand.”

Wheeler provides wealth management services to affluent families, foundations and small businesses and helps clients develop their goals into solutions. He is a Certified Financial Planner and a member of the Financial Planning Association®.

“We’re happy to have BKD Wealth Advisors expanding to our Denver office to better serve our clients and grow the firm,” says BKD Denver MP Jeff Ronsse. “This is certainly a win-win situation for all involved.”

RubinBrown Admits New Partners

St. Louis-based RubinBrown (FY17 net revenue of $91 million) has admitted Jeff Albach, Renita Duncan, Tim Kendrick, Ethan Kent, Becky Knezevich, Mark Ommen, Andrew Schmitt and Jason Stalberger as partners within the firm.

Albach will be partner in the assurance services group in the Las Vegas office. His public accounting experience includes serving clients in a range of industries including construction, not-for-profit organizations, employee benefit plans and other small businesses.

Duncan, partner in the assurance services group, has more than 10 years of accounting experience. She works with clients in various industries including, but not limited to, public sector, not-for-profit and professional services. She has experience in performing Uniform Guidance single audits, GAAP financial statements and audits for government entities.

Kendrick, a partner in the tax consulting services group, provides an array of services including tax return, tax planning, IRS examination matters and tax consulting. He works with clients in the architecture and engineering, contractor, manufacturing and distribution, and real estate industries.

Kent, a partner in the assurance services group, has more than 17 years of public accounting experience includes serving clients in a range of industries including not-for-profit, government, employee benefit plans and other small businesses.

Knezevich is a partner in RubinBrown’s assurance services group and not-for-profit group, where she serves as the leader of the team member development committee. In addition, she has experience working in the real estate, and manufacturing and distribution industries. She specializes in audit, attest services and internal controls/operations.

Ommen provides audit and other assurance-related services to public and privately held clients primarily in the manufacturing and distribution, biopharmaceutical and retail industries. He also works with clients and private equity groups to provide both buy and sell side due diligence as well as merger and acquisition support.

Schmitt has more than six years of experience providing audit services for clients in the real estate industry. He specializes in low-income housing and historic tax credits, real estate investment funds, HUD and employee benefit plans.

Stallberger, a partner in the tax consulting services group, has more than 10 years of experience working with clients in various industries including cable and telecommunications.

PwC in UK Bans All-Male Job Shortlists

PwC has become the first of the Big 4 to put a UK-wide ban on candidate lists for senior-level workers that do not include any women.

While 48% of PwC’s staff are women, they earn 43.8% less on average than their male colleagues, the London-based Daily Mail reported. The government is requiring companies of more than 250 employees to report their gender pay gap.

Laura Hinton, chief people officer at PwC, tells the Daily Mail: “Diversity in our recruitment processes is something we’ve been focused on for some time and as part of this we are ensuring we have no all-male shortlists and more diverse interviewing panels.”

PwC recently set a target to recruit 50/50 women and men. The firm also has a 35.9% pay gap for its black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees.

The move comes as the rest of the Big Four – Deloitte, KPMG and EY – had all called for greater diversity on their candidate lists. Last month Bill Michael, KPMG’s UK chairman, said the firm had a “no tolerance” policy toward all-male recruitment lists. While Deloitte and EY do not have an outright ban on all-male candidate lists, they said they too look for a diverse range of candidates.

SAP Launches Leonardo Blockchain, Cloud Blockchain Platform

SAP has launched a blockchain-as-a-service platform called SAP Leonardo Blockchain, which will allow corporate customers to use blockchain technology to create networks and applications.

SAP Leonardo Blockchain will support Hyperledger Fabric and MultiChain, and will be built on top of SAP’s SAP HANA data management system, according to the official announcement.

Gil Perez, SAP’s senior VP for product and innovation and head of digital customer service initiatives, explained that SAP will be more flexible as the blockchain market evolves by not committing to any one underlying distributed ledger technology.

Twenty-seven new members were accepted by SAP last fall to its blockchain program in order to integrate the technology into the IoT, manufacturing and supply chain solutions.

Analysis: The Next Recession is Coming and Law Firms Aren’t Ready

An economic downturn is likely in the not-too-distant future and few law firms are prepared, according to an analysis by The American Lawyer.

Ropes & Gray chairman Brad Malt says: “No one knows when the expansion will end, but we know it will end, and we know how it will end: in a recession.” The economy has been growing since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, and normal boom periods end after about 5 years.

Malt, is planning to leave the top job after 15 years, and a possible recession is in his thoughts, he says. “It’s less recession planning than thinking about contingencies – not because we’re in a management transition, but because we always think about having a fundamentally sound investment strategy that fits with the stage of the economic cycle,” he says.

Legal observers say most firm leaders are less cautious. “Law firms tend to think very short-term,” says Janet Stanton, a partner with Adam Smith Esq. “At the end of the year, they strip the balance sheet, and all the profit gets distributed. There’s no long-term investments in technology or any kind of advance planning. Many firms don’t even have a long-term strategy.”

The American Lawyer analysis notes that the business environment since the recession has changed fundamentally. For one, cost-cutting by clients in those down times have not abated, and they are keeping more legal work in-house while tapping into services offered by alternative legal providers, including Big 4 accounting firms, Axiom and Thomson Reuters.

“In-house lawyers are behaving ambidextrously: they’re pushing out to alternative legal service providers with one hand and bringing in to their own lawyers with the other hand,” strategist Hugh Simons says.

In response, law firms have had to cut costs during the recession and they are taking in less work. Billable hours are down. “It’s difficult to imagine a recession that would be as deep and protracted as the 2008 crisis. But the steady erosion of client loyalty and partner loyalty has created an accelerant in terms of law firm fragility,” says Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison chairman Brad Karp. “In the past, partners at law firms that saw a sharp decline in profits would be inclined to ride out the decline. That, sadly, is no longer the case in many law firms. The relationship between law firms, on the one hand, and their partners and clients, on the other, has become much more transactional, which is an unfortunate development for the profession and poses a heightened risk for law firms.”

Another worry is bloated ranks of non-equity partners. The 2018 Georgetown Report indicates that while associates – whose ranks were slashed during the last recession – have seen their hours return to pre-2009 levels, partner hours have not, and non-equity partner hours have suffered most dramatically.

Those non-equity partners are at the biggest risk of layoffs, American Lawyer reports, and consultants suggest firms may want to act sooner. “They might as well start soon, because measured reductions earlier would be wiser than panicked personnel cuts later,” the analysis says.

Catholic Church Looking Into Blockchain Processes

A new group called Catholic Blockchain wants to put the revolutionary potential of blockchain technology to improve transparency, help the poor and streamline processes, uCatholic reported.

One of its co-founders, Brantly Millegan, explained: “We believe blockchain technology is one of the most important innovations of the last ten years, and the Catholic Church, as the world’s largest global organization, is uniquely placed to benefit from using it.”

He lists five ways the church could use blockchain:

Empowering the poor in the developing world ­– “Download a free app and you can send and receive cryptocurrency all over the world – and do it exponentially faster and cheaper than you could do it even if you had the most developed banking system.”

Fast, cheap, secure international payments – “It might still be faster and cheaper to send someone cryptocurrency and have them exchange it for their local currency in a local exchange, rather than send them government currency through the international money transfer system.”

Secure long-term storage of important information – “It’s very important to the life of the church that the church knows who has received certain sacraments like baptism, confirmation, holy matrimony and holy orders. And yes, it can be done in a secure and private way so that the information isn’t public – only accessible to the people who need it.”

Financial transparency – “Cryptocurrencies can be used in such a way that all transactions are public. If Catholics could donate to Catholic causes or funds, knowing that where the money was spent could be publicly verified, that could relieve a lot of concerns.”

Unlocking value in property and assets – “Let’s say a Catholic diocese had some non-parish property, and the bishop wanted to unlock some of the value of the property without completely selling it. Blockchain technology makes it easier to sell off just, say, 40%, and in small chunks to many investors. That way, the diocese could maintain control of the property, but get some of its value today.”

Millegan says, “Much of the church is still playing catch-up on old-news technologies like websites, smartphones and social media. We need to do a better job of taking seriously new up-and-coming technologies before we’re already behind. And we believe blockchain technology should be near the top of the list.”

Blockchain System to Secure Card Payments: Mastercard Files Patent

Mastercard has filed a patent application for blockchain software designed to enable faster, secure payment transactions, Blockchain Focus, a blockchain news outlet, reported.

The patent application states that wireless transmission of payment credentials can be “subject to intercept.” Skimming is a practice that “enable[s] a nefarious actor to pull the payment credentials from a payment instrument, even when securely located in the consumer’s wallet or purse, or to intercept the payment.”

Blockchain technology can facilitate a safe and secure method of conveying payment credentials. The patent document states that the process of encryption encodes the card’s information and records it on the blockchain, after which two keys are issued, a public and a private key. When the card is used for purchasing, it makes a request for retrieval. Then the system verifies the card information using keys to decode it.

Law Firms Turning to Tech to Innovate Client Service

The law firm Reed Smith is rewarding lawyers who innovate.

A team at Reed Smith has developed an app that allows clients to assess risk from suspected data breaches, Bloomberg’s Big Law Business reported, and attorneys can receive up to 50 hours of billable credit for participating in the initiative.

Bloomberg cites the incentive program as an example of how law firms are using tech not only to streamline routine services, but also to improve how they deliver services and remake themselves as innovators.

“This is investing in the business to improve how things work, not pro bono work for clients,” Lucy Dillon, the firm’s chief knowledge officer, told Big Law Business. “We are trying to improve the quality of our services and of our output, and technology helps us to do it more quickly and efficiently.”

The app, Breach RespondeRS, allows mid-size companies and individual clients to learn about related law notification requirements, which differ from state to state. The information can help them decide whether, and how, to notify customers about data breaches that may have occurred. The app is available on the firm website.

Here are other examples of innovation in the legal arena:

  • In March, Hogan Lovells created a partnership with an outside provider to offer clients on-demand lawyers for hire. “We are planning to expand it to the United States and continental Europe starting this fall. Clients have shown a lot of interest so we are accelerating the rollout,” says Stephen Allen, the firm’s head of legal services delivery in London.
  • Allen & Overy has a partnership with Deloitte accounting firm to support a compliance system that helps clients follow relevant laws in whatever countries are involved in a deal or project. The firm, working with an outside provider, launched Margin Xchange, an online platform to assure legal conformity for documents related to derivatives.
  • White & Case joined forces with a data services company and in January 2017 launched a free tool called the M&A Explorer, available on the law firm’s website to allow clients and the public to explore a decade’s worth of data about mergers and acquisitions.

Plante Moran Acquires IPA 100 Firm

Southfield, Mich.-based Plante Moran (FY17 net revenue of $520.5 million) has announced that the team at Denver-based EKS&H (FY17 net revenue of $105.9 million) will be joining Plante Moran.

When the EKS&H team joins Plante Moran on Oct. 1, the combined firm will have more than 3,000 professionals working in 27 offices, serving national and international clients in the middle-market.

By adding offices and clients throughout the Western United States, Plante Moran will expand its domestic presence beyond the Great Lakes region and strengthen its expertise in energy and other key market segments, as well as collaborating to create new national practices.

“We are delighted to join forces with EKS&H, which shares our cultural DNA and our passion for providing unmatched client service,” says Plante Moran MP Jim Proppe. “The firm is recognized as the largest CPA firm in Denver and in the Rocky Mountain region, with respected practices in energy, high tech, transportation and other areas that complement our current offerings. We share a strong foundation in the services we provide and the industries we serve, which will allow us to better serve our clients while we accelerate our growth. Together, we will have the power to strengthen our client-oriented technology infrastructure to build on our digital premium brand.”

“We are excited about the opportunity to partner with Plante Moran, a like-minded firm deeply rooted in its commitment to clients and staff,” says EKS&H CEO Bob Hottman. “When we began discussions with Plante Moran, we were pleased to find a true consistency of our core values and philosophy, and a strong cultural alignment. Our profession will face many changes in the coming years. We will be better and stronger facing them together with our new colleagues in the Midwest.”