Galina Berkovich is a partner in Duffy Kruspodin’ s Woodland Hills office with over 30 years of experience in public accounting. She has serviced clients of all sizes in a wide variety of industries and has extensive experience working with both domestic and international clients advising them on operational issues as well as on matters of tax, pension, and estate planning.
Russ Alan Prince: Can you tell me a little bit about the type of clients that you work with?
Galina Berkovich: Most of my clients are closely held businesses and individuals, and they span various industries from manufacturer reps, attorneys, medical practitioners, distributors, real estate developers, estates and trusts, and high-net-worth individuals. So, I have a pretty broad client base.
Prince: Do you have an expertise or focus area of the practice?
Galina: To be honest with you, I always think of myself more as a generalist because when I started over 30 years ago, we were all generalists. We had to be a jack of all trades and know a little bit about everything. But over the years I have developed a specialty in international taxation because some of my clients have either holdings outside the US or live and work outside the country which creates special filing requirements.
Prince: Has the industry become more specialized?
Galina: Yes, the profession is going in that direction of more specialization. And I think as we grow as a firm, we need to have those niches and those specialists that can assist us in those areas. As a firm, we are developing individuals who can assist, consult or do a high-level review on more complex subject matters when it comes to a very specific area. So, yes, I believe we’re going in that direction, and I think we’re starting that process within the firm to be known as specialists in certain fields.
Prince: In terms of the area of focus you mentioned international taxation and what you do for clients in that situation. In what other areas do you help your clients?
Galina: Since some of my clients are closely held businesses, I find myself helping them through the various transitions in their business and personal life and how those two areas intersect. Helping and planning as it relates to their business inevitably leads to transition—either selling their business or transitioning it to the next generation. And what does that mean? This means advising them not only from a tax aspect but also from just a general life aspect and helping them connect with other professionals like wealth management or pension administrators, attorneys, etc. to help them through the process because it encompasses so many distinct aspects of their life.
Prince: Can you give us an example?
Galina: We have a client who has a very successful business. But she wants to start her retirement process or at least think about transitioning out and not being so hands-on. She’s also thinking of moving to the East Coast and we’re helping her value her business and helping her sell it. But she doesn’t want to just sell it to anybody because she’s so invested in her business—it’s her life. She’s been building it for many, many years. She is thinking of bringing three people who’ve worked with her for years building the business and helping them invest in her company and become part owners.
We are helping her transition the company and keep it going. The plan allows her three employees to become business owners, which probably they wouldn’t have ever been able to accomplish if she didn’t have the need or want to help her employees, maintain her business and just keep it going and not close the doors. She could have easily said, “Okay, I’m moving to the East Coast. I’m done with this thing.” But it’s her baby. I mean, with a lot of our clients, this is their babies. A lot of their businesses are their babies. And it’s very hard for them to just let go. So, we’re helping her through this process.
Prince: You’re like part financial advisor and part health, mindfulness guru.
Galina: Definitely. I think that is very true. We need to be psychologists because I think a lot of it is just dealing with people’s emotions and making sure that they can feel good after doing something right. It’s not just all about tax planning and finance. It actually transitions beyond that into just their overall well-being.
Prince: How do you integrate wealth management into your practice?
Galina: Whenever I pick up any set of books, I always try to see if there is a way to incorporate some aspect of wealth management and not necessarily just investments. It’s more about pension planning, estate planning, and insurance reviews. So just the whole scope of services that the client may need and may not even know that they are missing an aspect because they’re so just, living their everyday life and they are in maintenance mode.
When I speak to a client, I always try to ask them, what they know and understand what they are thinking. What are their short- and long-term goals? And let’s see how we can incorporate them with some additional assistance from other professionals that maybe they don’t have yet. Or if they do, then, let’s talk to them and become a team.
Recently we’ve started having meetings with the financial team for some of our clients and collaborating and saying, okay, they’re thinking of retiring. Do they have enough cash flow to maintain their lifestyle if they’re going to transition out of this business or close the business? What do they have to look forward to? Are they charitably inclined? It is all those aspects, whenever I speak to somebody, I try to incorporate all of those, if I have not talked to them about them already.
Prince: How do you see the accounting industry changing?
Galina What I find is that the biggest thing is technology. And I think technology is driving the industry right now. It creates a fast-paced environment where things change quickly and everything is run by computers.
I started many years ago and we were doing a lot of stuff on paper and pencil, and we don’t do that anymore. What I’m finding is that a lot of the newer staff tend to rely on the machine a little too much and that if you put the number in the machine and spit it out, it must be the correct answer. And so, a lot of times when I talk to staff or I do some training with staff or review their work, I try to instill in them the fact that you kind of have to know the answer before you ask the question. So when you’re looking at the final result, you know what the expectation is and what you’re trying to get to.
I think the staff is becoming a little more reliant on the machine part. You hear about how AI will do everything for you. Well, I think there’s still a need for humans in the equation and that’s the biggest change that I’m seeing. And how do we still maintain that human aspect, even though we’re going to be working with continual change in technology?
Prince: How is your expertise allowing you to navigate this change successfully?
Galina: Having the experience will help me to pivot and be able to adapt to the new environment. I believe there’s a place for humans in the future of this profession. So, I’ll just continue to grow and develop and learn how to navigate whatever the new system is. There’s always change. I mean, we’re in a profession where there are new rules every year that we need to know. I think it goes with the profession.
RUSS ALAN PRINCE is the Executive Director of Private Wealth magazine (pw-mag.com) and Chief Content Officer for High-Net-Worth Genius (hnwgenius.com). He consults with family offices, the wealthy, fast-tracking entrepreneurs, and select professionals.