I recently sat down with Jon Bell, CPA, MACCT, owner of Jon Bell, CPA LLC, a tax and accounting practice in Albuquerque, N.M., to learn more about his unique hobby, diverse background and how his practice has evolved over the years.
Bryan Cytron: I understand you have a unique hobby collecting antique coin-operated machines, such as pinball and Pachinko. How did this come about?
Jon Bell: Growing up, I loved playing pinball at the arcade, bowling alley and bus station with my brother and our friends in Santa Fe. Then, when I was 13, I won a Williams Solids N Stripes pinball machine in a tournament. I still have that machine today.
BC: What are some of your favorite collectibles?
JB: My coin collection includes two slot machines, a pinball machine, jukebox and penny scale. I have bought and sold dozens and dozens of games during my lifetime, but collecting pinball machines is at the top of my list. I love the artwork on the back glass and playfield. Most of all, the games are fun!
My favorite item in my collection has got to be a Coca-Cola machine from the late 1930s. It has actually been in my family since my grandfather purchased it new in our family department store, Bell’s, in downtown Santa Fe. Even to this day, many clients see the machine and talk about their memories of going to Bell’s to buy a coke for a nickel or dime.
BC: You have a unique background that spans across the airline industry, casinos and department stores. Tell me a little bit about this, and ultimately what prompted you to transition to tax and accounting.
JB: Bell’s was started by my grandfather and his brothers around 1910, and my father became principal owner in the 1960s. At the time of the store’s untimely demise, it was natural for me to continue wanting to be in retail, so I worked for a mid-sized department store chain in various capacities, including sales, management and buying.
I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, ultimately realizing I am best being captain of my own boat and in control my own destiny. Starting at a relatively young age, I sold Christmas cards and seeds door to door. I delivered newspapers and had a video game route with my brother. My next business was in travel, where I facilitated the buying and selling of airline tickets, miles and upgrades. As services such as priceline.com became popular, I decided it was time to try something else, so I went back to school to get my master’s degree in accounting at the University of New Mexico. While attending school, I worked as a craps and blackjack dealer in the casinos and at a big-box storefront chain for five tax seasons.
BC: You started your own practice in 2010. Take us through the journey of then to now.
JB: I found out I really liked the tax and accounting profession, so after working in public and private accounting for four years, and with the full support of my wife, Sherry, I decided to hang out my shingle.
I have been in business for nine years. I had a mentor who was very instrumental in encouraging me to start my own practice and helping me with suggestions on how to get clients. I really have a passion for being my clients’ most trusted advisor and I take that role very seriously.
Starting out, I generally would take on most any client who came my way, but now I have transitioned to knowing exactly the type of client that is a fit for me, favoring those with more complicated situations and those involved in real estate and healthcare. I love being somewhat on the front end of technology, and am fully paperless and in the cloud. In order to continue to grow at the level I have in the past, the biggest challenge I see is taking the time to work on my practice more than working in it. I would like to be more of a manager than the main workhorse.
We are trying to document our processes to standardize our workflow and stop recreating the wheel every time we do something. I am also trying to take advantage of automation so I can better focus on being an advisor to my clients and have less of an emphasis on tax and accounting services.
JB: I prefer using cloud-based services as much as possible, but have been reluctant to give up Lacerte for individual returns. My practice tends to attract clients with more complicated tax situations, and in my view, ProConnect Tax Online still has lots of room to improve in order for me to start using it on individual returns.
At this point, my entire office is accessible on my cloud server, including tax returns, work papers, accounting records and client-specific data. Most importantly, the efficiencies of the cloud allow me to spend more time with my family and enable me and my team to work anywhere. For example, I have a CPA working for me in another state and a growing amount of tax and accounting work offshore.
We used a client portal for several years now and have a higher than average adaptation rate, including some of our more senior clients. I think that more and more clients expect their CPA firm to have technologies such as e-Signature and a portal available because these same clients are less inclined to visit the office for annual services like tax preparation.
BC: Are you using QuickBooks® Online Accountant (QBOA), and if so, what do you think about the QBOA/ProConnect Tax Online integration?
JB: We use QBOA for about 50 percent of our clients, while the other 50 percent are still on QuickBooks Desktop. The trend is definitely toward the online version, and we are working to migrate more clients this year. The time savings is noticeable; being able to log in and view the status of all ProConnect Tax Online files in QBOA has been really helpful.
BC: How are you educating your clients about tax reform?
JB: I am passionate about being the best CPA I can be for my clients. As a Certified Tax Coach member, I take great pride in helping clients with proactive tax planning to help them make the most of the new tax law. Here are a few of my favorite strategies I am using to help clients cut their tax bill under the new tax law:
- Implementing timing-based strategies, such as using 401(k) deferrals and IRA contributions to shift income to future years. This could help keep income low enough to fully benefit from the healthcare credits received and from the 20 percent deduction on qualified business income.
- Moving taxable income to lower bracket taxpayers, such as children, by hiring them in your business. Under the new tax law, a child can earn even more than before and not pay any tax.
- Making the most of charitable contribution strategies. I suggest clients consider bunching their donations in alternating years, making contributions from their IRA in lieu of required minimum distributions and setting up donor-advised funds.
- Providing counsel on the new 100 percent bonus depreciation on qualified property, making buying business equipment easier to afford than they otherwise might imagine.
BC: Thanks, Jon!