James Vinograd, CPA, the client accounting services manager at LLME, brings a wealth of accounting, advisory, tax and auditing knowledge to clients across several industries. We caught up with James to talk all things life and accounting. Here’s what he has to say about his path to LLME and the importance of knowing the ins and outs of your financial statements, investing in cloud-based accounting software and preparing for audits and due diligence.
Kicking it off, tell us how you ended up working in the world of accounting world.
I studied business, economics and accounting at the University of California, Santa Barbara. When I started out, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree, but I leaned into accounting because it had the best job prospects. Right out of school, I joined a regional San Francisco-based CPA firm providing audit and tax services. I spent over eight years there, eventually becoming an audit manager.
How did you end up in San Diego? And what drew you to LLME?
I had come to an inflection point. My wife and I met at our firm and loved our city life. We lived and worked within walking distance, but, ultimately, we wanted a change of pace. We had friends living in San Diego and an opportunity presented itself to make the move. Once here, I entered private industry, working for a private defense contractor for the next 11+ years. Honestly, I never thought I’d leave.
Then, 2020 came and things changed. Another opportunity to change course presented itself. LLME had posted an opening for client accounting services, and I jumped at the chance to reenter public accounting.
You head up the firm’s client accounting services group. Tell us what your group does.
We are essentially an outsourced accounting service provider managing everything from our clients’ bookkeeping to payroll, tax credits, payroll taxes and more. We offer a wide range of services to help our clients get their financial statements and systems setup and running accurately and efficiently. Our team helps prepare our clients for potential audits and due diligence if they are trying to raise money. We also work extensively with our tax group to prepare financial statements for tax returns.
With your extensive experience, what unique contributions do you bring to LLME’s team and its clients that set you apart in the realm of client accounting services?
I started my career doing both tax and audit services and received my master’s degree in taxation from Golden Gate University. Based on the firm’s needs, I focused more on the audit side of things, but continued doing tax work as well. This broad base of experience across tax and audit service areas helps me identify and address client needs and potential issues.
From my tax experience, I know when I am, and when I’m not, the best person on our team to solve a complex tax problem. In discussions with clients, however, I can identify potential tax issues and work with our tax services team to find the right solutions. As for audits, my background means I know exactly what auditors are looking for and what inquiries might come up down the line. This allows me to help clients implement best practices for reconciliations and controls to ensure smooth, issue-free audits.
What’s the most unique or unexpected industry you’ve provided accounting services for? Any interesting stories?
I worked for a defense contractor working with the federal government for over a decade. We followed general accounting principles but there was a unique skill set and set of rules that governed our work as well. This work prepared me for almost anything. Today, it helps me serve a wide range of clients including consulting firms, distributors and professional-service firms such as lawyers, financial advisors and health care providers.
Recently, the firm has also increasingly been working with more and more biotech and life science companies. It’s a client sector of ours that I’d like to see grow as San Diego has such a vibrant market of startup and established companies making waves in the medical device, pharmaceutical and R&D arenas.
What’s one piece of financial advice you find yourself giving to most clients?
This is something I share frequently, especially with smaller clients or those just starting out: Don’t forget to understand your balance sheet. I’ve found that businesses often focus solely on their revenues and profit and loss statements. In doing so, they tend to ignore the importance of the quality of their earnings and aren’t always focusing on cash flow and the level of debt they are taking on, as a couple of examples.
Could you share a memorable moment when you’ve helped a client navigate a complex financial challenge?
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of good work with Employee Retention Credits (ERC) as they are related to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Initially, businesses that received PPP loans were ineligible for the ERC. However, thanks to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, those businesses can now also apply for the ERC retroactively back to 2020 — meaning they can now maximize their credits.
With 20 years in the field, you must have seen some accounting myths or misconceptions. What’s one common misconception about accounting that you’d like to debunk?
You hear a lot of personality misconceptions. Sure, we crunch a lot of numbers, and people often think of auditors as being stuck in a room just looking through the books. That’s not actually what we do all day. It’s part of what drew me to LLME — and it’s what’s kept me around. I love this team. They are both welcoming and fun. And everyone on our team gets along great. We share interests and enjoy our time together both in and out of the office. We go to Padres games and have an annual company-wide retreat at Rancho Bernardo Inn. We volunteer together and recently supported a pet-adoption event. And our day-to-day interactions are lively and collaborative. It’s a vibrant office life!
What shifts have you observed in the accounting industry, especially in relation to technology adoption and its impact on client services? How do you ensure your clients benefit from these advancements?
The main thing that I work with clients on is implementing cloud-based accounting software. With an online system like QuickBooks, our teams can collaborate remotely and in real time, making our efforts to support our clients’ financial wellbeing so much more efficient. Sometimes we encounter clients who are reticent to change. But these systems aren’t just the future of our industry, they are the present and they make collaborating from anywhere possible — and they help ensure accuracy and timely financial reporting.
You’re a member of Provisors. Can you share how networking within this community has enhanced your ability to provide valuable insights and connections for your clients?
I’m still new to the organization. But it’s amazing that you have this great backstop of providers from all different fields that can service our clients. I like knowing that our clients remain in good hands when they have legal, insurance or other needs that are outside of our firm’s scope. I’m making a lot of great connections and learning more about the local San Diego business community and its different industries.
Let’s switch gears a bit. When you’re not crunching numbers or advising clients, how do you like to unwind and recharge?
Sports, music and food round out my interests. I’m still a big fan of all the Bay Area sports teams and watch the Warriors, Giants and 49ers every chance I get. My wife and I are also big music fans. We love going to concerts and catching live music at local restaurants. We just saw the Lumineers at the Sports Arena, Cold War Kids at The Observatory North Park and I recently caught a show at the Casbah.
We’re curious about your time in the San Francisco Bay Area. What’s one thing you miss about living there, and what’s one thing you love about San Diego?
Hands down, the sports teams. And I miss everything being so close. We lived downtown and walked everywhere. I met my wife in the city, and we have so many good memories at Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. San Diego’s weather is amazing. As is its livability. We live in Carmel Valley and have so much within short driving distance. We can be in downtown, at the beach or in the mountains in no time.
Are you currently pursuing any personal or professional goals?
Right now, I am focused on growing LLME’s accounting services group — both in terms of clients and team members. We are attracting bigger clients and more challenging work, which is great for our team of five and our larger tax services group, too.
Lastly, if you had to give a single piece of advice to someone considering a career in accounting, what would it be?
Accounting is a great career. Sure, it can be long hours and a lot of work, but it is very rewarding when you are providing good work, building client relationships and receiving your clients’ appreciation.