In December, Midwest accounting firms BKD and Kiesling Associates quietly completed a merger, creating an organization that has more than 150 years’ combined industry experience.
David Aspenson was partner in charge of Kiesling’s Colorado Springs office, and is now a partner at BKD.
Aspenson, who has been an accountant for more than 30 years, primarily within the rural telecom and utilities industries, spoke with the Business Journal about the benefits of joining forces, dealing with regulations and helping the little guys compete.
Where are you from?
I’m from Iowa. I grew up in a town called Mason City in the north-central part of the state.
How did you get here?
I went to Luther College, a small Lutheran, Norwegian liberal arts college. They had an internship program, and I did an internship with Kiesling Associates. Kiesling was started in Madison, Wisc., in 1952 and they had offices in places like Springfield, Ill., and Des Moines and one in Colorado Springs. … Kiesling has a niche in telecommunications and regulated utilities. It was primarily operating in the Midwest, but a partner in Illinois wanted a change of pace and came to Colorado because of industry connections out here.
Colorado Springs was picked over Denver because it had a cottage industry of consultants to small, rural telephone companies and they introduced us to clients. It was a natural move west. After about four years in Iowa, I was able to transfer here.
What do you do at the firm?
I became partner in charge at Kiesling in 1998, and I’m a partner now with BKD. These transitions can take some time, maybe two years to get fully integrated, especially since we merged in December and our busy season starts in January.
My job is to maintain client relations and take care of the people who came over in the merger — making sure their career paths are defined and that they have the skills they need to do their job. The job hasn’t really changed, but one goal is to grow our presence in the community. I’ll be a part of that.
What can you tell us about the merger?
The merger was effective Dec. 4. We’re excited about it. The BKD folks have been terrific about welcoming us. Kiesling was looking for a better playbook to take our firm to the next level. By merging up we have access to some big-firm resources and training — better opportunities so that some of our people who work in telecom can work in other industries. From a quality-control standpoint we have an audit and accounting director who reviews work to be sure we meet all the standards. It’s nice to have that capability on staff.
Another reason for the merger is that Kiesling had about 250 phone companies and maybe 10 to 12 electric companies as clients. BKD does 300 electric companies and is getting into broadband.
Resources and training were two of our biggest drivers and BKD was a good fit. It has a Midwest history like we did and originated in Springfield, Mo. They’ve been there around 90 years.
How big was Kiesling before the merger?
There were 11 of us in Colorado Springs, and company-wide, we were about 85 people. It was pretty small and spread out. In the Springs, BKD went to about 55 employees.
Do you have local clients?
[Kiesling] never had any clients in Colorado Springs, and that was by design. We’ve been here since 1978, but it’s always been about rural companies. … Our clients are like CenturyLink, but on a much, much smaller scale — Eastern Colorado, the Western Slope and nine other states — about 30 company-wide. Now that we’re with BKD, we’re looking to go nationwide.
Is telecommunications accounting unique?
It is. Lots of the rules are dictated by the Federal Communications Commission. So certain procedures differ from regular GAAP [generally accepted accounting principles] accounting. We are hired because we have expertise in that niche and we also consult on those sorts of things. We advise clients on policy and business planning. We’re busy not just on the auditing and tax side but on the consulting side and advising about FCC policy.
What’s the mood surrounding telecommunications and utilities under President Trump’s administration?
There’s some optimism in these rural areas [regarding] Trump. That was a lot of his base, and building infrastructure in rural areas is one way to continue to stimulate the economy. … When Trump talks about roads and bridges falling apart, telecommunications and utilities are trying to get lumped in with that potential funding. We’re trying to say, ‘We’re infrastructure too — broadband and fiber optic networks. If you’re going to spend more, keep us in mind.’
It’s early, but the FCC commissioners said if there is any more spending in telecommunications, the vehicle should be through the Universal Service Funding program because it’s already in place.
Will broadband become a public utility?
I think so. And I think it will help our business. If it becomes regulated, there are usually more rules, and that means more accounting to follow those rules. The FCC is talking about how to regulate all this. In the old days it was a phone, but now it’s the internet.