From Historical to Invented: The Evolution of Accounting Firm Names

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CPA firm names have traditionally listed partner initials or partner names, which invariably grew longer as partners were added or merged in – or got scrambled around as partners exited. But combining firm names, shoving together last names or mixing partner initials into a kind of alphabet soup can sometimes be confusing, while also tending to evoke history rather than the future.

To be fair, some (but not all) state boards of accountancy call for partner names or initials in licensing requirements, but some firms are starting to get creative to get around the rule. For example, consider FORVIS, the combination of the words “forward” and “vision” that emerged from the megamerger of BKD and Dixon Hughes Goodman. Yes, it’s a made-up word, but interestingly, each capitalized letter is a partner initial.

The firms profiled here had an opportunity to make a new name for themselves – some had been changed repeatedly, sounded stodgy, were hard to pronounce, or contained names of retired partners who long ago disconnected from the firm. One soon-to-be-merged firm stuck with custom, as it was determined that the individual component brands were so well established and respected that changing them would do far more harm than good.

It’s a journey, no matter which route a firm takes. “When it all comes together, and it feels right, it’s exciting,” says Jen Hertzig, the partner who ushered out KCoe Isom and welcomed in Pinion. Here’s a look at some of the whys and hows that go into answering the question, “What’s in a name?”


Why. “The firm had grown and changed over our 65-year history, and the profession had changed as well. We wanted to position our firm for the next 65 years,” says MP Richard Kopelman, MP of Atlanta-based Aprio. The rebrand process started in 2015, and when the new name was announced in early 2017, Aprio became something of a pioneer in using an invented word as a CPA firm name.

How. A branding agency conducted one-on-one interviews with 30 partners and held focus group discussions with another 50 staffers, about a fifth of the workforce at the time, says communications director Jordan Haywood. An initial 800 possibilities were narrowed down to 250 and then to eight. The agency, which employed linguists and former English literature majors from Oxford, took the remaining choices to a 12-person steering committee, which favored Aprio, and then to focus groups. Presentations to the 39 partners followed, and meetings with retired named partner Merrill Wynne and emeritus partner and the co-founder’s son, Robert Arogeti. While no formal vote was taken, the teams rallied behind Aprio.

‘Aha’ Moment. Two of the eight rejected options were Equia and Corevisor. The final choice of Aprio resonated because it’s a combination of aria, which means “song of the heart,” and caput, which means “head” in Latin. Aprio evokes a meshing of the two.

Cost. The total was $500,000, which included billable hours, agency fees, website design, marketing collateral, signs, etc.

Reaction. Haywood says public reactions varied: ‘What does that mean?’ or ‘That makes no sense.’ Others said, ‘Hey, they went for it.’ Clients appreciated that the firm was positioning itself in a more modern, forward-thinking way. One of the internal benefits of creating a new name was the simultaneous development of 31 firm fundamentals, or the actions and behaviors staff are encouraged to use in their day-to-day work. “I think that really painted a picture of change that we were looking to create in the firm,” Kopelman says. “It was more than a brand, more than a name – it was working to ensure that our team members all felt represented and felt connected to it.”

ROI. Haywood believes the Aprio brand attracts job candidates (she was one of them) and like-minded firms interested in merging. Since launching the new name in 2017, the firm has nearly tripled its number of team members and revenue is up more than 200%. She says that seeing the recent flurry of name changes outside the typical partner names or initials is gratifying. “Honestly, it’s a boost of confidence for us that Aprio had the foresight to do it five years ago.”

Advice. “Be unafraid and be bold – find something that may sound unusual and that may receive some criticism or some questions, or even be mispronounced on occasion,” Haywood says. Understand the potential roadblocks related to trademark issues and state boards of accountancy requirements. (MP Richard Barry Kopelman became Richard Barry Aprio Kopelman to comply with state professional regulations.)


Why. Leaders at Savannah, Ga.-based TJS Deemer Dana and technology firm Vertisys wanted to integrate its subsidiaries into one company name while solving a brand recognition problem. MP Ken Wood says that in the 23 years since he became a partner, the name had changed five times, the most recent being TJS Deemer Dana in 2014. Additionally, everyone associated with the name had retired. (Wood informed them by phone and sent Symphona-branded gifts.)

How. The firm hired a branding agency and put together a committee representing all levels of leadership, service lines and geographic areas. Interviews with clients made up the first phase, as well as discussions with partners about core values, strengths, relationships and the like. Some of the process required great attention to detail and thoughts on the history of the firm. Wood says, “There were exercises based on brand language, company loyalty and our state of mind toward a new brand, which pushed our committee members out of a ‘numbers’ mindset.”

‘Aha’ Moment. Five options were presented, with one being TJS Advisors and the rest more creative words. Symphona stuck, and though the vote was unanimous among the partner group and executive committee, it nevertheless took time to get comfortable with the new moniker, Wood says. “It’s a play on the word symphony, and I think universally when people hear the word symphony, they think of a large hall with a hundred instruments, a hundred people all working together – very differently – but working together to make amazing music.” Wood particularly likes the tagline, “Where Everything Connects.”

Cost. Costs were “significant” and spread over 2022 and maybe even 2023, Wood says.

Reaction. “Clients said, ‘I’m so glad it’s one word. It might take me a little while to figure out how to pronounce it (sym-FAWN-a), but it’s one word.’ ” Receptionists love it for its simplicity, Wood says. “Ultimately I think everybody has really gotten on board with it and has liked it, and I think it’s been pretty successfully rolled out.” In fact, partner Brandon Verner volunteered to legally add Symphona as a middle name to conform with multiple states’ board of accountancy rules.

ROI. The new name was unveiled Aug. 15, 2022. So far, the benefits include reinforcement of the firm’s mission and core values. It’s also a name that puts everyone on equal footing, since half the workforce comes from acquired firms. “Now everyone can latch onto it. It’s new for everyone at the same time.” Wood also jokes, “My wardrobe consists mostly of logo-ed Symphona gear, so I get a complete wardrobe do-over as a result of the name change.”

Advice. Communicate clearly and often, and hire specialists – it’s worth the money, Wood says. Know it’s going to take some time. Understand the impact, adds marketing manager Brittany Winegarner. “We said from the very beginning that if we as a committee can’t relay the story effectively to internal team members, it has already failed publicly.”


Why. The Griggs Group had changed significantly in the nine years since founder Eric Griggs sold the firm in 2007, so MP Peter Reynolds wanted a new name – not only because Griggs was no longer involved but also to distance the firm from the alphabet soup of its competitors. With the change to Pivot in 2016, the firm was one of the first not to be named after partners.

How. A marketing consultant interviewed clients, employees and referral sources, and determined that clients rely on the firm as a central point of focus, or pivot ­– a potential firm name Reynolds had thought about years earlier but did not reveal to the consultant.

‘Aha’ Moment. A name connected to individuals can discourage staff from becoming partners themselves, Reynolds believes. The ‘p’ and ‘v’ sounds in the name also evoke Ponte Vedra, the Florida city where the firm is based, and it’s short and nearly impossible to mispronounce.

Cost. The firm invested in “big and expensive” ad campaigns, outreach to clients, press interviews, a grand opening and other promotions. “It was a lot more expensive than you would imagine because of all the things involved.”

Reaction. “I don’t get it,” was the first reaction of some. “I would say once the word Pivot was chosen, it probably took four months to turn it into something everyone liked,” Reynolds says. Once the tagline “Beyond Accounting” was added, the tide turned.

ROI. Pivot isn’t just a generic word, Reynolds says, it’s a mission, and it stands out when competing for work against much larger firms. “Going in there as Pivot is a name they remember, and the name is now synonymous with us. We have that brand locked down.”

Advice. Hire the right marketing professionals to lead the way and be patient. Pick engaging, creative people for the steering committee, avoiding those who fit the stereotype of accountants. “The ability to spend money and get creative is not really in their DNA,” he says. “They’re not great at creating ideas but really good at improving them.”


Why. “KCoe Isom, first of all, is horrible to say, and awful to spell,” says Jen Hertzig, brand and client experience leader. “People are like, “You’re WHAT?” For years, MP Jeff Wald had wanted a new name that was unconnected to specific people. To that end, Salina, Kan.-based KCoe Isom unveiled Pinion on Aug. 8, 2022, but it had been using Pinion Advisory since 2020 following a partnership formed with three Australian companies specializing in data analysis and consulting for the food and agriculture industry – the 90-year-old firm’s leading practice area.

How. A branding agency interviewed employees and 30 to 40 clients of KCoe and the Australian firms to find commonalities in client service and firm culture, Hertzig says. “It was pretty uncanny how we matched up.” The feedback led to the image of a distinguished uncle offering honest advice, which is how many see KCoe – as a trusted family member. Once revealed, the firm conducted an eight-week “Path to Pinion” education program for staff.

‘Aha’ Moment. Of five finalists, one was the quickly rejected “Axis,” which brought up negative World War II associations, and one name used the word “terra,” but that sounded too hokey, Hertzig says. A pinion – think rack-and-pinion steering – is a round gear that maximizes efficiency by transforming spinning motion into straight, forward motion. “We are the pinion in our clients’ businesses,” Hertzig says. “We’re there to help make their lives easier and drive them to success.” (The KCoe Isom license remains in the background for the attest division to comply with state boards of accountancy rules.)

Cost. Well into the six figures – including $100,000 on brand research, $100,000 to update Google listings, $250,000 on rebranded signs for 28 offices, new trade show booths, stationery, coasters, mugs, etc., and a heavy investment in advertising.

Reaction. Creating the brand for one division and then extending it to the entire firm is unusual, so the name came as no surprise. Some just thought it was better than KCoe Isom. Others love it because it’s easy to spell and easy to pronounce. Too much internal feedback waters down the process, and ultimately if some don’t like the name, “they’ll get over it,” Hertzig says. “Are you going to leave your company because you don’t like their brand? Probably not.” Publicly, some thought of the pinyon pine, which produces pine nuts, or ‘opinion’ without the ‘o.’

ROI. The name is only a few months old. You can look at internal growth down the road and infer that the name was in some way connected, Hertzig says. Non-traditional firms, outside the accounting world, prefer to be associated with an accounting firm that doesn’t sound like an accounting firm. Future CPA firm acquirees will likely find it more inviting as well.

Advice. Start from the outside in, not with a name, logo and colors, Hertzig says. “I see people get hung up on that part of it and it has nothing to do with your brand. Your brand is who you are and how people experience you.” Limit the number of decision-makers. In this case, it was Hertzig, Wald and growth leader Jeanne Bernick. Hire a good trademark attorney, “they’re worth their weight in gold.”


This article originally appeared in the November 2022 edition of INSIDE Public Accounting. To subscribe to INSIDE Public Accounting Monthly click here.


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