Bell & Company, a regional accounting firm with offices in North Little Rock and Conway, learned they could not add the name of the late Donna Stephens to the company because of a rule from the Arkansas State Board of Public Accountancy.
After Stephens passed away in January of 2013, Bell & Company bought her firm Donna S. Stephens, LTD in which she was founder and president.
Bell & Company assisted Stephens’ Office Administrator Bonnie Steenis and the rest of the Conway team to insure that the culture and level of service Stephens had established would be maintained.
Steenis and the management team all agreed that the legacy Stephens had created would be carried forward in a fashion that would honor her and her service to her clients and the community.
"We take this commitment very seriously; and as we have gotten to know the clients and community, we have come to fully understand the importance of maintaining the heritage [Stephens] had created with her firm," Bell & Company said in a letter sent to clients.
The company had a goal to honor Donna not only in the level of service she provided, but also in a tangible way by having her name as part of the company for many years to come.
The Conway location was renamed to Stephens, Bell & Company and as part of this process filed a license application with the Arkansas State Board of Public Accountancy to operate the office in Conway under that name.
After lengthy review and discussion, the Arkansas State Board of Public Accountancy, which oversees all licensed public accounting firms in the state, informed the company that due to Rule 404 within their Professional Code of Conduct, it has been denied the reference of Ms. Stephens’ name as part of the firm.
This particular rule sets forth the guidelines as to firm names within the state — in short, it requires any partner listed in the firm name to be living or to have been a partner of the company prior to passing.
The Arkansas State Board of Public Accountancy Executive Director Jimmy Corley, CPA said usually when the board sees this request the partner has been with the company a long time and the company wants to include them in the name.
"This is a unique situation," he said. "They went in after the fact and tried to add Ms. Stephens’ name."
Rule 404 says a company must use the name of a partner, member or shareholder.
"Since Stephens passed away before Bell & Company was associated with her name," Corley said, "they cannot use her name."
In our case, we did not have the pleasure of partnering with Stephens prior to her passing and therefore we are prohibited from using her name, said Partner Jeff Lovelady.
"We’re disappointed we couldn’t use Donna’s name," he said. "We were trying to honor her, but we also have to honor our state board and honor their wishes."
Lovelady said Bell & Company polled their Conway clients asking them what name they would prefer, and polls showed they would prefer the name Stephens, Bell & Company.
Although we are saddened by the ruling and had hoped under the circumstances the board would see the importance and benefit of her legacy and contribution, we are simply left with no choice but to comply with their ruling, Bell & Company said in its letter to clients.
Beginning July 1, 2014, the Conway office will use the firm name of Bell & Company, P.A., which is approved by the Arkansas State Board of Public Accountancy.
Corley also said the board didn’t feel comfortable with the same firm operating under two different names.
"Bell & Company having two names creates problems and confusion in the marketplace and in the digital world," he said.
Let me assure you, Lovelady said, this change in the firm name will in no way change our continued efforts to honor Stephens in the level of service provided.
The team, building address and phone numbers will remain the same, but the name is simply being changed to comply with the Arkansas State Board of Public Accountancy’s ruling.
Bell & Company has also established a privately funded accounting scholarship at the University of Central Arkansas to honor Stephens’ legacy.
Bell & Company, P.A. is a regional accounting firm who works with businesses on tax planning, monthly bookkeeping and estate planning.
For more information visit www.bellandcompany.net or call (501) 329-7021.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)