Author - Dennis W. Anderson

April 21, 2021

Q&A: Dennis W. Anderson on Business Challenges and 401(k) audits

With more than 22 years of experience at Weiss, partner Dennis W. Anderson has built an enviable track record providing assurance, consulting, and tax services to an impressive roster of business clients. He sat down recently to discuss a wide range of topics, including the challenges of working through the pandemic and the upcoming 401(k) audit season.

You’re an assurance partner at Weiss—tell us what that means.
Larry Sexauer and I head up the audit department. I’m in charge of quality control, keeping up to date on changing standards, and training all of our audit staff. I do financial statements, audits, reviews, and compilations. I also work with clients on tax compliance and lowering their tax liability as much as I can.

So how did you get into accounting and find your way to Weiss?
I had a cousin in accounting who I admired and looked up to. In high school, I took Accounting 101, and then when I signed up for the advanced class, I was the only one in it. The school still let me take it. I worked closely with the teacher and helped mentor and tutor the younger students in the 101 class.

I went to Southern Illinois University and majored in accounting, then joined Weiss as a staff auditor right out of college, 22 years ago. I knew I didn’t want to be at a Big 4 firm. Back then, since we were smaller, I did both tax and audit. It definitely was a great experience and made me more well-rounded as practitioner. Over the years, everything has gotten more specialized, and I’ve had to devote more time to various specializations in the accounting industry. This kind of came naturally to the firm as we grew and secured clients that had more sophisticated needs in different industries.

Today, what inspires you the most about the accounting profession?
When I was younger, every audit, every tax return was a puzzle to be solved. The accounting puzzles got easier as I got older, and now I have more of a consulting role with many of our clients. Every client makes or does something different, and they execute it in their own unique way. I’m never short on interesting things to do and interesting people and businesses to work with.

What do you think sets Weiss apart from other accounting firms?
Relationships. I have been here 22 years and many of our current clients were with us when I started. The relationships we form with our clients really differentiates us from other firms. Partners here are involved at every step. If we get an email, we reply to that email immediately. We call clients back. If a client hires me, they are going to talk to me. They aren’t going to be passed off onto a junior accountant. The relationships we form with clients are very strong, and we are very proud of that.

The pandemic has been challenging for many businesses. How has it impacted Weiss?
At Weiss, we have been using videoconferencing and collaborative software to keep our culture alive. We are also working to maintain relationships with clients. Before, during our busiest times, I would meet with various clients three or four times a week. Right now, we can’t do that. We’re doing audits remotely. That’s been a bit of a challenge, and I’ll welcome seeing all of our clients in person again soon.

How has the pandemic impacted your clients?
Some clients have had banner years by pivoting, whether it’s to making PPE or designing new machinery to produce masks. When the CARES Act was first passed, every one of our clients called us for help with understanding how it affected them and how they could apply for PPP loans. We appointed Jeremy Morgan, one of our Senior Managers, as our point person. He quickly became an expert on it and guided our clients through the process.

It’s important to note the pandemic isn’t the only challenge our clients face. Keeping up with technology and finding and retaining talent – those are issues that are always front and center. I know a lot of our manufacturing clients are struggling with minimum wage increases and competing with large companies that can pay more. They are losing workers.

One of the areas you specialize in are 401(k) audits. With audit season just around the corner, what can you share with us about it?
When a business has 100 eligible employees in their 401(k) plan, they need to file a 5500 form with the IRS with an audit attached. This needs to be done by July 31, but the deadline can be extended to October 15. Most clients file an extension.

When should companies start their 401(k) audit?
The process takes 3-4 weeks. Usually we do it on site, but last year we did it remotely, and this year we will likely do that as well. We usually have one of our 401(k) staff members complete the bulk of the field work. Then a manager and partner review the work, with another final quality control review. At other firms, partners are often not as involved in these audits as we are here. That has always been a big part of how we do things differently. We try to keep the same people who are on the regular audit work on the 401(k) audit. We already have intimate knowledge of the client, which really helps.

Any tips for clients on prepping for the 401(k) audit process?
Just be prepared. We provide each client with a checklist of all the documents we need, and they can prep by getting those documents together to help facilitate the process.

Outside of audits, how do you spend your free time?
I live with my wife and daughters in Grayslake, and I like to play baseball, golf and guitar to unwind.

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