Practice Profile: Becoming a visible ally

Accounting

When the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 United States v. Windsor ruling granted married same-sex partners federal benefits for the first time, Rosalind Sutch sprang into action.

A shareholder (and now chief growth officer) at Philadelphia-based Regional Leader firm Drucker & Scaccetti, Sutch envisioned offering a valuable service.

“I went to my partners and made a business case,” she recalled. “For the community, I consider myself a lifelong ally, with my brother identifying as a gay man. In my heart, I was wanting to do this with the community, to provide information. So I made a business case for the firm, and it was easy to do that as there was really no one in that area. There were various things written about, but no one was really doing that [service offering].”

Specifically, Drucker & Scaccetti’s newly formed modern family and LGBTQ tax consulting and financial planning practice advised same-sex couples on the tax implications of marriage and how to file amended joint returns to receive refunds, when applicable, for the prior three years being offered under the Internal Revenue Service’s statute of limitations.

Since that ruling, subsequent landmark civil rights cases, including the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case that federally recognized same-sex marriage, have pivoted Drucker & Scaccetti’s LGBTQ service offerings, though the practice’s current focus on cultural competency and allyship with the community remains critically in-demand.

Drucker & Scaccetti as a firm will also now be transforming, having announced just as we were going to press that it will soon be joining Top 20 Firm Armanino. Sutch expressed excitement at the development and what she expects to be a continuation of the LGBTQ+ allyship she helped pioneer within Drucker & Scaccetti.

“I’m excited to join a firm like Armanino, one of the best accounting firms for diversity, that ranked No. 7 in LGBTQ+ diversity in 2022 [in the Firsthand 2022 Best Accounting Firms for Diversity rankings],” she said. “I’m excited to be joining a firm that values diversity and inclusion.”

Rosalind Sutch of Drucker & Scaccetti
D&S’s Rosalind Sutch (right) with a friend at Philadelphia City Hall when same-sex marriage was legalized in Pennsylvania on May 20, 2014

Valuable & visible resource

Diversity, equity and inclusion isn’t just a value the two firms share, but one that gained momentum internally for Drucker & Scaccetti with the formation of the LGBTQ practice.

As Sutch worked with another partner to quickly learn the tax ramifications of the Supreme Court rulings and establish the firm’s practice, D&S shared this valuable and timely information on its website and via speaking engagements that positioned the firm as an expert ally.

“We were a big resource in the beginning,” Sutch shared. “People in the staff that identified in the community had a desire to work with folks in the community. Being a visible ally helped us recruit people in the LGBTQ community, who picked Drucker & Scaccetti because we have an LGBTQ practice, where they can be out … at a firm where they can be their authentic self. It’s a bonus I never contemplated.”

Sutch was a popular speaker on LGBTQ+ issues following the 2013 ruling, and the topics she explored were also communicated internally to promote an inclusive workplace at Drucker & Scaccetti. She also advised other practitioners and spoke at national conferences on these timely issues, which still remain relevant to businesses under renewed scrutiny to improve their DE&I efforts.

These include “basic cultural competency issues,” Sutch explained. “Asking someone’s pronouns, and not assuming that the spouse of the person taking a phone call is cisgender — using gender-
neutral language whenever possible.”

The LGBTQ practice’s earliest engagements advised same-sex couples on marriage, but have since spun out to a host of financial issues still impacting the community.

“There’s a big ecosystem of things that have to be looked at when quantifying the economic impact of marriage,” Sutch said, listing several examples: “The hardship withdrawal of someone who’s not your spouse; illness and the need to access partner retirement benefits; retirement, survivor benefits, and life insurance access; contraception, IVF, surrogacy, adoption, adoption credits; and transgender client issues — the name on a tax return has to match Social Security records.”

That last issue Sutch encountered the other day when an individual called seeking help on a tax return.

“A trans woman called me during busy season who had changed their name legally but not in the Social Security office, so they had an issue when they filed their tax return and tried to get the refund. I talked them through that and found they needed to talk to a taxpayer advocate.”

While the volume of these kinds of individual calls has decreased since those earlier years of the practice, Sutch still gets them and makes a point to take them, regardless of whether they fit the firm’s ideal high-net-worth client profile or are even qualified leads.

“I take the time to help everyone that calls, as much as I can,” she explained. “I connect them to another firm, LGBTQ-owned or a visible ally. If someone is reaching out looking for help, but doesn’t fit the ideal client, I point them in the right direction.”

Prospective clients or not, people often find the firm through its extensive thought leadership over the years.

“Our web presence and the content we put out early on — there weren’t a lot of people talking about tax issues related to same-sex marriage,” Sutch explained. “We continue to put out content, and uncover new issues. With potential clients, we talk through issues and will even write about it as a case study on the blog to spread information and help the community.”

In addition to tax planning services, some of the broader services offered by the LGBTQ practice include estate planning, investment recordkeeping and reporting, and assistance securing mortgages or refinancing, among others.

A matter of respect

Sutch’s years of experience learning about issues unique to the LGBTQ+ community have remained valuable in this advisory work, even as the community has been afforded more rights, along with greater freedom and acceptance, since Drucker & Scaccetti first formed the practice.

When Sutch was first exploring tax protections for same-sex couples in 2013, for example, she often found the economic implications to be far more complex for these couples. Many had been together for decades, versus traditionally younger straight-couple newlyweds who may have not yet accumulated as many assets.

And just because the nation had advanced the rights for LGBTQ+ people didn’t mean every member wanted to take advantage, as Sutch witnessed in those early days. “Couples that were together for decades, for instance, weren’t interested in getting married. Some were running to the courthouse,” she recalled.

As Drucker & Scaccetti refined its fluency in this area — and Sutch helped advise other businesses on doing the same — it was important, then, to not treat such a diverse community as a monolith.

“Each person’s story, like every community, is varied,” she explained. “It’s like peeling back the onion on what the issue is, and finding solutions. It’s what we do for all clients, and for the LGBTQ community, to do it with cultural competency, that was important.”

Members of this community are often looking for much more than a well-executed tax return, as Sutch has learned.

“Sometimes we pull apart the tax impact of [an issue]. Sometimes clients are looking for cultural competency on trans issues, how to address someone respectfully,” she shared. “A lack of cultural competency can create a situation that’s disrespectful for clients. We continue to be a visible ally, and very active with the Philadelphia community. We are part of the Independence Business Alliance, where I was on the board for four years, and we are working to reinforce and expand our cultural competency as a firm. Potential clients, we reach out to help them. It’s all part of our community involvement.”   

For all the larger issues born out of that initial 2013 case that sparked the creation of D&S’s LGBTQ practice and have informed its development, Sutch still gets a kick out of what, precisely, brought the case before the Supreme Court: “It always tickles me that a tax case changed a very important civil rights issue.”

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Wall Street’s top analysts say these are their favorite stocks right now
As climate change threatens more homes, some properties are getting too costly to insure
3 Great Stocks to Buy in August for Safety and Long-Term Growth
What the CPA Evolution blueprint tells us about the future of accounting
Stocks making the biggest moves after hours: Novavax, Upstart, Allbirds and more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.