As my stay in Elgin is rapidly coming to an end and my relocation to Chicago is coming up soon (so excited!) I thought it would be a good time to summarize my previous work experiences.
My first six weeks I was assigned to the tax department. I really enjoyed my time in this department as everyone tried to give me a better understanding of the American tax system. At first I was overloaded with a bunch of numbers like 1040, 1120, 1099, W2, and 990. In Germany we do not call the tax return by their form numbers but “simply” Einkommensteuererklaerung (Individual Tax Return), Koerperschaftsteuererklaerung (Corporate Tax Return), etc. I can only imagine that these long words have been giving Mike back in Germany a hard time as well.
But after a couple of weeks of experience I can say the differences between American and German Tax law are not that substantial. The major differences are the state taxes which make everything more complicated here in the US. Another difference is the correspondence with the Treasury Department. In Germany every tax returns audited by the Finanzamt (German IRS) and every assessment notice comes with the name and phone number of the taxman in charge for the respective client, whereas in the US, I learned it is very nerve-racking to communicate with the IRS.
A difference with regard to working processes is that the tax department just started using the same software that the auditors have been using. This is a huge and beneficial improvement. In Germany audit and tax departments usually use two different types of software. This creates a lot of problems as we have to do a lot of the work twice (e.g. importing the trial balance) and are not able to access the auditor’s working papers on the computer. In Germany, I have also realized during my first weeks at Mueller, we use a great deal too much paper as we are still using folders for each client when preparing their tax returns. The paperless working procedures and electronic file storage here are definitely things I am going to bring back to Germany.
Besides the tax work, I was generously invited by Dave to sit in on some of his business meetings. Dave is Mueller’s Managing Partner and almost exclusively focused on Business Development. At Mueller they have this Business Development tool called a “Research Call”. These research calls are basically sales calls with the purpose of meeting bankers, lawyers, other accountants, etc. to discuss each other’s business and to explore mutually beneficial situations. In this way Mueller tries to build a network of people that might be able to recommend their company to potential new clients. I have noticed that in general American accounting firms are generally far more aggressive and faster with regard to winning new clients. In Germany companies are more restrained. You have to allow some time to get to know each other and to build a foundation of trust to take action and persuade them in becoming your client.
Another tool to widen its client base is Mueller’s International Niche with its alliance of US and German accounting firms. Thanks to this alliance Mueller was able to win German based clients with subsidiaries in the Chicago area. A couple of weeks ago Mueller hosted a Summit for Canadian and US accounting firms to start an equivalent Canadian US alliance. To my surprise I was offered to participate in all of the activities of this summit. We stayed all three days at one of the best hotels in Chicago with an amazing view over the city and Lake Michigan.
The first night we had an amazing dinner cruise on a huge yacht that offered spectacular skyline views from Lake Michigan. We even had the chance to watch a fantastic firework show from the deck of the boat at the end of the cruise. The second day started off with short introductions of the participating firms. Dave spontaneously thought it would be a fun idea to have me hold a short and completely unprepared speech about my firm Möhrle Happ Luther and the Global Employee Exchange Program in front of 40 partners at the end of that session. After knowing Dave for about six weeks by then, I should have anticipated that move. The following day I was put on the spot again, this time thankfully prepared so that I could tell the participating partners about the importance of the Exchange Program to build and strengthen relationships between the firms and to attract and retain talent. That was after the karaoke night though which is why I was looking at some really tired faces while doing the speech. Besides my speeches there were also some great presentations about the Canadian tax system and about hurdles that need to be cleared when setting up a business in respective countries. At the end of the Summit I even got invitations from Canadian firms to visit their city and their offices after my internship.
Apart from the Tax and Business Development work, I am also working as a German teacher at Mueller. Dave and I have weekly German lessons and he is eager to learn German phrases that he can show off on his trips to the Crowe Horwath network member firms in Germany. Recently I taught him phrases like for how long he has been married (Ich bin seit 36 Jahren verheiratet) or how many kids he has (Ich habe vier Kinder). To make sure that he is studying and doing his homework he takes tests at the beginning of each lesson. Unfortunately, I had to give him an “F” on his very first test which made him very upset and made him complain about my too strict teaching methods. However it also has lead to big improvements since then (recent grade: B+).