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Local Firm Handles Books for Major Companies

Fred Marmann (above) runs the only firm in north Alabama certified to handle accounting for publicly traded companies.

November 8, 2004, Sheffield, AL — One of the first questions potential clients ask accountant Fred Marmann is about the home office.

"We have people that ask if Sheffield is a suburb of Birmingham," Marmann said.

With clients all over the country, questions about Alabama are common. Sometimes, talk of number crunching turns to Marmann's log cabin office on Second Street.

But that's not what makes the accounting firm unique, said the longtime accountant.

Marmann & Associates is one of about 600 accounting firms in the nation approved to provide accounting services to more than 17,000 publicly held corporations.

Marmann said their firm is also the only one north of Birmingham certified to do accounting for companies that issue stock. There's only a handful of these approved firms in Alabama.

The partners won't list names, but they have handled financial books for some of the largest companies in the country. They count one of the largest banks in the country as a client.

Their clients have headquarters in Houston, Miami, New York and other large cities -- all turning to tiny Sheffield for accounting guidance.

The firms' leap into the big time of publicly held corporations started last year when the partners' application was accepted by the federal government that had set up a plan to help steer companies from being the next Enron.

The Sarbanes-Oaxley Act, meant to ensure a company's financial integrity, extends into the accounting world. The act created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, a nonprofit corporation to oversee the auditors of public companies.

The accounting oversight board was meant to add another layer of protection for investors and to ensure fair audit reports.

After the oversight act passed, approved accountants like the ones in the Second Street log cabin were flooded with requests. Public corporations couldn't just hire their corner accountant but one on the approved federal list.

But it wasn't just a matter of taking all business. They were picky.

It's a matter of mutual trust. We are looking for clients to do the right thing."

At the nine-person Sheffield office, employees guide companies through Securities and Exchange Commission filings, financial audits, mergers and other corporate issues.

They also have developed plans to help small- and medium-sized firms keep up with regulations.

Marmann & Associates also count a number of large companies in Alabama as clients. One of their last audits was for Vernon-based Emergystat, a large ambulance company that in the past five years has seen revenue grow from $6.3 million to more than $35 million.

With businesses keeping them busy, Marmann is considering adding employees.

For now, their manpower will come from a deal to partner with the fifth-largest accounting firm in the country.

Marmann said accountants will not just be in demand with corporations in the coming years. Similar federal oversight rules for Wall Street are in the works for nonprofits, such as charities and local governments.

"Sarbanes-Oaxley is turning corporate America upside down," Marmann said. "It's also coming to small towns."

Article from the Times Daily serving Northwest Alabama. November 8, 2004.

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