“A career in public accounting, and particularly tax, is nothing like you think or what people imagine,” explains Blake Crow. “I honestly still think people envision calculators and green eyeshades, and dark corner cubicles, and no interpersonal skills.”
Crow, a Tax Partner in Eide Bailly’s Sioux Falls, SD office, practices in the firm’s Financial Institutions Services Group. In addition to tax planning and tax compliance services for community and regional banks, he also provides regulatory consulting, M&A assistance, and strategic planning services for our FI clients. He has, he writes, “been extremely fortunate to have been able to make a career that suits exactly what it is that I enjoy doing (and that’s not putting numbers on forms or doing math).” Instead, he explains, he “gets to have extremely close personal relationships with my clients and help them achieve their goals and objectives. I can’t do this without good communication skills.”
Here’s what else Blake had to say:
1. Where are you now?
Mentally? Emotionally? Oh, physically… As previously mentioned, I currently work and live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. However, my wife and I are both originally from Windom, MN (yes, high school sweethearts), and went to school in Mankato, MN, where I began working for the firm and spent the first half (5 years) of my career.
(Author’s note: Blake is married to Amber, who he describes as “extremely understanding.” They have an 11 month old daughter, Izzie.)
2. What’s your official title and what does it mean?
Partner, Financial Institutions Services Group. The title “Partner” is one I wear with great pride as it is the culmination of a lifetime (to date) worth of work. Especially as one of the younger partners in our firm (I turn the ripe old age of 31 next month), to have my firm vote me into the coveted group of partnership validated all of the hard work, extra hours, and additional learning opportunities that I’ve sought out and completed over the last decade. To know that I practice in an environment where effort and talent can overcome age, years of service and tenure (which can be fairly common in a typically old-school industry like public accounting) has been very rewarding and motivating for me. As for the “FISG” portion of my title, it means that I work just as closely with my other partners in the industry group regardless of geographical locations as I do with my partners located right here in the same office as me. It’s great to have an internal network of experts that I can reach out to for insight or assistance at any time, regardless of where they’re located throughout the country.
3. Freetime: book, audiobook or podcast?
I have recently become addicted to non-fiction murder mystery podcasts, and would probably be disgusted if I knew how many hours I’ve spent listening to them over the last few months. Like probably everyone else, I started with Serial and have just been on an endless search for the next great mystery ever since. The fact that some of these podcasts are even leading to some of these cold cases being solved is just so fascinating to me! I spend quite a bit of time driving for work, and I’ve learned that for me, a good story makes the time go by way faster than the radio ever did.
4. Tax is a huge subject. What’s your area of special interest?
The taxation of community and regional banks, which I truly love. I think from the outside, when people hear banks, they think mega banks and mega money, but the reality is that the majority of my bank clients are 3 and 4 generation family-owned businesses, not much unlike many other small businesses. As such, it’s very rewarding to get to be a part of their team and help them achieve their goals and objectives. I always say that my practice isn’t about simply putting numbers on forms, if it were I would have quit years ago. Instead, it’s about understanding where people are, what they want to achieve, and what they need to do to achieve those things. It’s then our job to identify opportunities to assist in that process and provide that opportunity to them.
5. What’s the last movie you saw?
I honestly don’t even know. Ever since Izzie was born, it seems like time for much more than anything other than podcasts in the car and the occasional Baby Shark YouTube video just doesn’t exist! The extent of my movie seeing these days is limited to catching the occasional preview and thinking I’d like to see that… and then never seeing it.
6. What college did you attend and what did you study?
I received my Bachelors in Accounting from Minnesota State University Mankato in 2008. About a year ago, I completed my Masters in Business Taxation from the University of Southern California. (Yes, it was online… but we did go to sunny SoCal once for commencement.)
7. Go to pick-me-up: Coffee or tea?
8. What’s the best tax or financial advice that anyone ever gave you?
I once had a wealthy high net worth client tell me “There’s no nobility in paying more than you owe.” It struck me as being profound that day and has always stuck with me. It really gets to the essence of what we do for our clients. Also, one of my professors in grad school always said, “Rarely affirm, seldom deny, always distinguish.” I don’t think it was original to him, but it’s great advice whenever giving tax advice.
9. What’s the best thing on TV right now?
Similar to movies, I don’t catch much on actual TV these days. However, my wife does make time to watch This is Us and knowing that she probably won’t end up seeing this, I’ll go ahead and admit that when I am able to catch it with her, that one hits you right in the feels.
10. If you weren’t working in the tax profession, what would your dream job be?
I’ve always said I would have loved to have been a college professor. I love talking, debating, discussing, teaching and I really enjoy getting to develop people in my current role. I’ve always thought that being a college professor was the perfect mix of those things without the busy season hours… and 3 months a year to travel wouldn’t be too bad either.
11. If you had the opportunity to make one change in the tax code – an extra credit, a disallowed deduction, whatever – what would it be?
I would change 199A to specify that any activity performed by a bank as defined in IRC 581 is not an SSTB and thus all of the taxable income of any Sub S bank is eligible for the 20% QBI deduction. Ok, so that one may be cheating a bit since its really recent and current, and hopefully the industry lobbying efforts will actually get it changed, but that’s the change I’d make!
12. Favorite food, snack or candy during tax season (or other busy time)?
Is coffee a food? I try my best to avoid all the junk food that finds its way into the office during the busy season as it can be a bit hard on the waistline when combined with the hours in front of the computer, but a really good coffee will always make your day a little better. And, when I do cave to temptation, a local gas station makes amazing breakfast pizza (crust, gravy, cheese, sausage, mmmmmm) that gets brought in fairly frequently on Saturday mornings.
13. What was the biggest surprise in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act?
Similar to my one change to the tax code, the fact that while the regulations went specifically out of their way to clarify that banking is not a financial service (and thus not an SSTB), but that certain activities that some banks perform such and making and then selling mortgages into the secondary marking and providing wealth management services could still be SSTB inside the bank. It sure seems odd that making and holding a loan gets the 20% deduction, but if you sell too many of those loans to Fannie or Freddie for a myriad of business reasons, you can lose your 20% deduction on that activity!
14. What’s one way that the tax profession has changed since you’ve begun practicing?
I would have to say it is our acknowledgment and acceptance of the fact that the world is changing at a rapid pace, and that we have to keep up in order to remain relevant. With discussions about blockchain, artificial intelligence, and automation, we can’t simply just pretend they won’t impact us and I think that today we’ve accepted that fact whereas a decade ago I think it was much more common to just believe those things were fads that wouldn’t actually have a significant impact on what it I that we do. Our firm now, in the last year or so, actually has a Chief Innovation Officer whose sole role is to evaluate and learn about these things and determine their impact on us and what we need to be doing to stay ahead of the curve. That was certainly not our mindset a decade ago.
15. If Uncle Sam handed you a big tax refund check right now, what would you do with it?
Pick a place on the globe I haven’t been to yet and go. For me, there is no greater return on investment in terms of happiness than going to new places, discovering new things, and collecting new experiences. I absolutely love experiencing difference customs, foods, and cultures.
16. What would I be surprised to know about you?
One thing most people are surprised to learn is that I really enjoy doing hands-on projects as an escape from the desk and spreadsheet work of my day-to-day. I’ve finished the basements in three houses (two of my own and one for a friend), tore a couple motorcycles down to the frame and rebuilt them, and am currently building some cabinets for my wife to go in our laundry room. I love the process of not knowing how to do something, and just researching, experimenting, and learning until I’m able to create a tangible product that most people wouldn’t expect me to be able to create.
17. When it comes to IRS, what’s the bigger compliance challenge: pass-through entities, cryptocurrency or offshore?
For me personally, it’s definitely pass-through entities as that makes up a bulk of my practice today with the majority of my bank clients being taxed under Subchapter S. The Trade or Business definition (or lack thereof) to IRC 162 as well as the de minimis cliff are going to produce many situations where we simply won’t have clear definitive answers until these things start getting audited and we get some case law (which as it stands today, will be after the law is set to expire).
18. And, other than Taxgirl, what’s your favorite tax-related resource?
I’m a big Tony Nitti fan. He has a way of taking the most complex business tax issues and making them both easy to understand and enjoyable to read about. I love his style and wish my tax writing was half as entertaining as his. I also really like Richard Rubin as the WSJ. His coverage of the tax reform process and continued emerging issues provides extremely timely insight into a process that a tax professional in South Dakota just otherwise wouldn’t have the ability to see into. I also just really enjoy the #TaxTwitter community on Twitter. I think it’s a huge benefit of today’s world that not many people take advantage of but to have a community of other proactive professionals to bounce ideas and thoughts and interpretations off of as we all work through the tax law changes in real time just has helped my learning and understanding more than I can state. At work people always ask how I’ve managed to stay to up to date with tax reform throughout the entire process, and it’s honestly just the combination of these three things.
You can find out more about Blake from his website here.
Here’s how to connect with him on social:
If you’d like to recommend a tax pro to be featured send your suggestions to kelly (dot) erb (at) taxgirl (dot) com with the subject line: Getting To Know You Tuesday. Self-nominations are totally okay and, in fact, encouraged. For more details, check out this post.