Like hairdressers, accountants tend to think of themselves as people in the know. But until recently, none of the nation's Big Eight firms did much to exploit their relationships with people who have money and people who need it.
So claims David T. Thompson, national director of Deloitte Haskins & Sells's Capital Connection, a proprietary new computer database that introduces the holders of idle capital to businesses looking for it. The network, established last January, ties together more than 20 domestic and overseas DH&S offices.
Previously, explains Thompson, "if someone had an interest in financing and wanted to be involved in a young company, we looked around and wondered if other partners might know someone." But now, the odds of finding an interested party are far greater. To begin with, the participating partners were selected on the basis of their interest in, and knowledge of, finance. And each has on-line access to the same data describing the investment interests of the firm's clients, which include major financial institutions, corporations, and venture capitalists, as well as young businesses seeking funds.
Before companies in need of cash get listed in the DH&S database, the partners prescreen them just as savvy investors would, and not every deal is deemed worthy of taking up computer memory. "We take a look at a business plan and talk to the people," says Thompson, "and we try to understand what their business is." Along the way, the partners make a rough assessment about what a company needs and whether investors will bite. "We re looking to deal with quality companies and sophisticated professional investors," he says, "not the doctors and dentists of the investing world."
Last April, Boston-office partner David B. Elsbree, for instance, had early-round deals brewing in holography, blood pressure machines, medical diagnostics, and image recognition. And he was hot on the trail of $1 million of start-up funding for Knowledge-Based Systems Inc., a New England computer-aided engineering firm. The interested party was a venture capital pool out of Washington, D.C., with a little money to invest. Nothing spectacular, to be sure, but without the new network, Elsbree concedes, "I wouldn't even have known they existed."
The firm's new fascination with matchmaking isn't all heart. Although accountants are prohibited from taking equity positions in their clients' businesses, Thompson and his colleagues intend to use the new network as a competitive weapon to win clients. The name of the game, after all, is earning fees.