How one accountant used his accounting skills to help aspiring business owners in third-world countries [Podcast]

Published · 3 min read

The Sage Advice Podcast energizes business builders around the world through the imagination of our people and the power of technology. This is a part a special series of interviews that we’re doing about the CPA Practice Advisor 40 Under 40 awards. Today, we feature Caleb Jenkins, Leader of Client Accounting Services at RLJ Financial Services, Inc., who helps aspiring business owners in third-world countries in addition to his day job. An edited transcript is below.

Tell us about yourself and RLJ Financial Services

Caleb Jenkins: My name is Caleb Jenkins and I work at RLJ Financial Services. It’s a company my dad started about 30 years ago, and we’ve provided tax and accounting services for clients for several years. We primarily focus on medical and agriculture clients.

I love helping people and small businesses succeed. The easiest way to do that is to help them with areas that they don’t know much about, and how they can succeed in the small things, and areas that give them the most structure, and the most information and insight into their business.

Before our interview, you mentioned that you have a passion for the Salt Program that you’ve worked with in Haiti. Can you tell us about that program and helping aspiring business owners?

Caleb Jenkins: The Salt Program is unique. It’s a microfinance, micro-lending organization. Several organizations do this. The exciting thing that is unique that separates it from others is they tie together teaching into the program. The core focus of the program is on teaching, so business teaching and the whole of the person. If the whole of the person is taught, and the business teaching is taught, people are much more successful.

These are people from utter poverty, from what we would consider poverty. They’re making an average of $2, $3, $4 a day, USD equivalent. And going through the program teaches them ways to be more efficient in what they do and gives them the skills to build of community that will help them succeed. What the Salt program needed was somebody to help them with accounting and help teach these individuals going through the program, so they reached out to me.

What’s been cool for me is coming in with accounting expertise and helping these individuals be more effective in reaching and helping the people that they work with on a daily basis.

You said the program has changed the way that you work with your customers. Could you explain that?

Caleb Jenkins: It has changed the way I work with my customers. The program looks at what poverty is like globally. But poverty is really a mindset. There have been multiple studies done that people have gone into countries, and asked those that we consider poor people what they see poverty as. It’s typically something they see it as the system is against them. They feel they cannot succeed. They feel like they’re just stuck where they are. So, it’s mostly mindset and emotional, psychological different areas that they feel like they’re stuck.

If we can help them out of that area, and help them to see them as the opportunity, the way to succeed, then we can help them. Also, when we look at is if we just treat symptoms instead of addressing the underlying issues, then we’re like a doctor that prescribes something without giving a diagnosis, which we would consider malpractice.

So, if my firm and I tried to help my clients, and I look at something … Maybe they’ve got a cash flow problem. If I just help them get access to the short-term loan or short-term financing, I may have helped the issue, provided the prescription. But if I don’t see their problem … Maybe the problem is spinning from that they don’t know how to control their income. Perhaps they need more revenue. Maybe they need to cut back on some expenses… Then I’m just treating the symptoms. I’m not looking at the underlying issue, and I’m just setting them up for when they come back to me for additional financing or information.

So, if I look at the underlying root causes of problems, I can help the areas of the poverty in my clients, and really change the way that things happen.

Want to hear more from the interview with Caleb? Listen to the full podcast.

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