Most of us think accounting is all about crunching numbers. For alumnus Brad Tafoya, though, being an accountant is more about heart than about spreadsheets. He and his firm, Tafoya Barrett & Associates, are all about helping their clients and their community reach their full potential.
“We all have issues with money, with finances,” Tafoya (Accounting, ’92) says. “How do we have the life that we want when all these other things are getting in the way? It becomes a very emotional process. Watching people realize those fears, come to terms with them, and choose not to allow them to affect them anymore is amazing. And I get to help them with that. It’s really cool.”
Tafoya has been the principal owner of his certified public accounting firm since 2005, when he and his partner bought the company he’d been working with since 1998. Tafoya Barrett and Associates is a tax and financial planning firm working with business owners and other individuals in the Durango community. The majority of the small firm’s employees have Fort Lewis College connections—nine of the thirteen people have some connection to FLC, whether they are alumni, current students, or even a professor.
Naturally, the team handles tax preparation and many of the usual services of an accounting firm. But Tafoya’s own specialty is working with clients as a life planner. Think of his role as a combination between a financial planner and a life coach. Rather than examining a person’s cash flow and net worth statements up front, he gets into his clients’ true passions and goals and hopes.
“With life planning, that all comes first,” he says. “Before I even look at their finances, I get very clear with them about what exactly their life goals are, who they want to be, what they want to do. From there, we work on a plan for how to bring those elements more fully into their lives. Then, as part of that process, I wrap in the actual finances, the true financial planning, to make that happen.”
As an example, Tafoya talks about a hypothetical couple who has long dreamed of owning a second home on the beach. He would listen to all the reasons they want that home, all they want to do with it, all the emotions they’ve tied up into it. Then, he’d take a look at their financial situation. If they can’t afford that home, he dives deeper into what it is about that dream that speaks to them.
Then he works with them on different ways to bring those dreams to life. For instance, maybe this couple just wants to visit the beach for a month each year, and a vacation rental or a home swap would better suit their resources.
“That’s what life planning is about, putting the goals and the hopes and the dreams first, and then bringing in the finances to make that happen,” Tafoya says. “That’s my passion, because I really feel like I can make a difference in my client’s lives.”
The difference Tafoya makes in people’s lives extends well beyond his clientele, though. Tafoya Barrett & Associates is a community-oriented firm. Giving back to the local Durango area community is even part of their mission statement.
That commitment shines through in the company culture. Tafoya explains that they provide each employee an average of an hour per week to go volunteer at any nonprofit they choose, whether that’s building trails or working with youth centers. Three times a year, the entire firm volunteers in the community as a group. And the firm matches up to $500 in nonprofit donations from each employee every year.
“We want to give back to our community,” Tafoya says. “We want to provide a space for our employees to do that too.”
Tafoya Barrett & Associates does such a good job encouraging community involvement that the community has taken note. For instance, the firm won Small Business of the Year in 2014 from the Durango Chamber of Commerce in recognition of its involvement in and support of local causes.
Tafoya says that any recognition humbles and surprises him. Awards or not, he is certainly grateful for the opportunities to give back to Durango that owning his own firm enables. “The thing about being a small business and being an entrepreneur and being able to serve the community, either through volunteerism or being on boards and whatnot? It’s good for our firm and good for the community,” he says. “I never thought about it that way, but I guess we do help in a way our own little bit of helping shape the community.”
It’s not just coincidence that Tafoya’s community is Durango. Returning here was a deliberate choice he made after finishing graduate school and working for a few years at a large firm in Denver.
“It was just too big,” he says. “I’m an outdoor person. I want to be able to spend my lunch hours and my weekends outside playing, and it was just so hard in Denver.”
He was willing to sacrifice a lucrative career to live in Durango. He was on the partner track, with a firm who was happy to have him. “I remember thinking back then, well, I'm going to go to Durango and I'm going to be doing easy 1040s the rest of my life,” he says. “My career won’t be that challenging, but I’ll be in Durango, and it’ll be cool.”
Then he arrived, started working for the firm he would later own, and the rest is history in motion. “My career has been much more rewarding than I thought it would be,” he says. “I feel like this community has always been good to us.”