Elizabeth Shwiff is an expert in CPA and financial services with more than 30 years of experience. She currently serves as the managing partner and director of practice for Shwiff, Levy & Polo, LLP, an accounting services firm founded in 1989. The firm specializes in providing expert tax advice to clients from various industries.
She is also an expert in linguistics and speaks four languages. She has vast professional experience working with various government and corporate entities. She worked for the U.S. State Department as an Information Officer from 1972 to 1974 and represented the country in the Soviet Union. From 1974 to 1978, she worked in various colleges and public schools teaching English, Russian, and German.
Between 1978 and 1995, Elizabeth worked for various companies in different capacities, including Tax Accountant, Senior Tax Administrator, Investment Officer, and Director of Business Development. As a founder and managing partner, Elizabeth worked hard to ensure her CPA firm was among the industry’s frontrunners in helping clients deal with their business, financial, and tax issues.
Thanks to her leadership, Shwiff, Levy & Polo ranked number 60 in the Bay Area’s “Top 150 Fastest Growing Private Companies” annual ranking for 1999. She has seen the firm weather some of the most challenging storms involving partnership dissolution, mergers, and de-mergers. Ms. Shwiff holds various licenses and certifications as a manifestation of her vast professional capabilities and experience.
She is a U.S. Tax Court Practitioner, Accredited Estate Planner (AEP), Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), Professional Financial Specialist (PFS)and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). She is also an ICF-credentialed professional coach.
Elizabeth obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Languages from Indiana University Bloomington in 1970 and a Master of Arts in Languages from UCLA in 1972. She also holds a Master’s degree in Accounting and Taxation from Indiana University – Kelley School of Business and a Master of Science in Taxation from Golden State University.
Elizabeth’s most recent outstanding achievement is passing the Federal Tax “Bar” Exam, allowing her to practice in the US Tax Court. She is one of the 250 individuals in the U.S. who have successfully challenged this exam. She got the certification in 2021 at the age of 73 on the first try.
Ms. Shwiff is also passionate about corporate social responsibility, and she recently sponsored a Business Circle event for Craig Newmark to the tune of $5,000. She also awarded Tracy Lemmon a $5,000 sponsorship for the 11th Annual SF Peacemaker Awards. Elizabeth has also set up scholarship programs at international universities for students who need financial assistance.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
When I was in full-time employment, I felt that it was quite limiting, and I couldn’t utilize my full potential. I wanted a platform that would enable me to offer clients the highest value, top-tier expertise, and exceptional service.
After gaining experience working with various entities in the financial industry, I was confident that I could provide the best accounting and financial services to clients by starting my own company. So, in 1989, I founded Shwiff, Levy & Polo, LLP, which has grown over the years to be one of the country’s leading CPA firms.
What does your business do?
Shwiff, Levy & Polo, LLP is a certified public accounting firm offering a wide range of services to business and individual clients. We specialize in complex accounting and taxation matters for domestic and international clients, ensuring the best possible outcome for our clients.
Our areas of specialization include accounting and auditing, forensic accounting and fraud investigations, due diligence, litigation support and expert witness services, financial and estate planning, taxation issues, and management consulting. We are committed to providing our clients with expertise, value, and integrity.
What has been the biggest challenge on your entrepreneurial journey?
My biggest challenges have been going through various business transitions, like partnership dissolution, mergers, de-mergers. However, with knowledge, experience, and diligence, we successfully went through these transitions while remaining one of the industry’s frontrunners.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
By delivering quality from the onset, Shwiff, Levy & Polo started generating revenue from the beginning. Our revenues gradually increased as we progressively established the firm as a reputable accounting and financial services provider.
When you were starting, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
It took me several years to decide to switch from full-time employment to establishing my firm. This helped to minimize doubts and boost my confidence to succeed because this was a venture born out of passion.
Nothing can be more motivating than doing something you enjoy. When you do something out of passion, you’ll always have the drive to keep going, even during tough times.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Hard work, integrity, and commitment to delivering the best possible solutions to clients. Training and mentoring other CPA Candidates to achieve their professional goals.
What is one marketing strategy that you’re using that works well to generate new business?
Delivering the best quality services and satisfying clients’ needs. That has been our mission ever since, and it has been instrumental to the success of our business.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I have always enjoyed the fact that I can help clients tackle their business, financial, and taxation issues and be part of their success. Nothing can be more satisfying than making your clients happy by assisting them to resolve problems that threaten the success of their business.
In 1995, I led a team that conducted a comprehensive audit of an international financial services company. Wells Fargo compliance team and federal regulators were considering closing the company’s international wire transfer account due to suspicious banking activity. This account transacted $40,000,000 annually.
Our audit involved tracing of funds flow and investigating and analyzing the client’s business activities. We presented a 1,000-page report to Well Fargo, resulting in a level of confidence necessary for the bank to continue accepting the international funds.
What’s more, the client received recommendations for the installation of tracking and monitoring procedures. It is such satisfying outcomes that motivate me to work harder in my CPA and financial services practice.
What is your biggest achievement in the last few months?
For the last 3 years, I pursued a certification to practice in the US Tax Court and finally achieved it in 2021 at the age of 73. What makes it more exciting is that only 250 people in the U.S. have successfully challenged the Federal Tax “Bar” Exam to get this certification, and I’m one of them. Also, in March 2021, I was accepted as a member with a coaching license at the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
What other licenses and certifications do you hold?
They are quite a number: U.S. Tax Court Practitioner from the U.S. Tax Court; Accredited Estate Planner (AEP) from the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils; Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners; Certified Financial Planner (CFP) from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards; Professional Financial Specialist (PFS) from the American Institute of CPAs, and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) from the California State Board of Accountancy.
What is the one book that inspires you?
I draw inspiration from several books, but the Alchemist by Paul Coelho stands out. The book highlights the significance of following one’s dreams and reminds us that people are willing to help us on our way, even as our dreams change as we grow.
A favorite quote from this book is, “When you really want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”