As it turned out, Schweizer and his partners not only proved to themselves that accountants could thrive as RIAs, but they're also proving it to hundreds of other accountants through a firm that provides advisory services and training for accountants transitioning into investment advice-giving.

The first company, Buckingham Asset Management in St. Louis, got off the ground in 1994 with $400,000 in startup capital from four outside investors. It has since grown to serve just under 1,000 clients and more than 2,400 portfolios, with assets under management of about $600 million. The firm's offshoot, BAM Advisory Services, was founded in 1997 and now provides services to 100 RIA firms, of which 90 are run by CPAs. Growth at BAM, in fact, is outpacing Buckingham Asset Management. BAM currently serves firms that, as a group, have about $1.9 billion in assets under management, a figure that grew by 80% in 2002.

When you consider that, as a group, accountants have been moving into the investment arena at a glacial pace-despite perennial predictions that they are going to take the industry by storm-Zimmerman feels that BAM's best days lie ahead. "It's all going in the right direction, and the CPAs are coming," Zimmerman says. "I can't tell you how quickly they're coming or how slowly, but the answer is, they are coming."

As Schweizer and Zimmerman tell it, one of the key decisions they made was not just starting Buckingham, but how to start it. In other words, they were both rookies when it came to managing a portfolio, and were in search of a system-or a philosophy.

Initially that search led them to surf the databases of Morningstar; Schweizer remembers meticulously screening mutual funds in search of managers who performed consistently, stuck to their announced styles, used tax efficient strategies and generated low expenses. He did this for six months. He found successful managers, but very few who were successful consistently. "Whenever we saw a manager with good performance, we'd dig a little further and things would be different some years before or after," Schweizer says.

As accountants, Schweizer and Zimmerman were used to using discipline when allocating assets and were thus uncomfortable with how loose some fund managers played it when it came to allocating fund assets. Zimmerman notes, for example, that it's common to see the manager of a large-value fund go 10% or 20% into cash, depending on his view of the market. But if that fund is part of an asset allocation plan, it's supposed to represent a solid block of large value. "That changes your allocation," Zimmerman says. "In that sense, it was unreliable."

They then turned to researching what academia had to say about asset allocation, and to the philosophies of John Bogle and index funds. "That really convinced me we wanted to stick to a passive approach," says Schweizer. That belief was cemented when Schweizer attended a conference for fee-only advisors that was run by Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA), a Santa Monica, Calif.-based fund company that utilizes a cadre of scholars to build a family of funds that is built on a philosophy of passive management, low cost and tax efficiency.

The philosophy espoused by DFA-whose founders could practically be called zealots when it comes to promoting passive investing and denigrating active management and stock-picking-was music to Schweizer's ears. He remembers going back to his hotel room and sending an e-mail to Zimmerman that said, "This is the answer. This is a sensible, logical and defensible approach to giving investment advice."

Zimmerman and Schweizer say that as accountants, with a bent toward the mathematical and analytical aspects of finance, they were in perfect harmony with the preachings of DFA. Thus a perusal of the portfolios of Buckingham Asset Management clients will reveal that, with a few exceptions, the asset allocations all utilize an array of DFA funds. The exceptions, in most cases, are miscellaneous holdings investors decide to retain after becoming clients or fixed-income investments, which are managed directly by Buckingham to reduce costs.

"The key was they were going to give us the tools to assure our clients they would get market rates of return and no less," Schweizer says.