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17 posts from September 2016

3 Steps to a Secure Financial Future for Your Divorcing Clients

DivorceAnyone who has ever been through, or witnessed, a divorce knows that the pain of separating isn’t just emotional—it’s also financial. CPA financial planners may often feel at a loss as to what advice or guidance to offer distraught clients.

Let’s say your client Kate, age 50, calls in tears to tell you that her husband of 25 years, a high-level executive, wants a divorce.

“He wants to avoid using attorneys,” she says. “He made me an offer yesterday: He keeps all his retirement savings and I keep mine. I get the ski lodge; he gets the apartment in the city. We split cash and investments. I really don’t want to make him angry, but my own retirement will be so small. Is his offer enough?”

We all want what’s best for our clients and answering this complicated question will take some research. However, the most important factor is to avoid any conflict of interest. If you were advising the couple before the split, you may need a disclosure, a waiver or even a new engagement letter.

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How Not-for-Profits Can Share Risks and Reap Benefits through Collaboration

Shutterstock_283656011We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don't know.” - W. H. Auden

I’ve spent most of my career in business development and have worked with organizations of all shapes and sizes, both for-profit and not-for-profit. From this vantage point, I’ve observed that leaders of social- impact organizations tend to be risk averse. This is because they feel pressure to maximize their time and resources on achieving the immediate needs of program service delivery. Often this pressure is increased when funders restrict resources to specific short-term projects.

In business, as in philanthropy, it takes long-term planning, time and resources to identify prospective partners and find mutual goals. There is an element of risk involved in sharing information and undertaking new business strategies together. One way that I like to describe strategic partnerships is by comparing them to a seesaw.  Participating organizations strive to balance the four R’s: Reach, Resources, Revenue and Risk.

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5 Ways to Make the Most of Mentoring

Shutterstock_341095673A successful mentoring relationship, like all relationships in life, is about give and take. But in order to be successful, both mentor and mentee need to give genuine input. It isn’t as simple as the mentor giving and the mentee taking. Considering the value of mentoring, what can mentees do to guarantee they’re getting the greatest advantage from the relationship?

Be sure to opt in. Everyone’s schedule is busy, and mentoring may seem like something that’s easy to delete from a crowded calendar. It’s a mistake to underestimate the importance of support, however. Among other things, a mentor can help you assess your priorities, which can ensure your time is spent wisely and more productively.

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Introducing a New Framework for Reporting on Cybersecurity Risk Management

Cybersecurity 2The list of companies is growing. Businesses, organizations and governmental entities have suffered damaging publicity—and faced lawsuits—due to data breaches, forcing them to make cybersecurity a priority. It’s not surprising to hear, then, that 95% of CGMA designation holders said their companies were concerned about cyberattacks, according to an AICPA survey. Organizations and their stakeholders are not only seeking ways to address current and potential threats but also to gain assurance and communicate about the efficacy of their own efforts to identify and manage the potential effects of cybersecurity risks.

Stepping up to help our fellow CPAs meet businesses’ and clients’ needs, the AICPA is proposing a way for businesses to demonstrate due care and build stakeholder confidence in their cybersecurity risk management efforts. The Cybersecurity Working Group of the AICPA’s Assurance Services Executive Committee (ASEC), in collaboration with the AICPA’s Auditing Standards Board, is developing criteria and guidance that companies can use to communicate, and we can use to report on entity cybersecurity risk management efforts.

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3 Steps to Maintain Independence When Preparing Financial Statements

Shutterstock_302730485Consider this scenario: A longtime tax client of yours approaches you. They are interested in starting an online gaming platform with a colleague and have already landed a significant contract. The future of this business appears bright. A local bank has agreed to extend them a $75,000 line of credit, contingent on certain ratios and providing monthly financial statements and copies of all tax filings. You client asks you if you would be interested in performing nonattest services on their behalf. They are looking for a CPA to prepare the new venture’s monthly financial statements for the bank so the bank can monitor compliance with its ratio requirements, while the client maintains the books.

The current loan covenant only calls for a complete set of financial statements, classifying the engagement as a nonattest service. You do not need to be independent to prepare your client’s financial statements, however, based on the new venture’s growth trajectory, you believe that at some point in the future, attest services will likely be needed. Because of this, you decide to take certain steps to maintain your independence in case your client’s needs change, and you are asked to provide a service that requires independence down the road. Below are three steps you take to maintain independence.

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4 Key Facts about the New FASB Not-for-Profit Standard

Shutterstock_413674186Are you ready for significant changes to the financial statements of not-for-profit organizations? 

The Financial Accounting Standards Board recently released Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-14 Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities.  ASU 2016-14 is the result of a multi-year FASB project conducted to review the financial reporting model for not-for-profits that has been in place for approximately 20 years.  As a result of the review, the FASB identified several areas of the financial reporting model that needed improvements or updates to provide better information to those that rely on the financial statements issued by not-for-profits. 

The full standard spans 270 pages (view it here) but it is not as daunting as it may seem. Here are four key facts about the new standard to keep in mind:

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7 Key Communication Points for Your Clients with Extended Returns

SevenAs the final extension deadline of October 15 (for individual clients) approaches, it is hard to believe it is almost time to flip the calendar to another year. Although finalizing your client’s 2015 Form 1040 is the most pressing item on the agenda, it’s important to focus on year-end planning. The good news is that with the tax legislation signed last December, tax planning should be easier since many provisions were extended through 2016 (or longer) or made permanent.  However, this is a presidential election year, and there is uncertainty about how a political change might impact tax reform and/or legislation.

Let’s focus on the good news (and what we can do for our clients). Here are seven topics to discuss with your clients as you wrap up their 2015 returns that will provide them the extra client service that they expect and deserve.

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Drones on the Horizon for CPA Firms in 2017

DroneNew federal regulations mean CPA firms will have easier access to an unexpected tool for audits and inspections: flying robots.

Unmanned aircraft systems, commonly referred to as drones, have a wide range of commercial applications, including law enforcement and rescue operations. CPA firms are finding ways to use drones to audit and inspect land, agriculture and facilities as a safer and more cost effective alternative to manual inspections.

For the past several years, commercial drone use has been mostly limited to larger firms because of a burdensome and costly Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval process. But on August 29, a new FAA rule took effect that broadly authorizes commercial drone operations in the United States, giving CPA firms of all sizes an easier path to incorporating drones into their operations. For example, the new rule allows the commercial operation of drones under 35 pounds, whereas previous regulations mandated that commercial drone operators had to apply for a special license from the FAA.

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A Passion for Education Proves Perfect Formula for Ross Riskin, CPA/PFS

Ross Riskin Profile PictureMeet Ross Riskin, CPA/PFS, CCPS, vice president of Riskin & Riskin, PC in Orange, Conn. Ross is definitely not your typical CPA; he has a unique passion for helping college students and their families,  a direct hand in CPA education and a thoughtful take on incorporating the AICPA’s Essentials of Financial Planning curriculum into the classroom.

AICPA: You’re founder and managing member of Riskin Advisory, LLC, described on your website as “a college financial planning practice.” How are you helping students and their parents plan for college expenses?

Ross Riskin: I work with families and recent graduates to help them develop plans to save and pay for higher education expenses in the most financially efficient manner. I approach the college and education planning process from tax, financial aid, and cash flow planning perspectives. Whether a family is trying to navigate the complex financial aid process, a grandparent is trying to develop a funding plan for their grandchild, or a recent graduate is trying to come up with a game plan to tackle their student loan debt, I am happy to advise them about the best course of action.

AICPA: How does being a CPA and a PFS support your expertise in education planning?

RR: Being a practicing CPA has provided me with the educational and professional experience required to enhance my knowledge of tax planning. Obtaining the PFS credential has helped me approach college and education planning from the perspective of an accountant and an adviser in order to develop comprehensive solutions for clients to help them see the big “financial” picture. Education planning is an area that hasn’t really been a focal point of planning to the same degree that tax planning and investment planning have been, and I am dedicated to working each day as a CPA/PFS to shift that focus and help families plan and take action in a holistic way.

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The Secret to Quality Audits and Fine Wines? Quality Control

Vineyard“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”
Henry Ford

Browsing the internet and looking at websites of CPA firms I notice they pretty much all talk about being quality firms. We all believe we have quality, but just what is quality?

As I sit with my evening glass, I realize what draws us to a fine wine is the diligent process to produce the beverage we enjoy. The process for producing a fine wine is not unlike the accounting and auditing world. Indulge me as I demonstrate the similarities.

Winemakers must identify critical points in the process where problems can arise in order to  eliminate or minimize precursors for taints and faults, and then rectify any problems that still do occur. 

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Helping Clients Plan Ahead for College Expenses

College savingsAs the cost of undergraduate, graduate and professional education continues to soar, having enough money set aside to pay for college is no longer a “nice-to-have” component of financial planning. It is essential to devise a thoughtful, cohesive plan to keep clients on course toward achieving their financial goals, within the larger context of their financial situation, investment horizon, risk tolerance, and resources.

Helping clients understand how much to save based on their education goals prepares them for the cost of college. 

Six Considerations

In trying to approximate future college costs and the amount clients will need to save to pay the college costs of the future, you’ll need to help them make several assumptions and determinations:

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7 Key Facts on the FASB’s Revenue Recognition Standard


Shutterstock_348454145Transitioning to significantly new accounting guidance is always a critical process, and that’s particularly true with the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s Accounting Standards Update 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606). Since the effective date for this important guidance has been postponed, CPAs and their clients can now make the most of the added time they need to begin understanding and preparing to apply the standard. Here are seven facts that CPAs should know about this key standard.

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Seizing Opportunity Like a Rapping Founding Father

HamiltonWhen hip hop music first became popular, very few people would have thought that the music could be a great way to tell the story of America’s Founding Fathers. Yet, the wildly popular Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which won 11 Tony Awards, merges the historical narrative of the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury with hip hop music and lyrics, and proves that it’s possible to successfully create something fresh by offering a new take on a familiar subject.

Alexander Hamilton, the man whose life inspired the musical, started his career as an accounting clerk in the West Indies, then went to colonial America, where he would eventually lay the groundwork for the United States financial system. The musical came to life because Lin-Manuel Miranda, its creator and the man who originated the role of Hamilton, saw an opportunity and seized it by utilizing his musical talents to tell a 240-year-old story and delight unsuspecting audiences.

What does that have to do with CPAs? A lot, actually. Every day, CPAs use their knowledge and talents to meet a wide spectrum of client needs, often in ways that weren’t initially envisioned 50 or 20 or even five years ago. If you’d like to set the stage for new options in your career or practice, here are several opportunities that mesh well with CPAs’ core competencies and experience.   

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2704 Regs May Eliminate Discount: Practitioners Must Plan Now


Shutterstock_216511519

Most practitioners are aware by now that the Treasury has proposed regulations under Code Section 2704 that would generally eliminate valuation discounts on transfers of interest in family entities. This means that practitioners should advise all wealthy clients to review planning options before year-end when these new rules might become effective.

The AICPA will examine the regulations and offer comments at the Dec. 1 IRS hearing; however, to be safe, advisers should proceed with the assumption they will take effect as is. Outlined below are four practical planning steps practitioners should address with their clients before year-end.

Step 1: Identify Clients Affected

Clients who own large real estate or valuable family businesses that can currently be discounted for transfer tax valuation purposes, but which may not be able to be discounted after the effective date of the regulations, should focus on planning for the new regulations. In 2012, when the estate tax exemption was modified from $5 million to $1 million, many clients rushed to modify their plans in advance of this change. We will likely experience similar activity this year, as clients strive to complete planning to address the discount rush before year-end.

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You Fancy, Huh? One in Four Americans Envious on Social Media

In these waning days of summer, my Instagram feed looks like a Lonely Planet top 10 list. I don’t know how, but it seems like the 300+ people I’m following have all conspired to be someplace awesome, while I’m toiling away in the office. It can feel frustrating when it seems like everyone (except for you) is having the time of their lives – and bragging about it online.

A new survey, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the AICPA, found that when it comes to feeling envious on social media, I’m far from alone. In fact, many Americans are caught in a cycle of feeling jealous of friends who post about their lavish vacations and extravagant purchases, while admitting that they also post things solely because they are fancy or expensive.

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It’s Hurricane Season. Are You Prepared?

HurricaneTropical Storm Hermine may do more than ruin your Labor Day Weekend plans. After battering Florida’s gulf coast as the first hurricane to make landfall in 11 years, the weakened-but-still-potent storm is set to make a run up the East Coast. And in the Pacific, Hawaii is bracing for Hurricane Lester. The aftereffects of both storms may cause heavy rains, high winds and rough surf that will wreak havoc on travel plans and barbeques, could down trees and powerlines, and cause structural damage to buildings. The best thing you can do? Be prepared.

So what do you and your family need?

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Mr. Miyagi Can Help You Master the Exam

Pat-Morita_(Karate_Kid)In the iconic 1984 film The Karate Kid, Daniel, the young protégé of Mr. Miyagi, can’t understand why he’s being told to do basic tasks such as paint the fence, sand the floor, or polish the car with “wax on, wax off.” Daniel thinks he should focus on karate moves. While he pushes through and does what Mr. Miyagi tells him, Daniel eventually realizes the value and relevance of these tasks when he begins to spar. Each task in its own way serves as the basis for developing Daniel’s martial arts skills and ultimately prepare him to win the tournament against the Cobra Kai.

While we’ll never know if Daniel subsequently dropped his martial arts training to pursue a career as a CPA, one thing is certain – Mr. Miyagi taught the essential lesson that learning the basics and understanding foundational concepts is the key to success.

CPA candidates can learn a thing or two from Mr. Miyagi’s teachings when it comes to understanding the importance of the content covered in the Business Environment and Concepts (BEC) section, and how to manage it when sitting for the Exam. Since the introduction of BEC, the section has long been a mix of essential general business information, including corporate governance, economics, information technology, and financial and operations management, which provides a foundation for the other sections of Audit and Attestation (AUD), Financial Accounting and Reporting (FAR) and Regulation (REG). As a component of the Exam, the section reinforces the value of core business knowledge that a CPA must bring to the table when providing audit, accounting and tax services.

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