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16 posts from October 2017

Finance pros, meet your new accountability: Cybersecurity

If you’re a finance professional or run a business, you may have a new responsibility these days: cybersecurity oversight. The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association) recently conducted a survey of financial executives. Seventy-three percent of respondents said their teams are taking on more responsibility for mitigating cybersecurity risks. An additional 15% said they have become the person primarily responsible for cybersecurity.

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5 ways to make the most of your small office space

Small office spaceDo you hit your daily step count just walking around the office looking for a quiet place to call a client? Or do you move files off the chair by your desk so you can talk with a co-worker? There are benefits to working in a small office space, like the camaraderie our office developed eating lunch in the combination kitchen/library/conference room, and any challenges can be offset with some adjustments. Here are some ideas for getting the most out of your limited office space.

  1. Ask before you act:

Is your office a good place for valuable impromptu meetings? Does your staff feel it’s easy to concentrate? Does the lighting throughout your office allow for a good work experience? Is technology easily accessible? The best way to find out is by asking, either in an informal meeting or via a survey. Your plans to get the best use of limited office space won’t work if you don’t solve the problems that prevent staff from doing their best.

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5 tips for an effective not-for-profit board

Board of directorsSurvey says, gaps in not-for-profit board performance fundamentally impact the success of the organization. Problems range from lack of true engagement by board members to their failure to fulfill important fiduciary duties. Do these sound familiar?  Don’t worry. We are here to help you resolve these issues and set your board up to be as efficient as ever.

To avoid these shortcomings, consider the following best practices:

  • Set clear expectations up front. Do your incoming board members have a thorough understanding of what is expected of them? And do they understand what meeting those expectations will involve? Have they met key players and learned about relevant policies and procedures? We recommend developing a comprehensive onboarding process that clearly defines board responsibilities, including the details they need to know to hit the ground running.

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Don’t overlook this important subject with clients

HealthWe’ve all heard the phrase, “Your health is your wealth.” Why then are so many advisers hesitant to talk to their clients about it? Health intersects the planning you provide in many ways, yet practitioners rarely go there. The result is missed opportunities and incomplete planning.

A client of mine suffered a major heart attack and stroke at age 65. In the aftermath, he and his wife resolved to spend his remaining years traveling and gifting the wealth they had amassed. On the surface, their reaction sounded like a generous, intentional plan. Unfortunately, they hadn’t considered that his life expectancy was quite a bit longer than they assumed, even after the scare. In that time, the term insurance he was certain would cover his wife’s living expenses after he was gone would expire.

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The trait that will prevent robots from stealing your job

RobotsLet’s face it. Artificial intelligence (AI) is going to revolutionize our business environment and the profession. Advancements in AI mean that you will soon spend less time conducting time-consuming and repetitive tasks. However, just because a robot can perform certain tasks traditionally performed by a CPA, does not mean that a robot is going to steal your job. That is because humans possess traits vital to our work that robots just don’t have the bandwidth to handle. One of the most essential traits is professional skepticism.

According to the AICPA Professional Standards, professional skepticism is an attitude that includes a questioning mind, being alert to conditions that may indicate possible misstatement due to fraud or error and a critical assessment of audit evidence. It is a necessary trait that all auditors must have, and is expected of all CPAs. Here are six tips to help you enhance your professional skepticism.

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If you’re hacked, what’s your cybersecurity liability?

Cybersecurity liabilityCybersecurity attacks are inevitable. That’s the unfortunate reality. In fact, in a special report, Cybersecurity Ventures projects cybercrime’s global cost will reach $6 trillion by 2021. Now more than ever, organizations and accounting firms of all sizes need to be vigilant about protecting data and responding to threats.

What’s your liability?

That’s a big question we hear from firms regardless of whether or not they’ve been attacked. There are actually no uniform federal laws on business cybersecurity. But there is a patchwork of state rules. Under certain state laws, CPAs can face liability for cybersecurity breaches that expose personal information. Most states have rules for handling breach notifications and for what remediation measures need to be taken. Breach requirements depend on where the client resides – not where your firm is located. We encourage you to learn the dynamic requirements of states that apply to you.

Meanwhile, federal circuit courts are split as to what constitutes sufficient standing to sue in cyber breach cases. Some courts hold that companies may be liable for damages if client or employee data is stolen, even if the theft causes no harm; instead, it’s sufficient to merely allege that the information was compromised. This broad interpretation will only further increase the risk of cyber liability claims.

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Busted: 3 spooky investing myths

Grim reaperGhosts, skeletons and zombies – most of us can agree these are all pretty scary, right? Turns out, when you talk about “investing,” many people have a similar reaction to that of getting spooked in a haunted house.

Instead of running from investments and screaming like a banshee anytime someone mutters the words “stock market,” AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission members want to put these investing myths to rest with tips for how to get past them:

Myth #1: I need a lot of money to invest.

False! Sean Stein Smith, CPA, CGMA, says that with the development of investing apps, and the increased number of opportunities to purchase fractional shares of companies, anyone can start investing simply with spare change from credit card transactions. It’s that easy! Employer offered 401(k) programs make it especially easy to invest by deducting straight from each paycheck; the automation means you likely won’t notice the money is gone.

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Beyond tax: Extending your success

Financial planningAs we near the end of October, tax practitioners across the profession collectively breathe a sigh of relief. Another tax season is in the books, and CPAs find themselves ready for a vacation or a change to their tax-centric practices.

We’ve been there, craving balance as another tax deadline passes. In our search for an alternative, we discovered a complement to our tax skills that has reenergized our careers and opened new opportunities for our clients and practice.

If you find yourself in need of more than just a vacation after October 15, here are a few things we’ve learned as we’ve recently transitioned our careers from tax compliance to advising clients on all aspects of their financial lives, including estate planning, retirement planning and beyond.

The benefits to your practice and clients are vast.

If you’ve been in practice for a while, you probably have a roster that includes many long-time clients. Over the years, clients may have approached you for your thoughts on their plans for retirement or the best way to plan their child’s education. If you’ve had these kinds of conversations, you’ve been doing personal financial planning (PFP) without even realizing it. By formalizing your PFP services, clients will benefit from your holistic understanding of their full financial picture, and you’ll improve both your practice and lifestyle by:

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Five movies that (kind of) predicted cybercrimes

HackersEquifax. The Securities and Exchange Commission. Whole Foods. These are just a few of the hacking incidents that have made the news in recent weeks. Although organizations are becoming increasingly concerned about their cybersecurity in the wake of current reports, Hollywood has been warning us for years about the importance of keeping our data safe. The following five movies are not only entertaining, they also acted as a crystal ball of sorts by giving us a glimpse into the possibility of today’s cyber events.

Movie: “The Net” (1995)

Lesson: Your personal data is your most important possession.

“The Net” warns of what can happen when your data falls into the wrong hands. When systems analyst Angela Bennett receives a disk from a colleague, she inadvertently sets off a chain of events that leads to her social security number being reassigned to another name, her home being sold out from under her and an arrest for a litany of crimes she didn’t commit—not to mention the mysterious deaths of people around her who know about the disk.

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The one business mentality all CPAs need

Global mindsetDr. Alia Crum famously says in her Ted Talks, “Change your mindset, change the game.” This philosophy is especially true in how we relate to one another. In today’s evolving marketplace, being a successful businessperson requires the ability to work and engage with people from all over the world and from many different cultures.

Understanding the global mindset

The global mindset is “the ability to relate to and influence individuals and groups whose culture and way of doing business are different from your own.” It’s necessary for anyone who wants to “change their game” and thrive in today’s business environment.

But incorporating this perspective means more than just changing the way you think. It means filling your mind with information that will help you behave in a more culturally sensitive way, making you more effective in both business and community. The global mindset’s three capitals were developed by Thunderbird University, and include:

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CPA life hacks to keep from getting hacked

Hacker 2I love that my bank, credit cards and insurance companies all have intuitive websites and mobile apps where I can easily pay bills and check my balances. But between Whole Foods, Equifax and Yahoo, I – like many other consumers – am becoming increasingly concerned with what organizations are doing to protect sensitive information.

Even as we become more dependent on IT systems for everything from ordering our groceries to tracking our fitness, cyberattacks are becoming more organized, profitable and persistent. For CPAs, this means growing concerns about both protecting client data and helping clients protect sensitive information.

In honor of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, here are three ways CPAs can remain proactive when it comes to cybersecurity.

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The road to retirement starts here

Older couple riding a bikeWhen it comes to saving for retirement, there is no one-size-fits-all plan. Each American has a unique and fluid situation, impacted by a variety of factors. Fortunately, CPA financial planners are well-versed in the different aspects that go into a tailoring a retirement plan that best fits their client’s needs.

I sat down with Leonard Wright, CPA/PFS and member of the AICPA Personal Financial Specialist Credential Committee, to learn some best practices for starting a retirement plan that helps maximize enjoyment during your golden years.

Jonathan Lynch: A recent survey found that less than half of non-retired Americans are confident they will reach their retirement goals. With all the uncertainty surrounding retirement -- where should someone without a plan begin?

Leonard Wright: Before bringing numbers and calculations into retirement planning, simply think about where you want to be when you reach that stage of your life. Ask yourself how you envision enjoying your retirement years. Define exactly what your desired lifestyle will entail. Will you downsize your residence? Do you plan on travelling? Would you consider working part-time? And perhaps most importantly, what age would you like to retire?

Once you have a clear vision in mind, you can start building the plan to make it a reality.

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Money, Money, Money: CPAs’ Salaries Revealed

SalariesIt’s good to be curious, no matter what your cat tells you. CPAs are known for seeking out high-quality information and always wanting to know more. However, when it comes to salaries, EVERYONE is curious. How do you measure up? If you choose one field over another, how will it impact your earning potential? Now, we’ve made that information available at your fingertips.

This week, the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants announced the results of its 2017 salary survey of U.S. CPAs. Nearly 5,600 people responded, answering questions about current salaries, salary expectations, skills and training. A couple key numbers:

  • $119,000: National average annual CPA salary (without bonus)
  • 81%: Percentage of CPAs expecting a raise in 2018

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Celebrating the Teachers Behind the Accountants

World Teachers' Day

Every year on October 5, people come together to celebrate World Teachers’ Day and the powerful difference teachers make. There are many accountants across the globe who wouldn’t be in the positions they’re in now without the influence of a teacher.

To celebrate, we put out a call for responses on social media asking how a teacher impacted a decision to pursue accounting. Here’s what we heard:

Lori Liddell, CPA, ABV, CFE

“To encourage us to stay motivated on our journey to becoming CPAs, Professor Virgil Carr would end his morning greeting by saying, ‘But once you pass that exam, you be sure to let me know and I will greet you as, ‘my fellow accountant’ and will even buy you lunch.’ Telling Professor Carr I had passed the exam and was officially an “accountant” is one of my fondest memories. Although he passed away in 2011 before I ever had the opportunity to take him up on that lunch he owed me, I work each day to make sure others also know the importance of becoming CPAs as well—just as he taught me. So today, on World Teachers’ Day, I salute you, Professor Virgil Carr, and all the other teachers who are encouraging would-be CPAs to continue to the end goal of becoming CPAs.”

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AICPA Finds Accounting Enrollments Remain High

Trends Cover 2017The AICPA recently released the 2017 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report (Trends report). The report found that the total number of accounting undergraduate and graduate enrollments remains at the record levels seen in the 2014-2015 academic year, totaling more than 250,000 enrollments.  This was driven primarily by an all-time high in undergraduate enrollments. On the demand side, hiring of new accounting graduates has slowed compared to previous years.

This year we saw a shift in the mix of bachelor’s versus master’s enrollments. Projected master’s enrollments have returned to pre-2014 levels, while undergraduate enrollments remained high. The last several Trends reports found a sharp rise in the number of master’s enrollments and graduates. The higher numbers previously reported may be attributed to a surge in both traditional students and those changing careers earning their master’s in accounting. The CPA profession is known to have significantly lower rates of unemployment than the broader economy, particularly during economic downturns.  In my experience as an educator, economic turmoil is a strong motivator for people to seek out the stability that a career in accounting provides.

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4 Great Ways to Lose Talent

RecruitmentFew practitioners would be surprised that CPAs identified staffing as a chief concern in the 2017 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey. Unfortunately, many firms inadvertently make mistakes that prevent them from keeping their best people or making use of their talents. Outlined below are four mistakes many firms make. This list isn’t meant to be all encompassing, as there’s several other mistakes firms make to push people out the door. Need help? Don’t worry, there’s help in the end.

1. Keep your story to yourself. What’s so great about your firm? If you don’t speak about this with your employees, they may not be aware of the value your practice provides to clients, the firm’s standing in the community or the difference it makes through volunteer or charitable efforts. Instead, recruits and newer staff may only ever receive a fairly generic description of the firm and its offerings. Telling your firm’s story—in a formal program or in informal conversations at staff meetings or one-on-one—can better engage people and enhance their commitment to the practice.

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