237 posts categorized "Guest Blogger" Feed

How Cultural Inclusion Leads to Professional Success

Ed RamosTwo years ago, I was nominated to serve a three-year term on the AICPA’s National Commission for Diversity and Inclusion (NCDI). The NCDI was formed to serve as a champion and advisor within the accounting profession, proposing strategies to recruit, retain, and advance underrepresented minorities in the profession. As I look back at my time serving on the NCDI, I am amazed by the progress made in such a short period. However, there is still much work to be done.

My family moved from Puerto Rico to Tacoma, Washington which is where I was born and raised; I always felt most comfortable surrounded by my family. Throughout my journey as a minority student in accounting, I found myself lost without direction in the profession. I did not have anyone to push me to the next level, nor did I realize the value of networking and how it could help guide my career. It was not until I discovered the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA) that my eyes opened to the full potential of my career.

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5 Tips to Increase Profitability by Leveraging Technology

TechnologyDoes your practice make the best use of some of the relatively straightforward technology solutions available? I have to admit, my firm did not always take advantage of steps that could have improved our relationships with clients, opened up service opportunities and, ultimately, enhanced our profitability. Here’s what we did to change our approach and improve our results:     

Improve efficiency by utilizing targeted solutions. Firms have many targeted technology solutions to choose from -- everything from online bill management services and workflow automation to cloud-based accounting and financial management software, payroll and more. My firm started by looking at CPA.com’s partner solutions. The products we selected allowed our firm to provide better and faster service. And best of all, it saved our firm and our clients’ money. We use an automated bill payment system which allows us to manage our accounting services clients’ payables effectively and efficiently. Additionally, after seeing how a cloud-based financial management and accounting system could improve productivity, reduce costs and speed growth at our firm, we decided to offer this valuable service to clients in various industries. By doing so, we have expanded our service offerings and tapped into a new revenue stream. 

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3 Ways Gen Xers Are the Key to Leading Millennials

Sheryl sandbergOdds are that if you manage a business unit or a large team of employees, you’re part of the group of 74.9 million Baby Boomers. This year, for the first time in your life, your generation will no longer be the largest demographic group in the United States.

Millennials now number 75.3 million, according to the Census Bureau, and due to immigration are projected to increase to 81.1 million by 2036. Although demographers differ on the birth range of Millennials (also known as Generation Y), most fall between 1981 and 2000, which means that the oldest are 34 and the majority are in their 20s.

Millennials have a profoundly different approach to the way they find, use and share information—both socially and at work. They don’t read newspapers, watch TV news shows or use the yellow pages. They read—a lot—but it’s not likely to be on printed paper. They’re great networkers, but the majority of their conversations take place electronically rather than face-to-face or by phone. Many find the constraints of working regular office hours—from the office—burdensome and old fashioned. But that doesn’t mean they’re unwilling to work long hours.

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5 Ways to Create a Sense of Belonging through Sponsorship

Men sponsorshipThis blog post is the second part of a two-part series on intentional sponsorship, or dedicated efforts at a firm to ensure that everyone with leadership potential has access to a sponsor.

At HORNE, we launched a formal sponsorship program at our 525-person firm because we recognized first and foremost from a business case perspective, for us to be relevant in the future, we must develop a diverse leadership team.  Collaboration, connecting and creativity require diverse leadership and we cannot win with less than half the leadership talent.  Failure to develop a diverse leadership team will limit our ability to grow, to attract great talent or to have a sustainable succession plan. We also estimated our tangible cost of our turnover at $3 million a year which includes recruiting, onboarding and training.  We excluded the additional costs of lost knowledge and lost client relationships. 

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Cyber Liability Insurance for CPA Firms

CoveredWe see the mega data breaches on the news, and wonder if our personal information has been stolen.  If some of the world’s largest companies cannot protect personal data with their large budgets, what can a small firm do? One step is to purchase cyber liability insurance. This is a relatively new product offered by a few insurers, and often under a different name and with varying levels of coverage. Being a relatively new product, there’s a lot of catching up to do – so let’s start with the basics for partners to think about.

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Digital Estate Planning: More Than a Lifeline

Digital willWhether you think of our connected world as a benefit or as a time waster, there’s no escaping the complex red tape associated with providing access to our digital assets after we pass away. What lives online is neither easy to access nor is it clear cut as to who can get to it.

This is an important focus for all of us, our families and our companies, but it also provides an opportunity for CPA planners to understand digital estate planning in order to help their clients plan for their future.

Not having a digital estate plan as part of your clients’ wills is the same as not having a will at all. In other words, if there is no specific direction given to provide designees access to files, email and even social media accounts, the clients’ wishes may not be able to be carried out. Although there have been small strides made by some states in this digital space, a digital estate plan is absolutely necessary to avoid any questions or ambiguities. Idaho, Indiana and Oklahoma addressed legislation providing access to social media and blogging accounts, while Connecticut and Rhode Island have dealt with access rights to email.

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4 Steps to Developing Professionals through Sponsorship

Women sponsorshipPromising professionals ascend through the ranks based on their knowledge and abilities, but many also benefit from the support and advocacy of other influential members of the organization—often referred to as sponsorship. It is important to note the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor talks with you about your career development while a sponsor talks about you. Sponsorship may be formal and methodical or informal, but by its nature is intentional and it can have a significant impact on assignments, visibility and advancement.  

In an effort to develop and retain staff, professional services firms across the U.S. are engaging in formal sponsorship, or dedicated efforts to ensure that everyone with leadership potential has access to a sponsor.

This blog post is the first part of a two-part series featuring one firm’s experience with intentional sponsorship.

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5 Ways CPAs Can Add Value in the Event of a Cybersecurity Attack

Mission impossibleIt’s been 19 years since the first Mission Impossible movie sprang from 60s television and graced the silver screen. This summer, the fifth installment of the Impossible franchise premiered. When we first met Ethan Hunt, it was 1996 and the BMW Z3 made its debut as Agent Hunt’s stylish ride. Despite all the high-tech gadgetry depicted in the film, in real life, the Y2K debacle was the biggest IT security crisis businesses faced. Fast forward nearly two decades; driverless cars are a reality, and a car hacking crisis has put drivers of 1.4 million cars at risk.

Back when Mission Impossible first thrilled us with espionage and national security fantasies, cybersecurity was merely an IT concern. “It’s now a C-suite problem,” former secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, said recently at the AICPA CFO Conference in Denver.

Given the frequency of cybersecurity attacks today, it is important for CPAs to understand their role in this arena. CPAs are well equipped to strengthen the process and evaluate cybersecurity risks. Below are a few examples of where CPAs can add value: 

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5 Ways Not-for-Profits Can Detect and Prevent Fraud

Internal controlsThroughout my career, I have worked with small businesses and not-for-profits, auditing their financial statements and helping them improve their internal controls. On one hand, I love working with nonprofits and discovering their mission and how they are working to improve society. On the other hand, I do not love discovering one or two people taking advantage of poor internal controls to steal from the organization. Many of my clients conduct their work with limited funding, and some rely on volunteers to perform key roles. When I discuss internal controls with my clients, they are often surprised to learn that small improvements can go a long way in preventing theft of assets and unsubstantiated spending, two of the most common types of fraud in not-for-profits.

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Help Shape the CPA Exam's Evolution

CPA exposure draftWhether you’re a recently licensed CPA or seasoned veteran with decades of experience, think back to when you first took the Uniform CPA Examination. Were you sitting at a computer in a modern test center or packed into a large hall with pencil and paper in front of you? Everyone has their story, but regardless of how or when you took the Exam, this rite of passage is the great equalizer for all CPAs. Passing the Exam means you have the knowledge and skills required for initial licensure as a CPA.

Since the Exam was first used in the licensing process nearly 100 years ago, alignment to professional practice has been its hallmark. Over that time, the AICPA has led the Exam’s evolution, ensuring its content consistently captures the needs of a dynamic profession that regularly faces changes in technology, business practices, and standards. 


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Deflategate, Binkygate & Disclosing Open Tax Years

DeflategateNot many things capture our collective attention like investigations into controversial cases. The NFL’s investigation into underinflated footballs, or the ongoing allegations of corruption in FIFA, to whether or not David Beckham is a shoddy parent for allowing his daughter to continue to use a pacifier at age 4 are just a few examples. The accounting profession has its investigations into controversies too. A recent example is the investigation the Center for Plain English Accounting (CPEA) conducted about the applicability of the disclosure requirement of open tax years associated with FASB Interpretation No. 48, Accounting for Uncertainty in Income Taxes. The CPEA issued a report on this investigation in March.

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Are You Prepared for a Cybersecurity Attack?

Cybersecurity 1Is your firm or organization prepared to respond to a cybersecurity attack? What about your clients? A cybersecurity breach could occur at any time. No organization is too small to come under attack, so it is best to be prepared. When a breach occurs, companies without a plan may waste valuable time trying to organize a core team and put a strategy in place. Below are steps that you should consider as you develop a cybersecurity response plan.

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Keeping the Business in the Family

DallasThe fate of a family business can be tricky when the owner is no longer able to remain at the helm. Is there an obvious successor? Is there a succession plan in place? Encouraging your clients to think about succession planning for their businesses is difficult; none of us want to think about the day we can no longer work. However, when the business is a closely held family business, the discussion as to whether to leave the business in the family is often more emotional. After all, we’re talking about a different kind of relationship than we have with our staffs or colleagues.

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Planning a Fundraising Event? 5 Steps to Avoid Pitfalls

Fashion showIn the summertime, many of us who work with not-for-profits and their philanthropy efforts are gearing up for our fall fundraisers. Thanksgiving and holiday giving season is an ideal time to hold special events to raise money and recruit supporters for our causes, but the planning starts now.

Before joining the AICPA, I worked at a community foundation that carried out a variety of events, including golf tournaments, festivals and charity balls, across my home state of North Carolina. Our most successful event attracted hundreds of people for beachfront food and wine tastings and cooking competitions. Today, I serve on the board of a volunteer center that holds an annual fashion show featuring couture gowns by local designers that are inspired by the work of not-for-profits in the area.

While fundraisers like these are fun and have the potential to raise a lot of money for your cause, it’s important to be aware of the regulatory and financial concerns. As you plan your fundraisers this summer, here are some steps you can take to avoid pitfalls:

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Educating Your Clients About End-of-Life Care Costs

End of life careNo one wants to think about death, much less how much it will cost. But as the population ages and life expectancies rise, it is likely that your clients will need to think about and prepare for their later years, including the possibility of age-related illness. End-of-life care is a financially and emotionally complicated topic, but starting the conversation with your clients long before they might face age-related illnesses is an important first step.

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Making the Next Tax Season a Better One

Tax lessonsReflections on Tax Season

As we head into the second part of the 2015 filing season (with the 2016 season not far behind), some thoughts come to mind. Many practitioners felt as though recent tax law changes and related guidance was vague, late and not well supported. As a result, the 2015 filing season was more demanding than previous seasons, with uncertainty surrounding the final “repair regulations,” complex financial products and late receipt of client 1099s and brokerage statements.

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3 Answers to Common SSARS No. 21 Questions

Peyton ManningThe National Football League’s Denver Broncos will have a new head coach in the upcoming season, Gary Kubiak, a former quarterback and later assistant coach for Denver who most recently was offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. Kubiak brings a new offensive playbook featuring zone blocking schemes and play-action passing to his new team.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been playing at an All-Pro level for the vast majority of his career. Now he will need to learn Kubiak’s system – and quickly. It’s a challenge for Manning, but he knows that his new coach’s system has proven successful and can improve the Broncos’ chances of winning games.

Despite its lack of physical aggression, the accounting profession has quite a bit in common with these developments in the world of professional football. Consider this: Like Manning, you’ve been doing your job as an accountant at a high level for quite a while and you know what you’re doing when it comes to compilations and write-up work at your clients. Now Statement on Standards for Accounting and Review Services No. 21 has been issued and represents a new playbook for accountants in public practice who prepare financial statements.

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3 Key Health Care Components Explained

Health careHealth care coverage issues are continually evolving and are extremely complex. Clients turn to their CPAs for advice when choosing a health care plan that suits their needs. With the Supreme Court’s recent ruling ensuring that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is here to stay, CPAs should take this opportunity to explain three key areas of Medicare and the Affordable Care Act to help their clients avoid missteps. These areas include enrollment periods, provider networks and qualifying events.

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Fueling the Accounting Profession Pipeline: What Will it Take?

Mscpa pipelineI recently attended the AICPA’s Spring Council session in Washington, DC where I had the pleasure of going to a fascinating session on fueling the accounting profession pipeline. I’ve had some time to reflect on what I think the research means in terms of active steps that CPAs and state CPA societies should take to ensure there is a bright, talented and diverse applicant pool available for new and experienced hires.

Below are three main areas that research indicates impact an individual’s decision to commit to a career in accounting, as well as suggestions for how we can leverage these areas to help foster the greatest number of young professionals entering the accounting field.

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3 Factors to Evaluate the True Cost of Retirement

Money treeRoughly 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 14-and-a-half years. And many of them are preparing to retire. For some, this prospect is daunting—how much money do they need to maintain their current lifestyle? Can they afford to retire? The answer, very often, is “it all depends.”

From an asset perspective, these are trying times to retire. Yields on bonds and forecasted returns for equities are low, significantly affecting the safety of a withdrawal strategy. Many financial planners note the safety of the “4% Rule,” in which a retiree withdraws 4% of his or her initial balance upon retirement and then increases the amount of each withdrawal over 30 years—while factoring in inflation. The market has shifted, however. If we use a model that better approximates our current market and incorporates forecasts, a lower initial withdrawal rate—3%, for example—would be necessary to achieve the same financial outcome.

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6 Tips for Becoming a Thought Leader on LinkedIn

TypingWith the rising prominence of social media, becoming an influencer isn’t as hard as it once was. Social media levels the playing field, giving everyone an outlet to speak their minds.

In the past, LinkedIn had a restricted number of users permitted to publish articles to LinkedIn Pulse. These elite few were named Influencers. Recently, however, LinkedIn has opened this experience to anyone with an account, calling it Long-Form Post Publishing.

Taking advantage of long-form posting can establish you as a thought leader or influencer in your field. It gives you the opportunity to share your professional expertise without taking on the responsibilities of starting a blog or using other publishing platforms.

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3 Tips to Help Millennials and Baby Boomers See Eye to Eye

Millennials and boomersIn less than a decade, Millennials (born 1981-1996) are expected to make up 75 percent of the U.S. workforce. Simultaneously, nearly 65 percent of CPA Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) say that they do not expect to retire at age 65, but will work beyond that age, according to a 2012 AICPA poll.

As a result, these groups will likely work side by side for the foreseeable future. Because of this, it is critical for Baby Boomers and Millennial CPAs to find common ground in order for their organizations to succeed. One key to developing a strong relationship is focusing less on differences and more on understanding each other’s unique skill sets.

But, perhaps there’s something even more important than that—understanding the motives behind why each group does what it does.

For instance, Baby Boomers may be aware that many Millennials are delaying marriage, and believe it is primarily because attitudes have changed. However, 34 percent of Millennials say financial reasons are  holding them back. Additionally, most Baby Boomers are aware that many Millennials carry a heavy student debt load. But they may not realize college tuition and fees have increased 559 percent since 1985, making it nearly impossible for most students to fund their education without assistance.

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Ice Cream Provides 5 Reasons to Incorporate Sustainable Practices

Perry's Ice Cream Black CherryNo dessert is more time and energy intensive than ice cream hand cranked in an old fashioned, salt-lined churner. When you’re making it at home using this method, a gallon of ice cream is an all-day event made with love and a small gang of helpers. Now, imagine producing more than 12 million gallons. Those making ice cream on such a large scale have a number of additional variables to consider and may choose to incorporate sustainable practices into their business model.

Many companies are embracing the triple bottom line. Rather than solely focusing on financial information, organizations committed to sustainability are taking social and environmental aspects into account as well. Under this model, success is not only defined by a business’s annual profit. The well-being of employees, the environmental impact of the company’s activities and contributions to the community are also part of the overall equation representing the organization’s value.

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Survey Results Provide Insights into Clients’ Retirement Funding Fears

Retirement savingsRich or not-so-rich, running out of money in retirement is a major concern for 57% of clients, according to results of the inaugural quarterly AICPA Personal Financial Planning Trends Survey. Initiated by the AICPA’s PFP Division, the new survey seeks regular insights from CPA financial planners, provides valuable feedback on client emotions related to finances and the future, and helps trusted advisors understand where their expertise can best address client concerns.

High levels of concern over adequate retirement funding, as indicated by the first quarter 2015 survey, suggest demand is up for retirement peace of mind--a priceless service that CPAs offering personal financial planning services are uniquely qualified to provide.

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A Simple Formula to Be More Innovative

LightbulbWhile companies that most effectively use disruptive technology continue to make headlines -- and profit -- many organizations have a heightened interest in innovation. Their staff are being asked to focus on future growth opportunities rather than defending the status quo; embrace failure through small and quick learning experiments; and reinvent business models to create value for their customers and themselves.

My colleagues and I on the AICPA’s Innovation team seek to drive member value by encouraging staff to work collaboratively to convert ideas into new services. We’re here to help foster a culture of innovation across the profession. 

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6 Tips to Tackle Your Firm’s Top Issues

Word cloud 2Throughout the year, I talk with practitioners from around the country to understand their pain points. They’re often relieved to hear that other firms are grappling with similar issues and the challenges they face are among the top concerns for the profession as a whole. These discussions help inspire the solutions my team -- the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) -- creates for our firm members. Another important source of information for practitioners and the AICPA is the PCPS 2015 CPA Firm Top Issues Survey, which gathers information from practitioners nationwide to identify the concerns at the top of firm leaders’ agendas.

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Helping Your Clients in a Difficult Time: The Tax Treatment for Alzheimer’s

Elderly ladyMany CPA financial planners have had the heartbreaking experience of seeing a client, or a client’s loved one, end up in an assisted living, skilled nursing or memory care facility due to cognitive decline. Although this is a difficult time for the patient’s family, CPA planners and tax practitioners are in a unique position to help them understand the tax treatment and possible deductions for expenses incurred at these facilities.

Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia and a degenerative disease that leads to death, is one of the most common examples of cognitive decline. At advanced stages, the patient can no longer live safely on his or her own, and may have to move into a care facility. If certain conditions are met, the cost of living at the facility, including room and board, is deductible as a healthcare expense. For those aged 65 and older, medical expenses must exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income in 2015 and 2016 in order to be deductible. The threshold increases to 10% in 2017.

According to IRS Publication 502, qualified long-term care services include “… maintenance and personal care services that are 1) required by a chronically ill individual, and 2) provided pursuant to a plan of care prescribed by a licensed healthcare practitioner.”

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A Key Step that ID Theft Victims May Overlook

Background checkThis year, taxpayer identity theft took a maliciously clever turn: phony tax returns were filed that looked very much like the taxpayers’ previous years’ returns. Standard pattern deviation software would not catch this type of filing. How could this happen?

It turns out that rather than just using stolen names, birthdates, street addresses and Social Security information to file tax returns with made-up numbers, criminals used the stolen information to access the taxpayers’ previous returns to make up believable numbers to file for tax refunds. The criminals were successful in about 100,000 out of approximately 200,000 attempts to acquire taxpayer information on the Get Transcript section of the IRS website, which requires other personal verification questions that only the taxpayer is supposed to know.

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Tax Reform Fatigue Got You Down?

Tax reform_stressed taxpayerFINALLY! This is the year that we get tax reform done. More than 26 years since the last tax reform, the stars are finally aligned: the Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the Administration all agree the tax code is too complex and needs to be fixed. Oh wait, that was 2012, and surprisingly (not) tax reform did not happen, but Washington will get it done in 2013. No, of course that did not happen either. Clearly tax reform would not happen in 2014 because it was a mid-term election year, but just wait until 2015, that will be the year for comprehensive tax reform, because after all, we now have one party leading both houses of Congress. OK, maybe not comprehensive reform in 2015, but you just wait until 2017…that will be the year!

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Sustainability Assurance: A Promising New Service Opportunity

StarbucksIt’s 7:05am and I just popped into my local Starbucks for my regular morning fuel: a venti iced chai tea latte. At this hour, the only thing “green” I am looking for is the Starbucks logo on my coffee cup. However, if I pause to take a look around the coffee shop, I notice there are actually quite a number of “green” initiatives happening all around me. Trash cans are split down the middle with half designated for landfill and half for recycling, the wall is covered with options for reusable mugs and the cup in my hand has the recycling logo on it.

Starbucks, like many other dominant players in almost every industry, has taken significant steps to make its business model more sustainable and records these steps in its Global Responsibility Report. Unlike U.S. GAAP-directed financial statements, these reports—often called “sustainability reports” have limited guidelines for form or content. They can include nonfinancial factors ranging from environmental stewardship to employee health initiatives, community involvement and ethical sourcing in supply-chain practices.

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How to Help Clients Understand Retirement Housing Options

Retirement housingMany retirees see their home as a symbol of comfort and independence that they want to keep as long as possible. However, far too often, reality turns out differently. Most conventional homes present accessibility problems that impair the comfort and independence of elderly people, requiring expensive modifications or an unplanned move to an assisted living facility caused by a health crisis.

Whether you’re advising clients ten years into their retirement or helping middle-aged clients plan for their golden years, you’re doing them a disservice if you don’t bring up the sometimes uncomfortable discussion of retirement housing and end-of-life care.

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3 Things Not-for-Profits Need to Understand about their Finances

Father and Son pictureThere are roughly 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States. Many of them are grassroots organizations run by well-meaning volunteers who are committed to the group’s mission, but who may not have knowledge of the numerous complicated rules governing not-for-profits. I learned of these complexities when I joined the board of an all-volunteer sports league in my community. I'm sure many practitioners can relate: because I am a CPA, of course, I was elected treasurer. In this role I gained a deeper understanding of not-for-profit finances. As a result, I've learned three things not-for-profits need to understand about their finances in order to run a more effective organization.

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Leveraging Technology to Keep Your Firm in Motion

Firm in motionWe all know that staying current and embracing the latest trends in business are key to running a successful CPA firm. Years ago, accountants relied on columnar pads and general ledger books, while working from 8-5 in the office. Today at most firms, those tools and practices are replaced by accounting and cloud computing software, with flexible schedules and virtual offices. CPAs continue to implement new tools and strategies to optimize the changing professional environment to best meet client and staff needs. Interested in learning more, I sat down with two trailblazers to hear firsthand about their experiences.

Alan Long, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is the managing member of Baldwin CPAs, based in Richmond, Ky. Alan explained that his firm has been an early adopter of technology.  For example, the firm has been paperless since 2002, in the cloud since 2004 and has supported a multiple monitor environment for nearly a decade. Baldwin CPAs uses electronic signatures for all engagement letters and consent forms, saving the firm both time and money. Additionally, all professional staff are given iPads, allowing them to be accessible while offsite.

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Nanny Tax 101: Managing Employer Obligations at Home

Nanny TaxesOne of the most important decisions working parents will make is deciding who will get the honor of taking care of their little one during the day. My husband and I decided to hire a nanny to watch our sweet little boy, Henry. We liked the idea of Henry getting excellent one-on-one care from an experienced caregiver, and daycare can present challenges for us in terms of picking up and dropping off our son each day – we may be parents, but our career demands still exist. Hiring a nanny worked well for our situation, but there are certainly administrative and tax responsibilities to consider when making this decision:

Nannies are household employees

Though most families want to consider their nanny an “independent contractor” to avoid costly payroll taxes and the associated administrative duties, nannies are household employees. The instructions for Form 1040, Schedule H are pretty clear on this matter.

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Who’s on Your (Fictional) Client Wish List?

Good WifeReady for some peace and sunshine in your life? In a recent blog, we speculated about TV characters who would make truly awful clients (Walter White, members of the Walking Dead, you get the picture). Now we are focusing on fictional clients who could really take the stress out of life. Which one of these would be your dream client? 

Here are our top picks:

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Responding to Change: Update on the Next Generation CPA Exam

Cpa examThe AICPA is committed to ongoing evaluation and improvement of the CPA Examination. Thoughtful enhancements help maintain the relevance of the exam for the current practice realities for newly licensed CPAs. Last year, the AICPA launched a practice analysis, a comprehensive research project to inform the development of the next version of the CPA Exam. 

An important part of the practice analysis was an Invitation to Comment called Maintaining the Relevance of the Uniform CPA Examination. The ITC was designed to address the changing landscape of the CPA profession and asked a wide range of stakeholders to weigh in on possible changes to the next version of the Exam. In September 2014, the ITC was issued to members, boards of accountancy, firms, academia, standards setters and regulators, and business and industry.

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5 Forward-thinking Client Solutions for CPAs

Forward thinkingAs with any service-oriented profession, it is considered a best practice for accountants to stay in touch with clients and provide solutions to their most pressing problems. CPAs can do this in a number of forward-thinking ways, even when their assistance doesn’t necessarily fall within the realm of services the firm provides.

For example, last summer, my firm, Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman staged a learning and networking event in partnership with the president of a not-for-profit industry group that was driving significant change within not-for-profit business operations. The area of change did not have anything to do with the audit or accounting services our professionals provide to hundreds of nonprofits annually. Rather, the purpose was to help not-for-profits face an emerging industry issue--one for which we had the right connections to allow for an informative and helpful session.

Not surprisingly, more than twice the usual number of clients and friends attended the event, including several from prominent not-for-profits we had never met before. Our audit and accounting events always bring a respectable number of participants, but this event delivered more because our approach meant caring less about whether the topic was a fit for our firm and more about whether it simply provided helpful information about a pressing industry need.

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CPAs Play an Essential Role in Improving the Financial Education of All Americans

As Financial Literacy Month draws to a close, it’s important to reflect on the essential role CPAs play in helping improve the financial knowledge of Americans.  Educating consumers about their finances is the volunteer cause of the CPA profession.  Through the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program (360), thousands of CPAs from all over the country volunteer their time to speak with consumers of all ages about their finances. Increasing our citizens’ financial education is critical to our country’s financial success, and the AICPA is leading the way for the CPA profession.

During my tenure as chair of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, CPAs across the country achieved much and celebrated many milestones in financial literacy.  I have been involved with developing and releasing several rounds of creative from Feed the Pig, the AICPA’s PSA campaign with the Ad Council, and, along with the rest of the Commission, participated in releasing the AICPA’s first consumer publication, Save Wisely, Spend Happily, authored by Commission member Sharon Lechter, CPA.  Commission members promote 360 and its related programs, and represent 360 before the media and national organizations. Our members are essential in promoting 360 with AICPA leadership, committees, state society leadership and key accounting organizations. I am proud of the work Commission members do and the leadership they provide.



CPAs in public service have also played an important role in the profession’s financial literacy efforts. On April 22, U.S. Representative and Congressional Caucus on CPAs and Accountants member Michael Conaway, CPA (TX-11) gave a speech on the House floor highlighting April as Financial Literacy Month. Representative Conaway noted the important role that CPAs across the country play in improving the financial literacy of Americans, and how, for over 10 years, the AICPA, members and state CPA societies have worked together through 360.

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5 Steps to Help You Manage Up

Managing up wordleHave you ever accepted a new project even though your plate was already full? Many of us have been in this position. We are so driven to succeed that we say yes to these new assignments without much thought. As a result, we find ourselves stretched thin, making us overwhelmed, discouraged and ineffective. This in turn affects our productivity, negatively impacts the firm or company and derails our priorities.

If you are a young CPA with aspirations—whether your goal is to take on a leadership role, move into management or simply make your current role align more with your vision of the future—there is an approach you can take that will help you get ahead without having to say yes all of the time. It’s called “managing up.”

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Mine Client Tax Returns for Financial Planning Opportunities

Tax returnAs you transition from tax season and begin thinking about new business, you may find that some of your highest quality leads are right in front of you. Many CPAs tell me they want to begin offering financial planning as part of their practice, but just don’t know how to get started.

One of the best places to start is probably right in from front of you – your clients’ federal individual income tax returns. The return is your easily-accessible roadmap to their financial planning needs.

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Tax Season Wrap Up: How to Recharge, Regroup and Move Forward

BeachYesterday we asked CPA Letter Daily readers: “How do you celebrate the end of tax season?” More than a majority of the respondents stated that they would celebrate by either taking time off or planning a staff dinner, happy hour or party. Another 32 percent plan to continue working by moving on to the next task on their list. Here we share tips for how to rejuvenate, plan and prioritize the next steps for your practice.


Figuring out how to rest can be stressful in itself, especially if you have a larger than expected backlog of work either from returns that still need to be prepared or non-tax work postponed until “after April 15.” Consider the following ideas to get your groove back:

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Broadening Our Definition of Financial Literacy

Micpa-logo-Here at the Michigan Association of CPAs, we’ve embarked on some projects that go beyond the traditional approach to financial literacy. We’ve had the fantastic opportunity to work with Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder, CPA on several initiatives aimed at our most vulnerable populations, including Reinventing Mi Retirement and the Detroit Income Stabilization Fund Program.  

The Reinventing Mi Retirement initiative was introduced by Governor Snyder in June 2014, and it focuses on providing financial education to help Michiganders better prepare for retirement. The initiative officially kicked off in October 2014 with eight locations in Michigan offering free informational sessions for community members. CPA members participated at locations across the state to provide free financial checkups, helping attendees gain a better understanding of budgeting and financial preparedness. Attendees also received an incredibly thorough financial toolkit, which our members contributed to as well. The event came together in just a few months due to the strong partnership we have with the State of Michigan and the incredible commitment of our member volunteers. We look forward to new initiatives planned in 2015, including events targeting younger people who maybe aren’t thinking about retirement yet, but need to be!

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An (Instagram) Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Tips for CPAs

Instagram 2 ImageIn the world of social media, new applications come and go every day. With all the different sites and apps out there, it can be hard to figure out which ones to use and how to use them. Instagram has taken the social world by storm and created a footprint that rivals big names like Facebook and Twitter.

When Instagram launched in 2010, it was unclear how successful it was going to be. In December of 2014, Instagram announced that its worldwide user base passed 300 million accounts, putting it ahead of Twitter and proving that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s especially popular with Millennials, with 53% of people aged 18 – 29 using it every day.

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Due Diligence Reminders for Tax Extensions

Tax formOur hours get longer as we approach the downhill stretch of filing season, and it gets more tempting (if not mandatory) to file an extension for many clients. The proper preparation of an extension involves more than the entering of numbers on the extension form. And, the demands of filing season sometimes take over and quality control procedures and professional standards are overlooked in an effort to get everything filed.

This year will be especially complicated with Affordable Care Act items, a late start with extenders, many late documents from third parties and a culture that expects convenience and increasingly instant results. But the AICPA Code of Conduct, Circular 230, AICPA Statements on Standards for Tax Services (SSTSs) and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) all still need to be considered in the preparation and filing of extensions for clients. The applicable standards include:

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Chicken & Waffles + Potato Chips = Innovation

Chicken and Waffle Chips2Ever heard of Chicken & Waffles potato chips? What about Dulce Almond ice cream? Frito-Lay and Ben & Jerry’s came up with these unique flavor ideas by soliciting opinions and contributions from large groups of individuals, a process known as idea crowdsourcing. Idea crowdsourcing is an excellent method to gather collective knowledge and gauge market interest.

Future-focused companies are increasingly turning to idea crowdsourcing to gain insights, gauge market interest and ignite innovation. They see organizational enhancements as well as external benefits like improved customer satisfaction. Here are a few more:

1.  Foster knowledge and solutions

Two heads are better than one, right? What about 20 heads? Or 200? Idea crowdsourcing taps into collective knowledge -- the wisdom of many individuals, teams, and communities -- to create a deeper understanding of issues while gathering tremendous insights. It diversifies cognitive and creative talent, providing better ways to solve problems.

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What Employers Assume about the ACA Can Hurt Them (and Staff)

Healthcare WordleThe Affordable Care Act is here to stay and continues to challenge CPAs with many unanswered questions and some mind boggling confusion. Every time I think I understand the ACA, rules change and interpretations contradict themselves. Despite the high frustration level, our own firms, our companies and our clients depend on us to guide them.

As a CPE discussion leader for the AICPA and others, I am continuously challenged by participants who complain about leaving class with more questions than answers on ACA. This situation is not about to resolve itself.

When the law was passed in 2010, the knee jerk reaction for many employers was: “We'll just cancel our health insurance plan and pay the penalties.” This is not a good answer. Take my own CPA firm as an example. We employ about 35 people and do not have to offer affordable health insurance since we have fewer than 50 full-time equivalent employees. Although Full-Time Equivalent Employee is defined three different ways in the ACA, our firm is definitely exempt from penalties.

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3 Hedging Strategies for Concentrated Stock Positions

Stock market graphTaxpayers often have a large percentage of their wealth tied up in a single stock, but a single stock portfolio is unfavorable for two reasons. First, it is risky to bet your financial future on the performance of a single company, and second, the volatility associated with a concentrated portfolio could be expected to substantially reduce returns.

In the research report The Enviable Dilemma: Hold, Sell or Hedge Stock, for example, the authors found that from 1984 to 2003, the annualized compounded return on the S&P 500 was 13%, while the annualized compounded return for the average stock was only 9.9%, nearly a 24% reduction.

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Rules and Resources for ACA Due Diligence

Due diligenceThe filing season is upon us and the question practitioners are asking themselves is “What due diligence steps are necessary for getting Affordable Care Act information from clients?”

The ACA provides a new challenge to practitioners in preparing 2014 returns, which will require more due diligence and effort to comply with these new rules.

The IRS, the AICPA, and others have provided many resources to practitioners on understanding the filing requirements of the ACA. In addition to these resources, practitioners should note the due diligence requirements under Circular 230, the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct, and the AICPA Statements on Standards for Tax Services that provide enforceable standards for AICPA members:

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Due Diligence and ACA: A CPA Raises Some Tough Questions

ACA blog 1Editor’s Note: Last January, Janet Hagy, CPA (and AICPA Tax Section volunteer) wrote a popular blog about her concerns regarding new rules for health reimbursement arrangements and their impact on her staff. We asked Ms. Hagy to give us an update and also discuss the Affordable Healthcare Act compliance concerns she has as a practitioner for the current tax season.

What I have learned in the last year about the ACA adds extra concerns to this already complicated tax season. We have two major compliance challenges right now – coverage documentation and standalone health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). Otherwise, penalties, higher fees and more frustration could be waiting for many of us.

The first issue is that we as CPAs have sign-off on whether our individual clients had the required health insurance for each month in 2014 for all household members. We are probably not going to receive any 2014 forms 1095-B or 1095-C from employers or insurance companies substantiating what our clients tell us about their coverage, since these forms are voluntary for 2014 and do not become mandatory until 2015. 

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10 Simple Tips Any CPA Can Use to Strengthen Client Relationships

DoughnutsDo you remember a time when sending a note meant writing a handwritten letter? When speaking on the phone always meant calling a landline? Today, email and smartphones often replace those forms of communication. Don’t get me wrong – it is great to be able to reach someone in a moment’s notice, but there is something to be said about the personal touch associated with those other methods of communication.

With all my reliance on digital communications, I sometimes have to remind myself of the value of returning a client’s call rather than sending them a quick email. Although the latter is more efficient, a phone call can make a world of difference in clarifying any issues and developing rapport.

Below are 10 simple but significant tips that I follow to help strengthen my relationships with clients:

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