437 posts categorized "Guest Blogger" Feed

You asked, we delivered. A more flexible attestation standard.

SlinkyWe heard from members. Their clients want them to perform procedures and report in a format similar to an agreed-upon procedures (AUP) engagement, with more flexibility. To be responsive to the needs of our members and the public, the AICPA Accounting and Review Services Committee (ARSC), got together with the Auditing Standards Board (ASB) and developed a new proposed standard, Selected Procedures. If adopted, it will address several practice issues that CPAs are experiencing today and result in a standard that is in the public interest.

Development of the procedures

In an AUP engagement:

  • The CPA performs procedures that are established by specified parties.
  • The specified parties are responsible for the sufficiency of the procedures for their purposes.
  • The engagement letter is required to include agreement on the procedures.
  • In circumstances where the procedures evolve or are modified over the course of the engagement, the CPA is required to amend the engagement letter to reflect the modified procedures.
  • The practitioner’s report is restricted to the use of those parties that established and agreed on the sufficiency of the procedures

In practice, many CPAs find that the specified parties are unable or unwilling to develop the procedures needed.

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Your new, blockchain supported job

You’ve probably heard that blockchain technology is going to disrupt accounting. (If you read AICPA newsletters or accounting news articles or attend our conferences, you have definitely heard this.)

But do you still find yourself wondering exactly how it is going to do that? Look no further. We’ve compiled 4 big ways your job could change because of the blockchain.

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Personal financial satisfaction hits record high - what’s in it for me?

Personal finances are like fingerprints, everyone is unique. With the AICPA’s Personal Financial Satisfaction Index (PFSi) at an all-time high, you may be wondering what it means for you.

Let’s start with some background. The PFSi is a quarterly economic indicator that measures the financial standing of the average American. It’s calculated as the difference between two sub-indexes: The Personal Financial Pleasure Index, which measures the growth of assets and opportunities, and the Personal Financial Pain Index, which calculates the loss of assets and opportunities. Most recently, the Pleasure Index (68.1) greatly outweighed the Pain Index (42.1), bringing the PFSi to a positive reading of 25.9, the highest reading since 1994.

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6 factors to choose the right basis of accounting for your not-for-profit

AccountingCash, accrual, modified cash or tax—which basis of accounting is best for your not-for-profit? It’s an important decision, so you should consider your options carefully. Management, stakeholders, board members, current and potential grantors, donors and creditors all rely on your financial statements to gain an understanding of your organization’s financial health.

Not-for-profit organizations have several options when choosing a basis of accounting. Here are brief descriptions of your choices:

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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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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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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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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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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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One Easy Way to Enhance Your Strategic Planning

DominoesIdentifying and responding to risk is a challenging job, since new threats are constantly emerging and old ones can change or unexpectedly reappear. When the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) released its comprehensive Enterprise Risk Management: Integrated Framework in 2004, it provided a valuable tool for dealing with organizational threats. In the ensuing years, organizational approaches to risk have advanced and matured, and the nature of risk has steadily evolved.

In response, COSO has released an updated framework to better address the current environment. The new document, Enterprise Risk Management: Integrating with Strategy and Performance, is focused on ensuring that enterprise risk management (ERM) is not simply an agenda item, but something that’s embedded in an organization’s strategic decision making. The new framework is intended to drive changes in setting and implementing organizational strategy in several ways.

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4 Tips for Your New Nonprofit Liquidity Disclosure

ChessAlthough financial professionals serving not-for-profit organizations still have time to prepare for implementation of the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB’s) new not-for-profit financial reporting standard, it’s important to consider and discuss the impacts of the new guidance with board members.

In June, we published a blog post answering common questions related to implementing the new liquidity disclosures required under the recently-issued not-for-profit financial reporting standard. This post discusses steps for making that implementation process smooth and effective. 

The new standard requires not-for-profits to provide both qualitative and quantitative information about liquidity and availability of resources as follows:

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Don’t Be a One-Hit Wonder

ConcertSafety in shrimp

The first time I heard What’s Up? by 4 Non Blondes, I was elbow-deep in a bucket of raw shrimp. It was a month before I started high school, and I’d been slaving away all summer fileting fish and peeling shrimp in the sweltering kitchen of a local seaside crab shack. It was a thankless job that left my hands both stinging and stinking.

And I loved it.

There was safety in it, I was good at it, and people left me alone – likely because I spent most of my days covered in mullet guts. Regardless, it was just me, my work, and a tiny portable radio that sat atop a nearby refrigerator, softly coughing out Top 40 drivel. But then, it happened. From amid all the pop fluff arose the anti-pop voice of Linda Perry, the 4 Non Blondes frontwoman. She seamlessly went back and forth from a deep, brooding register to an eerily pleasing meadowlark warble.

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9 Facts That Can Make or Break Your Firm’s Future

Grow your practiceThe rules of engagement for business are changing. Today’s world is complex, evolving, extremely high-tech, and fast. Whether you’re a small, one-person shop or a partner at a large or global firm, you’re probably aware that your most valuable current (and potential) clients are unwittingly converting business as we knew it into business-on-the-fly. And they’re bringing new methods that can also prove beneficial to the CPA.

Our societal landscape is significantly different than it was just a decade ago. There are new faces, new modes of interacting, and technology has inarguably and almost completely taken over. Is there a way to sustain and strengthen your practice in this ever-evolving world? Absolutely. In fact, now is an incredibly opportune time for your firm, especially considering the statistics.

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Why Pets Make the Best Coworkers

Peaches - Julia MorrissMy dog Peaches, a cuddly beagle mix, is the love of my life. As with most pet owners, I spend a lot of time with my dog and miss her when I’m not at home. The days that I telecommute are often the highlight of my week because I can relish her company all day. Having a dog at home is beneficial in many ways:  I stand up and walk around more often, get outside for fresh air a few times a day and feel less stressed because I can give Peaches regular snuggles.

One of the benefits of being a CPA sole practitioner, or working for a firm that utilizes virtual offices, is that you can often work from home, allowing you to be with your pets all day. Some CPA firms even allow employees to bring their dogs to the office.

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Financial Statement Changes: 5 Steps for Nonprofit Boards

NFP boardAs accounting and finance professionals, we’ve been talking about the coming changes to not-for-profit financial statements for some time now. But many others haven’t heard about the changes, including some not-for-profit board members. Board members are responsible for oversight of the financial reporting process, and as such, they’ll want to take an active role during implementation of the new guidance.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board's (FASB) Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-14, Not-for-Profit Entities: Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities, was issued in August 2016. The standard applies to all not-for-profits and is effective for years beginning after December 15, 2017. Early adoption is permitted.

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The Next Generation: Empowering Future Firm Leaders

Leadership 2“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” –John F. Kennedy

Who represents your future? What’s your professional legacy? How do you know whom to trust with your business when you retire?

Most firm owners know the future of their business relies on the strength of their successors—the individuals most capable of growing and maintaining both client relationships and the service teams within the firm itself. What’s less understood is HOW to identify, nurture and promote the best and brightest candidates in practical terms. What can firm founders and owners do to ensure they’re selecting and preparing the right people to carry on their firms as eventual partners and even owners themselves?

The first task is to recognize the rising stars within your firm. These people are the strongest innovators, always looking for new opportunities to expand client services and grow the business. They’re the ones who naturally lead, and embrace opportunity to build strong teams within their professional circle. And they’re never afraid to assume more responsibility—for not only the daily workings of the firm, but also for the long-term prospects of the business—which includes being personally invested in both client relationships and the firm’s reputation. But once you’ve identified these potential stars, how do you invest in them?

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8 Ways Reading Can Help You Get Ahead at the Office

BookReading is good for your career. Don’t believe me? Think of all the successful people who make reading a priority – Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Cuban, Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerburg, to name a few. And they aren’t just reading Facebook updates, emails and tweets. They are committing time to reading actual books.

Why does reading a book matter? The benefits are plentiful and aren’t just limited to reading non-fiction. One important way reading helps your career is by helping you develop empathy. When you connect with a character and begin to understand their feelings and emotions, you are increasing your empathy. You gain valuable exposure to other perspectives, which can help you better relate to your coworkers and clients.

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Are You Overlooking Prospective Clients?

Millennial clientsThere is a huge opportunity that most practitioners are ignoring, or worse, dismissing: an untapped client base.

This population doesn’t fit the profile of the typical client. They aren’t in their early 60s, near retirement and don’t fit the typical client profile. They haven’t worked and earned and leaned on you to help them make it to the retirement “finish line,” where they’ll begin to really enjoy the fruits of their labor. In fact, perhaps to the chagrin or confusion of their baby boomer parents, they’re quite different.

As you may have guessed, I’m talking about millennials. Before you tune out, consider the following:

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The Firm of the Future: Building Value by Evolving

Firm of the futureWhen starting an accounting practice, it’s important to think about the long-term value of the firm. True forward thinkers might even ponder what their end game looks like; is their goal to merge with another firm or sell their firm? To be succeeded by a partner or family member? In real-world terms, that means thinking about inventive and even unconventional opportunities to expand services beyond the realm of tax preparation, auditing and advice with the goal of appealing to the broadest possible client base. In a world where insurance companies, stock brokers, banks and even franchises like H&R Block are expanding client services to include planning for retirement, education or even simply, how to manage cash flow to maximize financial security, no firm can afford to neglect these areas of their clients’ lives. Competition is becoming too intense.

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Rethink Your Nonprofit’s Chart of Accounts, Part II

NFP Chart of accountsLast month we published the first installment of a two-part series discussing implementation of the new not-for-profit financial reporting model, as viewed through the lens of the entity’s chart of accounts. 

By now, you likely have taken some steps to prepare for implementation of the new not-for-profit financial statement presentation standard:

  • Read through the standard. 
  • Attended training to understand the forthcoming changes. 
  • Had auditor/client discussions regarding the impact on audit timing and planning. 
  • Selected team members to lead implementation of the new standard. 
  • Decided whether to early-adopt. 

When you’re ready to dig in further, the chart of accounts is a smart place to go. The standard will affect several financial statement line items, so it’s important for not-for-profits to create a plan to adjust their chart of accounts during 2017 or 2018.

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11 Things to Know About Gen Z Workers

Gen ZJust when you thought you were beginning to understand Millennials, it’s time to prepare for Gen Z to enter the workforce and they’re very different from their predecessors. Born between 1994-2010, this generation is known by many names—Post-Millennials, iGeneration, Founders, Plurals, Homeland Generation and Gen Z. Just like the generations before them, the characteristics of Gen Z are shaped by parenting trends, historical events and technology.

Gen Z are the children of Gen X, a cohort that was thought to be skeptical and perhaps even cynical in their youth as they came of age post-Watergate and post-Vietnam. Yet, Gen X has grown up to be balanced and healthy despite facing the strains of the Great Recession of 2008. As parents, Gen X have been concerned about raising their children in a safe environment, which has led Gen Z to be more cautious than previous generations. Other major influences shaping their development and world views include the Great Recession, the War on Terror, the first African American president and the legalization of gay marriage. But, probably the most significant factor is the advent of the smartphone.

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Providing Assurance Services in an IA World

Intelligent automationPart I – Control Principles

Intelligent automation (IA) is getting the attention of finance teams, operational environment leaders, and shared service center executives across the world. Not to mention, it makes regular appearances in most major business periodicals.   

Think IBM’s Watson – IA covers all technologies from robotic process automation to artificial intelligence. It is a set of technologies that enables accountants and process owners to configure a software robot to execute, manage, control and audit process tasks. It analyzes data required to manage business and reports on business operations to an experience-based, decision-making software robot.

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Getting Ready for Assurance Has Its Benefits

Cyber

 

In recent months, sweeping global cyberattacks have taken thousands of businesses offline, compromising valuable data and blocking access to critical services and information assets. If it wasn’t clear before, it is now: cybersecurity is a business imperative with direct implications for overall company value. Prior to this spring, and without a common language or benchmark for cybersecurity, how do you quantify and communicate your cybersecurity risk in a meaningful way?

Enter the AICPA’s cybersecurity risk management reporting framework. Unveiled in April, the framework is intended to standardize the way organizations define their cybersecurity objectives and report against those standards in a format that works for all stakeholders.

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6 Planning Ideas for Advising Entrepreneurs

Advising entrepreneursIf you work with entrepreneurs or small business owners, you likely have an appreciation of their vision, determination and work ethic.  You may also have run into some common hurdles that can derail their finances.  By focusing on the following planning considerations, CPAs and advisers serving entrepreneurs can keep their clients’ business and personal finances on track.

Choose an appropriate business form

Helping entrepreneurs evaluate key tax and nontax factors when selecting a business entity is not only important to the business’ financial success, but also the owner’s.

Should they operate as an S or C corporation, partnership, limited liability company or sole proprietorship? What are the classes of ownership, special allocations, basis, liability, elections and distributions for each structure and the impact of these factors on the owner? Navigating these complex decisions is crucial to getting their business off on the right foot. If you are an AICPA Personal Financial Planning Section member or CPA/PFS credential holder, see Chapter 18 of The Adviser’s Guide to Financial and Estate Planning for a comprehensive overview of entity selection.

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How Relaxation Can Improve Concentration

RelaxIt’s not surprising that National Relaxation Day (Aug. 15) is observed in the thick of summer because, for many, ideal relaxation involves lounging on a tropical beach and just feeling away from it all. For me, however, snowboarding is a great way to relax. When I’m carving down a beautiful snow-covered mountain, I’m able to allow my concerns to drift off into the background. From these two examples, it’s plain to see that perceptions of what constitutes relaxation vary.

Relaxation does not inherently require us to be inactive or unplugged from our normal routine. Perhaps you make room in your weekly schedule to take a morning run, practice yoga or spend some time in your garden. These activities may be great when we can engage in them, but how can we find other ways to help us relax the rest of the time, which is most often spent at work? One way to find some space and peace, no matter where we are, is through the practice of mindfulness.

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4 Things You Need to Know About Gender Equality

Women in professionFor decades, women and men have been entering the accounting profession in equal numbers. As a result, you might reasonably assume that women are now at or near parity with men at the leadership level. However, that assumption would be wrong. Only 24% of CPA firm partners are women, according to AICPA statistics. Another recent study found that only 17% of audit partners are women. If these qualified professionals aren’t reaching the top levels, firms are clearly missing out on a lot of talent.

The AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee’s (WIEC) CPA Firm Gender Survey, first distributed in 2015, is designed to identify trends in women’s leadership over time. It informs practical solutions for firms that want to make the most of their talent and prevent the loss of leadership potential. The results provide a unique spotlight on trends related to diversity in leadership and suggest solutions on how best to address them. As we launch the second iteration of the survey this year, I’m reminded of a few of the many valuable insights that the last survey revealed, along with some of the questions firms might want to ask themselves in light of those findings. The lessons learned—and the value and perspective they can offer to CPA firms—underscore the benefits of participating in the survey. Outlined below are a few key takeaways from the inaugural CPA Firm Gender Survey.

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One Attestation Engagement that Can Save the Planet

SustainabilitySustainability assurance is a growing field for CPAs. While reporting on this topic remains voluntary, over 82% of the S&P 500 publish some type of sustainability report, up from 20% in 2011. Furthermore, 73% of portfolio managers and research analysts take sustainability matters into account when making investment decisions and 69% of them believe it is important that such information be subject to independent assurance.   

Sustainability reporting encompasses information about an organization’s environmental, social and governance performance and can range from a full sustainability report to a greenhouse gas statement to information about select sustainability topics. As companies look to increase the credibility and reliability of their reported sustainability information, they are engaging CPAs to provide assurance on this information.  

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Discounting Tax Services: Good or Very, Very Bad?

DiscountPeople love discounts, coupons and the perception of saving money, even when they actually aren’t. But there is another side to the discount, and that’s the product or service provider’s. When they discount their offering, they are losing money, right? Not always.

The Good

The discount is a common and time-honored marketing tactic. It can be a powerful tool. There are a few ways discounts are used to the benefit of the provider. A few of these include: loss leader, introduction/new business and reconciliation.

The loss leader is a simple concept: by heavily discounting an offering (sometimes to cost), you get clients in the door where they will hopefully purchase additional, non-discounted offerings or upgrade from the discounted offering to a superior one that is full price.

In product or service introductions, either the product or service is new, or the client is. The idea is that the discount is used to lure the client in, give them a taste of how good the offering is, and hopefully turn them into a regular customer who pays full price.

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FASB Addresses Accounting for Grants and Contracts

ContractsThe Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) recently issued an exposure draft, Clarifying the Scope and the Accounting Guidance for Contributions Received and Contributions Made, which is intended to address questions stemming from their revenue recognition standard (ASU No. 2014-09) regarding its implications on the grants and contracts of not-for-profit organizations. Specifically, do not-for-profit grants and contracts fit the definition of a contract with a customer, such that the new revenue standard would apply? Or are they more appropriately classified as contributions, which would exclude them from the scope of ASU 2014-09 and instead require the application of contribution guidance? More on that below.

The FASB exposure draft clarifies that the first decision to consider is whether the transaction is reciprocal (an exchange) or non-reciprocal (a contribution). That is, does the donor or grantor “receive commensurate value in return for the resources provided?” If so, then the asset transfer is an exchange transaction. It is important to note that societal benefit—even if it furthers the resource provider’s charitable mission—is not commensurate reciprocal value.

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Plan Smart: Banishing Time Wasters

“I cannot make my days longer so I strive to make them better.” –Henry David Thoreau

Time wastersTime is money

We’ve heard the proverb many times. But when it comes to balancing client needs along with all of the nuances of leadership in a practice, time often really IS money. How many times have you looked at the clock and realized the day was half over before you’d had a chance to accomplish even a fraction of what you’d initially planned? A 2014 study found that only 13% of advisers report feeling in complete control of their time. Alarmingly, an overwhelming number of professionals frequently experience time drains that inhibit their relationships with clients, the growth of their business, and their own personal and professional productivity. Thankfully, there are some very easy-to-implement solutions that most CPAs can put into practice today to combat the time wasters in their daily schedule.

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Key Facts about a New SAS on Exempt Offerings

SAS 133A municipal government issues a bond offering after the audit report date. Or a franchisor is getting ready to prepare its annual update to its franchise disclosure document. What are the auditor’s responsibilities in each case? Practitioners with governmental clients are probably familiar with long-standing guidelines to address involvement with municipal securities offerings, however a recently issued auditing standard expands those best practices into required guidance for all exempt offerings.  

What’s the Background?

The Auditing Standard Board’s Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) No. 133, Auditor Involvement With Exempt Offering Documents, applies to exempt securities or franchise agreements when the auditor is involved. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) oversees a significant regulatory framework for publicly traded offerings, setting rules on what types of information and documents must be filed and when, and on auditor involvement. Some offerings, such as municipal securities, franchise offerings, crowdfunding, and short-term commercial paper with a maturity of nine months or less, are exempt from SEC registration rules. Exhibit A in the new SAS includes a list of exempt offerings.

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3 Factors Driving Single Audit Quality [Infographic]

Single audits are a highly specialized type of compliance audit performed on states, local governments and not-for-profit organizations that expend $750,000 or more of federal assistance in a single year. Given that both the public and federal agencies rely on single audits to confirm that these organizations are managing federal funds appropriately, it’s important that firms perform high-quality single audits.

That’s why the AICPA Peer Review Program recently conducted a study to determine which factors made a difference in single audit quality. Take a look at the infographic below to learn more about the three quality factors the AICPA identified and the steps firms can take to perform high-quality single audits. 

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Nonprofit Challenges: Accounting for Gifts-in-Kind

VolunteersMany not-for-profits receive gifts-in-kind—noncash donations—to supplement their programming needs. When used properly, gifts-in-kind can greatly extend the cash resources of not-for-profits, as they often consist of goods and services the organization would otherwise have to purchase.

Not-for-profits that receive contributions of in-kind goods and services should report them in compliance with the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) fair value measurement standard (ASC Topic 820).

Easy enough, right?

Not necessarily.

This blog post covers significant challenges that not-for-profits face when applying the accounting standards and related guidance for gifts-in-kind.

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6 Reasons to Specialize in Employee Benefit Plan Audits

Employee benefit plansSince Torrillo & Associates, LLC, (of which I am the managing member) opened in 2004, our local 15-person firm has been dedicated almost entirely to employee benefit plan (EBP) audits. We began doing these audits early in our careers, and when we were ready to go out on our own and realized what a great specialty they would be for a small firm, we became even more passionate about them. Specialization has proven to be an excellent choice for our firm because we’ve been able to distinguish ourselves in a complex area. If you’re wondering if this niche is right for you, take a look at some of the benefits we’ve enjoyed.

Our time and energy are focused. Before beginning our practice, we had worked on EBP audits at a Big Four firm, so we were aware that this was a highly specialized field. However, by working in this particular niche, we were able to invest all of our energy into becoming experts, focusing our training needs and giving us an advantage in the marketplace. We spend a lot of energy keeping up with new developments in our niche. Our firm’s quality control director and I volunteer our knowledge for AICPA and state CPA society technical projects and committees, and we send our staff to local and national EBP conferences. When taking on work, we stick to what we know and reach out to other experts when necessary, including the AICPA, the Department of Labor (DOL) or our network of ERISA and fiduciary advisors and investment advisors.

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How to Build Your Back-to-School Budget

Back to SchoolEven though the beach is still calling, it’s almost time for students to think about the days when they’ll be loading up their backpacks, charging those computers and setting alarms for earlier than 10 a.m. – because the new school year will be here before you can say ‘fall semester.’

If that sound stressful to you, you’re not alone. On top of all the stresses associated with learning new material, meeting new people and challenging yourself intellectually, there is also a significant financial cost associated with the start of a new academic year. Regardless of whether you’re a parent thinking about your children’s back-to-school budget, a college student living away from home, or a full-time worker attending night school, the challenges are similar.

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What Unlikely Pairings May Teach Us About Innovation

Innovation 2The last few years have been inundated with major acquisitions, each creating buzz from within and beyond the business world. To name a few, in June of 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn (which had already acquired online learning site Lynda.com the previous year). Fast forward to last month when Walmart announced it would buy Bonobos – a mostly-online men’s upscale clothing retailer – and Amazon announced it was set to buy Whole Foods Market.

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Scenarios in Quarterly Estimated Tax Payments

Estimated tax paymentsWhen people learn you’re a CPA, one of the first things they assume is that you “do taxes.” Often, they have a “quick tax question.” If you are a tax practitioner, you know a quick tax question is an oxymoron. It’s nice, however, to be able to translate some of our CPA lingo into easily understood information, both for clients and friends. One issue that stands out to me is: when and why does it makes sense to consider making quarterly estimated tax payments? 

Individual estimated tax payments – a primer

The government likes to get their money on a regular schedule. For most people, that means withholding from a paycheck. But if that’s not your situation, the IRS has estimated tax penalties in place that preclude you from waiting until April 15 every year to pay the balance due. In order not to be subject to those penalties, during the year you must pay at least 100 percent (or 110 percent depending on your level of income) of your previous year’s tax liability OR at least 90 percent of your current year’s tax liability. And unless there is a special circumstance where your income fluctuates during the year, those payments are expected to be paid in quarterly installments. 

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3 Meh Ways to Promote Your Firm—and 1 Great One

CPAPoweredWe all get used to doing things a certain way. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. But over time, we lose sight of whether what we’re doing makes sense. Is it effective? Is it worthwhile? Does it take more time and energy than it returns? It’s worthwhile to take a hard look at how you market your services and ask tough questions.

Every day, CPA firms across the country rely on ideas for promoting their services that might not present the best value. Call them old habits or if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it syndrome, but the result is the same: results that are “meh.” What more could you do to promote the very real value you bring to clients on a daily basis? Let’s start with what you might be doing now that may not be effective.

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Is Watching Shark Week Deadlier than Actual Sharks?

SharkAs a child, I loved watching movies about summer vacations. To someone from a low-income household whose summer adventures were circumscribed to the occasional elementary school-run day camp, the idea of vacationing was exotic – regardless of whether the family went to Walley World (National Lampoon’s Summer Vacation) or to a charming Massachusetts beach town like Amity (JAWS). Even the latter, where an insatiable Great White swallows poor beachgoers whole, seemed preferable to languishing away hours reading comics in my sweltering bedroom, ignoring my mom’s relentless nagging to ‘go play outside.’

 Although many cast JAWS aside as simply a horror movie, to me, it’s always been much more. It’s a classic-if-not-quintessential man vs. beast odyssey, not much unlike those found in Greek mythology. But whether you classify the film as horror or adventure, JAWS undeniably plays to certain fears. Galeophobia (the fear of sharks) is akin to a fear of the dark in that it taps into an anxiety of being unable to see those things which may harm us. In terms of sharks, however, this fear is largely misguided.

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Rethink Your Not-for-Profit’s Chart of Accounts

Client meetingPart I

By now, most professionals who serve not-for-profit organizations in governance or financial accounting roles have gained a basic understanding of the impending changes to the not-for-profit financial reporting model. This two-part series focuses on implementation and offers actionable recommendations to help not-for-profits prepare for the impacts of the new guidance. 

Look at the New Standard through the Lens of Your Chart of Accounts

The Financial Accounting Standards Board's (FASB) Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2016-14, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities, will impact several line items in the financial statements of not-for-profit organizations. To accurately and efficiently reflect those changes, it’s important that not-for-profits create a plan to adjust their chart of accounts during 2017 or 2018.

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Winning the Value War

Value propositionAre you looking to expand your practice beyond financial statements and tax returns? If so, providing more personal financial planning advice and support, which will help clients plan for their financial future, may be the key to successful expansion. But how do you express the value you’ll provide to your clients? Here are some value propositions that CPAs can use to both describe and demonstrate value of those services.

Step One: Recognize the Difficulty of Selling an Intangible Value

In the world of investment advice, defining a value proposition is relatively straightforward because the return on investment (ROI) can be easily measured. And tax savings from effective tax strategies is similarly concrete.

However, when it comes to financial planning, defining a value proposition becomes far more difficult because it involves selling an intangible service and the results are hard to measure.

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Myths about Personal Financial Planning Services

MythsThere is a good chance you have visited a physician for a routine check-up. At that appointment, your doctor asked many questions – inquiring about your diet, exercise, stress, and health history – and ran diagnostic tests to assess your overall health. Your physician may not have solved any problems at that appointment, but you undoubtedly valued and were willing to pay for an objective professional to assess your health status.

Why is it, then, that many CPAs doubt the value of offering similar diagnostic and planning services to assist clients in identifying potential problems and improving their overall financial health? Broadening your services by asking the right questions, understanding your clients’ financial situation and delivering advice (or making referrals to trusted specialists) is not only valuable to your clients – but also to your practice.

Before you tune out by citing common objections, allow me the opportunity to debunk some of the common myths about personal financial planning (PFP) services.

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Not-for-Profit Gifts: Thanks or No Thanks?

Shutterstock_304427672Not-for-profit organizations are always thankful for the generosity of their donors. Sometimes, however, they must consider whether a proposed gift should be accepted. A gift of $100,000 in cash is easy to immediately direct toward the not-for-profit’s mission. On the other hand, a donation of real estate worth $100,000 may come with additional expenses and effort to sell the property before the proceeds are available to support the organization’s mission. Having a formal gift acceptance policy can help define when an organization should, or should not, accept a proposed gift.

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3 Reasons to Embrace Cloud-Based Technology

CloudNew technologies offer ambitious professionals the chance to advance their careers, and their firms, to new heights. They can be especially beneficial to women and, indeed, any CPAs who want to set themselves apart professionally and preserve a healthy balance between their work and personal lives. In my own experience, I’ve used my cloud technology knowledge to expand my opportunities, accelerate my progress, boost my worth to clients and reinforce my relationships with them. How does the cloud enhance opportunities for CPAs?  

  1. It can expand practice development options.

Cloud-based technology makes it possible to store and access data online where it can be accessed by authorized users from any computer. It’s the tool behind client portals that allows clients and firms to update and collaborate on data they share access to. You can use it to distinguish yourself and your firm.  

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Qualified Charitable Distributions Reduce Tax Bills

RMDCPAs are the frontline in mitigating the impacts of Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

CPAs have the opportunity to be proactive in helping their clients take advantage of the tax break for charitable IRA rollovers, technically known as QCDs (qualified charitable distributions). After my IRA update session at the AICPA ENGAGE conference, this topic generated the most questions of everything I discussed. It’s an easy provision to follow, and it’s even easier to know exactly which clients qualify.

The topic of QCDs is an important one for CPAs, because it’s an opportunity to provide real value to clients who are unaware of the provision. One of the most heavily emphasized messages from the ENGAGE conference was how to offer competitive services in the future. The answer always came down to relationships based on knowledge resulting in higher value services. QCDs fit perfectly into this.

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Small Firms Make a Difference in Unexpected Ways

Small firmI recently heard a moving story about an acquaintance’s father who passed away unexpectedly. Married to his childhood sweetheart for more than 60 years, he was a dedicated father and husband. He had been the manager of his family’s accounts. Upon his death, his widow and family had to set aside their grief to grapple with urgent financial issues, including funeral expenses and insurance matters. Fortunately, a trusted advisor was able to help. The family’s CPA, a small firm practitioner who had known the family for years, was well acquainted with their finances, and immediately came to their aid, offering his technical expertise. The CPA restored order to the family’s accounts and eased their worries. They had peace of mind knowing their CPA was prepared to protect their interests during and after a highly emotional and stressful time.      

Stories like this one unfold every day in CPA firms across America. Whether they’re advising startups on growth opportunities or helping individuals handle life changes, small firm CPAs have a profound impact on their clients, supporting them as they strive for their goals, build for the future or deal with crises as they arise.

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Helping College Graduates Reach Financial Independence

Financial independence“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” –Mark Twain

Ironically, the knowledge college students gain while studying for their careers is only one aspect of the education they’ll need to succeed in securing a healthy financial future for themselves. Learning how best to manage their finances and make wise decisions requires both individual effort and solid expert advice. That is where CPAs can serve as educators to help their clients – the parents – share tools with their recent college graduates to help them achieve financial success.

Getting started can seem overwhelming, but having an accurate idea of how much it costs a recent graduate to live monthly or annually is an essential first step. Suggesting clients’ children use simple money-tracking apps such as the one available at mint.com, where individuals can examine every aspect of their financial life in one place, can be helpful. After entering some basic information about their income and expenses, users can get a quick overview of their overall financial health.

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