275 posts categorized "Guest Blogger" Feed

The Benefits of Globetrotting as a Way of Life

PassportJapan, China, Turkey, Italy and the Czech Republic are just five of the 23 countries I’ve visited during my ten years as a CPA in the forensic services arena. In a world that has become increasingly connected, more and more CPAs will find themselves working with clients whose interests and connections lie in one or more countries around the world. Although I’m based in PwC’s Forensic Services practice in Washington, D.C., globetrotting has become a way of life for me.

I believe that international business experience can be a significant enhancement to a CPA’s skill base—and my travel has been personally enjoyable as well. If you’re interested in discovering new places and broadening your career opportunities, here are some things to keep in mind. 

Have your passport ready. When I started with PwC, I was immediately drawn to forensics. After completing some initial assignments in the United States, my Director asked if I had a passport. Since I did (and it was current), he immediately sent me to Dublin to work on a contract compliance engagement. Beginning with that first trip, I learned quickly that by being on the scene, I could establish a personal relationship outside of work with the U.S. or international staff.

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The CGMA Program: Adding the Right Tools to Your Career Basket

GlenneyLucky for me, my career has taken me through several different jobs in manufacturing, and one thing I’ve noticed across the board is that companies are increasingly looking for more diverse skillsets in their management accountants. For CPAs to meet the demand, we have to take a critical look at our own professional development to make sure we foster key talents like strategic thinking, communications, leadership and business partnering. A manager once told me that you have a “career basket,” and you need to fill the basket with the skills that will get you ahead. It’s not always easy to find the resources to develop and hone these skills, but it’s very necessary to getting—and staying—ahead.

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How to Clean Your Data and Make it Look Slick


HouseEvery day we are inundated with articles, infographics and news reports that quote statistics that we are just supposed to accept at face value. Consider online real estate prices. If you search in your local area, you will find varying figures for median price, price per square foot and return on investment. The volume and variance in data leads to many questions: Who is supplying this information? What types of property does it include? What period does it cover?

As accountants, this unsubstantiated reporting should make us uncomfortable. We are a profession that prides ourselves on transparency and disclosure. When that isn’t forthcoming, our red flags should go up. How can we trust what we are reading when we know nothing about the source and quality of the underlying data? With all the advances in technology, accountants are uniquely positioned to be the champions who set higher standards for reporting. By giving the audience access to the data, we achieve the ultimate transparency. It’s not as hard or expensive as you may think.

I recently challenged myself to create a case study that analyzed real estate sales in my community—Panama City, Fla. Like many other resort areas, our beachfront county experienced wild fluctuations in property prices over the past decade. I was curious about property values, whether they were selling at a gain or loss and if the values used for tax purposes were fair.

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Elder Planning: Life’s Transitions After Retirement

Elder planningClients often fantasize about retirement; it becomes a sort of finish line for them. Get to retirement and you’ve made it. What they might not consider are the ways life may change once they’ve retired, and the financial, health care and other planning needs that go into preparing for the future.

Enter the knowledgeable CPA/PFS, who can go beyond retirement planning and assist with elder planning. There is a fine line between retirement planning and elder planning: While all financial planners help ensure their clients have enough savings to last until the end of their lives, elder planning also involves helping clients plan for life’s transitions after retirement.

You’re probably thinking, “Isn’t that the same as retirement planning?” Not really. Elder planning goes beyond financial independence and retirement to touch all areas of financial planning, including investment strategy, health care, estate planning, risk management (insurance) and end-of-life care.

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From the Frontlines: Kimberly Ellison-Taylor

Welcome to the AICPA’s series focused on bringing the perspectives of diverse CPAs to life.

Kimberly Ellison-TaylorAttitude. Aptitude. Appearance.

If I had to boil down the topics I focus on when I give advice to women in the workplace, the triple-A approach would be it.

Attitude, because people want to be around engaging, charismatic and nice people. Think about talent shows like “American Idol” or “The Voice.” Raw talent will get you far, but star power draws people in. The corporate world is the same. It is not enough to only be smart. Plenty of people who are smart have trouble growing their carreers and getting promoted. The difference maker? Confidence. Self-esteem. The ability to speak up and also work as part of a team.

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4 Cybersecurity Pitfalls to Avoid

HackerYou might break out in a cold sweat at just the thought of criminals on the other side of the world stealing your clients’ or customers’ account information. After all, if some of the largest corporations and agencies of the federal government can’t prevent their systems from being breached, what can a Main Street CPA firm or medium-sized business possibly do against such a threat?

Reality is that as a CPA you can probably do more than you think. At a minimum, as a trusted business adviser, you should help your clients or employer avoid these common pitfalls:

  1. Classifying cybersecurity as an IT issue. Although IT has a support role involving intrusion detection and prevention, cybersecurity involves much more than IT. Today’s hackers increasingly focus their attacks on human rather than technical vulnerabilities. Cybersecurity is an enterprise risk management (ERM) issue. With some specialized training, CPAs are uniquely qualified to systematically assess and report on cybersecurity risks and implement controls to mitigate those risks.

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The Insanity of Inheritance: How to Keep Your Clients Civil and Practical

InheritanceWhen you handle inheritance issues for bereaved clients, stop and put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand their emotions…loneliness, sadness, fear and possibly anger.

As a CPA financial planner, your role is to support your clients throughout their lives, including during the loss of a loved one. When it comes to inheritance, people’s judgment can become clouded. Even if dealing with an inheritance brings out the worst in your clients, you are helping them prepare for a secure retirement. Take a deep dive into their lives and look for an understanding of what they’re going through.

When clients lose a parent, they also lose their security blanket, leading them to cling to possessions that remind them of their loved one, such as a silver set, a gun collection or a folded veteran flag from military service. While these are all reminders of loved ones, lasting security really comes down to financial stability. Consider these three factors:

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Social Security File and Suspend: Important Deadline and Changes

DeadlineUp until now, if a married couple had one spouse at full retirement age (66 or older), file and suspend allowed the other spouse and/or a dependent to enjoy short-and long-term benefits.  But after April 29, 2016, this will no longer be the case. After this date, if a spouse suspends his or her benefits, benefits for everyone involved – including the other spouse or qualifying dependent – will be suspended, too. Thus, a filer must take benefits and abstain from delayed retirement credits for the other person to also receive benefits.

With the file and suspend strategy, a married person – typically the one who makes the most money – can file for his or her own Social Security benefits at age 66 or older, and then immediately suspend those benefits, while their spouse can still file for spousal benefits. As a result, the couple collects an ongoing Social Security check, and, at the same time, the spouse earning the most money sees his or her benefits grow by 8% each year, allowing for a potentially higher benefit for the surviving spouse.

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Why “Extension” is not a Four-Letter Word for Tax Season

Tax extensionsUp until January, I worked in public accounting and remember all too well the feeling when the calendar flipped to March; it seemed like all I was hearing from my individual clients was that they still had not received their 1099s from their brokerage accounts. It seems every year the compression of when these 1099s are received and the deadline to file gets closer and closer. Not to mention the frustration of getting those amended 1099s right after the client’s tax return has been assembled. Talk about adding fuel to the fire!

There are strategies and processes you can implement to encourage your clients to bring in all of their tax return data (with the exception of the late 1099s) so that you will have everything ready to go and can quickly finish the return once the 1099 arrives. However, despite these well intended strategies, the reality is that it feels nearly impossible to move all the returns that have complicated, late arriving 1099s through the entire process before April 18th (or April 19th in the case of residents of Maine or Massachusetts).

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Management Accounting for a Healthy Bottom Line

Natural Food is a Natural Fit for Shan Staka

Shan StakaShan was brought up with respect for healthy food and living that influences him in his role as CFO of Western Foods, a gluten-free facility in Woodland, Calif. The company makes flour from rice and ancient grains like millet, sorghum and amaranth.  In this AICPA Insights profile, we look at what prepared Shan to guide the operations of a growing natural foods enterprise.

Tell me about Western Foods and your role there.
The enterprise started five years ago and grew so fast that we were maximizing our capacity by year three. So we put forth additional resources and equipment to increase the production level, which has led to incredible growth. I am planning, forecasting and implementing financials to get the best use of those investments in Western Foods.

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Changes to Lease Accounting Have Been Announced. Are You Ready?


LeasesRegardless of the type of business that you are in, there is a good chance that you have been involved in a lease transaction. Whether you have rented space in an office building or leased vehicles or manufacturing equipment, you have most likely been exposed to lease accounting in one way or another.

While you may not have been required to recognize these leases on your company’s balance sheets in the past,  with the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s new leases standard, the accounting is about to change. In addition, you will want to pay close attention as the new standard applies to all type of entities— including public, private and not-for-profit organizations.

Under the new standard, lessees are required to recognize assets and liabilities arising from all leases, except for agreements that have a lease term of 12 months or less. Generally, lessor accounting will be similar to current GAAP; however, both lessor and lessee disclosures will change.

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5 Cybersecurity Precautions for Small CPA Firms

Cybersecurity small firmsWith busy season off to another running start, it’s important to remember that cyber attackers are busy too. With readily monetizable information on hand that can be sold easily on the black market, your practice is an especially attractive target for attackers.

Frequent news reports of breaches at large organizations and government entities might lead you to believe you don’t stand a chance if targeted. Fortunately, this is not the case. The following basic precautions can significantly reduce your risk and mitigate damage if you experience a cybersecurity incident.

  1. Locate, classify and separate information by risk level. The highest risk information for most firms is going to be financial account information such as bank routing and account numbers, credit and debit card numbers, and usernames and passwords for online account access. This information should be protected with a high level of security and stored separately from other client records. Because industry safeguards typically require names of authorized users, billing addresses, employer identification numbers and Social Security numbers to gain access to accounts, a system that stores information used to authenticate account numbers separately from the numbers themselves can mitigate losses should a security breach occur.

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From the Frontlines: Meet Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA

Welcome to the first post in a series focused on sharing the perspective of diverse CPAs

Kimberly Ellison-TaylorFull disclosure: All through my years in school, I was known as a teacher’s pet. Some kids may have been discouraged by this status, but it didn’t bother me. I had my heart set on a career—at the ripe old age of 8—and that was to become a CPA.

So I went out of my way to surround myself with educators — teachers, principals, librarians — that set high expectations for me and helped get me closer to that goal. Moreover, they returned the favor by setting high expectations for me. There was always a voice in my childhood saying, “This little girl has potential.”

Of course, having potential is just the beginning. Moving the needle to accomplishment takes hard work and the right people in your corner, a combination I’ve wholeheartedly embraced on my path to success.

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CPAs Well-Positioned to Help Manage Cybersecurity Risk

CybersecurityCybersecurity is becoming a critical issue as consumers increasingly entrust their most confidential information – including Social Security numbers, tax identification numbers and financial information – to companies that store this data electronically. As companies look for third-party assessment and verification of their cybersecurity risk management program, CPAs are well-positioned to provide these services – and the more comprehensive definition of attest that many states have adopted ensures that only CPAs can provide cybersecurity attest services in accordance with the AICPA’s high standards.

Attest services are those services that are limited to licensed CPAs and can only be performed by licensees through CPA firms. They include audits, reviews of financial statements and examinations of prospective financial information.

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Two Lies & One Truth about Personal Financial Planning

Personal Financial PlanningFriends and colleagues ask me all the time, “Why do you specialize in personal financial planning (PFP)?” That’s easy to answer, but let’s see if you can figure it out based on a game you’ve probably heard of: two truths and a lie, or in this case, two lies and one truth.

Lie #1: PFP is only about product sales and investments.

Clients are looking for more than tax advice and tax planning. Based on my experience of working with clients, as well as networking with leading CPAs who offer financial planning and those who hold the CPA-exclusive Personal Financial Specialist credential, what clients really want is integrated advice on all of their financial affairs. This includes tax, estate, retirement, investment and risk management/insurance planning.

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Estate Planning for the 99 Percent

Estate planningThe CPA financial planner has a new challenge: the majority of our clients’ estates will not be subject to the federal estate tax when death occurs. If this is true, then how do we help them plan for the future, as well as convince them that planning is still important and necessary?

I call this the “new reality” in financial and estate planning. In 2015, the applicable exclusion from the federal gift and estate tax was $5.43 million, indexed annually for inflation, and the 2015 applicable exclusion from the generation-skipping transfer tax (GST) was also $5.43 million. These numbers are now adjusted to $5.45 million for 2016. Clients whose estates fall below this threshold make up 99 percent of the clients we work with in our practices.

However, we can no longer say, “I will plan your estate and save you taxes.” With estate tax savings almost a non-issue, we must adjust, motivating the client to focus on non-transfer tax and income tax aspects of planning that have a large impact on their lives.

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4 Steps to Creating a Social Media Policy for Your Firm

Social media strategyOne way to deepen existing client relationships and connect with more prospects is to use social media. While LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other applications will help your practice evolve, social media also presents several compelling challenges, especially when it comes to compliance.

If your firm is planning to use social media, you’ll want to create and maintain a social media policy. Keep in mind that this policy is not meant to restrict activity for tweeting and posting, but instead to establish parameters to meet these challenges and satisfy compliance requirements.

Four Steps to Your Policy

Your social media policy should outline what outcome you hope to achieve from social media and how you will achieve it. Here are four areas to consider:

  1. Vision. Your vision will detail how you and your team perceive social media, respond to engagement and think creatively for ongoing communications and initiatives. Consider it the extension of the culture of your business – the reason why you come to work and why clients stay with you.
  2. Planning. Having conceptualized and defined how you want to use social media, your plan should identify the platforms you will participate in, such as a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and others. During this stage, you should also determine who will manage these platforms. Will it be comprised of internal staff, external parties or both
  3. Purpose. Financial planners choose to use social media in different ways. How will you define your experience? Consider the following when determining how to engage:  
  • Do you want to use social media as a customer service channel?
  • Do you want to share educational tips, often delivered in client letters, conference calls and meetings, via social media?
  • Are you interested in leveraging the business development nature of social media? If so, you might focus on expanding your network of connections on LinkedIn.
  • Do you want to be known as a thought leader in your area of expertise? If so, developing credible content such as articles, videos and podcasts might be a good way to get your name out.

Certainly, it would sound natural to respond with, “I’d imagine we’d do all of those things at some point.” That is a safe assumption; however, in getting started, opting for a focused starting point helps you shape that voice and cultivate a rhythm to your use of social media.

  1. Goals. By the time you are ready to set goals, your social media vision has taken on a clear shape for you and your team. Like that financial plan, you can now start to envision mile markers and longer term goals you would like to achieve. Don’t neglect to consider how you could measure your progress of these goals, ensuring you factor analytics into your strategy.

Final Checklist

Social media policy is the ticket to entry to the use of social media. Start there and you will be more prepared to move ahead. In the meantime, here are a few areas to address:

  • When selecting a compliance solution for social media – think about ease of use. Choose a provider who can accommodate this with simplicity and meet your needs.
  • Recognize that content that gets shared widely and publicly may fall into the advertising and marketing materials classification. Understand who regulates you – FINRA, SEC, states – and know how advertising content is treated.
  • Keep in mind that testimonials are prohibited. We may not like it – and we know they are very valuable for word of mouth referrals, but when they are written, they are like ads. Just steer clear until the regulatory bodies change their minds.
  • If in doubt about what part of social media is static content (blog posts, articles, profile backgrounds and bios) versus interactive (tweets, status updates), have your content compliance-reviewed before you use it.

And, speaking of compliance, you’ll want to get some very clear direction from your compliance provider for social media. Some are stricter than others, so check to make sure you are following the rules. And, above all, have fun!

PFP members and PFS credential holders can listen to a podcast on this topic. 

Blane Warrene, MobileGuard. Recognized as an industry leader in financial services marketing, compliance and technology, Blane has worked in progressive roles for broker dealers, investment advisors and asset managers. 

Social media strategy image courtesy of Shutterstock

10 Apps to Help You Automate and Streamline Your Life This Busy Season


App image2Busy season is fast approaching. As you prepare this year, consider downloading some time-saving apps that will help automate your life, and as a result, give you back valuable time. Technology has the power to make day-to-day tasks a little bit easier, so why not take advantage of all the following apps have to offer.

  1. Amazon’s Subscribe & Save: Never worry about running out of paper towels, vitamins, shampoo or other household essentials again. Parents—same goes for items like diapers and baby food. With Amazon’s Subscribe & Save service, you can select how often you’d like these products delivered, and Amazon will schedule shipments automatically. Best of all, subscribers receive a discount of up to 15% and receive free shipping on these purchases.
  2. Automatic Online Bill-Pay Services: Eliminate the stress of paying bills. We all know that time is precious, especially when you are working 60-hour, six-day weeks. Because of this, you may want to consider taking advantage of automatic online bill-pay services. Many banks, cable, phone, internet and electricity providers offer this service. By signing up, you ensure that you never miss a payment deadline. An easy choice for peace of mind.

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4 Tips to Prevent Fraud at Faith-Based Organizations

Collection basketContributions - whether by cash, check, or online giving - are the lifeblood of faith-based organizations. Many do not realize how often these donations get into the wrong hands.

There are primarily two types of theft that occur in faith-based organizations –larceny and skimming. Larceny occurs after the money has been counted, deposited, and recorded in the books of the organization. Skimming occurs when donations never get logged in the books; that is, they go missing before ever being recorded. It is the counting and depositing process that opens the organization up to skimming, and that is where fraud can be most difficult to detect. 

Faith-based organizations need to take steps to ensure that contributions make it into the bank in the first place. 

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Leveraging the AICPA | CIMA Competency and Learning Website for Your Development

 

Elizabeth pittelkow headshotThe AICPA | CIMA Competency and Learning website has been a very valuable tool to me since its launch in February. It has helped me both build needed competencies on my team and strengthen my own “strategic skills” in communication and leadership.

I have worked at large firms and now a smaller organization, and based on my experience, I believe the website is beneficial to CPAs from any size and type of organization. It offers small firms a full range of technical and non-technical resources, many of which are free. Larger firms may find that the resources have depth that can complement their in-house learning materials; particularly when it comes to non-technical perspectives, such as developing emotional intelligence.

To help you better understand how to leverage the website, I want to share my favorite resources and how they have helped me.  All the resources mentioned below are free for AICPA members.

Building New Competencies for Your Finance Team

My company has approximately 75 employees. As Director of Accounting and Compliance, I function in many areas, from insurance and risk management to financial reporting and HR. I also assist with legal and marketing.

When we had personnel changes this past year, I turned to the AICPA | CIMA Competency and Learning website to find planning, forecasting and budgeting resources. Using these tools helped my team develop a common language and build new competencies quickly and efficiently. I shared many of the website's resources with a staff person who took over several key responsibilities, and it helped her build needed skills in a short period of time. 

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Scuba Diving and Risk Mitigation: One CFO’s Perspective

CGMA-Fandango-RobLeffCFO-Photos - Rob Leff011What do swimming with sharks and being a CFO in digital technology have in common? According to Rob Leff, CPA, CGMA, CFO of Fandango, both require risk management techniques. In this AICPA Insights Member Spotlight, we find out how Rob is using his management accounting skills to excel in a field that is changing everything.

Tell me about your day-to-day responsibilities.

My role is multi-faceted: It includes the traditional finance and accounting that most CFOs have and also responsibilities that wouldn’t necessarily fall under the official CFO role, such as mergers and acquisitions and business intelligence. Business intelligence includes business analytics and business intelligence reporting, which is data warehousing, database management and more. Fandango is a digital business and the digital space is constantly evolving and changing with new technologies and partners. Strategically, I partner with our president and executive team on the decisions of the organization. We work together on deciding where we’re going to take the company.

How is your role different from the typical CFO?

One of my goals has been to go beyond the job description and add value to the organization. I’m always evaluating the buy, rent, or build scenarios. If there’s an area of business that we want to expand into, I’ll conduct an analysis with the executive team: What would it take to build it ourselves? Or, are there companies we can acquire to accelerate the time to market? Or, could we “rent” [by building] a commercial relationship instead of buying it? I’m constantly evaluating opportunities to grow Fandango. With all of those functions, I'm able to leverage my experience and partner with the executive management team to drive the business forward.

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A Lesson from 2015: Help Clients Avoid Unpleasant ACA Surprises

ACA surprisesWe made it through last year’s tax season thinking Affordable Care Act (ACA) matters were over with until the 2016 filing season, but we were wrong. Individuals who did not indicate on their Form 1040s that they had received the Advanced Premium Tax Credit were surprised to get an IRS notice at the end of 2015 requiring repayment of the credit.

The IRS identified many cases where taxpayers took the credit, but then did not indicate that they did so on their Form 1040. Tax preparers, unaware of the advance credit, calculated it again on the 1040, so taxpayers were effectively paid twice. The IRS caught these double dips, assessed the difference, and included the 20% accuracy penalty (Section 6662) in addition to repayment of the advanced premium tax credit and interest.

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5 Tips for Developing a Successful Enterprise Risk Management Program

ErmImagine being able to use real time data and analytical tools to help identify and track potential risks that could impact your organization. At IBM, analytics is the next big frontier of risk management, as technology sophistication, coupled with an abundance of data, continues to provide insight into actions.

Effective enterprise risk management programs continually capture, evaluate, analyze and respond to risks arising from changing internal operations such as systems failure or turnover; shifting external markets resulting from political turmoil, a recession or natural disasters; or changing regulations. Risk management requires an organization to align its assets, people, activities and goals, thereby leading to good organizational governance.

IBM has been weaving solid risk management practices into the fabric of our business for nearly a decade. Our program focuses on creating business value and competitive advantage through enhanced risk identification. We embed risk management into the day-to-day operations of our business units and instill a culture that promotes accountability and provides processes and mechanisms for reporting risks.

Is your organization looking to enhance its enterprise risk management program? Following is some advice to help you get started. 

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Life Planning: The Conversation of a Lifetime

Life planningIt’s just not enough to give your clients the tools they need for long-term financial planning; to really connect with them, it is good practice to humanize your approach by integrating life goals with financial goals. This is “Life Planning.”

When I started my practice, about 50% of my clients were psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. After I began attending their workshops and learned more about human psychology, I started thinking about my own business relationships. To truly be a benefit to my clients, I needed to find a way to develop an authentic relationship they would value.

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10 Steps to Finding a Career Development Mentor

Mentoring keyQuick--what comes to mind when you hear the word “mentor”? Did you envision a well-connected senior leader who is older, wiser and much more experienced than you are? While it’s true that most mentors once fit that description, the current thinking around mentors and mentorship has expanded. Today, we recognize that age, experience or a person’s profession doesn’t necessarily mean they will be an effective mentor. The main requirement is that a mentor is someone you highly respect, who can offer feedback, and is interested in helping you develop professionally and holistically.

Professional development experts have been reassessing other aspects of mentorship as well, including the notion of time. In the past, mentoring relationships were often expected to happen over the course of years, or even without any clear end date. Today, however, professional development experts advocate for mentoring relationships that are for a specific timeframe--ideally, six to 12 months.  

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Tips to Make Your Not-for-Profit Clients’ Next Audit a Success

Nfp auditTimes have changed significantly from when I started performing audits over 20 years ago. U.S. Generally Accepted Auditing Standards have evolved, and now emphasize the auditee’s responsibility for financial reporting. Today, not-for-profits are in charge of identifying and recording the adjustments necessary to close their books, gathering the financial statements and designing control systems needed to prevent, detect and correct errors that may occur. As a result, the cost and efficiency of the audit is directly impacted by how well your clients prepare. Here are some best practice tips to help them prepare:

Create a detailed timeline.  It is a good idea to meet with clients at least three months prior to the start of the audit to identify key dates and milestones, such as when the client-prepared information will be completed, when the audit will start, when draft financial statements will be provided to management, and when meetings with the audit or finance committee and board of directors will take place. If your firm is also providing tax services, the timeline should include the expected completion date of the client-prepared tax schedules, as well as the delivery date for the IRS Form 990. All parties should agree to, and receive a copy of the schedule containing these items. This will define each party’s responsibility in meeting the final deadline. 

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3 Initiatives to Improve Employee Engagement in Your Firm

Engaged employeeWhat if the concept of employee turnover was foreign to your firm? What if the Monday morning faces of each of your staff shone like those of children lined up for entrance to Disneyland? What if your firm had so many clients eager for your help that your biggest problem was managing new business?

The best firms have already figured out that motivated and passionate employees equals success. The real challenge lies in retaining those employees and keeping them engaged and inspired so they aren’t tempted to look for work elsewhere. Here are three initiatives to help your firm enhance employee engagement and inspire long-lasting dedication.

1.    Get Employees Involved

An engaged employee is one who has a strong connection with their firm. That connection can be developed when the firm’s vision, mission, and core values are created and lived out through the involvement of all employees – not just trickled down from higher-ups. To help increase employee involvement, establish an engagement system that will benefit everyone in the firm, such as:

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Tangible Property Wins Demonstrate AICPA’s Advocacy for Taxpayers

AdvocacyThe AICPA continually advocates on tax matters to improve tax policy and administration for tax practitioners and taxpayers alike. Though the issues and challenges we grapple with could be difficult, our goals are simple:  transparency, simplicity and certainty.  Taxpayers and practitioners have scored a major victory for certainty and simplicity as AICPA-supported provisions in legislation will soon become law.  Taxpayers will have to deal with fewer late and amended Forms 1099 that have $100 of income or less impact, fewer identity theft situations due to Forms W-2 will soon have truncated Social Security numbers, and clients will be able to rely on several permanent rather than temporary tax credits.

We also achieved more simplicity when the small business tax community received two big wins to make the “repair regs” more taxpayer friendly.

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Reaching Agreement to Embrace Change


CPA Exam changesAs we near the end of 2015, the AICPA’s Examinations team is wrapping up the development of the next version of the CPA Exam, and is confident in the depth and relevance of the final proposal we put forth in September. In the Exposure Draft, Maintaining the Relevance of the Uniform CPA Examination, we captured feedback from a multi-year research initiative that ensures the Exam remains truly aligned with what the profession needs from its next generation of CPAs. Responses were sought to the Exposure Draft during the AICPA’s public comment period that closed on November 30, with critical feedback received from key stakeholders, including firms, state CPA societies, academics and state boards.

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Reinventing the Way We Learn Accounting

Accounting edWe live in an age of short attention spans and demands for more productivity. In my role as an accounting professor, if I don’t grab my accounting students’ attention and immediately explain the relevancy of a topic, they tune out.

Today’s young people have a greater aptitude for learning new skills, especially when it comes to new technological applications. They enjoy experimenting, and they don’t mind failing – as long as failure is just a hurdle on the way to the reward at the finish line.

Short attention spans and the need to multi-task are not limited to college students. The nature of today’s business environment requires CPAs to be multitaskers. Thirty years ago when I was a CPA in public practice, we used to take CPE courses once or twice a year to catch up on new standards and guidance. Today, changes are taking place so quickly that we need to be learning new material daily. Our instructional methods and learning habits need to adapt accordingly.

Nano Learning: Breaking Instruction Into Small Pieces

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Native American Indian History Month: Dominic Ortiz

Dominic OrtizTribal, Family and Mentor Support Helped Guide Dominic Ortiz to Valuable Opportunities

In November, the AICPA along with the entire nation, celebrates Native American Indian History Month. For Dominic Ortiz, a CPA, CGMA and enrolled tribal member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, the month is about recognizing the contributions that First Nations Peoples have made to the U.S. and sharing tribal culture and traditions. It is also about honoring his heritage by using his experience as a CPA and CGMA to continually give back to the community that has given him so much.

Ortiz credits his tribe, as well as family members and mentors, for supporting, encouraging and guiding him. Ortiz began his academic career at Haskell Indian’s Nation University. While there, he became president of the American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL), a nonprofit dedicated to empowering business students.

While he was a student, he met Tom Clevenger, a CPA and professor in Accounting who was working with his tribe as a business consultant. Clevenger and Ortiz’s father, a tribally elected member of the tribal council, had become friends.

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How to Retain Retirement Planning Clients – For the Long Term

Retirement planThe latest AICPA PFP Trends Survey, a quarterly poll of CPA financial planners, yielded interesting insights into the impact of strong client relationships.

This year’s market fluctuations could have really thrown clients into a tailspin of concern about their retirement savings and resulted in them making impulsive decisions about leaving the market. Despite the market volatility, a majority of CPA financial planners’ clients exhibited resolve, with only 16% of their clients contacting their CPA with concerns about getting out of the market. The survey quantified the impact of specific reasons for this tenacity, including client education, age and their relationship with their CPA financial planner.

You can have an impact on your clients’ anxiety, or lack thereof, about market fluctuation and long-term financial planning. According to the survey:

Exposure to a CPA financial planner positively impacted their clients’ response to market swings. Clients who have a long-term, more established relationship with their CPA were more confident than new clients. The scale of 1 (fearful) to 5 (confident) has more established clients rating a 3.6, with newer clients feeling slightly fearful at 2.5

Furthermore, clients who were educated about the market rated their confidence level at 3.4 versus 2.4 for those with little interest or knowledge.

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How to Help Your Clients Get Ready for Retirement

Retirement pigClients approaching retirement may be eager to make lifestyle changes, find a second profession or hobby, or even punch out their bucket list. Before they retire, they should consider income tax planning, healthcare coverage, long-term recordkeeping and housing options as part of their preparation plans.

Minimizing Taxes and Healthcare Costs

Clients want to know how much retirement is going to cost and how you can help them minimize those costs. Here are four strategies to consider with your pre-retiree clients:

Before collecting Social Security: Help your clients lessen their tax brackets in retirement by timing ROTH IRA conversions or traditional IRA withdrawals to fully use lower tax brackets each year from ages 60 to 71.

When transitioning from employer-sponsored health coverage to retirement health coverage: Your clients must consider COBRA along with Medicare and Medicare supplemental policies so they can avoid gaps in coverage. Help them do this by offering them education and guidance. Also understand that Medicare supplemental policies do not consider COBRA as creditable coverage, so make sure you consult with a qualified professional that specializes in Medicare and Medicare supplemental policies whenever your clients have COBRA or are continuing work with employer or union coverage after age 65.

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Important Changes to LinkedIn Groups Have Arrived

LinkedInAcross the social media space, LinkedIn is one of the most widely adopted platforms among CPAs. In an effort to simplify the platform for users, LinkedIn will be making some changes to its popular groups feature over the coming weeks. Below are some of the key changes that will improve the experience.

  • All groups are now member only. Simply put, this means that every group will require a request to join. Before, some groups and conversations were open to the public. However, now you will have to be a member of any group you would like to participate in.
  • Standard vs. Unlisted. All LinkedIn groups will fall into these two categories, compared to the multiple settings previously offered. One of the biggest impacts this change will have is that unlisted groups will no longer show up in search results. If you’re having trouble finding a group, visit the website of the organization that runs it. They will typically have the links to all social networks they have a presence on.

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Post-Mortem Planning: Helping Clients Make Decisions About Their Money

End of the financial rainbowWhat happens to your money when you die? While it’s never too early to sit down with your clients to discuss their plans for how their money should be disbursed upon their death, it can certainly be too late. Meeting with them sooner rather than later can generate more income beyond their lives for their family and beneficiaries.

The best plan is to meet with your clients to determine their goals on this topic. This isn’t an easy conversation for anyone, let alone someone who is very much with us now and, hopefully, for years to come. When I’ve met with my clients on this topic, I’ve been surprised by some of the issues. For example, the client may have concerns about a spouse spending too much money too quickly, a child mishandling a large amount of money, a situation regarding a handicapped or special needs child or asset allocation worries.

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4 Ways to Help Clients Plan for Unexpected Medical Expenses

Medical expensesHealthcare costs are rising faster than inflation, so it is no wonder that a recent AICPA survey of CPA financial planners found that clients were most concerned about running out of money, partially due to unpredictable healthcare costs, as well as market fluctuations and lifestyle expenses. One unexpected costly illness could cause significant financial distress for many Americans. Here are four ways you can help your clients avoid this particular fate and better secure their future.

1: Medical expenses toward the end of life can create significant tax deductions. The moment you hear that a client or a client’s spouse is having a healthcare crisis, moving into a nursing home or incurring significant healthcare expenses, you should start thinking about the best approach to fully utilize healthcare deductions. For example, the client may benefit from taking money out of an annuity, doing a Roth conversion or simply taking more money out of an IRA than the Required Minimum Distribution calls for. Rather than reacting to the need for immediate cash, you can help your clients plan for “seemingly” unexpected expenses. I say “seemingly” because all of us can expect to incur end-of-life expenses; we just don’t know when they will occur, of course.

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Does More Money Make You Happier When You Retire? Not Always

Hapy retirementMany of us imagine a future in retirement when we leave the obligations and stresses of our work life behind; but few of us take the time to create a plan for what we will actually do when we retire and who will share that life with us.

CPA financial planners help clients achieve their financial retirement goals, but there’s more to retirement planning than making sure there’s enough money in the bank. The biggest challenge is ensuring there’s financial stability along with investing in developing a meaningful social network that will create a fulfilling retirement.

Here are some things you can share with your clients so they can create a well-rounded plan.

1. For those of us who are savers, the good news is that data from a nationwide Health and Retirement Study states that financial wealth does make us happier, and the effect is generally linear—higher wealth groups are significantly happier, but there’s a limit. At about $3.5 million of savings, retirees actually become less satisfied. This may be because they have more money than they could ever spend in retirement, and essentially feel burdened with the additional stress of managing it.

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Tackling the Systems Side of the New Revenue Recognition Standard

Red phoneAre you ready to implement the new revenue recognition standard? Due to the deferral of the effective date of ASU 2014-09, public organizations must apply the new revenue standard to annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2017, while nonpublic entities have until December 15, 2018 to adopt the new standard. We at Telephone and Data Systems Inc., a telecommunications company headquartered in Chicago, are working hard to ensure that we are prepared in time for the effective date.

Under the current guidance, amounts billed to customers via the billing system are generally the same as the amounts recognized as revenue in the accounting records. Under the new revenue recognition standard, however, this is unlikely to be the case. The new standard requires a reallocation of transaction price between performance obligations under a five step model, resulting in the creation and amortization of contract assets and liabilities. Although the customer experience will not change, we will have to alter how we recognize and report revenue. Given that we have millions of customers, it would be impractical for our company to manually support the requirements under the new standard. For this reason, we have determined that a system solution is necessary.

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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 on 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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