306 posts categorized "Guest Blogger" Feed

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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Keeping the Business in the Family

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

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Planning a Fundraising Event? 5 Steps to Avoid Pitfalls

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

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

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

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Educating Your Clients About End-of-Life Care Costs

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

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Making the Next Tax Season a Better One

Tax lessonsReflections on Tax Season

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

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3 Answers to Common SSARS No. 21 Questions


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

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

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

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3 Key Health Care Components Explained

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

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Fueling the Accounting Profession Pipeline: What Will it Take?

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

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

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3 Factors to Evaluate the True Cost of Retirement

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

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

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6 Tips for Becoming a Thought Leader on LinkedIn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ice Cream Provides 5 Reasons to Incorporate Sustainable Practices

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

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

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Survey Results Provide Insights into Clients’ Retirement Funding Fears

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

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

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A Simple Formula to Be More Innovative

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

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

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6 Tips to Tackle Your Firm’s Top Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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A Key Step that ID Theft Victims May Overlook

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

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

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Tax Reform Fatigue Got You Down?

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

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Sustainability Assurance: A Promising New Service Opportunity

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

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

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How to Help Clients Understand Retirement Housing Options

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

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

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