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

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

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

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

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CPA Outlook Index Finds Increased Optimism for US Economy, Lowered Expectations Elsewhere

The AICPA’s CPA Outlook Index (CPAOI) fell four points in the first quarter, the first time the Index has dropped in more than two years. The Index, which polls chief executive officers, chief financial officers and controllers, found these executives were tempering their expectations for profit, revenue and expansion in the coming year.

Optimism about those key performance indicators still remains high, but the survey found a decline in sentiment since last quarter. The one survey measure to rise from the previous quarter was sentiment about the US economy, which found that 68 percent of respondents are now optimistic about the U.S. economy, a new high for the survey.

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3 Hedging Strategies for Concentrated Stock Positions

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

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

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Rules and Resources for ACA Due Diligence

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

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

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

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CPA Potential Nightmare Clients: Walking Dead or Game of Thrones?

Petyr BaelishCould you use a break these days? Many of us turn to the tube when we need a mental break, but eventually our minds drift back to the office. Perhaps you have considered what it would be like to have the characters from your favorite television shows as your clients. We put our heads together and came up with the following list of television characters whom we think would be challenging clients.

Walter White, Breaking Bad. Have you ever had a client who was, say, a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher, but you still felt there was something just a little off about him? White has built a meth-dealing empire in order to provide for his family in light of his terminal cancer diagnosis. Has he filed taxes in recent years? Are his financial statements in order? Does he have an estate plan? You might well be nervous to ask these questions, given the guy’s fairly hostile intensity. “I am the danger,” White proclaims at one point, and it would seem smart to believe him. 

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Big Data = Big Opportunities

MoneyballDid you see “Moneyball?” It was a fascinating look at how an underperforming professional baseball team used big data (player stats and figures) and computer-generated analytics to identify and hire high value players who were available at low salaries. To the surprise of everyone, it gave the once hapless team a decidedly competitive advantage on the playing field.

That’s the power of big data.

Today, big data is big news in the global marketplace, as organizations look for their own competitive advantages. Should we be surprised? Big data offers unlimited potential to change the way business is done, for almost any type of company. In a recent CGMA survey, almost nine out of 10 finance professionals agreed the revolution is not only coming, it’s already here.

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Are You Cheating on Your Spouse Financially?

Couple financesDo you have a secret bank account or credit card that your spouse doesn't know about? Do you lie to your partner about how much you really spend? The topic of financial infidelity, whereby spouses lie to one another about money, emerged as one of the surprising topics of discussion at a recent meeting of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission in Washington, DC. 

Commission members discussed a recent creditcards.com financial infidelity report that showed that about 20 percent of people admit to spending $500 or more without telling their significant other. According to the study, men are more likely to both spend more than $500 and have a secret account.

One way to prevent this is by setting aside some time with your partner (away from busy or stressful times) and having an open discussion about your spending and financial goals. Another solution offered was to have a joint account, but open separate accounts to make individual purchases. The key is having a trusting partner with whom you can have an honest and open dialogue about your finances.

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AICPA Announces 2015-2016 Legacy Scholarship Award Applications

The American Institute of CPAs recently announced that the AICPA Legacy Scholarship application is now available on ThisWayToCPA.com for the 2015-2016 academic year.

14089-331 AICPA Legacy Scholars Seal_color_FThe AICPA Legacy Scholars Program will provide more than 100 scholarships for the 2015-2016 academic year, totaling more than $380,000, to deserving undergraduate and graduate accounting students from across the nation. New this year is a more convenient, streamlined application process which allows students to fill out a single application for all four AICPA Legacy Scholarship awards.

“The AICPA has a long history of investing in the future of the profession by awarding scholarships to highly qualified accounting students,” said Joanne Fiore, AICPA vice president, professional media, pathways and inclusion.

Since 2011, the Institute has been awarding annual scholarships under the AICPA Legacy Scholars program umbrella, expanding the financial award to add a service component. The service aspect of the program is designed to help students develop the soft skills, including leadership and communications, needed to maintain a successful career. Scholarship recipients plan, promote and execute an eight-hour service project each semester. The service activity must relate to accounting, serve the community and be meaningful to the student.

“Our AICPA Legacy Scholars program helps students defray the cost of their education, while helping instill a commitment to public service that the accounting profession is known for,” Fiore added.

AICPA Legacy Scholars are Student Affiliate Members of the AICPA, a free membership option available to all currently enrolled college students. Each AICPA Legacy Scholar is assigned a coach to help guide the student’s service project and offer advice on questions related to the accounting profession. 

For more information, check out this short video 


The AICPA Legacy Scholars program comprises four distinct awards:

·         AICPA/Accountemps Student Scholarship

·         AICPA Foundation Two-Year Transfer Scholarship

·         AICPA John L. Carey Scholarship

·         AICPA Scholarship for Minority Accounting Students

Scholarship funding is provided by contributions from the AICPA Foundation, Robert Half International, Accountemps, the New Jersey Society of CPAs, the Accounting Education Foundation of the Texas Society of CPAs and the Virgin Islands Society of CPAs.

Students can apply online at ThisWayToCPA.com. The application deadline is April 1, 2015. For more information, contact scholarships@aicpa.org.


Due Diligence and ACA: A CPA Raises Some Tough Questions

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

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

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

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10 Simple Tips Any CPA Can Use to Strengthen Client Relationships

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

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

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

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Big Changes Facing Your Firm? New MAP Survey Results Can Help

Imagine your firm’s future if your monthly partner meetings become challenging. What if everyone offers different ideas about what your firm should be spending on office space or disparate opinions about compensation, billing and utilization rates going forward? What if you’ve got a merger, a retirement and the buy-in of two new partners on the table? Sounds like you need sound benchmarking data to help you make some important decisions

Fortunately, results of the 2014 National Management of an Accounting Practice (MAP) Survey conducted by the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) and the Texas Society of CPAs (TSCPA) can provide you with the information you need to make the right choices. The survey’s comprehensive benchmarking data on firm finances and practice management options allow you to compare your firm to those in the same market and of the same size.  The survey can be a vital tool in your strategic planning and decision making, and the new platform enables survey participants to see their own confidential data pre-populated beside the comparative benchmarks. Watch this video for details. (The results provide rich data that all firms—even those that didn’t participate—will find useful. If your firm didn’t participate, you can still access survey reports, but you’ll need to compile your own firm’s data for comparative purposes. This video provides a tutorial.)

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How the New Congress Might Affect the CPA Profession

Capitol2Meet the new Congress. Same as the old Congress? That remains to be seen. The 114th Congress opened on January 6 with 74 new members of the House and Senate, 104 women – more than ever before, and the largest House Republican majority since 1929. Those are the numbers, but let’s look at what they mean for the CPA profession.

Our profession’s core services are greatly impacted by the legislators and regulators who set policy and standards. The November election brought many changes and several new faces to Washington. One thing that did not change, however, was a strong CPA presence. I was very pleased that nine CPAs were reelected to the House. I know that these nine individuals, as well as other CPAs, whether as elected officials or active constituents, will continue to provide crucial experience and guidance. In light of the new representatives, staff members and committee chairs in the Congress, we have been reviewing our advocacy and education efforts on initiatives affecting the profession and the public.

We expect Congress to focus on certain issues in 2015. Here is a brief summary of the more significant ones.

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The Open Workforce Presents New Challenges (and Opportunities) for Finance Professionals

Open workforce mini infographic2Almost overnight, organizations have found themselves managing an entirely new paradigm: the open workforce. Driven by globalization, technological advances and a constantly fluctuating market, businesses must now look for expertise from new sources to work with their in-house teams. This new talent includes a complex mix of local and international freelancers, contractors, consultants and businesses partners.

New CGMA research shows that in more than a quarter of all organizations globally, at least 50 percent of talent is external. While the open workforce trend started in the US and Canada, it is expected to become the norm for more than a third of organizations worldwide within the next five years.

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Disaster Planning and Recovery Advice from CPAs

Blizzard prepWith a historic blizzard bearing down on the Northeast, many people have considered their physical well-being. They’ve stocked up on milk, bread and blankets to weather the worst.

But what about their fiscal well-being?

Events like this one also require financial preparedness – having cash on hand in case the power goes out and insurance information handy in case snow-laden trees come crashing down.

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Top 10 Tax Resources for the 2015 Tax Season

10 tax tipsA mother tries to get her son out of bed in the morning to go to school, and says, "Come on, lazy head, get up. You're going to be late.” But he remained in bed, burrowing deeper under the covers. Finally, she pulled him out, and he said, "Mommy, I can't go to school. The kids throw sticks and stones at me, and they call me names." "But you have to go anyway," she said.  "Why?" he asked. "First of all," she said, "you're 50 years old. And, second, you're the principal."

Your clients hopefully don’t throw sticks at you, but you are the CPA and like the principal, you need to show up, right?  So fight the urge to burrow - listed below are some popular tools from the AICPA to help you.

(By the way, credit for that joke goes to former NBC president Michael Gartner, who included it in an excellent speech on the 10 Rules for Life at my college commencement. Good luck prying that date out of me.)

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Where Is Your Firm on the Journey Toward Greater Diversity and Inclusion?

MLKOn the third Monday in January each year, AICPA and Americans across the country recognize the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Between 1955 and 1968, his strong leadership helped transform race relations in America, and his powerful voice gave the nation courage to continue working toward racial equality. He led millions in this movement, which resulted in historic reforms that benefit all of us—and he continues to inspire the ongoing work of diversity and inclusion happening today.

The accounting profession has been developing effective diversity and inclusion approaches for many years; early on these efforts focused mostly on gender diversity. Today’s initiatives comprise a much wider range of differences and similarities—not only in gender, but in ethnicity, age, generation, religion and sexual orientation.  

Making strong efforts to be more inclusive in the accounting profession is critical, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because trends show that the increased demand for CPAs and accounting professionals will eventually outpace the supply. Some of reasons for this trend are:

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The CFO Has to Be a Jack-of-All-Trades — and Master of Them, Too

CGMA- jack of all trades2How should up-and-coming CFOs regard their role in the corporate hierarchy? They might do well to think of themselves as “the voice of reason.”

There were many comments about the shifting role of the CFO at the recent World Congress of Accountants 2014. But to me, none rang truer than the quote above, expressed by Carol Calandra, CFO, Global Markets, EY Global.

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In the News: Students from UNLV Earn First Place in AICPA Accounting Competition

UNLV9_t653The American Institute of CPAs recently announced that students from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas have earned first place in the 2014 AICPA Accounting Competition.

AccountingWeb reports that the UNLV team’s top finish in the competition earned a $5,000 award for their school. Students from North Carolina State University placed second, taking home $3,000 for their university. The third-place team from the University of Southern Indiana earned $2,000 for their school.

In addition, each of the three finalist teams received a $10,000 award to be split among the team members. All of the awards are funded by the AICPA Foundation.

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Give Thanks, and Give Back

Hands raisedNo matter how many times you may have reminded yourself, it’s a fair guess that you most likely did not completely eliminate the urge to splurge during the recent holiday season. Even though your family may have said no gifts are necessary, it can be hard to swallow the idea of showing up empty handed—my immediate family says year after year that “our presence is our present,” and yet we all show up with armloads of gifts, every year. The last thing we want is to cause our loved ones financial distress at our expense, so how do we fight the urge to splurge in the year ahead?

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5 Key Social Media Trends for CPAs in 2015

Social mediaThis year’s social media trends forecasts are buzzing over innovations such as the integration of ecommerce with Facebook and Twitter, wearable technology and sophisticated analytics that report return on investment. While it will be interesting to see the development in these areas, there are additional trends that can significantly impact your firm’s success on social media. Here are five trends to consider as you go about implementing your firm’s social media strategy for 2015.

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Accountants Play Critical Role in Establishing Global Transparency

Transparent globeI’ve always thought the world would be a better place if only there were more professional accountants working throughout organizations. Each and every day, we bring transparency and accountability to businesses and governments around the globe. We promote financial integrity, expose wrongdoing, and lift the veil of uncertainty to shine light on the truth. When you think about it, we are much like the Swiss-Army knife for modern business—equipped to bring solutions in countless ways.

Tax work? We do that. Financial statements? We do those too. Interpreting human capital and supply chain implications of the latest regulatory standards? Your CPA has you covered.

If CPAs are like the Swiss-Army knife, then transparency is the Master Key that unlocks good business practices; transparency holds decision-makers accountable, leads to better management decisions, and provides the reliable, actionable information on which investors and the free market rely.

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4 Tips for Turning Tax Season Lemons into Lemonade

Tax- lemonsRaise your hand if every article on the upcoming tax season has left you reconsidering your choice of profession? The messages are everywhere and are not painting a rosy picture of what tax practitioners can expect. Well, I promise not to drudge up ACA, repair regulations, foreign accounts or countless other changes - enough has been said on those. Instead, I have a few ideas that you can try the next time you spot a tax season lemon.

Whether your firm is big or small, gone completely high-tech or still doing everything manually, there are always opportunities for improving efficiency, exploring new service lines, reinforcing your value to clients and raising your fees. This lemonade recipe has four ingredients, and simply requires a notebook, a plan and a commitment to try something new.

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CPA Exam Q1/Q2 2015 Score Release Timetables

The Q1/Q2 2015 score release timetable is now available. Score release timelines are updated biannually on AICPA Insights and on the CPA Exam website. For more information about score release and the scoring process, please visit the Psychometrics and Scoring page.

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy releases the scores to candidates and state boards of accountancy based upon the target score release dates listed in the tables below.

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What Could a Next-Generation Peer Review Program Look Like?

The computer scientist and tech pioneer Alan Kay once said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” That’s been the mantra in Silicon Valley for 40 years. Inventing the future is the opportunity the CPA profession has today with the release of the concept paper Evolving the CPA Profession’s Peer Review Program for the Future: A provocative vision of what practice monitoring could become.

Two years ago, based on input from the AICPA’s governing Council, a task force sanctioned by the Board of Directors began exploring ways to raise the Peer Review Program’s current practice monitoring efforts to even higher levels of relevance, strength and effectiveness.

Developed with research and input from various stakeholders, the concept paper offers a glimpse into practice monitoring with a futuristic view. The paper asks us all to imagine the possibilities of what practice monitoring might look like in the next 5 to 10 years and beyond.

This video provides a quick overview.




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Happy Holidays from AICPA Insights


We wish you a joyous holiday season and a Happy New Year. In celebration of the holidays, AICPA Insights has completed its blog postings for 2014 and will resume the first week of January. We look forward to providing our readers with more informative and thought-provoking blog posts in 2015. 

Winter scene image via Shutterstock

5 Tips for Building Your Financial Planning Practice

PFP blogCPA financial planners are always looking for ways to help clients and their extended families realize their dreams and provide for future generations.

There are plenty of financial advisors in the marketplace, but not nearly as many as there are CPAs who work with individual clients and understand their needs from a tax and accounting perspective. That’s the edge we have that makes a difference. CPAs are well positioned to offer holistic financial planning services – ranging from traditional tax and estate planning to retirement, investment and risk management planning.

Last month, as part of the AICPA’s PFP Section’s CPA Financial Planning Thought Leadership series, I moderated the webcast, “Outlook for the Financial Planning Profession.” Panelists shared their perspectives on trends that affect their clients and the CPA financial planning profession, as well as how they integrate financial planning into their firms. While there are many different approaches that can be successful in this area, the key is to focus on your clients and what you do best for them.

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Igniting a Passion for Learning

Last time, as part of a discussion on AICPA’s Future of Learning initiative, I focused on the Future of Learning Task Force recommendation to innovate and experiment, including ideas on selecting the right delivery method for a topic, ways to integrate technology into learning and, perhaps most importantly, ideas for small changes to delivery that can have a huge impact.

Creating a Spark

Today, let’s focus on the recommendation to “ignite a passion for learning.”

In a professional environment where complying with CPE hours often places more value on how much time you spend in a classroom than the quality of what you learn—it is not uncommon for a CPA’s desire to learn to be extinguished and replaced by a resignation to comply.

The importance of motivating CPAs to build competency in meaningful ways cannot be undervalued. And, as we noted in the report, nothing motivates and engages learners like meaningful, purposeful experiences. Whether you create regulation, develop employees or deliver learning, challenge yourself to answer the following, Education for what purpose? If you keep this in mind you will help professionals make the most out of each learning experience.

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Strengthening the Profession’s Core with Relevance, Rigor and Reach

Tommye_barie_headshot2I am excited to write to you as the new chair of the AICPA Board of Directors. I hope to meet many of you at the numerous conferences, state society meetings and firm visits that I have lined up between now and next October. The Chair’s Letter also is a great forum to discuss common experiences and important developments. Throughout the year, I will share my thoughts on key trends and emerging professional issues. I hope you’ll share your comments with me and our fellow CPAs so we can have a robust dialogue.

Let me begin by telling you a little about myself. I grew up in the tiny town of West Liberty, Kentucky, home to about 2,000 people and two stoplights. I was raised on small-town values that remain with me today. These values – hard work, integrity, community and commitment – first attracted me to the accounting profession, and now they will shape my stewardship as AICPA Chair.

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Dynamic Firm Benchmarking: the New MAP Survey Platform in Action

MAP surveyHave you ever performed an in-depth comparison of your firm’s standing against other firms of the same size? The 2014 PCPS/TSCPA National Management of an Accounting Practice Survey provides some new and valuable ways to assess where your firm stands and plot your future course. If you participated in the survey this year but haven’t really delved into the results, which became available in November, you definitely want to check them out. Thanks to a new online platform, it’s much easier to take a peek at how firms like yours operate. And even if you didn’t participate, the survey offers some valuable information that will help your firm plan.

Take the case of a single owner firm like mine. We have a boutique corporate tax practice. In addition to myself, our permanent staff includes one CPA and one CPA candidate, but we add an administrative person and per diem help in busy season. When I’m planning for the future, I often wonder what a top performance single-owner firm looks like, but it’s tough to find more than anecdotal information.

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Benchmarking the Finance Function

Global management accounting principlesOn October 22, CIMA and AICPA released Global Management Accounting Principles, which are available for download at CGMA.org. 

When explaining the principles, the first thing I usually mention is that they are not a prescriptive set of rules. They are principles-based, comprehensive, best-practice guidance designed to help organizations (and specifically finance leaders, CEOs and boards) benchmark and improve their management accounting functions. 

The Global Management Accounting Principles encompass four core principles focused on four outcomes:

  • Influence - Communication provides insight that is influential
  • Relevance - Information is relevant
  • Value - Impact on value is analyzed
  • Trust - Stewardship builds trust

The principles outline the fundamental values and qualities that represent management accounting. Application of the principles, combined with talented people and robust performance systems, will help drive effective management accounting functions.

The document is most impactful in section five, where the core principles are applied to 14 management accounting practice areas. Here, extensive good practice guidance is provided in key areas such as treasury management, financial strategy, cost transformation, budgetary control, investment appraisal and risk management. The guidance can be used to self-assess existing processes.  A diagnostic checklist is available to facilitate the review.

A complimentary resource to the management accounting principles is the CGMA Competency Framework, which is designed to help management accountants understand knowledge requirements and assess skills needed for current and desired roles. In addition to technical areas, the Competency Framework addresses business, people and leadership skills.

The Global Management Accounting Principles are focused on the organization. The Competency Framework is directed at the individual. Combined, they are powerful tools that we hope you and your team find useful.

Paul Parks, CPA, CGMA, Associate Director- Business Industry and Government, American Institute of CPAs  

AICPA Introduces New Disruptive Technology

Audit data analyticsWith the issuance of the AICPA’s Audit Data Standards, the Institute has introduced what promises to be a significant disruptive technology – data on demand. ADS were designed to bridge the gap between disparate Enterprise Resource Planning systems and apps (tools and technologies) that analyze a company’s data. Until now business information consumers had to rely on IT personnel to either develop customized extraction routines or develop applications within the ERP system to do what users were asking for. But, as many business information consumers know, that process is often expensive and time-consuming. All that is about to change.

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AICPA President and CEO Looks Ahead to 2015

In an interview with CPA Letter Daily, AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, reflects on the accounting profession’s successes in 2014 and discusses the opportunities and challenges of 2015. Below is an excerpt from the interview; for the full interview, watch the accompanying video.




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In the News: CPAs More Bullish on Economy Heading into 2015

2015Yesterday, the AICPA announced the results of the fourth quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey. The survey, which polls CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other CPAs who hold senior management accounting roles, found higher expectations for profits, revenue and expansion in the coming year.

Some 64 percent of survey takers now report that they are optimistic about prospects for the U.S. economy over the next 12 months. That is up from 52 percent last quarter and 38 percent a year ago.

As Politico reports, the survey found that respondents are actually slightly more optimistic about their own companies’ prospects (67 percent, up 2 percentage points from last quarter), with 71 percent saying they expect their business to expand in the coming year.

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Did You Receive an AICPA Survey on the Next CPA Exam?

CPA Exam SurveyThe business environment has changed profoundly over the past few years. New regulations, developments in technology and global expansion have altered the way we work with one another. The AICPA closely monitors each of these factors and considers how they impact the future of the accounting profession.

Given this constantly evolving landscape, we need to take a closer look at how changes in the environment affect those who plan to enter the profession – the newly licensed CPAs. Experience and education requirements for licensure vary by state, but passing the Uniform CPA Examination is a must for everyone.

Have you received a survey asking for your feedback on what content should be tested on the CPA Exam? (Remember to check your spam folder!) If so, your input – which directly reflects your experience in practice – is instrumental in helping us understand exactly what topics the Exam should include.

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3 Pitfalls to Avoid on the Road to Becoming the Firm of the Future

Becoming the firm of the futureCPA firms are at an important turning point. We have a choice: we can stick to the practices and procedures we know—ones that have admittedly helped us build the success we enjoy today—or we can take the kinds of bold steps that will ensure our future relevance and prosperity. This will be an understandably tough decision. To prosper over the long-term, though, firms must address the radical changes taking place in the domestic and international marketplace, including increasing market and technical complexity facing CPAs and their clients, as well as the expectations of a new generation of professionals. The profound transformation in so many areas requires a similar alteration in the way we manage our practices. If our firms don’t identify the obstacles preventing us from affecting meaningful change, we risk being left behind. In particular, there are three pitfalls that will make it challenging even to get started on the road to transformation.

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Going out on a Limb for Tax Extenders

Tax blogAre we there yet?  Are we there yet?  Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

~ One of my grandsons

What’s the million dollar topic on members’ minds these days? It’s always a multiple choice with me so here you go:

1. The IRS

2. The congressional lame duck session

3. Extenders

4. Starting busy season

5. Government appropriations

6. Affordable Care Act compliance

 7. The Keystone Pipeline

8. Immigration reform

9. Bipartisan cooperation in Washington

10. All of the above

(Ed, why is “starting busy season” on your list?  When you were in practice, did you look forward to starting busy season?  And isn’t bipartisan cooperation in Washington an oxymoron?  What were you thinking?)

OK, fair enough, maybe not starting busy season, but busy season is a key to a successful practice year, and getting through it with fewer gray hairs wouldn’t hurt. (By the way, take a peek at our recent Tax Power Hour (for Tax Section members) for some tips.) 

I wish it were bipartisan cooperation, but the obvious answer is “extenders.”  We’re hearing from lots of members and rightfully so. Over 50 provisions expired last December.  Our tax advocacy team has been talking about those provisions on Capitol Hill for over a year.  And we recently sent in a letter about them.  IRS Commissioner Koskinen even asked for a copy of the letter to tout with members of Congress because of the IRS’ interest in getting off to a smooth and early start to filing season. Truth is, energy and immigration policy aren’t my thing but they really are intersecting with tax policy on Capitol Hill this year.  So what's the scoop?

The talk about quick passage of extenders is being replaced by congressional interest in smoothing the way for the Keystone Pipeline; indeed, legislation has passed in the House and Senate that the President has indicated would be vetoed (and they do not have enough votes to override the veto). And the President has acted on immigration issues through executive order; the Republicans have said such unilateral action could result in legal action to stop it.  And if that weren’t enough, there’s other legislation, such as the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, that requires congressional attention; and even talk about letting the continuing resolution, the temporary government funding mechanism, expire on Dec. 11. It may not be a likely result but even a remote possibility of a government shutdown leading up to tax busy season is not good!

There has also been quite a bit of talk on dealing with extenders, which is good news.  Piecemeal or blanket extension?  One year or two? The House has been interested in the permanent extension of some provisions and a temporary extension of the remaining provisions, and the Senate leans “blanket.”  And lots of groups are posturing for something to happen - one broad coalition of business groups has urged Congress to act right away lest uncertainty and instability be injected into the marketplace.  Even outgoing Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp has said he thought the Democrats were acting in good faith.

But some would like to see provisions wither away on the vine, for example, retroactive extension of the decades old wind production tax credit has garnered a long and vocal list of opponents. And the President recently warned he would veto a congressional deal in the works, contending that it benefits corporations more than families.

However, there is still hope and I’m a glass-half-full type of guy so let me go out on a limb and give you my predictions (OK, maybe they’re wishes):

  • Congress will enact a two-year extension of the 2013 extenders - one year retroactively - during the lame duck session.
  • Congress will also pass another continuing resolution to fund government though busy season.
  • IRS will expeditiously finish the forms and complete programming and get things off to a smooth start.
  • The President and Congress will quietly work towards a bipartisan solution to immigration, energy issues and other items that need attention.

And a giant duck will land on the end of the limb I just went out on . . . is that a crack, I hear? (Ed, that wasn't just your grandson asking if “we're there yet;” it was all 400,000 of the AICPA’s members.)

Edward S. Karl, CPA, Vice President of Taxation, American Institute of CPAs

Going out on a limb image via Shutterstock

Happy Thanksgiving from AICPA Insights

LeavesWe are grateful to you, our readers. Your thought-provoking comments continue to spark interesting discussions and a lively sharing of opinions. Thank you for your readership.

We look forward to the next conversation – after the turkey and stuffing, of course! Enjoy this time with your family and friends, and have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. 



7 Tips for Starting Your Own Practice

Starting LineEntrepreneurism is on the rise. With start-up fever igniting the Bay Area to the Chesapeake Bay what CPA hasn’t considered—even for a moment—starting his or her own firm? We each started our own firms and know firsthand about the advantages and challenges of venturing out on our own. A few months ago we participated in a live Facebook chat on how to start your own practice. Many of you joined us and asked great questions such as: What prompted you to start your practice? What is the best way to get your name out there? What were some of the unexpected challenges you encountered?

What’s our advice? Here are seven tips for starting your own firm:

Continue reading "7 Tips for Starting Your Own Practice" »

World Congress of Accountants 2014: Grande Successo!

ColosseumI’ve just returned from the World Congress of Accountants 2014 in Rome where the CGMA designation, powered by the AICPA and CIMA, served as the imperial and event app sponsor. I can tell you unequivocally, in English as well as Italian, that it was a great success!

WCOA is organized by the International Federation of Accountants and is held every four years. As lead sponsor, the event provided us the ultimate opportunity to showcase the CGMA designation, the US CPA credential, and the AICPA to an audience of nearly 4,000 professional accountants from around the globe.

At WCOA, we launched a series of reports and briefs that explore the latest trends shaping the future of business. Here’s a synopsis of those reports:

Continue reading "World Congress of Accountants 2014: Grande Successo!" »

Get Ready for the Medicare Open Enrollment Deadline

Elderly couple receiving financial adviceCPA financial planners and others who advise clients on healthcare and estate planning issues will want to know that the Medicare annual open enrollment period runs Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, 2014.

Many people understand they can switch from their 2014 standalone Part D prescription drug plan to a new standalone plan for 2015. Medicare beneficiaries can also drop their Part D coverage altogether, although this is not a good move unless you are moving from traditional Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan with a prescription drug feature.

Medicare beneficiaries can also do the following:

1. Change from traditional Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan.

2. Go from a Medicare Advantage plan to traditional Medicare, although the choices may be limited when it comes to finding a Medicare Supplement plan.

3. Transfer from their current Medicare Advantage plan to a new Medicare Advantage plan for 2015.

4. Move from a Medicare Advantage plan without prescription drug coverage to a plan that offers prescription drug coverage. Note that the Medicare beneficiary can also move from a Medicare Advantage plan that offers prescription drug coverage to one that does not.

Continue reading "Get Ready for the Medicare Open Enrollment Deadline" »

Employers’ Denial of ACA Impact Could Cost Them a Fortune

ACA-Image 600x600In all of my dealings with employers on Affordable Care Act (ACA) matters since 2010, I’ve reached a few reasonably sound conclusions.  Here’s one: employers are faking it!  They are doing so when it comes to how IRS controlled group rules influence the ACA’s “Applicable Large Employer” (ALE) determination.  It is this determination that serves as a foundational component of the ACA’s Employer Shared Responsibility (“pay or play”) mandate.  To recap, employers of 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (100 or more for 2015) are expected to offer ACA compliant coverage (play) or pay assessable payments.  The amounts of these payments are based on factors that include the number of full-time employees and how many of them qualify for Exchange-based premium subsidies.

Continue reading "Employers’ Denial of ACA Impact Could Cost Them a Fortune" »

8 Tips to Becoming Your Clients’ “Advisor of Choice”

Over the past three decades, a growing number of CPAs expanded their service offerings beyond tax compliance to help individuals and families address and plan for all aspects of their financial lives. These aspects might include paying for children’s education, transferring wealth, protecting assets, funding retirement and more. Trusted-adviser_2

As CPA financial planners help their clients realize their long-term goals, this expansion of service offerings opens up new revenue streams and deepens client relationships.

Earlier this year, as part of the AICPA’s PFP Section’s CPA Financial Planning Thought Leadership series, I moderated the webcast, “Being an Advisor of Choice.” Panelists shared their perspectives on working with individual and closely held business clients, the benefits of this expanded business model to the practitioner and firm and the outlook for maintaining this model. (See the note at the end of this blog post about how to download a recording of the webcast.)

During the webcast, we discussed a great deal of information. Here is a quick rundown of eight ways you can become your clients’ “advisor of choice.” How many of these are you already doing and how many would you like to accomplish?

1. Add Financial Planning to Your Practice

Tax compliance is becoming a commodity. Integrating financial planning into your practice offers a chance to make a deeper connection with clients, requiring you to give objective advice and keep clients’ best interests at the forefront.

2. Determine Your Value Proposition

When you add financial planning to your practice, you also add value, but you figure out what kind of value you want to add in order to grow your bottom line. The last thing you want to do is become just another firm offering the same services as everyone else.

3. Avoid Becoming a One Trick Pony Advisor

Clients are outgrowing the services of mono-line advisors. If you were simply a specialist in tax or investments, your clients will grow beyond your services.

4. Know Your Strengths

Position yourself as the advisor of choice. You have an excellent professional reputation, offer high quality professional advice and possess transferable skills that are diverse and applicable to various client situations.

5. It’s all About the Relationship

Deepen and enhance the relationships you have with existing clients who already understand your role as their advisor of choice. You may even need to reposition yourself with existing clients, particularly CFOs or controllers who retain you just for audit work or corporate compliance.

6. Listen to Your Clients

Competent advisors do their best work when they sit down with their clients to let them voice their concerns about the current financial world they live in. Listen for issues you can help understand and solve.

7. Build on Your Three Distinguishing Qualities

As a financial professional, you are competent and objective and maintain the highest integrity. Remember these qualities and seize the best opportunities you can.

8. Break the Mold

Advisors who are willing to address the wide range of issues that come into play and work with their clients and other specialists to serve their needs will be in a great position to be a strong, key resource.

AICPA PFP Section’s Thought Leadership Series

Access the free webcast recordings and presentation materials from the AICPA PFP Section’s Thought Leadership series featuring forward thinking from CPA financial planners advising their clients in tax, estate, retirement, risk management and investments. Two panels will host free thought leadership webcasts on November 12th and 13th covering investments and the outlook for the CPA financial planning profession.


Lyle Benson, CPA/PFS, CFP®, President and Founder, L.K. Benson & Company. Based in Baltimore, Lyle’s firm specializes in personal financial planning, tax and investment advisory services for high income individuals and families, as well as corporate executives and entrepreneurial, closely held business owners across the country. Lyle is chair of the AICPA’s PFP Executive Committee.

 Financial planning image via Shutterstock


AICPA in the News: Personal Finance Tips from CPAs

CPA Web-PFS_center_1cCPAs provide tremendous value in the area of financial planning by helping clients understand changes in laws, as well as trends which can affect their bottom line. Serving as trusted advisors, CPAs who work in personal financial planning are able to tailor their advice to meet the changing needs of their clients in an ever fluctuating economy.

Below are a few recent media articles highlighting the guidance of CPAs.

Jerry Love, CPA/PFS, responded to a Kiplinger’s Personal Finance reader who asked how to save for retirement if their employer doesn’t offer a 401(k).

If you have an eligible health insurance policy with at least a $1,250 deductible -- or $2,500 for family coverage -- you can contribute to a health savings account, said Love. You can contribute up to $3,300 in 2014 if you have individual coverage, or $6,550 for family coverage (plus $1,000 if 55 or older). Contributions are tax-deductible (or pretax) and can be used tax-free for medical expenses in any year.

Newsday reports that, with mortgage rates hovering around 4 percent, many Americans are considering purchasing a home. However, it is important to not rush to a lender until you're creditworthy. The best way to do that is to raise your credit score. AICPA member Kelley Long, CPA/PFS, advised that not applying for other loans or opening new credit cards would be one way to avoid damaging your credit score. In addition, not closing cards is a prudent step, because it reduces your available credit and therefore boosts the percentage of available credit your other cards represent.

A recent FoxBusiness.com article relied upon the expertise of two CPAs to shed light on the havoc financial fraud can cause the elderly. “If you’re 20 [years old] and something happens to you financially, you have a long time to make a difference “If you’re older and not able to go back to work and recover, having fraud perpetrated on you can significantly change the rest of your life,” said Mackey McNeill, CPA/PFS.

It can be difficult for those who are worried about their elders to gain more insight into their financial decisions to help prevent fraud, but Leonard Wright, CPA/PFS advises that effective communication can help break through. “There are ways to communicate with the elderly so they don’t feel like you’re taking over, said Wright. Tell your elderly loved ones that you can get a second opinion with finances just like you do with doctors.” This could also mean explaining the importance of calling another family member before sending any money to a third party or agreeing to a new contract, credit card or investment.

James Schiavone, Media Relations Manager, American Institute of CPAs. 

12 Planning Tips for Social Security Benefits

Social-security-word-cloudHelping clients plan for Social Security benefits may involve a lot of information gathering and research, but doing so could save them a heap of headaches and a lot of money. Here are 12 planning tips that stand out to me as potential opportunities. These can provide great relief and keep your clients out of the danger zone.

Continue reading "12 Planning Tips for Social Security Benefits" »

Protecting Yourself Online

PrivacyWhat were you doing at 7:32 p.m. on April 23, 2011? Chances are that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, your phone company and your Internet Service Provider know. If you share a computer, all of the other users may know. Your employer may know. As will the government, if it so chooses. And if this isn’t enough, they may even know where you were when you were doing it.

Is this a problem? Well, that depends. Do you like getting bombarded with online ads and email obviously based on your recent surfing habits? Are you researching that perfect gift for your wife or husband, or planning a big surprise party? Perhaps you are pregnant or researching medical symptoms and don’t want anyone to know?

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3 Social Security Planning Opportunities for Survivors

Social-security-planningSocial Security survivors’ benefits are similar to Social Security retirement benefits, but there are certain planning opportunities available to the widowed spouse. As the family’s trusted advisor, make sure you understand these opportunities in order to give your clients the most beneficial advice possible. Here are three planning opportunities for survivors:

1. Planning for Spousal Income Needs. Depending on the age of the parents and children, there is a gap in the survivors Social Security benefits. From a financial planning aspect, it is imperative that you discuss the impact this gap will have on their financial goals. After all, it will affect them for years to come and will determine their income.

Continue reading "3 Social Security Planning Opportunities for Survivors" »

Creating a Bright Line between Accounting and Reporting

Grease (film)(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s go back in time to December of 1978. You are longing for the weekend and thinking about going to see the new movie “Grease”that everyone is talking about. You need to get away from the three channels on your television set, as all that you see is the news about anti-Shah protestors in Iran and the craziness of someone giving a baseball player $32 million in a four-year contract.  Maybe President Carter can do something to get us back on track. Well, at least you have your brand new Betamax and can record whatever television you miss – as long as it is not more than one hour long...

At work, your client has asked you to perform bookkeeping services for them. The client needs you to process their payroll, record certain journal entries in their general ledger book and calculate the amount of sales tax that they need to remit to the state. Additionally, the client needs you to prepare monthly financial statements for the owners and the bank that provides the entity’s line of credit. You sit down with a few sharpened pencils and ledger paper and draft those financial statements. The recently issued Statement on Standards for Accounting and Review Services No. 1, Compilation and Review of Financial Statements,requires that you, at a minimum, perform a compilation engagement with respect to those financial statements that you submit to your client. So, you issue a compilation report along with those financial statements. The application of the compilation literature is easy to understand and apply.

Continue reading "Creating a Bright Line between Accounting and Reporting" »

Peer Review Focus on Maintaining Independence

Peer-reviewAs part of its on-going commitment to helping members maintain and enhance audit quality and to improve the consistency of quality across the profession, the AICPA recently launched the Enhancing Audit Quality Initiative. Because of the critical nature of the initiative, the AICPA Peer Review Team will take immediate action on two facets of the initiative: identifying emerging industries and high priority audit areas and applying a combination of outreach, training, and robust peer reviews in these industries and areas.

The Peer Review Team has developed a list of potential “deep dive areas” or emerging industries and risk areas, derived through careful analysis of the following:

Continue reading "Peer Review Focus on Maintaining Independence" »

The Science Behind Social Security Benefits Calculations

Social-securityWhile the Social Security Administration calculates Social Security benefits, it is your due diligence to know the basics so that you can understand how an additional year of earning will affect your clients’ projected benefit.

Some people think Social Security benefits are complicated to figure out; in actuality, it’s pretty straightforward. Social Security benefits are computed through this two-step process:

  1. Compute the average indexed monthly earnings, called AIME.
  2. Compute the primary insurance amount, based on the AIME.

Continue reading "The Science Behind Social Security Benefits Calculations" »

Updates from AICPA Fall Council 2014 #AICPAGC14

The AICPA governing Council’s fall 2014 meeting is taking place this week, Oct. 19 to 21. Updates will be provided on several important issues to the CPA profession, including management accounting, the CPA Exam, ethics and audit quality. Arleen Thomas, CPA, CGMA, AICPA Senior Vice President Management Accounting and Global Markets, will highlight important milestones leading to 2015 for the Chartered Global Management Accountant designation and explore the evolution of the Uniform CPA Examination. Susan Coffey, Senior Vice President – Public Practice & Global Alliances, will update members on the profession’s commitment to quality and the code of conduct, as well as the pending amendment to the definition of attest. You can follow along with Council action with #AICPAGC14 on Twitter or view the stream below. (Email subscribers can view the stream on our website.)


Live Blog Updates from AICPA Fall Council 2014 #AICPAGC14


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