3 Things You May Not Know About Not-for-Profit Board Leadership

NfpIt is an honor to serve on a nonprofit board. In fact, financial professionals often serve in a leadership role as treasurers or finance committee chairs within the board itself. Though board leadership is certainly a meaningful way to give back in your community, it is not without its challenges. Finance committee chairs and treasurers assume additional leadership responsibilities that go beyond the responsibilities of board members at-large. 

Here are three things you may not know about not-for-profit board leadership:

1. Listening skills are paramount and require constant improvement.

You will be working alongside professionals from other fields, typically those with expertise related to the organization’s mission. For example, if your organization serves homeless youth, you may work with professionals from the social-work field. To lend your expertise to business planning and strategy, you will need to spend time talking with your colleagues who are experts on the subject matter and understand the organization’s theory of change. With different viewpoints the board, as a whole, will make better decisions.

Continue reading "3 Things You May Not Know About Not-for-Profit Board Leadership" »

The Benefits of Globetrotting as a Way of Life

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

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

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

Continue reading "The Benefits of Globetrotting as a Way of Life" »

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

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

Continue reading "The CGMA Program: Adding the Right Tools to Your Career Basket" »

Prince’s $250 Million Mistake

PrinceWith songs like “Purple Rain” and “Little Red Corvette,” Prince wrote the soundtrack of a generation.

However, his failure to write a will could spell trouble for his $250 million fortune. Last week, people around the world mourned the death of this gifted singer and songwriter, and many were shocked to hear that Prince didn’t have a will or an estate plan in place. Even though he was a notoriously hands-on negotiator who meticulously controlled the intellectual property rights of his song collection, this unfortunate lack of planning has left uncertainty for Prince’s heirs. The future inheritance process could cost tens of millions of dollars in legal fees, and state and federal estate taxes. Surprisingly, he’s not the first famous person who left this world without a plan.

Not yet famous with a quarter billion dollar estate to leave loved ones? It’s still important to draft a will and keep it up-to-date based on changing personal and financial situations. Here are a few tips to make sure you have an effective will:

Continue reading "Prince’s $250 Million Mistake" »

How to Clean Your Data and Make it Look Slick


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

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

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

Continue reading "How to Clean Your Data and Make it Look Slick" »

Change: As Necessary as it’s Inevitable

Arleen Thomas Current Photo (2)At a state society member event in El Paso, Texas, an older gentleman told me about his daddy that had passed away 53 years ago, and if he were to come back today, he wouldn’t understand very much about the modern world. He wouldn’t understand the phone he had in his pocket, the computer he used every day, or the car he drove. But, he went on to explain, he would understand that times change and we have to let them.

The profound respect this gentleman had for his father continues to resonate with me as does the lesson his father imparted: Change can be scary and intimidating, but it is necessary — and it’s inevitable.

Consider for a moment what happens if we don’t embrace change. Consider Kodak. It didn’t fail because it did not create a product for the digital age. In fact, Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975. It failed because it didn’t embrace new technology and adapt to a marketplace with new consumer attitudes.

There are many other examples, of course. The point is flexibility and adaptability are integral to remaining relevant. You need to focus on your market, your surroundings, and what your customers need in order to succeed.

That’s what the AICPA and The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) have done with a proposal to create a new accounting association to represent and advocate for the entire accounting profession, while preserving the member bodies of both organizations. The AICPA Board of Directors, governing Council, Business and Industry Executive Committee and Government Performance and Accountability Committee have all endorsed the proposal and 52 state societies have passed resolutions of support. It also has broad support from finance and firm leaders across the profession. Now they’re asking for you to vote ‘yes.’

Continue reading "Change: As Necessary as it’s Inevitable" »

Say “Yes” to Advancing Our Profession


Barry and timFor nearly 129 years, the accounting profession has preserved an esteemed reputation through a commitment to protecting the public interest and upholding the profession’s core values of competence, integrity and objectivity. Each and every day, CPAs live those values through the work they do for their organizations, employers and clients. You now have a new opportunity to further strengthen our profession and play an integral part in its vitality for the future.  

On March 24, the AICPA governing Council voted to proceed with a member ballot on a proposal that would enhance our profession and position us for continued success far into the future. The proposal already has strong support: 52 state CPA societies; leaders from many CPA firms of all sizes; finance leaders from businesses and organizations worldwide; and the AICPA’s Business & Industry Executive Committee, Private Companies Practice Section Executive Committee, Government Performance and Accountability Committee, Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee, Pre-certification Education Executive Committee, and National Accreditation Commission. We urge you to vote “yes” as well.

Continue reading "Say “Yes” to Advancing Our Profession" »

Tax Season Wrap Up

End of the roadCongratulations – you have made it through another tax season! 

Take the requisite time to mourn the loss of your time, sleep and missed social events.  Enjoy some much needed rest and relaxation with an activity of your choosing.  Then, if you have not already done so, take the advice of Kool & the Gang and celebrate!

No matter how many years pass, this song always manages to lift me up. So, whether this is your first or 50th tax season, it is an accomplishment and should be celebrated. Embrace the hard work that you have put in and give yourself a pat on the back.

Even as a perpetual optimist, I too fall victim to feeling down when I am exhausted, have hit a roadblock or have experienced a failure. In my many years in tax practice, I often came out of tax season telling myself this was my last. But guess what? By the beginning of the next tax season, I was hyped up and couldn’t wait for those first returns to come in the door.  

Continue reading "Tax Season Wrap Up" »

Make Every Day Earth Day and Save Two Kinds of Green

Earth DayWhere I live in Queens, New York, recycling is mandatory. My husband and I keep a plastic sorting bin with two compartments—one for glass and plastic, the other for paper and cardboard—right next to our garbage can to make things easy…and messy, since our almost 20-month-old son thinks that the cardboard recycling is there for his entertainment. But a little mess in our living room is a small price to pay to help the planet. While recycling has become common practice in many parts of the United States, there are so many other things you can do that will help both the earth and your bottom line, and, in some cases, offer a tax break.

Water Conservation

  • Shut off the tap when brushing your teeth. Doing this twice a day saves up to 8 gallons of water.
  • Install low-flow shower heads in bathrooms.
  • If remodeling, consider low-flow toilets. These give the user the option of how much water will be used to flush based on the amount of waste.
  • Don’t buy disposable water bottles. Instead fill reusable water bottles.
  • Be sure sprinkler systems won’t go off when it has rained or during the sunniest times of the day and be mindful of drought conditions.
  • When running water to wash dishes, collect the initial cool water to water houseplants.

Potential cost savings: A family of four that upgrades and optimizes their water usage can save nearly $300 a year in utility bills and 32,000 gallons of water.  For more tips on water conservation and to calculate how much you might save, visit the Environmental Protection Agency website.

Continue reading "Make Every Day Earth Day and Save Two Kinds of Green" »

The Growing Importance of Financial Literacy Month

Fin lit 2Every second, America’s trillion dollar student loan debt grows by nearly $3,000. This debt that people begin to carry at an early age often leads to more uninformed financial decisions, such as taking on credit card debt and other loans they can’t afford. Typically, this occurs because of limited access to financial education tools and resources. This alone points to the urgent need for financial literacy in this country.

The AICPA and state CPA societies across the country are leading the effort to address this growing problem through new programs and initiatives. April is Financial Literacy Month, and we continue to be diligent in spreading the important message of financial literacy to millions of Americans. Through the AICPA’s flagship 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program, the national volunteer effort of CPAs to help all Americans understand their personal finances through every life stage, we have combined grassroots advocacy with free public resources and tools for CPAs to educate Americans of all ages. Additionally, Feed the Pig, the AICPA’s award-winning public service campaign with the Ad Council, has provided tools and resources aimed specifically at Americans aged 25-34, an age group that is making major life decisions, often with little financial experience or guidance.

Continue reading "The Growing Importance of Financial Literacy Month" »

Elder Planning: Life’s Transitions After Retirement

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

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

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

Continue reading "Elder Planning: Life’s Transitions After Retirement" »

IRS Form 990 is an Opportunity for Not-for-Profits to Shine


Mission

IRS Form 990 is the information return that is filed annually by most tax-exempt organizations, including charities and fundraising organizations. Just like any other return, it is vitally important to comply with the IRS requirements. What makes Form 990 unique is that it reports extensive information on operations, programs and governance and contains not just financial data, but written narratives and opportunities to provide supplemental information as well. Because Form 990 is available to the public, fundraising organizations that view it as merely another compliance requirement are missing a golden opportunity to shine a light on their organization’s accomplishments and attract support for their causes.

Here are some tips to help you or your clients make the most of Form 990 as a promotional tool:

Be mindful of your audience. With few exceptions, organizations are required by law to make their Form 990 returns available to the public. There are several widely accessible online databases, the largest being GuideStar, from which the public can easily access that information at no cost. Also, many online fundraising platforms, such as CrowdRise, Network for Good and Kimbia to name a few, interface with GuideStar’s database to provide would-be donors access to Form 990 information. When preparing your Form 990, consider who is reading your return: your constituents, including clients, customers and citizens in the communities you serve, and others who put faith in your organization. Also, consider your current and prospective donors. These individuals have the expectation that their participation and contributions of time and money are put to good use. Other groups and individuals who may read your Form 990 include community leaders who influence local policy decisions, other not-for-profits and the media.  

Continue reading "IRS Form 990 is an Opportunity for Not-for-Profits to Shine" »

Jay-Z Learned the Value of a Good "Blueprint"

Jay zWhen New York-based rapper/producer/entrepreneur Jay-Z released his critically-acclaimed The Blueprint in 2001, he cemented his place at the top of the music industry with an album that serves as a model for his music genre and those who came after him.

Much has been written about The Blueprint and its impact on Jay-Z’s career, with critics noting that it was a defining moment. The album became the foundation of a young man’s rise from just another rapper to that of a world-renowned musician, entrepreneur and investor.

Now, I admit that pivoting from Jay-Z to the next version of the CPA Exam might seem like a stretch. But think about the figurative title of The Blueprint and what the album did for future rappers. Now compare that to what the new CPA Exam blueprints (unveiled on April 4) mean to a candidate in their quest to become a CPA. Both serve as a valuable guide and resource.

Continue reading "Jay-Z Learned the Value of a Good "Blueprint"" »

Americans Need Financial Literacy More Than Ever

Financial literacy monthAmericans are delaying major life decisions, including buying a home, marriage or retirement in increasing numbers—for financial reasons. According to a recent survey, as many as 51 percent of college students say finances, such as the high cost of student loans, play a major role when making important life choices.

This staggering statistic points to the need to educate and help all Americans make smart financial decisions. As Chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, I help spread the message about the critical need for financial educational programs. The AICPA, state CPA societies and thousands of CPAs across the country share a common responsibility for leadership and promotion of financial education through the profession’s flagship 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program and the public service announcement campaign Feed the Pig.

Continue reading "Americans Need Financial Literacy More Than Ever" »

Starting Here: On the Path to Assuring Sustainability Data


Esg2In terms of intangible accounting, there are no assets or liabilities more ethereal than those related to environmental, social and governance issues. Mother Nature does not send monthly balance sheets. An organization’s diversity and inclusion committee cannot easily sell its access to deeper talent pools on the open market. And yet, gaps in management structures can wreck value beyond any analysis.

As a result, an organization must account for these concepts with hard data to help manage and improve these often overlooked risks and assets. Furthermore, just as it can with an organization’s financial data, regular auditing (or “assurance” as it’s known by the CPA profession when covering subject matter other than financial statements) can strengthen environmental, social and governance data’s accuracy, collection process and reporting.

The environmental, social and governance assurance landscape

In 2014, more than 2,600 reports were produced applying the Global Reporting Initiative framework for sustainability reporting. And while the proportion of assured reports has been slowly growing, less than half of the reports published that year were assured.

Continue reading "Starting Here: On the Path to Assuring Sustainability Data" »

From the Frontlines: Kimberly Ellison-Taylor

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

Kimberly Ellison-TaylorAttitude. Aptitude. Appearance.

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

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

Continue reading "From the Frontlines: Kimberly Ellison-Taylor" »

Benchmarking Helps Not-for-Profits Achieve Greater Impact


BenchmarkingWhen I was first introduced to the not-for-profit world, I knew there would be a steep learning curve. I read everything I could find on nonprofit finance, but it wasn’t until I got involved in a networking group of peer organizations that I felt totally at ease in my new role. When a peer recommended that I participate in a benchmarking study, I had no idea what to expect. It turned out that the experience was very valuable. The goal of the project was to explore ways to provide apples-to-apples comparisons and trending reports on key data. The overall lesson was that by comparing operating data and identifying areas where relative performance can be improved, we can make our organizations stronger.

Our group’s first attempt at providing data in a comparable measure was difficult. Fortunately, we had the advantage of meeting face-to-face to explain anomalies in the data and discuss the qualitative aspects behind it. A decade later, our results have been refined for the benefit of everyone in the group and our respective organizations. 

I frequently speak on the topic of benchmarking, and folks ask, “How do you get started?” Often, they do not realize that benchmarking is quite simple. It can typically be performed in six steps:

Continue reading "Benchmarking Helps Not-for-Profits Achieve Greater Impact" »

In the News: CPAs Say Presidential Election Will Have an Impact on Business Planning

Shutterstock_304155794It’s election season in the U.S. – perhaps you’ve heard?

As we inch closer to the picking our next president, the AICPA recently conducted a survey of CPAs who serve as CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other leadership positions in companies to learn their thoughts on the potential impact of the election on their businesses.

According to the survey, nearly two in three (64 percent) of business leaders said that the election will impact business planning forecasting or budgeting for the next fiscal year. Survey respondents also said that the election ranked fourth in overall impact, behind changes in economic conditions, outlook for their specific industries, and interest rates and borrowing cost.

Continue reading "In the News: CPAs Say Presidential Election Will Have an Impact on Business Planning " »

4 Cybersecurity Pitfalls to Avoid

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

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

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

Continue reading "4 Cybersecurity Pitfalls to Avoid" »

7 Ways to Make Busy Season More Fun


MassageAlthough it can be a daunting and stressful time, busy season is also an extremely lucrative and productive one for tax practices, one that can be just as rewarding for them as the holidays are for retailers. What may be overlooked, however, is that it can also be a great time to build a sense of camaraderie and team spirit because a shared challenge can bring people together. That’s especially true if you add in some enjoyable activities that help maintain your team’s positive outlook and demonstrate your concern for their well-being.

To find out how CPAs are keeping the season upbeat—and even adding some fun to it—the AICPA recently engaged our social media audience and asked two questions: "How does your firm show appreciation for staff during busy season?” and “You get three wishes: What are the best ways to show staff appreciation during busy season?” We then put together the tips below based on their responses and what we’ve heard from other practitioners.

Be nice. This is the easiest and least expensive stress reliever available, so be sure to make the most of it by expressing appreciation for hard work and complimenting or publicly acknowledging outstanding efforts.

Continue reading "7 Ways to Make Busy Season More Fun" »

Revised: CPA Exam Q1/Q2 2016 Score Release Timetables

Due to the 10-day extension of testing windows beginning April 1, a revised Q1/Q2 2016 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.

Jan 2016 timetable

**The examination data files the AICPA receives after March 1 will be included in the final target score release date.

Apr 2016 timetable

**The examination data files the AICPA receives after June 11 will be included in the final target score release date.

Keep in mind:

  • All dates and times are based on Eastern Standard Time zone.
  • For the vast majority of candidates, the AICPA receives the examination data files from Prometric within 24 hours after a candidate completes the Exam.
  • The scores for the examination data files received after the AICPA cutoff dates will be in the subsequent scheduled target score release.
  • Some candidates who take the BEC section might receive their scores approximately one week following the target release date due to additional analysis that might be required for the written communication tasks.

We encourage candidates to visit the Psychometrics and Scoring page on the Exams website at www.aicpa.org/cpa-exam for information about score release and the scoring process, including the CPA Exam Score Release Timeline FAQs .

Acting Today for a Strong Profession Tomorrow

Christen_Tim_headshot_Every member of the AICPA plays a role in shaping the accounting profession.

The CPA’s reputation and profession’s success rely upon the actions each and every one of us takes every day. Our collective contributions can be seen in many forms. We collaborate to address the evolving needs of our clients and organizations, and to maintain the relevance of the services we provide. Through peer review, standard setting and other activities, we all contribute to helping firms maintain quality in an increasingly complex environment. And in the corporate environment, we work to embed our core values of quality, competency and integrity to improve management accounting which, in turn, enables stronger audits and financial reporting.

Now, there’s a new opportunity for us to play our part in the profession’s vitality for the future. Last week, the AICPA governing Council voted to proceed with a member ballot on a proposal that would enhance our profession across public and management accounting. Specifically, the Institute will be asking members to support a proposal to create a new association with The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants representing the entire accounting profession, while preserving our respective membership bodies. It will enhance advocacy and expand member resources and education opportunities.

Continue reading "Acting Today for a Strong Profession Tomorrow" »

Appearances are Not Deceiving: Powering CPAs as Premier Tax Service Providers

The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.

--Socrates

2013_CPAGiveaway_Thumbnail (2)When I started college at the University of Maryland, I went in as a pre-med major, intending to be a pediatrician.  I wanted something meaningful, and I wanted to make a living, but all the sciences did me in. Luckily for me, my sister had just married a CPA and I spoke to him about becoming an accounting major. The rest is history. I thought, “Maybe it’s not the most glamorous job in the world,” but I had a very positive impression of CPAs and my brother-in-law reinforced that positive impression when I spoke to him.

Fast forward to my role at the AICPA, where a key mission is to position CPAs as the premier providers of tax services. This is not just about appearances – it’s about realities. It is why the AICPA Tax Section is the home for CPA tax professionals seeking the edge they need to achieve success – premier status, if you will – through the tax practice resources and the ethical guidance we provide. We believe “premier’ is defined by the high quality services and uncommon ethical conduct CPAs provide; and the AICPA has to do its part in helping CPAs achieve the reality.

But the appearances part is important too. It’s critical. I know that CPAs are the premier tax service providers, but I want the rest of the world to know it too. And so for a number of years, the AICPA has supported a public-facing communications campaign to position CPAs as the premier service provider. Two years ago, that campaign morphed into a social media push to engage consumers to tell their #CPAPOWERED life moment stories of financial success or goals met thanks to their CPA. Last year, the #CPAPOWERED campaign focused on establishing CPAs as essential to small business success and a strong economy. The campaign helped business owners and entrepreneurs understand how much the advice of a CPA can help them start, grow and thrive.

Part of that campaign showcased CPA expertise and tips through the “CPA Secrets to a Better Business” video series. This year, the push when the consuming public has taxes on its mind began on March 4 and will run during busy season. We will again be using the Tax Tip video series on YouTube and Facebook.

Continue reading "Appearances are Not Deceiving: Powering CPAs as Premier Tax Service Providers" »

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "The Insanity of Inheritance: How to Keep Your Clients Civil and Practical" »

Answers to 5 Common Cloud Questions for Not-for-Profits


CloudWith cybersecurity in recent news headlines, more clients are coming to us for advice on accounting software solutions. Cloud systems, especially, have increased in popularity among businesses in the private sector and not-for-profits alike. Organizations with decentralized operations, or with many remote workers that need access to information, can benefit the most from using a cloud system.

Here are the most common questions we encounter in our practices.

Q: What (and where) is the cloud?

A: When we talk about the cloud, it just refers to a system or application that is hosted somewhere outside of your office—usually accessed over the Internet. The term “cloud” comes from the shape used to represent the Internet on network diagrams. 

Some people may also be familiar with the term Software as a Service (SaaS).  The “as a Service” (aaS) suffix also refers to the cloud. There are several flavors of this: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and more keep coming up as additional services are delivered via the cloud.

Another term also often associated with the cloud is “hosted solutions.” This can be software, servers, or even desktop services. Unlike the “as a Service” model, which would be considered “pure” cloud and accessible directly from the Internet in a web browser, hosted solutions usually require a VPN network connection or specially configured client software to access.  However, for most intents and purposes, we can consider hosted solutions as part of the “cloud.”

Continue reading "Answers to 5 Common Cloud Questions for Not-for-Profits" »

Social Security File and Suspend: Important Deadline and Changes

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

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

Continue reading "Social Security File and Suspend: Important Deadline and Changes" »

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

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

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

Continue reading "Why “Extension” is not a Four-Letter Word for Tax Season" »

Management Accounting for a Healthy Bottom Line

Natural Food is a Natural Fit for Shan Staka

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

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

Continue reading "Management Accounting for a Healthy Bottom Line" »

ACA: Step Away from that Form 1095 ‘Til You Read This

“Never do today what you can as well do tomorrow” – Aaron Burr

Proceed with cautionThis statement, sometimes written in the context of postponing an unpleasant task, was originally expressed by our country’s third vice-president to acknowledge that in certain circumstances, a premature action may be regrettable. Alexander Hamilton would agree.

The same can be said for reporting on the Affordable Care Act: CPAs may regret completing any related forms without first taking some precautions. We are in the business of helping our clients with a full range of accounting and tax needs, so offering services in this space seems to fall neatly into the area of tax compliance. This is a compliance matter, but the nature of the material required to prepare these information returns adds an additional level of complexity. CPAs who aid clients with the completion of these forms need to consider the applicability of privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Continue reading "ACA: Step Away from that Form 1095 ‘Til You Read This" »

Advice from a CPA Client - How to Break the News That They Owe

Tax billLet’s just get this out of the way up front: I’m not a CPA. I’m a pictures-and-words kind of guy. Numbers never loved me. They were my bully in school. To this day, the sight of long columns of numbers causes me all manner of gastric discomfort. So when I started my own business and realized there would be bookkeeping involved, naturally I addressed the challenge by running to my CPA.

Now, I have to pause here a moment to say my CPA is the most patient guy in the world. A sample of things he said to me over the years:

“No, Adam, you can’t deduct Warcraft.”

“What do you mean you LOST the checkbook? Don’t you use Quicken? Wait—you DON’T TRACK EXPENSES???”

“No, a 1099. Not a W2. No, that’s a K1—no, not a K9, a K1. Look, just hand me the box of papers and I’ll figure it out. Go home.”

Continue reading "Advice from a CPA Client - How to Break the News That They Owe" »

Update on Taxes and Terrorism: Why Clients’ Data Could Become Vulnerable

Data breachSince this article was initially published in December 2015, the FBI has attempted to compel Apple, Inc. to defeat its own encryption for the purposes of accessing the information on the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, perpetrator of the mass shootings in San Bernardino in December of last year. Apple has thus far refused to obey a federal court order to provide access to the phone, based in part on a first-amendment argument that code-writing constitutes free speech. A federal court in California will hear arguments on March 22, but promises from both the Justice Department and Apple, Inc. to appeal any decision against their respective cases mean the dispute is unlikely to conclude at that time. The case is certain to have far-reaching implications for the nature of digital security both here in the United States and abroad.

Continue reading "Update on Taxes and Terrorism: Why Clients’ Data Could Become Vulnerable" »

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


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

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

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

Continue reading "Changes to Lease Accounting Have Been Announced. Are You Ready? " »

6 Ways Women CPAs Can Accelerate Their Careers


WomenMarch is Women’s History Month, a worthwhile time to consider the many contributions that women have made to our country’s progress. In fact, this is also an interesting time in the history of women in the CPA profession. Given the retirement of the large Baby Boomer generation and the fierce competition for talent, it’s clear that the profession is evolving to create more opportunities and to attract and retain a more diverse range of professionals.


And that’s good news for women, because the accounting profession is a great place for us to be right now. The career opportunities for women are endless -- both in public practice and management accounting. How can you take advantage of these opportunities to find the success you’re seeking?


Here are a few tips for making the most of the options I believe are awaiting female CPAs today.

Continue reading "6 Ways Women CPAs Can Accelerate Their Careers" »

5 Cybersecurity Precautions for Small CPA Firms

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

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

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

Continue reading "5 Cybersecurity Precautions for Small CPA Firms" »

What’s a Hooraycation, and How Can I Go on One?

GalapagosGetting Away from it All After Busy Season: Trips for Any Budget

As busy season finally draws to a close, your senses dulled by long nights staring at a monitor and routing through piles of disorganized receipts, you might understandably be thinking about taking a well-earned break. Recharging your batteries, getting acquainted once again with those people who share your house and enjoying a few days of relaxation mean different things to different people, but in the end it always comes down to budget. Here are three family-friendly vacation types you can plan today, designed for modest, moderate and extreme budgets.

Continue reading "What’s a Hooraycation, and How Can I Go on One?" »

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "From the Frontlines: Meet Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, CPA, CGMA" »

Writing Off Expenses on a Martian Farm: The Trouble with Oscar-Nominated Clients


LeoIt’s Oscar season, and this year’s list of nominated films includes many characters you definitely wouldn’t want to meet in your reception area on a frantic Saturday morning. As busy season gets into full swing, here are some potential nightmare clients from current and past Oscar-nominated movies that you’ll be happy you don’t have to face in person.

Hugh Glass, “The Revenant.” The bearskin coat kind of says it all, doesn’t it? It’s certainly going to set this man apart from most of the usual clients. Glass is a fur trapper who’s left for dead and faces extraordinary hardships during a long, harrowing journey through the wilderness. At some point he wins a tough fight with a grizzly and uses its skin as a coat. Understandably, he’s not a big talker, so it will be hard to determine his long- and short-term financial goals. You also have to expect that much of his documentation for income and expenses is hard to locate.  

Mark Watney, “The Martian.” Talking about working with a client remotely! This takes virtual services to a new level. And while you may have wrestled with the complications of filing for U.S. expatriate or foreign clients before, when you deal with interplanetary tax situations you’re really breaking new ground. Another wrinkle: Where and how are you supposed to report information on income and expenses from Watney’s Martian farm?

Continue reading "Writing Off Expenses on a Martian Farm: The Trouble with Oscar-Nominated Clients" »

Expert Advice on Not-for-Profit Board Service


Board membersThe AICPA Not-for-Profit Section recently hosted a Facebook chat providing advice for those looking to join a board of directors. The event was an opportunity for the public to engage in a conversation with experts working with not-for-profits and serving on boards.

Two members of the AICPA Not-for-Profit Advisory Council were online to answer participants’ questions during the chat. Carolyn Mollen, CPA, is the Chief Financial Officer at Independent Sector, a leadership network for nonprofits, foundations and corporations. Brian Yacker, JD, CPA, is the Managing Partner of YH Advisors, a CPA firm focused solely on addressing the tax, legal, audit and accounting needs of all different types of charitable and other tax-exempt organizations.

Since the chat was such a success, we wanted to share a few of the top questions on AICPA Insights.

 

Question: What are the challenges faced by nonprofits today?

Carolyn: Too many to list! In all seriousness, non-profits face many of the same challenges as the private sector, including information security issues, changing technology, talent recruitment and retention, and general economic pressures. However, not-for-profits also must deal with challenges unique to the sector, such as a changing funding landscape and how to find effective ways to measure impact and evaluate performance.

 

Question: Is it standard for not-for-profits to expect board members to act as fundraisers? If so, would it be better to turn down a position as a fundraiser if you aren’t confident in your fundraising abilities?”

Carolyn: In my experience, asking board members to assist with fundraising is very common in organizations that rely on donations as a revenue source. The board has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the organization has adequate resources to serve its mission, and fundraising is often a key component to this. Before joining a board, it is always a good idea to ask about fundraising requirements and make sure that it is something you can commit to comfortably. From an organization’s perspective, I’d recommend evaluating fundraising requirements carefully to ensure that you are able to recruit the right balance of skills and backgrounds, however. While having a well-connected board focused on fundraising can be a great thing in terms of bringing in revenue, it can lead to problems if the board lacks diversity and skills in other areas.

 

Question: What has been the most rewarding aspect of being a not-for-profit board member for each of you?

Brian: For me, being able to play my part in the furthering of an organization’s charitable mission is most rewarding aspect to me.

Carolyn: Board service has been a way for me to connect with organizations and causes that I feel close to and feel like I'm able to add value. I've been drawn in particular to theater organizations because in my past life, I was a theater major and thought for a long time that would be my career. Board service has allowed me to take my professional skills and apply them to causes I care about.

 

Question: What is a conflict of interest and how do I know if I have one?

Brian: A conflict of interest exists when the personal or professional interests of a person affects his or her ability to be objective. In the board context, a conflict of interest arises when a board member (or anyone considered to be related to the board member) undertakes a transaction with the organization, even if the transaction involves the board member providing a discount for their services. Conflict transactions need to be highly scrutinized by the board before they are undertaken. Some conflicts may need to be reported on an organization’s IRS Form 990, the annual information return filed by most tax-exempt organizations, so it is important to have a conflict of interest policy. The AICPA Not-for-Profit Section has addressed the most common conflict-of-interest issues and crafted sample language for inclusion in a policy document you can download here.

The AICPA’s Not-for-Profit Section is a community that supports not-for-profit professionals and business advisors. For more information visit aicpa.org/NFP.

Sandi Matthews, CPA, Technical Manager, Not-for-Profit Content Development, American Institute of CPAs.

Board of Directors image courtesy of Shutterstock

Pumping Up the CPA Pipeline with AICPA Legacy Scholars Program

College can be very expensive – I’ve got reams of cancelled checks to my student loan provider to prove it - but it’s also the best way to increase one’s chances of economic mobility. A college degree is essential if you’re planning to earn a CPA license.

The AICPA has long been committed to ensuring that there is a strong supply of talented CPAs in the pipeline to help the profession continue to meet the needs of U.S. capital markets. One of the ways the AICPA does this is through our AICPA Legacy Scholars Program.

The program, established in 2011, awards recipients with a one-year scholarship. It uses on-campus service work to help them develop the soft skills, including leadership and communications, needed to thrive in the accounting profession. Scholarship recipients plan, promote and execute specific on-campus events each semester that promote the value of the profession to others. To date, more than 300 students have participated in the AICPA Legacy Scholars program

14089-331 AICPA Legacy Scholars Seal_color_FThe 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

Continue reading "Pumping Up the CPA Pipeline with AICPA Legacy Scholars Program" »

CPAs Well-Positioned to Help Manage Cybersecurity Risk

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

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

Continue reading "CPAs Well-Positioned to Help Manage Cybersecurity Risk " »

Two Lies & One Truth about Personal Financial Planning

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

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

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

Continue reading "Two Lies & One Truth about Personal Financial Planning" »

Gaming for Change: How Technology is Changing Financial Literacy

Gaming for ChangeWith the financial landscape shifting seemingly every year, it comes as no surprise that consumer finance tools are also transforming and becoming more necessary. This is especially true when it comes to educating younger generations, and the AICPA’s Feed the Pig campaign knows this all too well.

Since the campaign’s launch in 2006, the promotion of our tools evolved from focusing on TV, radio spots and other traditional media to instead looking to the digital space. As much as this shift has followed advancements in technology, it has also tracked the developing needs of our audience. Young adults look to social media for socialization, news, advice, just about everything. Feed the Pig has taken our message and resources to where our target audience is already: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and now Snapchat. Through these platforms, we can reach hundreds of thousands of people who are in need of personal finance tips.

Continue reading "Gaming for Change: How Technology is Changing Financial Literacy" »

As Estate Basis Deadline Looms, Executors’ To-Do List Spirals

To do listUpdate: Since this blog post was published, the IRS extended the due date for Form 8971 basis reporting from Feb. 29 to March 31. For more informaiton, see Notice 2016-19.

Who thinks being an executor (or trustee) of an estate is a glorified and envied position? Have you always dreamed of being an executor and having that wonderful title – and I guess a few fees?  Have you ever served as an executor or trustee and wished to never be in that role again? 

In case you didn’t know it already, executors have many duties and responsibilities, including:

  • Setting up a bank account for incoming funds and paying any ongoing bills;
  • Maintaining property until it can be distributed or sold, and then distributing assets and disposing of other property;
  • Dealing with the probate court – filing the will and an inventory of the estate’s assets with the probate court, and representing the estate in court; and
  • Dealing with liabilities and taxes – providing notice to creditors, paying the estate’s debts and taxes, and, starting at the end of February, preparing and filing estate basis statements with the IRS and beneficiaries.

Continue reading "As Estate Basis Deadline Looms, Executors’ To-Do List Spirals" »

Young Love Birds: Take Heed of Old Marrieds on Valentine’s Day

How to Celebrate Love While Staying on Budget

Valentine's day

This year, Americans will spend an estimated $17 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts for significant others, family members, and pets. (Don’t laugh—Americans spent more than $700 million on their pets last Valentine’s Day.) According to the National Retail Federation, the average person spends $142.31 on the day of love. Less likely to spend that much? Those married or coupled for more than five years. Whether they’ve lost that loving feeling or they’ve wised up about inflated prices on Valentine’s Day, young people can learn a thing or two from long marrieds and save a few bucks.

Continue reading "Young Love Birds: Take Heed of Old Marrieds on Valentine’s Day" »

Absurd Tax Break Requests: Darth Vader and Other "Clients" Weigh In

Darth Vader‘Tis the season that tax practitioners must break it to clients that no, you can't write off that trip to the Bahamas as a medical expense (yes, we understand it reduced your stress), claim the Golden Retriever as a dependent or tell the IRS that Botox use is a legitimate business expense because it helps you sell more homes. To put this annual ritual of wishful thinking in perspective, perhaps it would help to consider what types of tax breaks some of our most famous characters in film, TV and literature would try to claim.

Below are excerpts from focus group interviews with these characters talking about the tax breaks to which they feel that they are entitled. It seems as if they didn't all get along, and maybe it had something to do with that good versus evil thing. Or maybe it was the "but my tax break makes more sense" philosophy that can infect anyone, even the good guys.

Focus Group 1

Facilitator: Thank you all for coming here today to share insights on how the tax code could be improved and made fairer for you. Our group includes Frank Underwood, from “House of Cards,” Sheldon Cooper, star of “Big Bang Theory”, Superman, and Cruella de Vil, of “101 Dalmatians” fame. President Underwood, we'll start with you:

Frank Underwood: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here. I think with so many people needing help, let's eliminate any provisions that benefit people like Jackie Sharp. She's the Assistant House Minority Whip and married to a surgeon – now why would they need a tax break? You really need to take a look at what she's doing. And, I think, perhaps, I should get a deduction just for being me. Maybe even named after me.

Continue reading "Absurd Tax Break Requests: Darth Vader and Other "Clients" Weigh In" »

Estate Planning for the 99 Percent

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

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

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

Continue reading "Estate Planning for the 99 Percent" »

What Do Super Bowl Commercials and CPA Marketing Have in Common?


Super bowlI don’t know about you, but my favorite part of the Super Bowl isn’t the first kickoff or the half-time show, it’s the commercials. They are known as being some of the best, and definitely the most expensive, in the industry. In fact, thirty second spots for Super Bowl 50 have sold for as much as $5 million apiece. Companies spend months developing commercials that will capture the audience’s attention during the game and be remembered long after the last touchdown. Brand recognition is key. However, what good is it if the viewer has a good laugh but can’t remember the product being promoted? This year’s ads are rumored to feature the likes of Christopher Walken, Alec Baldwin and Amy Schumer. Given that the Super Bowl is the most watched television event each year, it is no wonder that companies like Amazon, Budweiser and Doritos return with commercials time and time again.

The Super Bowl advertising phenomenon got me thinking about CPA marketing. Although CPA firms do not often have $5 million to spend on a thirty second commercial, there are several techniques firms can implement to raise awareness of the services they provide. In order to learn more about CPA marketing efforts, I spoke with two experts: Kari Schott from Inovautus Consulting and Brian Swanson from FlashPoint Marketing. Below are some tips on how to enhance your firm’s branding and marketing.

Personalized messaging is key. Some of the best Super Bowl commercials leave the viewer feeling as if they are being spoken to directly. Research has found that communicating 1:1 is more effective than communicating 1 to many. For CPAs, this might mean creating ads that speak to a specific audience, such as those placed in an industry association publication, and having personalized messages designed exclusively for that audience.

Continue reading "What Do Super Bowl Commercials and CPA Marketing Have in Common?" »

Chinese New Year Brings Business Relationship Lessons: 12 Tips

Chinatown londonChinese New Year, sometimes known as Spring Festival, is a centuries-old celebration of the lunar New Year. Widely celebrated in China, the festival is the pinnacle event of the year, also honored across Asia, particularly in areas with large Chinese populations, including Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is considered a major holiday in Chinese culture, and is a time for families to be together.

If you have clients or co-workers in China or of Chinese descent you may want to learn about do’s and don’ts during next week’s Chinese New Year, which begins officially Monday, Feb. 8 and lasts for two weeks. The holiday really kicks off on Sunday, with the traditional New Year’s dinner, which is thought to be the most important meal of the year.

Whether you have colleagues who celebrate Chinese New Year or not, this list of do’s and don’ts can help you have a luck-filled New Year.

Continue reading "Chinese New Year Brings Business Relationship Lessons: 12 Tips" »

4 Steps to Creating a Social Media Policy for Your Firm

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

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

Four Steps to Your Policy

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

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

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

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

Final Checklist

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

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

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

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

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

Social media strategy image courtesy of Shutterstock

IRS Service Levels: Don’t Give Me Excuses!

CartoonHonest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Abysmal service levels; I hear you, I really do. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in practice but those busy season scars are still with me. I half joke but the memories don’t go away completely.

So, another busy season and the prospects for easily – wait, reasonably – representing your clients with the IRS appear to be no better than they were last year, when I blogged several times about service issues. In May, for example, you may have read about the AICPA governing Council resolution directing the Institute to intercede on a long-term solution to the service crisis. We started those conversations but, frankly, the environment in Washington got worse. Hard to believe, but it did. In October, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) joined 18 members of the committee in introducing an impeachment resolution against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The resolution is pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

Continue reading "IRS Service Levels: Don’t Give Me Excuses!" »

Subscribe

Subscribe in a reader

Enter your Email:
Preview