Two Former Puerto Rico Government Officials, BDO MP Indicted

Six people, including former Puerto Rico officials and the MP of BDO Puerto Rico, have been indicted over allegations of theft, money laundering and wire fraud, Bloomberg reported.

Among those charged is Fernando Scherrer-Caillet, MP of BDO Puerto Rico, Julia Keleher, who served as the commonwealth’s secretary of education from January 2017 until April, and Angela Avila-Marrero, the head of the commonwealth’s health insurance administration until last month. Two others were also indicted.

The “defendants engaged in a public corruption conspiracy and benefited at the expense of the Puerto Rican public and students” says Neil E. Sanchez, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General’s Southern Regional Office. Comments came at a press conference in San Juan on Wednesday morning.

Bloomberg reports that the move stems from ongoing investigations of the territory, which has been operating under bankruptcy for two years.

Last month, Governor Ricardo Rossello fired his treasury secretary, Raul Maldonado, after the official disclosed that his department was being investigated for potential corruption.

Keleher allegedly pressured her department to execute a contract with a company owned by someone she was close to. The firm, Colon & Ponce, was awarded a $43,500 contract that increased to $95,000, even though it was unqualified under the terms of the request for proposals, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Avila-Marrero is accused of steering contracts totaling $2.5 million to BDO and providing internal information to the company. BDO then subcontracted the work and paid unauthorized commissions, which inflated the cost of the contracts, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

A spokesperson for BDO at an outside public relations firm didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by Bloomberg.

AICPA Calls for Tax Relief for Individuals and Businesses Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

The AICPA is urging the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS to provide relief to all taxpayers in light of the uncertainty and challenges caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The AICPA made the following recommendations for individuals:

  • Extend certain deadlines falling on or after March 15, 2020 and before Oct. 15, 2020 to give individuals additional time to file and make payments through Oct. 15, 2020.
  • Provide an automatic extension to Oct. 15, 2020, without the need to file any forms or request an extension.
  • Waive late payment penalties if at least 70% of an individual’s current tax due is paid by April 15, 2020 and waive interest through Oct. 15, 2020.
  • Waive underpayment penalties for 2020 estimated tax payments if paid by Sept. 15, 2020.
  • Extend the IRA contribution deadline.

The AICPA made the following recommendations for businesses:

  • Extend certain deadlines falling on or after March 15, 2020 and before Oct. 15, 2020, to give businesses additional time to file and make payments through Oct. 15, 2020.
  • Provide an automatic extension without the need to file any forms or request an extension.
  • Waive late payment penalties and interest through Oct. 15, 2020.
  • Provide appropriate relief for all businesses and tax-exempt organizations regarding elections and filings (including payroll, excise tax, etc.).

“We are hearing from our members that they and their clients are experiencing great uncertainty about this year’s tax filing season. Our recommendations will help give taxpayers, large and small, much-needed relief in the midst of this fast-moving emergency situation,” says Edward Karl, AICPA vice president of taxation.

PBMares Admits Two Partners to Lead Retirement Plan Services Team

Gary Kitts

Gary Kitts

Newport News, Va.-based PBMares (FY18 net revenue of $41.4 million) has admitted two partners to lead the retirement plan services team – Gary Kitts and Cindy Kochersperger, based in Norfolk, Va.

CEO Alan Witt says, “Their years of experience combined with their technical and industry knowledge will undoubtedly aid our growth. They are problem-solvers and solution-providers and are valued resources for PBMares’ clients seeking retirement plan design, administration and audit services.”

Kitts has more than 25 years of experience, including leadership of a retirement plan third-party administration practice serving more than 1,200 plans. Areas of expertise include compliance services and employee benefit plan audits under the laws and regulations of the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974, or ERISA, the IRS and the Department of Labor.

Kochersperger has more than 20 years of public accounting experience including service as a partner in retirement plan administration. Focusing on 401(k) and profit-sharing plans for businesses of all sizes, she consults with clients on plan design and provides ongoing assistance with plan administration and compliance. Areas of expertise include daily valuation products, investment platforms and traditional balance forward plans.

The expanded PBMares practice includes administration services, benefit plan-related tax compliance services and a portion of its employee benefit plan audit services.

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Create a Wow Factor Workplace for Remote Employees: Ways to Nurture Employee Engagement

When you create a culture of ‘wow,’ it makes a powerful impact on all employees – including the growing number of people who work away from the office. Deb Boelkes shares a few of her best practices for inspiring and empowering your remote workforce.

In 2020, there’s a good chance at least some of your employees work from home, a coworking space or some other distant location. And while the arrangement has benefits for all parties, the trade-off is that remote workers get far less (if any) face time with leaders and coworkers. This may lead you to wonder: Can you truly engage remote employees? Is it possible to shape a positive company culture that encompasses everyone?

Boelkes says yes – and the solution lies in your ongoing pursuit of the “wow factor.” This is her terminology for those “Best Place to Work” leaders who consistently motivate and inspire employees, fill them with purpose, challenge them, and make them feel safe and supported.

“Many companies don’t work to deliberately shape a positive culture,” says Boelkes, author of The WOW Factor Workplace: How to Create a Best Place to Work Culture. “They think it will just happen, but that’s rarely true even when everyone is in the same place. And if a company has remote employees, the need to get intentional about culture-building is intensified.”

Engaging remote employees comes down to making them feel like they belong and are part of a cohesive team. They should feel valued and understand that their contributions are seen and appreciated, and that they are making an impact. That’s job No. 1.

Boelkes says there are plenty of simple engagement practices that make your virtual team members feel supported, connected and empowered.

Make sure remote employees know why they’re there. All employees should know (and embrace) the mission, vision, values and objectives of the company. They are a big part of how you convey the sense of meaning and purpose that’s so vital to engagement. Talk about these guiding factors explicitly and regularly. These things can change and when they do you need everyone in the loop. Additionally, make sure remote employees understand how their work aligns with and supports goals of the company, division and department.

“All team members need to know what they do really matters and that their efforts ­– and results – make a difference,” says Boelkes. “Acknowledge them in the way they prefer to be acknowledged.”

Never leave them hanging or assume they know what’s going on. This is vital, says Boelkes, especially regarding decisions made at upper levels. The biggest complaint most large or multi-site companies hear from employee satisfaction surveys is lack of communication from senior leaders. Don’t be a micromanager but do communicate, communicate, communicate…and be consistent in your messaging from the top down.

Make yourself available (on their timetable). Managers need to make sure meaningful one-on-one conversations with remote reports happen. Out of sight (and off-site) should not mean out of mind or out of the loop. Be willing to be flexible versus forcing employees to adapt to your schedule and communication style.

“Find out what works for your remote reports,” says Boelkes. “Some team members may prefer to establish a fixed time each week to catch up while others may prefer to call in for a quick update as project schedules permit. Let the employee know when you will be available and how they can get a message to you if it’s critical. Otherwise, be there for them.”

Be proactive about removing their roadblocks. If something is preventing a remote worker from being able to do their job efficiently, make sure they know to immediately come to you. In fact, ask them regularly if they need anything. It’s the manager’s job to remove any obstacles impeding team members’ efforts and to get them the resources and information they need.

Bring all team members together often. If possible, have an all-hands, on-site meeting at the start of a major project or at the beginning of the fiscal year. At the very least, schedule weekly all-hands team calls to update everyone on what’s going on, to see who needs help, to announce major accomplishments and recognize team members, and to brainstorm new approaches.

“Team members need to know each other,” says Boelkes. “They need to know what the other members are working on, and how they can help one another. They need to trust each other. Regular meetings can help achieve all of that.”

Remember: face to face matters, so make it happen however you can. You may not be able to meet in person often, but try to make it happen at least occasionally. And of course, conferencing technology like Zoom, WhatsApp or FaceTime can be incredibly valuable in helping remote employees connect and engage with the rest of the team. “Observation of facial expressions and body language can be just as important as hearing the words being spoken,” says Boelkes.

Don’t let meetings become time-wasters. Call meetings only when necessary and keep them succinct. When preparing for a remote team call or video conference, ask individual members ahead of time what, if anything, they want to present, what they want to hear or learn, and if they have anything to share. Then stick to the agenda.

Encourage team members to connect with one another regularly. “Feeling like part of a team is vital,” says Boelkes. “The boss doesn’t have to be the one who coordinates everything. Make sure they feel free to text, phone or email each other when they have questions or need guidance or feedback.”

Pair new employees with a “buddy.” Newer employees need more hand holding – especially if they’re telecommuting. Among other training, the buddy’s job is to make sure the employee knows who does what on the team, who is an expert at what, and who to go to for what.

Be sensitive to cultural differences. Not everyone interprets communications the same way. Cultural differences can occur regionally within the same country but may be especially problematic between major geographic regions and countries. If this occurs, managers must really listen for understanding, then reframe and restate what they heard, and ask the remote worker to do the same.

“Managing multi-country team members can be difficult if members never have on-site meetings over multiple days during which people can get to know each other,” says Boelkes. “When possible, it’s helpful to know locals or expats who are from the remote region and can interpret what may be intended or how things could be interpreted in various situations.”

Occasionally, oversee employee/client interactions. From time to time, managers should try to participate live when an employee has important events with a customer or client; listening to the clients’ feedback is just as important as employee feedback. While it is important to show trust and confidence in the team members serving the client, it is equally important to acknowledge when things need improvement or when action must be taken.

When in doubt, reach out. If things aren’t feeling right with an employee, they probably aren’t. Meet in person for a heart-to-heart off-site and talk through their concerns or problems. And again, as a general rule try to get together in person at least once a year if not quarterly; these meetings keep the lines of communication open.

Request feedback (from your customers AND your remote workers). During one-on-ones with each remote employee as well as during one-on-ones with clients, ask for honest feedback. Then based on that feedback, strategize ways the organization could better leverage the skillsets of the team members while moving the organization closer to its goals.

Know when an employee isn’t suited for remote work. Pay attention to signs that an employee is not cut out for being a remote team member. For example, they may frequently turn in work late, get distracted or lose sight of the project at hand, or need frequent interaction with coworkers.

“Some workers need daily live interaction to do their best work,” says Boelkes. “Be attuned to this and don’t be afraid to make changes to ensure the employee is in the right environment with the needed support and/or freedom.”

Finally, make sure every employee knows you have their best interests at heart. Be a heartfelt leader.

You can’t inspire anyone – in-house or otherwise – until you start leading with your heart,” concludes Boelkes. “Check in with your own passion and make sure it informs all of your interactions. Your heart-driven engagement will spread to your workers near and far, and together you will make a difference.”

Baker Tilly Acquires Talavant to Bolster Data Analytics Services

Chicago-based Baker Tilly (FY19 net revenue of $754.8 million) has acquired a data analytics consulting firm to expand Baker Tilly Digital services.

Madison, Wis.-based Talavant is a business intelligence consulting firm founded in 2015 that has quadrupled in size since then. The team has worked to leverage data to save their clients time and money. The combination is expected to be complete on April 1.

“Teaming Talavant’s deep analytics capabilities with Baker Tilly’s advanced technology solutions and industry specialization creates a unique combination of skills, knowledge and bench strength to help our clients anticipate market conditions and make strategic decisions,” principal and Baker Tilly digital leader John Runte says.

Baker Tilly Digital, launched in November 2019, offers data analytics and technology solutions to help companies with digital transformation challenges.

Dave DuVarney

“Joining forces with Baker Tilly broadens our capabilities to serve the growing needs of our clients and provide exciting opportunities for our team members,” says Dave DuVarney, Talavant president.

Baker Tilly Digital offers the firm’s most technical services, from analytics and cloud strategies to its own Digital | Labs, a development incubator of next-generation tools and services. The team includes technologists, data scientists, intelligent automation practitioners and emerging technology leaders.

Other recent acquisitions include the addition of Plano, Texas-based Montgomery Coscia Greilich and a three-way combination with municipal advisory firms H.J. Umbaugh and Associates and Springsted Incorporated. Both deals were announced in January of 2019.

In 2018, Baker Tilly added global financial investigations firm RGL Forensics and expanded to Houston with the addition of MiddletonRaines+Zapata.

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February 2020 Transformation Survey: Employee Transformation

“Transforming while performing” is the mantra of firms today, ensuring current performance while re-tooling and re-engineering the firm for the future.

In February, IPA began gathering information on staff transformation in a mini-survey series. Here are a few results from the 49 respondents, mostly MPs, firm administrators and human resources leaders.

What does employee transformation mean for your firm?

1) Increased Technology Training

2) Cultural Changes

3) Focused Retraining / Reskilling Firmwide

4) Hiring Staff with Talents Beyond Traditional CPAs

5) Updating Firm Processes

6) More Clearly Defined Firmwide Strategy

7) Accelerating Advancement Opportunities for Staff

8) Firm Structural Changes

9) Rethinking who can be Admitted to Equity Partnership

10) Flattening / Changing the Traditional Organizational Chart

Currently, where is your firm in the process of employee transformation?

1) Exploring Options and Needed Changes

2) Have Implemented Plans in Some Departments

3) Creating a Plan, But Have Not Implemented Yet

4) Have Successfully Implemented a Firmwide Plan

What specific skills / changes are needed to meet the challenges your firm is facing?

1) Increased Firmwide Innovation

2) Increased Employee Engagement

3) Career Development Coaching and Advice

4) Cross-Functional Collaboration

5) Increased Agility

6) Redesign of Firm Processes

7) Increased Technical Skills Firmwide

What metrics / indicators does your firm use to track your transformation efforts?

1) Profitability Metrics

2) Employee Retention / Turnover

3) Employee Engagement

4) Productivity Metrics

5) Positive Behavioral Changes (firmwide)

What challenges is your firm facing in the process of employee transformation?

1) Lack of Clear and Defined Strategy

2) Partner / Owner Resistance

3) Unavailable Talent

4) Cultural Resistance

5) Financial Constraints

PwC to Pay $11.6M to Settle Age Discrimination Claims

PwC (FY18 net revenue of $16.8 billion) has agreed to pay $11.62 million to settle accusations that the Big 4 firm discriminated against older applicants for entry-level positions.

The legal settlement requires PwC to start a hiring program that would allow candidates age 40 or older to apply for entry-level positions. The firm must also hire a consultant to advise on inclusivity and age bias in hiring and training processes, advertise positions to older workers, and avoid asking college graduation dates.

The settlement also requires the company to make “public and internal statements” expressing its commitment to diverse hiring, including using age-diverse photos in its recruiting materials.

PwC’s chief purpose and inclusion officer, Shannon Schuyler, who is charged with working with the outside consultant under the settlement, said in an emailed statement to Law.com that the firm “is proud to affirm its commitment to identify and hire older workers.”

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar of the Northern District of California last year conditionally certified a collective action in the case, which accused PwC of systematically discriminating against older applicants for associate, experienced associate or senior associate positions in the firm’s tax or assurance practices. The proposed settlement includes about 5,000 applicants who weren’t hired by PwC.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers came from Outten & Golden, AARP Foundation Litigation and Liu Law Firm.

“We and AARP Foundation believe strongly that age discrimination in hiring, in particular, is a significant problem today and limits older workers access to jobs and contributes to unemployment problems,” says Outten & Golden’s Jahan Sagafi. “It also limits employers access to talent because wherever you have a company discriminating they are shooting themselves in the foot by limiting the pool of talent they can draw from,” Law.com reports.

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AICPA Survey: Coronavirus Concerns Grow Among Business Executives

Business executives’ outlook for the U.S. economy rose sharply in the past quarter, but concern is growing about the potential global fallout from the spread of coronavirus.

This is according to the first-quarter AICPA Economic Outlook Survey, which polls CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other CPAs in senior management roles.

Some 61% of respondents expressed optimism about the U.S. economy’s overall outlook over the next 12 months, up from 50% last quarter. But responses in the final week of the survey, following dramatic stock market declines as the coronavirus spread, were decidedly more pessimistic.

Most businesses said they have seen no impact from coronavirus yet, although 21% reported at least a slight impact. Those impacted said they had seen some combination of supply chain interruptions (10%), factory shutdowns in China or other affected regions (7%), and decreased sales to China (5%) or other markets (3%).

Some 7% of business executives said their companies had made a minor downward adjustment to their profit and revenue forecasts due to virus concerns, while 51% said they had made no change but were closely monitoring the situation.

Forty-two percent said they didn’t expect to have to make any coronavirus-related adjustments, but – like the U.S. economic optimism question – responses late in the survey cycle showed much less confidence.

The AICPA survey is a forward-looking indicator that tracks hiring and business-related expectations for the next 12 months. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Labor’s February employment report, scheduled for release tomorrow, looks back on the previous month’s hiring trends.

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JP Morgan Bullish on Blockchain

JP Morgan, in a recent report, describes numerous uses for blockchain and foresees widespread adoption in the financial sector.

The report says “groundwork is now in place” for the massive adoption of the distributed ledger technology in the realm of “payments, trade finance and custodial services,” according to Bitcoinist.com. JPMorgan has created its own digital money called JPM Coin.

Additionally, China is reportedly developing a digital Yuan and the Bank of England has announced it will start research on creating a digital currency. JP Morgan says blockchain can ease cross-border payments using digital assets and some equity trades.

While the report discusses rise of blockchain technology, it also says, “Developments have not altered reservations about the limited role that cryptocurrencies play in global portfolio diversification or as a hedging instrument.”

“The conclusion is that, while cryptocurrencies are interesting, even 1% exposure with them is an extremely risky and impractical endeavor since they don’t have a legal tender,” Forbes reported.

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Herbein + Company Admits Jeff Johns Jr. as Partner

Jeff Johns

Reading, Pa.-based Herbein + Company announces that Jeff Johns Jr. has been admitted as a partner in its financial outsourcing solutions division.

The division provides risk management services to financial institutions. He will oversee IT risk management services and provide expertise in data mining for audit teams and clients.

Previously, he was employed at a public accounting firm performing year-end audits, Sarbanes-Oxley compliance and information technology control assessments.

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