Consultant Releases New Edition of ‘Quantum of Paperless’

Kepczyk_Roman_Xcentric_2015

Roman Kepczyk

Roman Kepczyk, director of consulting for Xcentric, has released a 2016 update of his book, Quantum of Paperless: Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization.

In the seventh edition of the book, Kepczyk includes 2016 IT survey results from the CPA Firm Management Association (CPAFMA). The survey provides actionable information on hardware, software, staffing and IT trends and allows accounting firm leaders to compare data with their peers. In addition, the 2015 Benchmarking Paperless Best Practices survey information is included.

Quantum Paperless discusses how every accounting firm is unique yet similar. Firms are unique in the production processes they have developed over time to service clients, produce tax returns, complete audits, enter time and produce billing. However, the transition from traditional manual processes to today’s digital solutions is remarkably similar and it is primarily a matter of identifying where the firm is today and implementing the next proven process that firm personnel are sufficiently capable and willing to adopt.

This guide is broken into 32 mission-critical quantum leaps where your firm production can be optimized. In each section, proven solutions that accounting firms are successfully implementing and using today is listed.

The book answers tough tech questions firms face:

  • Multiple monitors – beyond 3?
  • The Cloud?
  • Hardware selection and replacement?
  • Document management?
  • Managing and retaining data?
  • Digital tax workflow systems?
  • Audit field equipment?
  • Delivering client reports digitally?
  • Client portals?
  • Security issues?
  • Remote access technology?

Kepzyk helps firms throughout North America effectively use information technology by implementing digital best practices. He has spent the past 17 years consulting with CPA firms.

Purchase Quantum of Paperless: Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization

Financial Fraud – Definition, Detection and Prevention

By: Yigal Rechtman, forensic principal, Grassi & Co.

Yigal Rechtman

Yigal Rechtman

In today’s complex economy, fraud schemes are growing more sophisticated, and the costs to both avoid and repair the damage higher. With cloud technology and weak cybersecurity threatening every business worldwide, the white-collar criminal of the future will be more armed and ready to fire than ever before. In 2014, roughly 40 million people in the U.S. were affected by identity theft and cybercrime alone is already costing the U.S. economy as much as $400 billion a year and as much as $1 trillion globally, according to a study released in 2014 by McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies

The cost of financial reporting fraud (“management fraud”) costs about $1 million per incident, while occupational fraud costs roughly $150 to $200,000 per incident. Losses due to fraud cost an average of 5% of gross profit and take around 24 to 36 months to discover—usually via a tip (40%), by accident (20%) or during an audit (10%).

So what is fraud and why do people commit it?

Fraud is the intentional deceit of a material fact causing damage to its victims and benefiting the perpetrators. Fraud is generally classified as: occupational fraud, financial statement fraud and corruption—usually by an official. The more dissatisfied an employee, the more likely he or she will engage in fraud. There is a triangle theory of fraud by famed criminologist Donald Cressey to describe why people commit fraud: a person under pressure, due to a financial problem, will find an opportunity, a way in which to use his position to solve his problem, and then will rationalize, justify, the crime in order to make it acceptable. Most fraudsters are first-time offenders with no criminal past and do not see themselves as criminals; rather, they see themselves as ordinary, honest people who are just in a bad set of circumstances.

How can fraud be detected?

When there is a predication (i.e. a tip) of fraud, fraud examiners typically start with top-level analysis, looking for outliers in the results (excessive voids, missing documents, excessive credit memos, increased reconciling items, adjustments to receivables or payables, duplicate payments and ghost employees are just some examples.) Top-level analysis is the comparison of plausible relationships between balances and noting any unexpected results.

How can fraud be prevented?WP-Scam-Alert-red-black-white-sign

The best defense against financial fraud, especially financial report fraud and occupational fraud, is through the development of strong internal controls.

  • Segregation of duties: having more than one person performing or completing a task is a deterrent as the work of one individual is either independent of, or serves to check on, the work of another.
    • Custody or monitoring of assets
    • Authorization or approval of related transactions affecting those assets
    • Recording or reporting of related transactions
  • Reconciliations: these should be completed by an independent person who doesn’t also share bookkeeping responsibilities or check signing responsibilities.
    • Examine canceled checks—authorized signatures, appropriate endorsements, recognizable vendors, check sequence.
  • Physical security: access logs, video cameras, keyed entries
  • Pressure: perform periodic credit reviews and add a right to audit clause to the contracts. This not only gives the party the right to audit, it also sends the right message.
  • Provide training to your employees regarding the rationalization factor of committing fraud.

The most effective way to prevent fraud is to understand and fix internal controls, however, the bottom line to your bottom line is this: even the best systems of internal control cannot provide absolute safeguards against irregular activities.

For more information on how you can help fight fraud, contact Yigal Rechtman of Grassi & Co. at yrechtman@grassicpas.com.

Advice from a Hiring Manager to Young Professionals

By: Jeff Green

As a manager who frequently hires college-aged people, may I kindly plead with those of you who are responsible for bearing them (there was initially a typo that said beating and I almost left it) to make sure they understand the following? For better or worse, I am writing this based off of actual experiences that I have had over the past couple of weeks.

  1. In the real world, not everyone gets a trophy. If everyone gets a trophy, no one stands out. If you do not stand out, you are not memorable. Be weird, be quirky, be competitive, be something that is going to make me remember you for a good reason. Almost every college student I interview states “drive” as the thing that makes them stand out amongst their competition, but few can tell me where they are driving to. They are basically just wasting gas, and that is bad for the environment. For those who know the answer and can back it up with effort, you will instantly stand out to me.
  2. It is not your gifts and talents that make you special, you will be defined by how you use them.
  3. Almost every person I interview has a college degree. That alone does not give you a leg up, at least not here. Community service (though not of the court-mandated kind) will make you stick out and is one of my favorite things to see on a resume. So is military experience, foreign languages, musical proficiency, being an Eagle Scout or any other various activities that show me your ability to dedicate yourself to something for a sustained amount of time. This is especially true if your work experience to date is limited. It shows character, and that is not something that can always be determined by a college diploma. A degree is by no means a bad thing and there are companies out there who will require it, but as I mentioned before, your unique attributes may be the difference in whether or not you are remembered once you leave. (BIG Disclaimer – I am speaking from my perspective here, this doesn’t mean every hiring manager feels this way. Don’t go home and tell your parents you are quitting college because I said you should. I’m just saying your diploma may get you in the door, but how you represent yourself will likely play a big part in whether or not you get the job.)
  4. Work ethic is everything. Feel free to come in with expectations regarding what is in it for you and, if you are inclined, turn down job offers until you find the exact culture you are looking for. When you find it, you had better work your tail off because there is probably a line of people waiting to take your place. A positive, fun work culture is not something you are entitled to for simply showing up, it is a return for the dedication you are showing. Also, it is rare. If you have it, don’t fail to appreciate it. And if you don’t find it, still work your tail off. That company is writing checks that provide for you and your family. If they aren’t treating you well, don’t stop working hard, just find something better. Don’t ever put yourself in a position where you might leave a company based off of their decision instead of your own.
  5. Find something within what you do to make you feel good about it. If you don’t find value in something that you are spending the majority of your waking hours doing, chances are you are going to be a miserable person. If you are a miserable person, I don’t need or want you on my team.
  6. Speaking of team, if you are on one then you need to be a part of it or you need to leave. Being on a team means carrying extra weight when another team member is sick, hurting, struggling, or dying. It also means they will do the same for you. It definitely means pulling your own weight when there is no reason for you not to do so. If you aren’t operating with this mentality, chances are you are a mediocre performer at best. At worst, someone is carrying your weight while you slow the whole team down. Again, if this is the case, then you will not exist in this dojo (nor will my “fear” in showing you the door).
  7. I don’t care if you are going in to a job interview knowing that there is a relaxed dress code, you had better be dressed up for the interview or I will send you out the door before you get your name out. Weak handshake? I will work with it. Failure to make eye contact? We will find you some confidence. No resume? I’ll help you draft one. But you have to get the job before any of that can happen, so you had better make as good of an impression as possible in the interview. Dress for the job you want…
  8. Another point about interviews…someone is taking a lot of time out of their day to meet with you. Do them a favor (and yourself one for that matter) and make sure you learn as much as you can about the company before you arrive. Don’t blindly send out resumes and then fail to prepare and take notes before you go and meet the person who may become your future boss. If they have a website, look at the dang thing. If they don’t have a website, all the more reason why you need to go in with a list of questions to figure out what you are actually interviewing for. A little voice inside my head is going to try to convince me that I should make you feel about 3 inches tall if you waste my time. Don’t.
  9. I do not expect perfection. I demand it. Just kidding, but seriously, you need to strive for it. You also need to acknowledge that you are currently far from it. A big part of that means asking questions when you do not know the answer so that you can become an expert. If you are making assumptions, you are a liability to your team and your company. Diamonds are not ready to be mounted in a ring at the moment they are found, they must be cut and polished over time until they are at a point that flaws can only be seen under magnification. Make sure you ask questions so that your knowledge, and therefore value, is constantly being cut and polished by those who know more than you. I regret to inform you that on your first day, that will literally be everyone in the office. The faster you can change that, the faster you establish yourself as a key player.
  10. Others should want to share in your success. If they don’t, you need to ask yourself if that is because of their faults, or your own. No one is going to be waiting to cheer you on at the finish line if you tripped every other runner to get there. Unless you trip the guy that tripped everyone else, then I will high five you. That may sound like a joke, it isn’t. Well, maybe a little. But seriously, if someone is stepping on others to advance themselves, call them out or you are simply an enabler and not much better than they are. This is not your middle school friend group, this is business.
  11. For your expectations, I would advise you to find a supervisor who is legitimately interested in helping you grow and develop your professional skill set. If you are coming out of college with no relevant work experience, then there are very few job opportunities that are beneath you. That said, you should try to find the one that will help you develop a solid business acumen. Despite what you think, you do not know everything coming out of college and you will make mistakes. Find someone who will help you challenge yourself and make sure you take constructive criticism as a compliment. Most supervisors suck at giving it (apparently, so do a lot of parents), so if someone is taking the time to do so then that means they probably care about seeing you become the best employee and person you are capable of being. And I will say the same thing here that I said about culture. When you find this person, do not take advantage of them. They could end up being a lifelong mentor for you.

Innovation: How Great Firms Excel

By Gary Boomer, Boomer Consulting

Gary Boomer

Gary Boomer

Accounting firms generally are not who you think of when you mention “innovation,” yet many firms excel at innovation and there is a pattern to their success. Innovation is directly linked to growth and not an epiphany like many think; but rather a process that combines hindsight, vision and insight. The accounting profession is going through significant changes and I am often told by firm leaders they just don’t have the next generation of leaders in their firms.

In many cases there is validity to their statement and a better understanding of innovation and how firms get into this situation can help firms take the necessary steps to balance between “discovery” and “delivery” skills. Discovery skills focus on new opportunities, trends and creativity while delivery focuses on execution. You need both, but the tendency is to focus on delivery.

Mature and typically declining firms are dominated by people with excellent delivery skills, but often lack the proper balance of discovery skills. Typically, one or more firm founders were entrepreneurial and tended to hire people for their delivery skills and not their discovery skills. As a result, many partners and managers don’t know how to think about discovery or give enough value to the importance of innovation.

Accounting programs teach people delivery skills while most experiences and on-the-job training also focuses on delivery and execution. In fact, many of the discovery skills are viewed as nonproductive – more about that later. I believe innovation or lack thereof can explain some of the frustration and what firms must do in order to develop the next generation of innovative leaders.

Directional Versus Intersectional

Let’s look at two different types of innovation and then how the most successful firms are modernizing their practices to meet the needs and wants of their clients. Accounting majors are taught the rules and regulations of the profession in school and throughout their careers. This is not a negative, but rather a fact as their perception is often different than those with different training and aptitudes. Upon graduation, most accountants going into public practice start in audit and/or tax. This has been the traditional approach and is the primary reason most innovation in firms is directional innovation.

Directional innovation tends to improve a service in fairly predictable steps with a well-defined dimension or goal. The majority of innovation is directional and is accomplished through increasing levels of expertise and specialization (delivery skills). This is a low-risk approach and one with which many CPAs are comfortable. There is nothing wrong with directional innovation, yet it is limiting due to the fact most of the participants are looking at the problem from the same perspective.

Darwin John, former CIO at the FBI, once said, “If two of you have the same opinion, then we don’t need one of you.” This may be a bit extreme, but the point is that for real innovation (discovery) to occur it requires multiple perspectives. This is often called intersectional innovation, where multiple disciplines meet in the attempt to solve a problem or improve a solution. From my experience in the CPA profession, two areas within firms that have been responsible for innovation over the past 20 years are firm administration and technology. Leaders in these areas have been attempting to bring the silos together and improve performance through improved communications, efficiency and effectiveness.

One step in entrepreneurial innovation and the one leading firms are focusing on is intersectional or client-centric innovation. It not only involves the client, but his multidiscipline advisors. This can be difficult due to egos and personalities, but the CPA is the most trusted business advisor and should take his or her role seriously by acting as the quarterback when it comes to innovation and improved client services.

While many CPAs were trained to be rugged individualists (with an intense focus on delivery) and solve the clients’ problems on their own or with a small team, that approach no longer meets the needs of a majority of clients today.

Services Commoditized

Today, clients are looking for faster, better, cheaper and easier solutions forcing firms to be innovative and sensitive to clients’ wants and needs. The capturing of transactions is becoming a commodity with new technology and the ability to aggregate and integrate information via cloud-based solutions. In the past, tax return preparation has involved a significant amount of time (fee) in aggregating data while technology has automated the calculation and processing of the return. In other words, the CPA is now caught in a situation where the services they are offering are diminishing in value (commoditization). Part of this is due to technological innovation and part is due to the pricing strategies used by the majority of firms (hours times dollars, labor theory of value).

We are living in a connected world and someone is making those connections. As the trusted business advisor it should be you, the CPA, and your firm. The people making these connections tend to be professionals who excelled in one field, but learned from others. This describes many CPAs and why they are the most trusted business advisor. Formal education increases the probability of attaining creative success to a point and then actually reduces the odds. A key to prolonged success throughout one’s career is lifelong learning and multiple experiences. It makes sense to spend time on a variety of projects if you wish to develop fresh and groundbreaking ideas. The value comes from being able to spot trends and then integrate what you already know. This requires curiosity and an interest in a variety of things. Innovators don’t produce because they are successful, but they are successful because they produce.

Grouping Innovation

Diversity promotes innovation while too much expertise can create barriers to innovation. Innovation requires a balance. More good ideas come when working in a group than when working independently. The big question becomes: What can and should firms do to promote innovation at the intersection? As I said earlier in the article, innovation occurs with vision, hindsight and insight. By looking at the current generation of great firm leaders we see several characteristics that allowed them to be innovative. Let’s look at a list of the most important discovery characteristics.

  1. The ability to connect and associate different perspectives (clients, multiple advisors, trends, technology and etc.)
  2. The ability to question the status quo.
  3. The ability to hold self and others accountable.
  4. The willingness to participate in “safe haven” meetings with peer leaders.
  5. The ability to manage, not avoid risk. The quantity of new ideas improves the quality. Create the environment to promote, not stifle, innovation.

This list may not seem important to those who focus only on the delivery side. Firms must be cautious not to swing the pendulum too far toward the delivery or discovery skills. Both skills are required, important and cannot be ignored. Success today requires a team. The team should involve younger members who are capable and expected to challenge the status quo or strategy, which has often been developed and implemented by senior leadership.

The fact is most large organizations generally fail at disruptive innovation because top management has been selected for their delivery skills. While it is the role of the managing partner or CEO to lead the innovation, it is an extremely difficult assignment. Delivery executives do not like having the strategy constantly challenged, nor do they appreciate change. Does your firm reward and promote discovery skills? If the answer is no, you have your answer as to why you don’t have the innovative leaders for the future. Now is the time to identify and develop leaders with the skills and willingness to focus on intersectional innovation. The future success of your firm depends upon innovation.

An Innovation Checklist

Here are five areas where innovation will produce significant results. Granted they may not fit every firm, but most firms will find three or more of these innovative ideas profitable.

  1. Billing and collection policies – Use technology to improve cash flow (ACH payments and credit cards). This requires different thinking and change management. Too many firms are allowing clients to treat them as interest free or “cheap” banks. You can turn this around with improved engagement letters that specify payment terms leveraging monthly bank drafts.
  2. Tax return preparations processes – Avoid loops and focus on one-way workflow. There are better ways to train than sending work back to the preparer. You can use technology to grade performance and report errors. Current workflow software has its roots with outsourcing companies. If Federal Express can track packages electronically, firms should be able to track work in an efficient manner reducing cycle time.
  3. Client accounting in the cloud – Firms can provide transactional as well as value-added services such as bill payment, payroll, controller, human resources, IT and CFO-related services on a monthly basis. Private labeled software that can be centrally updated and supported will allow firms to take back control of accounting. It will also allow your firm to become hardware agnostic. It works the same on Mac as on a Windows-based PC via a browser.
  4. Use portals to aggregate client data for auditing and accounting as well as tax return preparation. Avoid false starts and wasted time. Portals provide security, are inexpensive and clients like them. Most of the resistance I see is within the firm.
  5. Conduct client focus groups with marketing, tax and technology expertise present. This will provide innovation at the intersection from multiple perspectives. Listen to the client and provide the services they want. Utilize firm leaders with discovery skills.

Innovation and Leadership

Innovation is part of a firm’s culture and DNA. It requires leadership and the willingness to manage risk. Not every idea is a great idea, but the quantity of ideas determines quality. Successful firms balance discovery and delivery skills. Does your firm have the discovery skills necessary to meet your clients’ demands in a rapidly changing world? Provide your people with the time and resources to innovate. Based upon recent studies, most firms are less than 50% chargeable. What better use of the non-chargeable time than innovation, training and new business development?

View the original article.

Gary Boomer is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

From Billable Hours to Value Pricing

Richard Goldstein

Richard Goldstein

By Richard Goldstein, partner at Buchbinder Tunick & Company

Many industry consultants are urging PR firms to dump billable hours and replace it with a fixed-pricing model, or even value pricing. For some reason, billable hours seem to be set in stone in many service organizations, including PR agencies.

The beginning of billable hours begins with the initial proposal. By this I mean a price is determined, usually based on hours to complete the project. Staff is given budgets to complete a project and record their time in a time-keeping system. At the end of the project, management has a profit or loss based on billable hours. More frequently than not, the question asked is, “How can this have taken that much time?” The question translates into a realization write-off and overall dissatisfaction from the account supervisor and the team members!

Some history

So what is wrong with the billable hour? The billable hour was never meant to be a pricing method. It was originally intended to be a tool to allow a service organization to measure the profitability of an engagement, not a means to price it. It is a cost accounting tool!

Ask a professional of any profession to eliminate his or her time sheet. Staff will chuck it in an instant. Management would be concerned that they would not know whether or not they made money on an individual engagement. This is a valid point but wrong! The concept of using a standard billing rate is not cost accounting but profit forecasting. By this I mean knowing the desired net income of the firm using a cost plus formula. By the way, a cost plus formula is only as good as the determination of the cost plus formula input. The U.S. Postal Service uses cost plus to determine price. We know how well it does!

Lessons from the accounting professionGrowth Dollar Sign

Many CPA firms are still using billable hours internally to help calculate a fixed monthly rate for some of its clients. However, other firms are completely discarding the notion of an hourly metric and instead use “value pricing” to determine prices based on the value of the service to the client. It is interesting that based on accounting firm surveys, the majority of CPA firms still use the billable hour. Those that say they use value pricing are really just using another form of the billable hour according to Ron Baker, a well-known value pricing consultant.

What’s wrong with using billable hours?

According to Baker, the billable hour relies on practitioner’s input, namely time, rather than the output, results. The value of the results should determine the cost of the service, not the time it takes to achieve them. Otherwise, firms can find their revenue stream severely limited. (There are only so many hours a person can work in a day.) Also, think about this — how much time and energy does it take to track time, analyze the result and labor over what went wrong! The time is better spent on results for clients!

Challenges

Firms are hesitant to move away from the billable hour, because firm management still needs to track time to determine their costs and gauge which services produce the best margin. (In my view even this is not done properly.) Baker disagrees with this notion, arguing instead that other methods such as price-led costing, project management, key predicative indicators and after-action reviews are better suited to determining and managing costs than time sheets.

If your client demands hourly billing

There are many clients that want to see all the detail behind the bill, including how you determined the billable rate, etc. According to Baker, some buyers of your expertise are so used to buying services based on time and rate, they demand to know this. I have been asked many times to provide the firm’s billing rates in the proposal. It is also true that sometimes a client/customer just wants to buy your time (perhaps to ask a numerous questions according to Baker), and the only benchmark of value in that instance is the time spent. This is not the type of client you want to deal with, since the client has no idea of the value you bring, or if he/she does, is not willing to pay for it. After all, you spent a lifetime learning your craft, why should you give $10,000 of value to a customer in a one-hour meeting? Better yet, why should you provide this value in the proposal?

Determining profitability

If you eliminate time sheets, how will you know if you are profitable? It is simple: income statement management. Look at the cost of labor as a percentage of gross revenue. This is a different mindset from poring over hourly reports. Not comfortable with this? Keep your time sheets and make it a true cost accounting system, rather than a pricing model.

I would be remiss if I did not offer the advantages and disadvantages of hourly billing so here are just a few:

Some advantages: It’s easy and efficient; it can be a cost accounting tool; and it transfers risk to the client if the engagement goes over budget.

Disadvantages: Focuses on hours not value; places risk on the client; fosters a production line, not an entrepreneurial spirit; creates a subsidy system where some clients are overcharged and others are undercharged in order to meet hourly quotas; transmits no useful information other than identifying rainmakers, managers and technicians, and useful information is found in client service, attitude, client retention ability, profitability and collection, ability to delegate, monitoring skills, etc.; focuses on efforts not results; encourages the hoarding of hours to fulfill quotas; penalizes technological advances; rates are set by reverse completion (where you look at the rates of your competition in your market and see where you fit in); creates bureaucracy; does not differentiate a firm; and limits income potential.

Get the picture?

Richard Goldstein is a partner at New York-based Buchbinder Tunick & Company LLP.

TBT Platt’s Perspective: An Open Letter to CPA Firms From Small Businesses Everywhere

Mike Platt - Cropped for IPA INSIDERI was looking through our files the other day and stumbled across a Platt’s Perspective I wrote almost 15 years ago. The sentiments expressed in that Open Letter To CPA Firms still ring true today. As you engage in a busy and successful tax season this year, and go on to strengthen your prospecting muscle in the coming months, take note of this reminder on behalf of small businesses everywhere, and enjoy this #TBT Platt’s Perspective!

In my role, I am in the fortunate position of working with CPA firms and small business owners on a daily basis. As you can imagine, both sides would describe their relationship differently. On behalf of all those business owners who are looking for help, but seem frustrated with how accounting professionals are courting them, I write this letter. Listen up accounting professionals.

Dear Accounting Professional:

Why won’t you make it easy for me to do business with you?

I own a small business and I’d like it to grow bigger. I work 12 hours a day. I need someone who can step in and help me get control of my life again and steer my business in the right direction.

Please understand that I really WANT to do business with you. I’m looking for reasons to say “YES” to you, not “no.” I don’t want to spend my time selecting a CPA. But you’re not making it easy.

  • You sell accounting services every day. I buy accounting services once in a blue moon. Help guide me through the process. Is my business too small for your firm? Do you have the staff to assist me with the day-to-day accounting functions? Tell me what I should be looking for. Tell me how you have helped others like me.
  • I know which questions I want to ask. You know which questions I should be asking. Share them with me.
  • I don’t know what my budget is for your services. That’s because I don’t know what it will take to get me where I want to be. Based on what you know about me, tell me the low, median and high range of what it could cost, and show me what benefits I would derive at each level.
  • My customers buy my product for a fixed price, not my time based on how efficient I am. I can budget and forget my worries with a fixed price from you. Can you accommodate that?
  • I expect you to be technically competent – that’s not really a selling point. I expect you to be ethical and work with integrity. That’s a given.
  • The issue is how you can customize your knowledge to fit my needs, not how can I change my needs to fit what you have to sell.
  • Your firm has been around for 40 years? Congratulations, good for you. What’s important to me is ‘What can you do for my business?’
  • I know my business and my problems are not unique. You’ve seen dozens of companies like mine and know that many of the problems are similar. Share with me how you’ve helped other small business owners get control of their businesses.
  • As a prospect, I know that you really want my business because you are spending hours trying to close the sale. Why is it that when I become a client the billable clock starts ticking immediately?
  • I really do understand that in your business, you may not be the one doing the work. That’s OK. Then let me talk to the person who WILL be doing the work so I can feel good about them.
  • I desperately want to end my search for a CPA and firm in order to get on with improving my business. Make me feel like you heard and understood what my concerns are so I can feel good about making a decision to hire you.
  • My business is my life, it’s all consuming. Show me that you care about me and my business too. If you really do care, then my search is almost over. If you really don’t care, respect my time enough to diplomatically point me elsewhere.
  • And by the way, I know it’s tax season. I know you’re busy. I know you have just a couple of weeks left of working 60+ hours a week. But I don’t want to hear about it. I do that 50 weeks a year.

Keep in mind, I’m looking for reasons to say “YES,” not “NO,” but you don’t make it easy. Honor your promises, do what you say you’re going to do, show me that you understand, and above all else show me that you care. It’s not that hard. Amazingly most of your competitors aren’t doing it, so a little effort on your part will go a long way and will really make you stand out in my mind.

Make it easy for me to do business with you, and this can be the start of a beautiful relationship.

Sincerely,

Most Small Business Owners Across America

Big 4 Aggressively Recruiting for Finance

As growth in traditional audit and tax work begins to plateau, the Big 4 are turning to investment banking advisory and management consulting work, according to BusinessBecause.com, which publishes articles about business school and MBA trends.

“Deloitte, EY, PwC and KPMG are all experiencing growth and actively recruiting our MBA students,” Larry Verbiest, associate director at Georgetown McDonough’s MBA Career Center, told Business Because. “The number of offers has been on an upward trajectory the last few years and we expect that trend to continue this coming year.”

A mergers and acquisition boom is fueling the hiring trend, says Paul Schoonenberg, head of MBA careers at Aston Business School. “As M&A activity has been very active over the last 12 months, the Big 4 firms have been expanding their teams,” he told Business Because.

Deloitte, KPMG and PwC all recently recruited executives from BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, and Rothschild respectively to lead the growth of their investment banking advisory practices.

Revenue outside of tax and audit already represents 20-30% of group revenue, but they are rebuilding consulting practices, with growth in those practices outpacing the growth of traditional management consultancies, according to analysts at Source Information Services.

Signs of the emphasis on more lucrative consultancy work, can be seen in the following consolidations: Deloitte acquired boutique strategy house Monitor Group; and PwC agreed to buy Booz and Company, a mid-tier management consulting firm now branded as Strategy&. “There has certainly been a lot of growth and M&A activity,” says Stephen Pidgeon at the Tuck School of Business.

Report: Companies Heeding Calls for Greater Transparency

Large U.S. companies are answering demands for greater openness by voluntarily sharing more information in the audit process, according to a new report by EY’s Center for Board Matters.

Over the last four years, companies have increased their voluntary audit committee-related disclosures, the report says.

In reviewing 2015 proxy statements of Fortune 100 companies, EY’s Center for Board Matters says firms are exceeding the minimum disclosure requirements. Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, audit committees took on a much larger role in oversight of auditors, but the law didn’t require them to disclose much about their efforts.

According to a CFO.com article, the report contends that “more companies are disclosing how they oversee external auditors, with 71% specifying that the audit committee is responsible for the appointment, compensation and oversight of the auditor, compared with 41% in 2012 and 65% in 2014.”

Additionally, “Sixty-one percent of companies disclosed that the audit committee was involved in the selection of the audit firm’s lead engagement partner — something no company did in 2012.”

The firm says, “Initiatives by regulators, investors, corporate governance leaders, and other stakeholders have encouraged these disclosures by raising awareness of the role of audit committees and noting the benefits of greater transparency such as increased investor confidence.”

The SEC is seeking public comment on current audit committee reporting requirements. “This and other actions by policymakers in 2015 likely will amplify the discussion — and affect the evolution — of the audit-related disclosure landscape in the coming years,” EY predicted.

How Smaller Accounting Firms Can Excel In Today’s Hyper-Competitive Environment

By: Russ Alan Prince, Forbes Contributor

Generally speaking, smaller firms need to add value-added advisory capabilities and do a good job of communicating their expertise to targeted audiences. Doing so will enable them to remain competitive and excel in an increasingly difficult marketplace.

The accounting industry is comprised of a number of colossuses, many mid-tier firms and thousands of small firms. In a bustling economy – think pre-2008 – most smaller firms were able to do quite well. At that time, compliance services were in high demand, and it was relatively easy to cultivate new clients. Those days are long gone.

According to Joe Tarasco, CEO of Accountants Advisory Group, “One of the keys to success for small accounting firms is being able to provide integrated solutions. While continuing to deliver compliance services, small firms need to develop and highlight value-added advisory capabilities. They have to use these advisory capabilities to differentiate themselves. Many of the larger firms are growing because of their advisory services, and this approach can be duplicated by smaller firms.”

At the same time, smaller firms would usually be well served by identifying and focusing on certain niches and specialties. For example, one of the biggest growth opportunities for smaller firms is the family office practice. “By bundling a variety of capabilities often including tax planning, compliance and bill paying, the accountant becomes a trusted advisor to high-net worth clients,” says Tarasco. “What’s more is that well managed family office practices can readily generate margins reaching 75%. It is unquestionably one of the most lucrative types of practices for an accounting firm. It also can be a very effective way to generate business for the other practices in the firm.”

Presently, smaller firms must become disciplined, agile and business development oriented. They have to develop high margin value-added advisory capabilities such as family office practices. Very importantly, they must communicate to potential clients and centers of influence the depth, breath and level of their expertise. Failing to do so makes them “hidden talents,” who fall way short of their business potential.

Combining high caliber value-added advisory capabilities with effective outreach – think thought leadership – smaller accounting firms can be extremely successful. Failing to do so can result in a slow demise or – the more common consequence – being adsorbed by larger accounting firms.

AICPA Celebrates 25 Years of Top Technologies for CPAs

By: Susan Pierce

What was technology like 25 years ago? In 1989, when the AICPA conducted its very first Top Technology Initiatives survey (TTI), the most popular technologies discussed were the spreadsheet and, of course, something called the Internet.

It’s 2015; dial-up is a relic and cloud-based alternatives to physical backups are much more common. Today’s technologies thrive on a 24-hour, cloud environment that enables cross-platform collaboration.

The 25th anniversary North American TTI Survey conducted in 2014 expounded on this trend in the profession and broke down the top IT priorities in the United States and Canada, with more than 3,000 CPAs and chartered accountants weighing in on the most pressing issues affecting their delivery of service in firms, and in business and industry.

Here is a list of the top 10 U.S. initiatives ranked by priority. I will elaborate on the top IT concern below.

  1. Securing the IT environment
  2. Managing and retaining data
  3. Ensuring privacy
  4. Managing IT risks and compliance
  5. Preventing and responding to computer fraud
  6. Enabling decision support and analytics
  7. Managing system implementation
  8. Governing and managing IT investment/spending
  9. Managing vendors and service providers
  10. Leveraging emerging technologies

Securing the IT Environment

Accounting professionals are confident they are able to secure their traditional IT systems, yet the majority feel they don’t have a strong grasp on security protection due to the impending threat of cyber-attacks. As a result, securing the IT environment came in as the top IT concern for 2014.

Less than 50% of the respondents say they’ve addressed all relevant threats, including cloud, mobility and social media, indicating a real need for accounting professionals to educate themselves by discussing the issues at hand and connecting with the cloud operations, datacenters and governing agencies that work to monitor and manage these security concerns. Organizations should perform a comprehensive risk assessment of their physical and logical infrastructure, networks, data and personnel to realize which policies and technologies they can put in place to mitigate the risk of cybercrime, data breaches, theft, fraud and more. As a result, CPAs must establish internal IT security, while also working with clients or upper management to make sure data and communications are secure.

– See more at: http://blog.aicpa.org/2015/04/aicpa-celebrates-25-years-of-top-technologies-for-cpas.html#sthash.0NaUk6p9.c9E4zBtg.dpuf