10 tips to tackle the CPA Exam during busy season

Busy season juggling If your time already seems extra valuable during busy season, try studying for the CPA Exam at the same time. Many do it, however, as they power forward to earn a credential that will significantly enhance their professional lives. If you’re about to jump into juggling the demands of busy season and test preparation, here are a few tips from CPAs I talked to who’ve been there, done that and earned their CPA.

  1. Plan your time.

CPA Leighton Smith, who is a finance director at Microsoft, calculated the time he thought he’d need to study each quarter. He then tracked his actual weekly progress and made adjustments as needed. “I didn’t want to leave anything to chance,” he says.

  1. Stretch the workday.

To keep on track, you’ll have to wake up early, get to bed late and study on the go. “When I took the metro to work in the morning, instead of reading or listening to music, I worked with flash cards that I had made the night before based on my reading,” says CPA Jeff Wilson, advanced QuickBook ProAdvisor at The W2 Group, LLC. During his 30-minute commute each way every day, CPA Caleb Bullock, business development manager at Somerset CPAs and Advisors, listened to lectures. “I did it every spare minute,” he says.

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10 busy-season exercises CPAs can do at their desks

Busy season means tough choices—dividing daily life into essentials and non-essentials. Food: essential. Sleep: essential. You know exercise is important, but is it essential? Research shows that completely dropping your exercise routine for just a few weeks can put you at increased risk for a heart attack or stroke. But findings also show that even short periods of exercise can reduce those risks while boosting productivity and reducing stress. But how? If you don’t have time for a full routine at the gym or outside, deskercise!

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Social security benefits hacked: A cautionary tale

Social Security hackIf you or your clients are at or nearing retirement age, you need to know that hackers are targeting social security accounts. I found out the hard way. My career as a CPA Personal Financial Specialist was devoted to advising individuals and families on their most important financial goals, including tax, retirement, estate, risk management, investment and retirement planning. After decades of helping my clients navigate and manage these important decisions, imagine my surprise when I received a letter in the mail shortly after my 67th birthday congratulating me on initiating my Social Security benefits. The trouble was, although I had entered the glory years of retirement, I had not yet applied for Social Security benefits, opting to wait until age 70 to receive my benefits. Further digging uncovered the unfortunate fact that a thief had received $19,236 of my benefits. I was dumbfounded.

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Personal financial satisfaction extends record run…but for how long?

Americans are experiencing unprecedented levels of personal financial satisfaction, the highest in the 24-year history of the AICPA’s Personal Financial Satisfaction Index (PFSi). After seven consecutive quarters on the rise and a second quarter in a row setting at an all-time record, the average Americans’ personal financial satisfaction has been steadily picking up steam. With financial satisfaction climbing to new highs, some can’t help but wonder when this rise will end.

First, some background. The PFSi is a quarterly economic indicator that measures the financial standing of the average American. It’s calculated as the difference between two sub-indexes: The Personal Financial Pleasure Index, which measures the growth of assets and opportunities, and the Personal Financial Pain Index, which calculates the loss of assets and opportunities. The Pleasure Index is made up of four factors, the largest contributor being the PFS 750 Market index. The Pain Index is also comprised of four factors, with the largest contributor being personal taxes. Most recently, the Pleasure Index (69.2) greatly outweighed the Pain Index (42.3) bringing the PFSi to a positive reading of 26.9, the highest reading since 1994.
 


AICPA Q4 PFSi

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New AICPA chair shares his vision for the future

ERIC HANSEN HEADSHOT Today, Eric Hansen, CPA, CGMA, assumes his new role as Chair of the American Institute of CPAs. We sat down with Eric to ask the four questions that will help you know him and his vision for the profession a little better.

You can also watch the video of his inaugural address, delivered to members of AICPA Council, here.

  1. Congratulations on becoming the 105th Chair of the AICPA! How would you define your role as a leader in the accounting profession?

I’m so humbled and honored to join the ranks of so many amazing and visionary leaders who’ve come before me. They are the reason for our success today. And I see it as my duty – and really that of all accountants – to continue to build on that success, keeping the profession strong and maintaining our critical role in protecting the public interest.  

  1. Strong positioning seems especially important now, as we navigate a world defined by rapid change and disruption. So, how do we keep the profession relevant and trusted?

One thing many people may not know about me is that I’m an Eagle Scout. And it was during my time in the Scouts that I learned one of my favorite sayings: “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. And if you’re late, forget about it.” This is how I’ve approached my life and career, and it’s never failed me.

This is how we need to think about our profession, as well. No one knows for sure what tomorrow will bring. But, if we have the courage to be bold and a bias for action, we’ll be prepared.

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Busy season cheat sheet: 8 considerations to make it easier

Busy season finish lineTime is always a precious commodity during tax season, but especially so this year. On top of starting to prepare 2017 tax year returns, CPAs are working to figure out exactly how the tax reform law affects clients.

Before you start pulling your hair out, take a deep breath and remember the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “This too shall pass.” Then, check out the AICPA resources that not only make preparation a bit more convenient, but will also help you impress your clients by answering their questions before they even ask them.

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Take a timeout: 9 do’s and don’ts for a good work break

Take a breakYour neck and back ache from hunching over your desk. Your eyes burn from staring at a monitor. You don’t want to stop because the clock is not your friend today. Yet stopping can, in fact, make the clock your friend. 

Taking a break on the busiest of days (and, of course, this is the busiest of seasons for tax CPAs) can be hard to do. I get it – while working on a deadline, I hyper focus and hate to put myself on pause. But I make myself do it because I know from experience that it will ultimately lead to greater productivity.

You don’t have to take my word for it, science says the same thing. Consultants monitored people’s productivity using an application called DeskTime and found that the best performers worked for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. Not too surprising, considering that scientists have learned that our brains are better at solving complex problems when given a chance to relax. Think of that “aha” moment that comes to you when you’re in the shower or picking up dry cleaning. 

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5 items you need in your firm’s owners’ agreement

OwnershipWhat’s in your owners’ agreement? I recommend creating these critical documents when the firm is first formed and updating them as needed. An effective agreement can enhance decision-making and productivity, and it’s also the foundation for a successful changeover to new internal ownership. Even in a merger or acquisition, the decisions set forth in an owners’ agreement can set the stage for a smoother and more rewarding transition. Here are some significant issues that should be addressed in any agreement.

Firm governance. When you establish policies on who will run the organization and how it will be run, it can enhance efficiency and profitability. No matter how independently each partner may handle his or her work, there are many advantages to having common agreement on some key issues, such as:

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Government shutdown: What you really don't want to see during busy season

Government shutdown

The primary function of the government is - and here I am quoting directly from the U.S. Constitution - 'to spew out paper.'

-Dave Barry

Humorist Dave Barry can be quite silly, but it’s not so funny when faced with a government shutdown like the one that took place October 1-17, 2013. That was the last one before the shutdown that took place Friday at midnight. In 2013, government operations resumed after a continuing resolution, or CR, was signed into law.  And sometimes, well, we just “need that paper.”

Since accountants like to talk numbers, the 2013 16-day shutdown was the third-longest government shutdown in U.S. history. It trails behind an 18-day shutdown in 1978 and a 21-day shutdown 1995-96.

Monday, Congress voted to approve a temporary funding bill – the fourth since September – effectively reopening the government. But it’s a stopgap measure. And it’s possible we’ll see another shutdown on February 8. This is a critical time for CPAs who’ll be in the midst of filing season.

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5 things I wish I knew when selecting an ERP system

ERPAccounting professionals in the not-for-profit sector wear many hats. We often have the blessing and curse of selecting and implementing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. If you have undertaken this herculean effort before, you’ll probably never forget the education you gained throughout the experience. If you haven’t had the opportunity yet, there are some things you should consider to help your not-for-profit or your not-for-profit clients avoid mistakes. Here are five key lessons I learned when selecting an ERP system for my organization.

  1. You get what you ask for. It’s important to be specific about what you want to do and how you want to do it so you can find out if vendors can accommodate your needs. If the business requirements you specify are too generic, you may be surprised to discover significant gaps in the system’s capabilities too late in the game. For example, saying you need the ability to make electronic payments may be too generic. Instead, indicate that you need the ability to automate batches of electronic payments via EFT and wire. In this example, the added clarity ensures the system can not only make electronic payments but also process them via EFT, and that payments may be initiated through automatic batches rather than manually, one by one.

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Reflecting MLK’s work in the fabric of the profession

MLKToday is the federal holiday when we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and extraordinary work.

Just shy of fifty years since his assassination, we have undoubtedly made progress. However, we still face an unsettling reality where disrespectful language, aggressive rhetoric and harassing behavior continues in some corners of our society.

To advance successfully together, we must face these facts with courage and uphold Dr. King’s legacy to support respect and inclusion. Of the voices carrying his mantle, Dr. King would be proudest to know that ordinary people are increasingly empowered to echo his original messages of equality and justice. In 2017, we heard from a diverse chorus of voices in entertainment, sports, business and politics as well as our neighbors and friends.

The AICPA is committed to inclusion in the accounting profession as well as within our organization. We rely on each individual (member and employee) and their unique views of the world to make the profession stronger and better prepared for the future. We also rely on respect and equality to bolster us against any negative pressure we face as citizens in our communities.  

We thank the members of the our National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion for their dedication and leadership in guiding the profession through our journey of inclusion. And we salute the many accountants and students across the world who are advocates of inclusion.

May you take this day an opportunity to not only celebrate the legacy of Dr. King, but to begin to create legacies of your own so that in 50 years you too are celebrating standing up for change.

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Today’s most binge-worthy TV, brought to you by inclusion

BlackishHopefully you were able to slow down long enough over the holidays to catch up on some of today’s most popular shows. If you’re like me, you want to see interesting shows representing a wide spectrum of perspectives and experiences. With the growth of cable networks and streaming services, you can find shows featuring a range of ethnicities, races, sexuality, and abilities, making for much more engaging and enlightening content.

But inclusion in entertainment didn’t happen overnight. Digital entertainment companies like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and HBO (just to name a few) have been challenging the network television status quo for nearly a decade by assembling writers, producers and actors from various backgrounds to create fresh content. The networks are answering and keeping themselves relevant with their own solid offerings. Today’s improved TV proves that business’ most innovative offerings are spurred on by inclusion as well as competition.

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3 things more important than tax reform in 2018

Your phone’s already ringing. Clients want to know how the new tax law will impact them. This is understandable, but don’t Small firm prioritiesworry if you aren’t ready to answer their questions just yet It’s a big law and the IRS has yet to provide even the most basic guidance. For most businesses, taxes aren’t the first thing to look at in 2018—in fact, taxes probably shouldn’t be your clients’ second or even third priority. During your client meetings consider tackling these other issues that haven’t made the 6 o’clock news.

  1. Everybody needs to fully reevaluate their accounting.

To start with, after two years of delays, US GAAP is undergoing its biggest changes in decades with implementation of FASB’s new revenue recognition and lease accounting standards. Aside from the high-profile changes for software providers, virtually every business in America that reports under US GAAP will see significant changes to their accounting for revenue recognition. Most of these businesses have leases to look at too.

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Selling your practice? Don’t forget to cover your tail

Tail insuranceDon’t let this be you: You sell your practice and all is going well. You are enjoying retired life— when all of the sudden you get a call from your practice’s new owner. A previous client is suing you and you aren’t covered. Yes, this sounds like a nightmare, but luckily it doesn’t have to be your reality. Before selling your firm, protect yourself by considering the following.  

  1. Be Aware of the Danger

When you sell or merge your practice, the potential liability claims don’t go away. Instead, they could move forward into the new firm, ready to erupt when you least expect it. Even if you simply shut down your firm, the possible claims don’t disappear. They can follow you into retirement.

  1. Understand the Limitations

The professional liability insurance you buy is typically issued on a “claims-made and reported” basis. In other words, it is good for claims that are made only while the policy is active. For example, let’s say you sell your practice to Sue’s firm as of January 1, 2018. Early in 2019, an old client makes a claim against services you performed in 2017. The claim may not be covered under Sue’s current professional liability policy, and your policy expired when you sold the firm. You and Sue may be now potentially faced with a claim that is not covered by insurance.

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What’s the price tag on your college football team?

FootballThe stage is set. Who will be crowned the 2018 College Football National Champion tonight? Georgia and Alabama, the teams left standing in the playoffs, will face off to decide. The game is expected to draw a huge viewing audience. Last year’s title game between Clemson and Alabama – the Crimson Tide is back for a third straight year – pulled in more than 26 million viewers.

It’s no secret college football is big business. There’s been a long-time debate about whether student-athletes should get some of the profits (this blog post won’t go down that road). But how do you put a price tag on a team?

Having fans throughout the country focused on top-ranked teams during the season can really boost a university’s brand. A winning football program can lead to a university’s higher student enrollment, better alumni engagement, more scholarships, high-profile donors and increased visitor spending in the community on gamedays.

So, which college football program has the highest net worth? According to a 2017 analysis, Ohio State. The program has a $1.5 billion value, a 50% jump just from the previous year. The increase perhaps because of the Buckeyes’ 2015 national championship win. Texas and Oklahoma trail Ohio State valued at $1.2 and $1 billion, respectively.

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7 proposed changes to the auditor’s report

Auditor's reportAn auditor’s report gives lenders confidence that financial statements are free of material misstatement. But does the auditor’s report really tell the story of what the auditor did to gain assurance about the financial statements? Thanks to proposed changes to the auditor’s report, readers will gain a better understanding of what the auditor did and observed.

The AICPA Auditing Standards Board (ASB) has released a set of exposure drafts  aimed at enhancing the relevance and usefulness of the auditor’s report.

  1. Proposed Statements on Auditing Standards: Auditor Reporting and Proposed Amendments―Addressing Disclosures in the Audit of Financial Statements
  2. Proposed Statement on Auditing Standards: The Auditor’s Responsibilities Relating to Other Information Included in Annual Reports
  3. Proposed Statement on Auditing Standards: Omnibus Statement on Auditing Standards—2018

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Next step for tax reform: Busy season

Tax reformTax reform is now law.

A few weeks ago, Congress passed H.R.1, a tax reform bill known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Its full title is “An Act to provide for reconciliation pursuant to titles II and V of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2018.” On Dec. 22, President Trump signed the bill into law.

As busy season approaches, it’s important that CPAs are aware of how this bill affects their clients. Some provisions apply retroactively, including reducing the threshold for deduction of medical expenses from 10% to 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for a two-year period beginning in 2017. This means some clients may be able to deduct more from their 2017 taxes or qualify for the deduction for the first time.

Individual tax rates changed, effective 2018-2025 tax years. These are now set at 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%. The IRS will issue guidance soon, meaning we could see changes to paychecks as early as next month. Business clients could also see their tax rate lower with the new flat 21% corporate tax rate. Previously the corporate rates ranged from 15% to 38% and were graduated based on taxable income.

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AICPA announces 2018 CPA Exam score release dates

The 2018 score release dates are posted to the Score Release Timeline page of the AICPA’s CPA Examination page. For complete information regarding scoring, please visit the Examination Scoring and Scoring FAQ pages.

The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy will release scores to boards of accountancy based upon the target score release dates listed in the tables below. Some boards may require at least one day beyond the published target release date in the table to process and release scores.

Note: There are score holds for the 2018 Q2, Q3 and Q4 testing windows. For more information about these score holds, please read the specific Scoring FAQs.

2018 Q1

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

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Why you shouldn’t make a New Year’s resolution

ResolutionsEach year, millions of Americans lose an average of 20 pounds and learn a new language within a few months of making their New Year’s resolutions.

Wait, what? That’s not actually true. I can tell you what really happens: Every January 2, a slew of people show up at my gym and hog the treadmills. It is rather frustrating. Luckily, I know they’ll be gone in a few weeks. That’s because they are part of the 80% of Americans who abandon their resolutions by the second week of February.

There has to be a better way. What if instead, we set goals throughout the year, rather than all at once when the clock strikes midnight? We would be less likely to feel overwhelmed by our commitment to training for a marathon and writing a novel, so we’d have a better chance of getting something done. After doing some research, I found a few other tips to achieve those goals you set.

Be specific. Begin by writing down exactly what you want. We’d all like to be more successful or more fulfilled, but what exactly does that mean to you? Let’s say you’d like to raise your professional visibility. There are a number of ways you can do it, including getting further training that can make you more valuable to clients or your employers or becoming more involved in professional or community organizations. And remember this isn’t a once-a-year activity, since it’s good to set new goals as circumstances change and new opportunities pop up.

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All I want for Christmas is…a rabbit onesie?

Leg lampLet’s be honest: at some point in our lives we have all felt like Ralphie from A Christmas Story. We wanted the latest and greatest toy and instead received … a rabbit onesie from our Aunt Clara. Even though Ralphie wound up receiving his dream present after all, some of us here at the Association were not so lucky.  

To bring a laugh to you this holiday season, and as a reminder that not all gifts have to be expensive to leave a lasting impression, we asked our staff to share the weirdest gifts they’ve ever received. Here’s what they had to say:

 “Last year I was invited to a white elephant gift swap and I got a pair of cashmere socks. Nice, right? But they were missing a tag and when I took a sniff they had definitely been worn recently.” – Alexis Rothberg, Communications Manager

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4 tips for not-for-profit accounting staff

We know the feeling. You already have a lot on your plate. And now there are significant changes coming down the pike in the form of Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) accounting standards updates and tax reform. If you find yourself hoping the nonprofit accounting environment will settle down in 2018, you’re not alone. But alas, we’re here to help. Consider these tips:

Start at the top.

Having a well-run not-for-profit board is important for making sure strategic objectives are met even as changes occur. If you have open seats, be sure you select new board members carefully. Identify a diverse range of skills and experience that you’re looking for when recruiting board members. These may include finance, information technology, human resources, marketing, fundraising or law. For more advice, check out these governance and management FAQs and this blog post on 5 tips for an effective not-for-profit board.

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Bitcoin may burst. You still need to learn about it.

Bitcoin 2On December 19, 2017, Bitcoin was trading at just over $17,700 – an increase of more than 34,000,000% over its 2011 price of $0.05. Almost all this exponential growth has been in 2017, which has people asking if Bitcoin is a bubble.

My opinion? Yes. It has many of the classic signs.

Bitcoin’s value has increased dramatically in a short time, attracting novice investors. Its valuation is extremely difficult since it’s not backed by anything tangible like gold or silver. Lastly, as an investment, Bitcoin doesn’t pay interest or dividends. To make money, investors will have to sell their Bitcoins. For these reasons, I think the Bitcoin bubble will burst eventually. I’m just not sure what the triggering event will be or when it will happen, but it will happen.

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5 cookie recipes for the best holiday ever

Happy Bake Cookies Day! Yes, there is an entire day dedicated to baking cookies, and it conveniently happens to fall close to the winter holidays. So, if you’d like to celebrate what is, in my humble opinion, the best holiday ever, or if you’re just looking for a way to fill your time away from the office, warm your heart (and your oven) with one of these cookie recipes crowdsourced from Association employees.

Hungarian Butter Cookies

Hungarian butter cookies
This one is a family recipe from Communications Manager Alexis Rothberg. I can confirm that Alexis’s dessert skills are top notch, so this one is bound to be a winner.

Ingredients

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

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Your five-step guide for using data analytics in an audit

Data analyticsYour clients have a lot of information. And you, being the forward-thinking CPA that you are, want to use new technologies and techniques to get the most out of that data. So where do you begin?

Audit data analytics (ADAs) is a great place to start. Using tools you already have – Excel, for example – you can analyze entire populations, find anomalies and identify patterns. To help you on your way, we’ve outlined five basic steps for planning, performing and evaluating the results of an ADA used to perform an audit procedure.

  1. Plan the ADA.

The first step is to develop a solid plan. Figure out what information you’ll be reviewing and what you want to get out of it. Are you performing a risk assessment procedure, substantive analytical procedure, or test of details? Or are you seeking to form an overall conclusion from the audit? Once you know your objective, then think about the population of data you have available. Give preliminary consideration to how available, relevant and reliable it is (you’ll consider this in more detail in step 3). Finally, identify which specific ADA procedures, techniques and tools you’ll use.

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Tax reform: Steps to implementation

Tax reform 2“Lobbyists are in many cases expert technicians and capable of explaining complex and difficult subjects in a clear, understandable fashion.”  – John F. Kennedy

I once told a new acquaintance that I was a lobbyist, and he looked at me like I was the devil. Really. So, I greatly appreciate President Kennedy’s complement as generic as it might be. And in the case of tax reform, I wish it might be true. Frankly, finding anyone who knows the answers would make me happy. What am I talking about?

As you might have followed in the news, a comprehensive tax reform bill has moved a few steps closer to the president’s desk. It’s possible the bill will be signed before Christmas.

But the president’s signature is not the end of the story.

As we saw in 1986, the signing of the tax reform bill will set off a regulatory and legislative chain of events that will take years to complete.

After signing, the Joint Committee on Taxation will likely issue a “committee report,” or general explanations of the final bill. This will offer insight into how the new bill will affect revenue.

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Credit losses: A new scope

BB8

If you have put off reviewing the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) new Credit Loss standard since its effective date is “in a galaxy far, far away,” you are not alone.

This is the largest accounting standard change affecting depository institutions (and other industries) within the last 40 years, so it can be intimidating for management to get started. Plus, the amount of flexibility and professional judgement allowed within the standard itself has caused confusion and fear, making it hard even to begin.

Do not give into your fear. “Fear is the path to the Dark Side.” Instead, read below to digest the new standard piecemeal, and to understand what it does and doesn’t say. Then you will have the tools needed to take the steps to implement it. 

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Procrastinators beware, the nonprofit audit is not the place to drag your feet 

NFP cartoon 1

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Santa baby, all I want is a robot

Robot 2An artificial intelligence holiday wishlist

Everywhere I turn, there are articles about artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, the rise of robots and what it means for employees in all types of businesses. (Note: As you may have read in some of our previous blog posts, we think the accounting profession will fare a-ok.) Driverless cars and trucks are already a reality and have had both their first accidents and delivered their first kegs of beer. Not at the same time. While it is still a little difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact my son and daughter may do minimal driving as adults, I am more than ready for robots to lend a hand in a few other departments. Because isn’t the point of these things to take on tasks that consume too much time allowing me to focus on what really matters?

1. Holiday shopping. Every year, I spend hours hunting for the perfect gifts for my husband, who just wants Adidas to start making his favorite wind pants from 1997 again. (Note to Adidas: please don’t.) He wants nothing else and is generally horrible to shop for. I would gladly outsource this job to a robot. Who can then wrap the presents.

2. Clean my house. Where is Rosie (the Jetsons robot maid) when I need her? I know I could buy a Roomba, but a Roomba can’t dust, or change the diaper pail, or scrub the shower or toilet, or do my laundry.

3. Make repairs. Since my husband and I bought our house a year and a half ago, a tree fell through our fence, our garage roof needed to be replaced, our entire plumbing system got clogged and our upstairs toilet intermittently starts running for no reason. A fix-it robot would come in handy.

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7 key steps to master revenue recognition implementation

Deadline loomingStandard setters have made game-changing revisions to revenue recognition standards, and the effective date for implementation is fast-approaching. The new standard replaces the existing transaction- and industry-specific revenue approach with a principles-based approach. Is your organization ready for this shift?

The new standard was originally issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board as Accounting Standards Update (ASU) No. 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (the International Accounting Standards Board has also issued guidance with the same name), and several clarifying amendments have since been issued. The guidance affects all entities—public, private and not-for-profit—that have contracts with customers. The standard’s original effective date was postponed because of the complexity involved.

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5 easy strategies to help your candidates pass the CPA Exam

CPA Exam prepAs a recently licensed CPA, the long study hours, time commitment and life balancing I did to prepare for the Uniform CPA Examination is still fresh in my mind. After reading the Journal of Accountancy article in which members shared their personal exam experiences, I started thinking back to my own journey as a candidate.  

I can remember the moment I finally received the results of my last exam section. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief and, of course, pride. My commitment to accounting had paid off. But one thing that stands out to me is when I prepared for the exam, I focused on a few strategies for success. 

I know your firm’s CPA candidates will each have their own way to tackle the exam. But as someone who has been through the experience, I think it’s helpful for you to share your knowledge and personal experience. Don’t hesitate to talk about what worked and what didn’t. Let them know you understand what they’re facing.

So, where to start? Ask your candidates a basic question: “What’s your exam strategy?” If you get the long, awkward pause, here are five quick tips to share:

  1. Understand the candidate requirements

For anyone pursuing the CPA, this is where it all starts. The exam process requires quite a few steps, so it’s best to know the lay of the land ahead of time. My journey began with a seminar hosted by the New Jersey Society of CPAs. I learned all about what I needed to do, what the requirements were and which exam partners I needed to turn to for guidance. The key is doing your homework before you jump into testing.

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Preparing for busy season after natural disasters

WildfiresYour clients are counting on you to be up-to-date on the latest in tax. This means keeping them informed on how major storms, floods, and wildfires could affect their returns.

We saw the hurricane headlines, and they were shocking. Three major storms stood out for their ferocity and damage. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma killed more than 100 in the United States and caused more than $150 billion in property damage. Puerto Rico was hit hard by Hurricane Maria. The island lost all power and nearly all cell service. In some places, these services have yet to be restored.

And it wasn’t just hurricane season that was unusually active. Wildfire season has been one of the worst on record. Almost 9 million acres have burned in wildfires across the western states.

And the year isn’t over just yet.

In November, TEC Chair Annette Nellen, CPA, CGMA, spoke on this topic and offered advice at the National Tax Conference in Washington, D.C. Here are some of the key considerations she shared to get you and your clients ready for busy season.

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4 financial benefits of single audit specialization

Focus on audit specializationCan a small firm thrive by building a niche within a highly specialized audit area? My firm, Clausell & Associates, P.C., in Decatur, Georgia, has found the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Our 10-person firm opened in 1987, three years after Congress passed the Single Audit Act. This landmark legislation standardized audit requirements for states, local governments and Indian tribal governments that receive and use federal financial assistance. Our firm’s founders saw an opportunity to establish themselves in this new and growing niche. Today, single audits make up about 60 percent of our practice, so the original decision to specialize in single audits was a great move for our firm. 

For practitioners thinking that specializing may limit their practice, don’t worry. Over the years, our single audit expertise has helped to set us apart in the marketplace and drive our growth. Here are some of the rewards that we have found through single audit specialization. 

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4 good reasons to go to that networking event

NetworkingWe are all busy. When we aren’t at work we’re juggling a long list of priorities, including spending time with family and friends, partaking in hobbies or running errands that can’t be put off any longer. You will notice, nowhere in that list is attending networking events.  But that shouldn’t be the case.

Here’s a story that might inspire you to slap on a smile, put on a nice outfit, and go to that networking event—even if you’d rather sit on the couch catching up on This Is Us.  When one CPA, Heather Zundel, moved from Las Vegas to Albuquerque, she joined her state society and started showing up at their events. Along the way, she formed strong relationships that helped her feel rooted in her new community.  This involvement led to leadership opportunities as well, such as becoming the youngest woman to chair her state CPA society’s board of directors.

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Secret Santa 101: Brush up on gift exchange game rules

Secret Santa

The office tree has been trimmed, the halls have been decked and everyone is scrambling to get all of their end-of-year work done. But before you can leave the office for the holidays and officially begin the festivities, there’s one thing left to do: the office gift exchange.

More budget-friendly than your typical office party, a gift swap get-together might be the way to go. Consider these three gift giving games for your small firm’s holiday celebration. They will make everyone feel jolly and turn a potentially ho-hum gathering into a ho-ho-holiday team bonding experience.

Game: White Elephant  

How to Play: Have you ever looked at a gift someone just received with envy because you wished it had been given to you instead? With White Elephant—also known as Pirate Santa, Yankee Swap and Dirty Santa—you’re in luck. That coveted gift can be all yours.

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Not into Black Friday? #GivingTuesday is for you

Giving tuesdayYou probably know Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

What about #GivingTuesday?

The charitable holiday is a global day of giving – either money or time – that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Started in 2012, #GivingTuesday to date has encouraged people from more than 98 countries to donate more than $177 million to charity.

There are so many wonderful and impactful organizations in the world, so we encourage you to choose one that is close to your heart. If you need help deciding, here is one that means a lot to the profession – the AICPA Benevolent Fund.

What is it?

In 1933 during the Great Depression, the AICPA created the Benevolent Fund as a place for members to turn during times of financial difficulty. In cases of serious illness, an accident, or the death of the primary source of family income, the fund helps members meet daily living and medical expenses not covered by insurance. One-time emergency grants are also available to help with natural disasters and other unexpected events.

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The Form 990: Not-for-profits, you can run, but you can’t hide

 

990 1

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The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act still applies to CPAs

ID theftThe information encoded in your DNA determines your unique biological characteristics, such as sex, eye color, age and Social Security number. -  Dave Barry

The fight against identity (ID) theft is starting to bear fruit: The number of taxpayers who reported that they were victims of identity theft to the IRS dropped in 2016. This means 376,000 fewer taxpayers reported ID theft, a drop of 46%. Also, the IRS stopped 883,000 tax returns with confirmed identity theft links from getting through the system in 2016. That helped lead to a 37% drop in stolen returns that year.

Dave Barry is a funny guy, but ID theft is no laughing matter. Fraud detection is still one of National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson’s “most serious problems” as indicated in her 2016 Annual Report to Congress.

Olson sites a 2015 Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report that said although the IRS’s fraud detection efforts were able to stop between $22 billion and $24 billion of false refunds from being issued, identity thieves were still able to steal approximately $5.75 billion in the 2013 filing season.

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Not a natural born leader? 5 tips can boost your skills

Horn_LaceySome say that leaders are born. Others believe that leaders are made. I’m definitely a fan of the hybrid approach. There have been moments in my career where I’ve harnessed some inherent abilities and cultivated others to move up the ladder. Even from a young age, I knew I wanted to make a significant contribution to my community. But, to be effective as the Treasurer of the Cherokee Nation, I’ve had to draw from personal and professional experiences and build my confidence. You can do it too. Here are some tips.

  1. Lead by observation. Closely observing a respected leader’s approach to strategy is key to developing your own. I became a math hound from watching and helping my grandmother run her business. That’s really where my leadership training began. Later, when I started working for the Cherokee Nation, I had a terrific mentor who took me under his wing and allowed me to be involved in decision-making for the tribe. By watching how others lead, you can gain their 30,000-foot view while simultaneously working with your boots on the ground.
  1. Lead by listening. Listening to and understanding the perspectives of others can help you determine how to tackle new challenges and gain the trust of your colleagues. When I became Treasurer of the Cherokee Nation, I was suddenly managing an experienced team of 98 people. I had to prove myself to everyone, and I did that by listening to them. I asked them what they felt the tribe’s opportunities and challenges were. Also, I wanted to hear about the ideas they had and what they would focus on if they were in my position. My team felt heard and saw firsthand my eagerness to put their thoughts and ideas into action.
  1. Lead by taking on new responsibilities. You don’t have to have a leadership title to build your confidence and leadership skills. All you have to do is raise your hand. Whether you’re offering to manage a work project, volunteering for the board of a nonprofit organization or taking a leadership role at your alumni association, step up. This is how you learn and demonstrate to others that you’re willing to lead.
  1. Lead by learning. Any professional will tell you that you learn new things every day, CPE-required or not. Take the audit, for instance. By performing an audit, you learn about planning, project management and how to form an argument. It’s a proving ground for many CPAs as they build real-world leadership qualities, which was certainly the case for me. I pass the spirit of constant learning on to my staff by encouraging them to take advantage of opportunities to broaden their horizons on a variety of topics, from Standards for Excellence to public speaking. I’m a big believer in demonstrating the desire to learn; it’s a leadership quality all on its own.

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You asked, we delivered. A more flexible attestation standard.

SlinkyWe heard from members. Their clients want them to perform procedures and report in a format similar to an agreed-upon procedures (AUP) engagement, with more flexibility. To be responsive to the needs of our members and the public, the AICPA Accounting and Review Services Committee (ARSC), got together with the Auditing Standards Board (ASB) and developed a new proposed standard, Selected Procedures. If adopted, it will address several practice issues that CPAs are experiencing today and result in a standard that is in the public interest.

Development of the procedures

In an AUP engagement:

  • The CPA performs procedures that are established by specified parties.
  • The specified parties are responsible for the sufficiency of the procedures for their purposes.
  • The engagement letter is required to include agreement on the procedures.
  • In circumstances where the procedures evolve or are modified over the course of the engagement, the CPA is required to amend the engagement letter to reflect the modified procedures.
  • The practitioner’s report is restricted to the use of those parties that established and agreed on the sufficiency of the procedures

In practice, many CPAs find that the specified parties are unable or unwilling to develop the procedures needed.

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Your new, blockchain supported job

You’ve probably heard that blockchain technology is going to disrupt accounting. (If you read AICPA newsletters or accounting news articles or attend our conferences, you have definitely heard this.)

But do you still find yourself wondering exactly how it is going to do that? Look no further. We’ve compiled 4 big ways your job could change because of the blockchain.

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Personal financial satisfaction hits record high - what’s in it for me?

Personal finances are like fingerprints, everyone is unique. With the AICPA’s Personal Financial Satisfaction Index (PFSi) at an all-time high, you may be wondering what it means for you.

Let’s start with some background. The PFSi is a quarterly economic indicator that measures the financial standing of the average American. It’s calculated as the difference between two sub-indexes: The Personal Financial Pleasure Index, which measures the growth of assets and opportunities, and the Personal Financial Pain Index, which calculates the loss of assets and opportunities. Most recently, the Pleasure Index (68.1) greatly outweighed the Pain Index (42.1), bringing the PFSi to a positive reading of 25.9, the highest reading since 1994.

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Be thankful, not broke: Friendsgiving on a budget

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la –

Hold up! Before you whip out the eggnog, don’t forget there’s another holiday between Halloween and Christmas. You know the one, where stretchy pants are part of the dress code so you can devour ALL the stuffing and cranberry sauce.

While a dinner in your hometown is sometimes the preferred way to spend Thanksgiving, the financial impact can be daunting. On average in the United States, more than $2.9 million dollars is spent on Thanksgiving dinner food, and the average household spending clocks in at around $342 for the weekend. This is why many Americans are opting for a “Friendsgiving” instead, celebrating Thanksgiving locally with friends. It’s a popular way of saving time, travel and, most of all, money.

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6 factors to choose the right basis of accounting for your not-for-profit

AccountingCash, accrual, modified cash or tax—which basis of accounting is best for your not-for-profit? It’s an important decision, so you should consider your options carefully. Management, stakeholders, board members, current and potential grantors, donors and creditors all rely on your financial statements to gain an understanding of your organization’s financial health.

Not-for-profit organizations have several options when choosing a basis of accounting. Here are brief descriptions of your choices:

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Finance pros, meet your new accountability: Cybersecurity

If you’re a finance professional or run a business, you may have a new responsibility these days: cybersecurity oversight. The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (the Association) recently conducted a survey of financial executives. Seventy-three percent of respondents said their teams are taking on more responsibility for mitigating cybersecurity risks. An additional 15% said they have become the person primarily responsible for cybersecurity.

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5 ways to make the most of your small office space

Small office spaceDo you hit your daily step count just walking around the office looking for a quiet place to call a client? Or do you move files off the chair by your desk so you can talk with a co-worker? There are benefits to working in a small office space, like the camaraderie our office developed eating lunch in the combination kitchen/library/conference room, and any challenges can be offset with some adjustments. Here are some ideas for getting the most out of your limited office space.

  1. Ask before you act:

Is your office a good place for valuable impromptu meetings? Does your staff feel it’s easy to concentrate? Does the lighting throughout your office allow for a good work experience? Is technology easily accessible? The best way to find out is by asking, either in an informal meeting or via a survey. Your plans to get the best use of limited office space won’t work if you don’t solve the problems that prevent staff from doing their best.

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5 tips for an effective not-for-profit board

Board of directorsSurvey says, gaps in not-for-profit board performance fundamentally impact the success of the organization. Problems range from lack of true engagement by board members to their failure to fulfill important fiduciary duties. Do these sound familiar?  Don’t worry. We are here to help you resolve these issues and set your board up to be as efficient as ever.

To avoid these shortcomings, consider the following best practices:

  • Set clear expectations up front. Do your incoming board members have a thorough understanding of what is expected of them? And do they understand what meeting those expectations will involve? Have they met key players and learned about relevant policies and procedures? We recommend developing a comprehensive onboarding process that clearly defines board responsibilities, including the details they need to know to hit the ground running.

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Don’t overlook this important subject with clients

HealthWe’ve all heard the phrase, “Your health is your wealth.” Why then are so many advisers hesitant to talk to their clients about it? Health intersects the planning you provide in many ways, yet practitioners rarely go there. The result is missed opportunities and incomplete planning.

A client of mine suffered a major heart attack and stroke at age 65. In the aftermath, he and his wife resolved to spend his remaining years traveling and gifting the wealth they had amassed. On the surface, their reaction sounded like a generous, intentional plan. Unfortunately, they hadn’t considered that his life expectancy was quite a bit longer than they assumed, even after the scare. In that time, the term insurance he was certain would cover his wife’s living expenses after he was gone would expire.

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The trait that will prevent robots from stealing your job

RobotsLet’s face it. Artificial intelligence (AI) is going to revolutionize our business environment and the profession. Advancements in AI mean that you will soon spend less time conducting time-consuming and repetitive tasks. However, just because a robot can perform certain tasks traditionally performed by a CPA, does not mean that a robot is going to steal your job. That is because humans possess traits vital to our work that robots just don’t have the bandwidth to handle. One of the most essential traits is professional skepticism.

According to the AICPA Professional Standards, professional skepticism is an attitude that includes a questioning mind, being alert to conditions that may indicate possible misstatement due to fraud or error and a critical assessment of audit evidence. It is a necessary trait that all auditors must have, and is expected of all CPAs. Here are six tips to help you enhance your professional skepticism.

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If you’re hacked, what’s your cybersecurity liability?

Cybersecurity liabilityCybersecurity attacks are inevitable. That’s the unfortunate reality. In fact, in a special report, Cybersecurity Ventures projects cybercrime’s global cost will reach $6 trillion by 2021. Now more than ever, organizations and accounting firms of all sizes need to be vigilant about protecting data and responding to threats.

What’s your liability?

That’s a big question we hear from firms regardless of whether or not they’ve been attacked. There are actually no uniform federal laws on business cybersecurity. But there is a patchwork of state rules. Under certain state laws, CPAs can face liability for cybersecurity breaches that expose personal information. Most states have rules for handling breach notifications and for what remediation measures need to be taken. Breach requirements depend on where the client resides – not where your firm is located. We encourage you to learn the dynamic requirements of states that apply to you.

Meanwhile, federal circuit courts are split as to what constitutes sufficient standing to sue in cyber breach cases. Some courts hold that companies may be liable for damages if client or employee data is stolen, even if the theft causes no harm; instead, it’s sufficient to merely allege that the information was compromised. This broad interpretation will only further increase the risk of cyber liability claims.

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Busted: 3 spooky investing myths

Grim reaperGhosts, skeletons and zombies – most of us can agree these are all pretty scary, right? Turns out, when you talk about “investing,” many people have a similar reaction to that of getting spooked in a haunted house.

Instead of running from investments and screaming like a banshee anytime someone mutters the words “stock market,” AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission members want to put these investing myths to rest with tips for how to get past them:

Myth #1: I need a lot of money to invest.

False! Sean Stein Smith, CPA, CGMA, says that with the development of investing apps, and the increased number of opportunities to purchase fractional shares of companies, anyone can start investing simply with spare change from credit card transactions. It’s that easy! Employer offered 401(k) programs make it especially easy to invest by deducting straight from each paycheck; the automation means you likely won’t notice the money is gone.

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