Practitioners unit can help IRS put taxpayers first

Shutterstock_1055588426“Wouldn’t you know IRS extended filing season an extra day the year I retire.”

  • Nameless but real CPA

On April 17, what was supposed to be the final day for Americans to file 2017 tax returns, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) hardware issues resulted in the outage of several key online systems. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The website crash forced the IRS to delay the tax deadline by one day. It also served as a warning sign for those of us advocating for the agency’s modernization. And don’t tell that CPA that he actually got an extra three in his last busy season. Gravy, as it were.

The day after the technology collapse, the Taxpayer First Act — described as the most transformative revisions to the IRS in 20 years — won unanimous passage in the U.S. House of Representatives. The package of nine bills is intended to redesign the IRS to emphasize customer service, new taxpayer appeal rights, improved responsiveness to victims of identity theft and modernization of technology.

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5 TV shows to teach your kids about business

Shutterstock_702291805Entrepreneur Mikaila Ulmer founded Me & the Bees Lemonade when she was just four years old. At age 12, Mikaila won funding from Shark Tank investor Daymond John. Now 13, her product line is available at Whole Foods Market stores. Mikaila represents a growing movement of young entrepreneurs throughout the country.

Children are watching their entrepreneurial parents every day and they’re picking up on best practices. Kids are much further ahead in their understanding of the business world than what we, as parents, realize.

You can help your kids get involved and start thinking about business. Here are five TV shows you can watch with your young children this summer. All shows are age appropriate and have an element of excitement to get your child’s business ideas flowing:

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5 tips for the best sleep of your life

Shutterstock_450863191You know the feeling. You toss and turn and periodically look at the clock. Your mind is racing, thinking about the challenging conversation you had earlier in the day with a client as well as all of the tasks you have to get done in the morning. You are stressed. Because of this, you are having difficulty falling asleep. The next day when you arrive at the office, you are lethargic, irritable and definitely not your best self. Research indicates that sleep deprivation negatively impacts work productivity. Can this sleepless night routine be prevented? With these simple tips, you bet it can.

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AICPA cybersecurity framework highlighted in Congressional testimony

IStock_000035601216_FullEarlier today, Bob Sydow, EY Americas Advisory Cybersecurity Leader, testified in front of the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on cybersecurity risks to financial services.

Sydow outlined three main challenges EY’s clients face regarding cybersecurity:

  1. Emerging interconnected technologies that drive fundamental transformations and create complex third-party ecosystems
  2. The volume, velocity and precision of attacks
  3. A shortage of cybersecurity resources and skilled professionals

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4 best practices for working from home

IStock_59008810_XXLARGEI’m more relaxed than I used to be. Some days you’ll find me working after midnight. Others I’m cranking out emails at 5 a.m. This year I’ve made it to all but one of my kids’ daytime events. I exercise more, too. If any of this sounds familiar, you might work from home like I do.

From a tech perspective, most professionals can do their jobs from home. But there’s far more to working from home than technology. If you work from home, are considering working from home or manage employees who work from home, I hope the following suggestions help you set up a strong work-from-home strategy.

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5 tax tips for the newly engaged couple and their CPA

Shutterstock_645344572I’m getting married in June, and for me, wedding planning has been relatively simple and drama-free. I’ve buttoned up the budget, signed every contract, booked travel and have a final headcount for the caterer. There’s just one thing that’s still unsettling my mind.

What’s going to happen to my taxes?

It seems like such a straightforward question, but newlyweds often find themselves on the wrong side of a tax bill. Couples may think it’s silly — or even awkward — to think about taxes just after getting engaged, but a financial head start could do wonders for a marriage (money issues are often cited as a cause of divorce). 

As a tax practitioner, you are in the unique position to help guide clients like me through this financial milestone. Knowing what to look for and how to spot potential red flags can be key to keeping them on track. For a little insight, I reached out to Tax Practice & Ethics team members Susan Allen, CPA, CGMA, CITP, and Henry Grzes, CPA.

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Needed now: female financial planners

GettyImages-748335013Mind-blowing. That is the word that pops in my head whenever I see the statistics on women needing financial planning and the corresponding number of women planners available to provide those services. The numbers tell a story that needs a new ending:    

  • Women age 65 and older are three times more likely than men to be widowed, and 46% of women over 75 live alone.
  • 55% of women between 25 and 34 prefer working with female financial advisors.
  • Women represent only 15.7% of the financial planning industry
  • Only one third of women surveyed by Prudential in 2015 said they were either on track or ahead in their retirement plan.

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College grads: How to save for retirement when you can barely pay your rent

RetirementGraduated from college. ✓

Got a good job. ✓

Started saving for retirement. WHAT?!

I know what you‘re likely thinking: “I have plenty of time to save! Why would I start now?” I get it, the idea of saving for anything, let alone your distant retirement years, seems crazy. You’re not alone. You might be shocked to hear that only 46% of non-retired Americans believe they will reach their retirement goals and 20% don’t believe they ever will.

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A Mother’s Day wish list

GettyImages-671753690Mother’s Day is a time when everyone comes together to celebrate the women who gave us life. It’s an opportunity for us to show our appreciation for the love, advice and support these women offered us throughout our lives. We asked CPA moms what they are hoping to receive on their special day. Here’s what they said:    

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Post-busy season spring cleaning tips

Spring cleaningAs another busy season fades away, you have likely started seeing the email auto-responses and vacation pics on social media of colleagues who are finally getting some much-needed rest. Following the bulging work weeks, tax law changes, phone calls from clients and other demands put upon CPAs during spring, a vacation is well-deserved.

However, you should be wary of setting cruise control while coasting through the summer downtime.  Although it’s easy to do and often ideal, sailing into the active fall season without some spring cleaning at your firm is not a good idea. Taking time to address any obstacles that your firm faced during busy season will generate major benefits down the line.

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Kentucky Derby - it’s more than just the hats

Shutterstock_286553204It’s that time of year again. The Kentucky Derby is back, and people from all over the world are coming together to watch the race. It’s an exciting (and expensive) day. This year, ten racehorses were purchased for more than $300,000 each. In fact, one horse had a price tag of $3 million.

All of the owners certainly are hoping for the $2 million purse — and many of the viewers are hoping for their own payday. The Kentucky Derby, one of the biggest betting events of the year, drew a record $209.2 million in wagers in 2017. So, what if all those dreams of instant wealth come true?

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Give feedback that feeds performance

Listening
As a training and leadership development consultant for accounting firms, I’ve found that providing feedback is one of the top challenges for management. When it’s done well and promptly, giving performance feedback can yield huge benefits – more productivity, better relationships, and more loyal, engaged employees. However, providing consistent, timely and honest feedback is something many managers struggle with.

The performance review is a prime example of inconsistency in how many supervisors provide feedback. In written reviews managers often address issues that they’ve avoided in face-to-face discussions. By the time the employee reads the review, they feel blindsided. Without a dialogue, how can they share their perspective? How can they fix a problem they never knew existed? This pattern applies to many, if  not all, other industries, to the point that major companies such as General Electric are scrapping annual reviews altogether.

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These tools can automate parts of your audit

GettyImages-850496336You’ve heard a lot about data analytics. But do you know how to use them to automate parts of your audit? From journal entry testing to inventory counts, a new AICPA mapping guide shows you how data analytic products on the market today align with general audit procedures.

The free Audit Data Analytics to Audit Procedures mapping document provides a direct link for nearly 100 audit procedures, covering areas like risk assessment, journal entries, accounts receivable, inventory, intangibles, accounts payable, income taxes, and more.

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Offbeat vacation ideas for the adventurous CPA

TravelBusy season is officially over.

You’ve been powering through all season. Returns are in, and extensions are filed. And most importantly, your clients are happy because you’re a powerhouse CPA. Now that you have free time on your calendar, it’s time to take your superhero-self on vacation.

Deciding where to go on vacation can be challenging, which is no surprise, considering many Americans spend up to 10% of their household income on vacations every year.

That means your vacation should be memorable and offer experiences and sights you’ve never encountered — perhaps because you didn’t even know they were there.

Take a gander at these offbeat vacation ideas to get your creative mind going and help you prepare for your best post-busy season yet.

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7 tips to have an influence on future standards

StandardsStandards are amended, and new ones are issued. But did you know that it is possible to express your opinion—and even make a difference—in the standard-setting process? If you’ve never done so before, here are some tips based on my own experience.

Your opinions are welcome! Standard setters actively solicit comments – not only from those who are directly impacted by the exposure draft but also from any other interested parties. They do read and carefully consider all comments submitted.

The explanatory memorandum is a helpful guide. With any exposure draft, you’ll want to understand the key issues and what they mean. Exposure drafts generally come with explanatory memoranda that offer a quick introduction to the proposed standard. It can tell you, among other things, the key issues addressed and changes proposed. Many explanatory memoranda include questions to consider when drafting your response.

 

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How to find your volunteer niche

VolunteerOne of the biggest hurdles in volunteering is knowing where to start. While some may say “just get out there and do it,” it’s not so easy when it comes to volunteering in financial literacy. As a CPA, you have the knowledge you need, but finding the right opportunity that best matches your skills and interests can be a challenge. Luckily, the AICPA has volunteer tools to help.

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Send the right message without saying a word

Body languageSend the right message

Actionable Professional Body Language Tips

Do you remember the last time that someone changed your mind at work? What did the person say that convinced you to change your thoughts? Was it the words they said or how they said it to you?

In professional settings, the nonverbal messages people process consciously and subconsciously change the way they perceive messages. Are you a person that conveys positive and powerful non-verbal cues in your interactions with others? Body language plays a crucial role in how people respond to your words and retain the information you transmit.

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SOC 2 reports get an update

SOC 2 updatesSOC 2® standards have been updated. If you perform these engagements, you need to check out the recently updated SOC 2 guide to make sure you are performing these services according to AICPA standards.

Released last month, the updated guide is a “how to” for service auditors performing SOC 2 examinations to report on a service organization’s system controls relevant to security, availability, processing integrity, confidentially, or privacy. There are three major updates practitioners will want to pay attention to:

  1. Alignment with clarified attestation standards
    The guide conforms with the updated SSAE No. 18 (Clarified Attestation Standards) – meaning it is a vital tool for practitioners to use in developing standards-compliant reports. For example, it includes updated information on requirements related to requesting written assertions and performing risk assessments.

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How to take the stress out of debt

Infographic_Millennial_Debt_AICPA (002)If you’re like most Americans, you probably have debt. But don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a recent telephone survey of 1,004 U.S. adults conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Institute of CPAs, nearly three-quarters of Americans are living with debt driven by factors like everyday expenses, a lack of income, mortgage costs and student loans. More concerning is the number of Americans whose debt is making them anxious, keeping them up at night and causing problems in their relationships.

I sat down with Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, member of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, to talk about how financial planning can help Americans whose lives are negatively impacted by debt.

Jonathan Lynch: For many Americans, living with debt is a mental as well as financial burden. In fact, because of their debt, three-in-ten Americans admit to stressing about everyday financial decisions. For those who feel overwhelmed by their debt, what steps would you suggest they take to take back control?

Dr. Sean Stein Smith: The first thing to realize is that if you are worrying about debt, you are not alone, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t matter how much money you make – there are steps you can take to get back in control.

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Everyone fails: Here’s how to bounce back

BounceEpic fail. We’ve all been there — set out to do something great, only to come up a little short of our expectations. But that’s when the real test happens. Do we choose to throw in the towel or do we push through and use our experience with failure as motivation?

Author J.K. Rowling, who experienced some disappointments before publishing her first blockbuster Harry Potter novel, said that “it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case, you fail by default.”

If you’re preparing to take the CPA exam, you may be wondering about the possibility of failure. Did you know a significant number of successful CPAs don’t actually pass the exam the first time around? In fact, an average of 50% of test takers fail at least one section. The average candidate sits six to seven times before passing all four sections. So, if you’ve had a setback in one or more parts of the exam — or are worried that you might — don’t stress. You’re not alone.

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6 guilt-free food ideas for busy season

Farmers marketSnacks continually rank near the top of everyone’s favorite workplace perks. Having food available in the office during busy season is an even bigger plus. Celebrate World Health Day by offering healthy alternatives, because worrying about gaining weight or blowing up unhealthy indicators like blood pressure and LDL cholesterol is stress we just don’t need right now!

Consider these tips for serving healthy snacks in your office this busy season:

  1. Set up a snack box. Build your own snack box using a serving tray with drawer organizers or a large basket. You can pick these up at a neighborhood retailer or order them online. If you’re short on time, vendors such as Naturebox and Snack Box Pros (also available from Office Depot and Sam’s Club) offer pre-assembled healthy snack boxes or allow you to build your own from their menu (see healthy snack tips below for help with selections).

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The one game changing skill you should focus on for success

Competitve intelligenceWhy is it that some people rise to higher levels of success than others? Is it simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time? Or are some people born with certain qualities that make them more capable of success than others? When comparing star performers with average ones, a consistent unique strength does emerge, but it has nothing to do with intelligence, education or natural-born talents. The “it factor” these super stars possess is called emotional intelligence (EQ). Recent studies show 90% of high performers at work are also high in EQ. Additionally, people with high EQ make about $29,000 more per year on average than those considered to be low in EQ. The great news is this game-changing skill can be learned by anyone willing to focus.

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One topic investors agree is critical to decision making

Water leafCape Town’s Day Zero has been postponed—for now. That’s the term being used to describe the impending extreme water crisis in my native South Africa. I’ve seen how it affects the people who live there, as they scramble to hold off what seems inevitable. My friends in Cape Town only shower twice a week and save their shower water to water their gardens. Local pools around the city are empty, hotels can’t wash linens as often as in the past and the agriculture sector has been hit.  The severe water shortage threatens employment, tax revenues and municipal credit ratings. The trickle down (a term that has never been so literal) reaches business owners and investors as they consider the rising costs of a resource they once took for granted.

 

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Introducing our newest heroes: “The (CP)A-Team”

CPA TeamPop culture seems to be obsessed with the 1980s.

Remakes of popular blockbuster hits are now the norm for movie-goers. From “RoboCop” to “21 Jump Street” to “Footloose,” today’s entertainment is all about nostalgia.

So, it’s no surprise that television’s favorite action drama, the “A-Team,” would make a comeback. Updated for 2018, the reboot is coming to prime time. And this time, the fearsome foursome is taking on the single greatest threat to our security: cybercriminals.

Airing at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on your television or tablet is America’s newest special task force: “The (CP)A-Team.” Each half-hour episode features the all-CPA unit as they travel the world detecting and responding to cyberattacks and data breaches.

Cyberattacks are on the rise. Personal information is swapped for pennies on the dark web. Ransomware is lurking in the shadows of your desktop. And one team perseveres against it all to expose cyberthieves and other scoundrels.

In 2002, this crack team of auditors met on the job. Fresh out of college and stepping into the vast world of accounting, they found in each other a bond that nothing could shake. Once they graced the cubicles of Metro Zero, New York City’s finest financial institution. Today, they survive as practitioners with a purpose: protecting millions from the loss of sensitive personal and corporate information.

Jane “Caesar” Jones is a master of disguise. She is most commonly seen portraying beauty school dropout “Mrs. Bentley,” a salon owner who uses weak passwords and unsecured wifi devices as part of a ploy to entice small-time hackers. As the leader of the group, it was Caesar’s idea to go rogue after discovering Metro Zero shared client data. Now on the run, she and her team aim to level the playing field and repair the damage done.

Nick “N.N.” (Negative Nelly) Nichols is the muscle for the (CP)A-Team. N.N. is always in a bad mood but is the first on the scene when things get hairy. Armed with only a laptop and personal hot-spot, N.N. attacks hackers before they can reach your server. A reformed hacker, his secret past is known to only Caesar.

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7 things every nonprofit should know about restricted assets

Restricted cashYour nonprofit is on a mission. Like any other business, your work requires careful accounting and financial reporting. Unlike other businesses, your not-for-profit organization has special requirements on the use and reporting of restricted assets.

As an auditor specializing in the nonprofit sector, I get a lot of client questions about restricted assets. The following are some of the most common issues we encounter and tips for dealing with them.

  1. Fundraisers can create unintended restrictions. Donors like to support programs and projects near and dear to their heart. Your fundraising staff is skilled at designing heartfelt appeals. If you’re not careful, overly specific fundraising language can create restrictions that limit your ability to operate. Keep your accounting staff looped into the fundraising communications planning and approval process to avoid problems down the road. When in doubt, run it by your auditor.
  2. “Restricted cash” may include more than you think. Many nonprofits present cash and cash equivalents that have restrictions in multiple line items on their statements of financial position. In some cases, these line items are labeled something other than “restricted cash” or “restricted cash equivalents.” 

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Blockchain could be your solution to spreadsheet fatigue

Block chain 2Over 25 million Americans are still dealing with repairing airbags from one of the largest series of recalls in U.S. history. Car owners are waiting months for repairs – and many are unable to drive their cars while they wait for them to be fixed. Talk about inconvenient, expensive and frustrating.

Now imagine if airbag recalls didn’t have to be such a mess. Blockchain offers an intriguing solution.

Blockchain is a distributed ledger system that can be put to work managing our supply chains. Think of a big spreadsheet or Google doc that you use to record every transaction in a supply chain – from manufacturer to end user. Now imagine that every supplier, manufacturer and seller in the chain has access to that spreadsheet at the same time as you and is updating it with verified information in real time. Except, unlike a Google doc, you can’t retroactively alter information on the blockchain – making it extra secure.

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Finding your second wind during busy season

Final sprint of busy seasonThe last stretch of busy season can be tough.

So how do you get that mojo back? Just like your car, your body and brain perform better under certain conditions. Use that analytical brain that makes you a great CPA and run through some key sources of energy to see where you can replenish.

Time to do a quick 6-point check:

  1. Air – When was the last time you exercised? How often are you moving around during the day? A runner’s ability to get a second wind in a marathon depends on how well they restore oxygen to their muscles. Your brain needs a little more oxygen to function best in the tax season marathon. Exercise stimulates blood flow to your brain, which leads to more oxygen and more energy. If taking a brisk walk or hitting the gym is not feasible, here are some exercises you can do at your desk.
  1. Light – Winter is a tough time to be working a lot, especially if it’s dark when you go to the office and it’s dark when you leave. Just as oxygen has been proven to stimulate brain activity, light can affect your mood, which influences your energy level. Take a moment to go outside and soak up the sun.
  2. Fuel – I can’t say “lay off the caffeine” without being a total hypocrite. Instead, I will suggest keeping an eye on how often you’re filling up that coffee mug, especially since it may mess with your sleep. Stay hydrated by drinking two glasses of water after each cup.

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7 ways women can advance their careers

Woman hula hoopWomen’s History Month is a great time to take inspiration from the achievements of outstanding women, and a chance to check in on your own goals. Are you aiming for advancement and trying to decide the best ways to get there? These are some steps you can take to enhance your prospects for getting ahead.

  1. Set yourself apart. What does your organization need? Someone to spearhead cybersecurity efforts or to develop a strategy for addressing the impact of blockchain technology? A professional with expertise or a strong interest in a new and promising service area? Becoming the go-to expert in a hot topic area can raise your visibility and put you in a better position to be considered for new roles or leadership opportunities.
  2. Get on track with mentoring. Need an objective source for advice and career insights? Be sure to take advantage of any mentoring options inside and outside your company (these free mentoring and networking resources will give you some pointers). Once you have some experience under your belt, it’s also a good idea to offer to become a mentor to a less seasoned professional. It can be a satisfying and educational experience. It also helps you learn and demonstrate leadership skills that will benefit you as you move up the management ladder.

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Lead with inspired authenticity: chuck the checklist and find your why

Paper cranes leadershipHave you ever made your own “leadership skills checklist”? If you have, it probably included things like “active listening,” “decisiveness,” “delegation,” and “motivation,” to name a few. As accountants, we love to create checklists that can get us to a well-defined outcome – so why would we treat our efforts to become great leaders any other way?

The thing is, if we are only checking off skills on a list, are we really developing into the best leader we can be?

I believe the answer is a resounding NO!

To become the best leader we can be, we have to get past our skills checklist and dig into who we are and what drives us. If we can stop worrying about checking off skills and instead focus on our true purpose, we can lead our teams with authenticity and inspiration.

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Nonprofit risk management 101

JengaNonprofit organizations are, by definition, on a mission. In pursuit of their missions, they may engage in risk-reward scenarios that for-profit businesses can’t afford to tackle. To further their cause, many nonprofit leaders accomplish more with less funding than seems possible. Unfortunately, limited resources create risk exposures. This may lead nonprofit management and boards to believe they can’t afford a risk management program. But they can’t afford not to.

Public trust is foundational to nonprofit organizations’ sustainability. Left unmanaged, risks can result in all sorts of losses: donors, employees, members, patrons and grants. Often, it’s not until a critical event occurs that risk management moves up the priority list.

In our experience (although risk management can seem overwhelming — especially for smaller organizations), it’s worth the time and resources.

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How your organization handles personal data is about to change

GDPRIf your organization or client handles personal data of any person residing in the European Union—even if the organization itself isn’t located there—pay attention. The way you store and manage that data may need to change significantly.

Enforcement of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was ratified in 2016, will go into effect May 25, 2018. The GDPR was created to allow individuals to have greater control over their personal data and provide consistency across the EU member countries when it comes to data privacy rules. According to EUGDPR.org, personal data is defined as “any information related to a natural person or ‘Data Subject’ that can be used to directly or indirectly identify the person. It can be anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information or a computer IP address.”

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4 new opportunities blockchain could create for auditors

Blockchain 2In case you haven’t heard, blockchain technology has the potential to change the auditing profession. A new whitepaper co-authored by the American Institute of CPAs details what opportunities could emerge for auditors.

Not sure what blockchain is? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s a digital, distributed ledger that contains every transaction since its creation. Once transactions are entered, they can’t be changed or deleted. Every user on a blockchain has an identical version of the ledger, and all copies are updated automatically when a new transaction occurs. Each entry refers back to the previous entry across all versions, creating a “chain” of information.

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3 myths about tax extensions

Tax extensionSometimes filing a tax extension can be a benefit to your clients, but only if they are clear on what an extension means —and what it doesn’t mean.

If you’re a tax CPA, you’ve probably come across a client who chose not to file an extension because they misunderstood how it would affect them. On the other hand, maybe a client was happy to go on extension but for the wrong reasons.  

Below are three myths that your clients may have about extensions that you can proactively dispel.

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5 busy season food cravings and how to feed them properly

Ice creamSuddenly, in the middle of a client meeting or complicated tax return, you want — no, need — chocolate, or maybe French fries and fried chicken. There’s no doubt food cravings grow under stress. But they can also hit when we feel good or for seemingly no reason at all.

These guilty pleasures can be a great morale booster during busy season. Yet too much indulgence can lead to unhealthy weight, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and a host of other health problems! Cravings can’t be eliminated entirely but knowing your triggers and developing strategies for feeding them in healthier ways can help.

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3 ways new software enhances CPA exam experience

ManLookScreenIf you took the CPA exam any time before 2004, images of an arena or hotel ballroom and No. 2 pencils and scratch paper still hold a prominent place in your memories. For those of you who took the exam after the American Institute of CPA’s launch of computer-based testing in April 2004, it was a much different experience. This important move helped the AICPA become a model for high-stakes testing, known for our ability to manage, deliver and score exams faster and more efficiently for candidates. 

Since computerizing the exam, we’ve remained focused on our ability to provide the best possible test experience. Some recent projects include the exam’s move to a web-based application for better test delivery, as well as a new item type (Document Review Simulation) that offers a more realistic simulation experience. 

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4 steps to improve nonprofit functional expense reporting

Expense reportingCongress, the media, watchdog agencies and funders — almost everyone wants to know how nonprofits are using their scarce resources. They look at functional expenses to make that determination, so it’s important to present the most useful and transparent information possible.

To that end, FASB Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-14, Not-for-Profit Entities (Topic 958): Presentation of Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Entities, requires not-for-profit entities to disclose their expenses by both functional and natural classification in one location. This ASU gives you good reason and opportunity to review your current classifications to determine if any changes need to be made as you prepare for implementation. ASU 2016-14 is effective for fiscal years beginning after Dec. 15, 2017.

How often does your nonprofit review its functional expense classifications? For most, it’s been a while. The following will walk nonprofit professionals through that process.

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Tax pros: How are you protecting your clients’ data?

Cybersecurity

“I don’t need to worry about identity theft because no one wants to be me.”

-Jay London

American comedian Jay London is funny, but identity theft isn’t. Unfortunately, cybercriminals know that targeting tax professionals is more effective than going after individual taxpayers; after all, tax professionals keep records on hundreds, if not thousands of individuals. This means any firm could be a target this tax season.

The IRS receives three to five data theft reports a week from tax practitioners. And, as IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said last year, “These (cybercriminals) are well-funded, knowledgeable and creative. It’s going to take all of us working together to combat these identity thieves. But doing nothing or making a minimal effort is no longer an option. Anyone who handles taxpayer information has a legal responsibility to protect it.”

While this may not be the time of year to do a full assessment of data security and technology integrity, there are steps CPA firms should take now to keep their clients’ data safe:

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Empowering women to be financial powerhouses

Women financial planning

While preparing to host a webcast on women and money for a client company recently, I was asked why I thought we needed to have a separate webcast just for women – doesn't money work the same way for everyone?

The fact is that yes, money is money. But the way we relate to money, combined with differing life expectancies and career factors, means that we need to approach the "why" behind exercising healthy financial behaviors a little differently.

While everyone has questions about money, here are 3 common questions that I hear from women clients, and how I typically advise them to approach those concerns. What better day to think about this than on International Women’s Day?

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Calling all CPAs – you should run for office

ElectionYou know that feeling you get when you’ve helped a client in a concrete way? Perhaps you saved them money on their taxes, identified waste or even fraud. Maybe you designed a plan to take their children through higher education, helped them save for retirement or protect themselves from loss. Possibly you advised a small business startup, or helped a larger company report on their cybersecurity controls.

What if you could take that feeling — and your service — to the next level?

When you’re a CPA, you have a solid understanding of the many issues that power government: taxes, their assessment and collection and the rules that govern them; small business challenges and needs; financial literacy and responsibility; and myriad details of budgeting, responsible record keeping and the impacts of financial decisions.

CPAs’ expertise gives them a distinct advantage over other candidates, making them uniquely qualified to serve as thought leaders in government. As the country ponders the effects of the first major tax overhaul in more than 30 years, now more than ever, there’s a need for tax and fiscal expertise in our public servants. Who better to serve the community and protect the public interest than CPAs?

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Credit losses: May the force be with your mission to CECL

Second in a series on the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB’s) Current Expected Credit Loss standard

YodaAfter years of debate over the role fair value accounting may have played during the subprime mortgage crisis, accountants seek to apply FASB’s current expected credit loss (CECL) standard as a “force for good” in their depository institutions.

If this is your mission for a bank, thrift or credit union, you probably feel like Luke Skywalker. Ultimately you want to be Yoda — thoughtfully presenting the keys to unlocking a force for good that can strengthen your institution against the dark side of internal disarray and competitive challenges.

As with any mission, success starts with understanding your situation and the power of resources at your fingertips. If you’re still struggling to read and digest the standard, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

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Now accepting applications: 5 tips for mid-season hiring

Help wantedIt’s the middle of busy season, and you’ve just realized you could use a little more help. Maybe you underestimated your firm’s capacity, or a staff member unexpectedly needed to leave. When it’s all hands on deck to manage client needs, mid-season hiring is a curveball no firm wants to face. Here are a few ways to prevent such departures and prepare for the unexpected.

An ounce of prevention

Of course, one of the best ways to handle mid-season hiring is to prevent departures. 

While people will leave, and not always at the best time, a firm should try to create a fun office culture so employees won’t want to go anywhere else. This means creating a family-like atmosphere in hopes that staff members are less likely to leave “family” in the middle of a busy time. To make the firm more inviting, consider:

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Switching to a C corp? Think twice about it.

C corpMost people probably don't even know what toothpaste they buy; they just recognize the box on the shelf.

--Charles Duhigg

The recently enacted P.L. 115-97, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, will have a significant effect on tax planning for clients, but many CPAs are also investigating what it will mean to their own firms. Best to listen to the advice of American Pulitzer prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg on the process; make sure you know what’s in the tax planning “box.”

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Forensic and valuation pros: 4 ways tax reform affects you

Tax reform 2Tax reform affects more than just taxes. It has lasting implication for all CPAs and introduces some uncertainty for financial forensics and business valuation. Depending on who your clients are, you may feel this more than other CPAs.

If you concentrate in estate and gift tax valuation, now is a good time to start looking outside those business models by leveraging the opportunities that have come up since the new law was signed.

In a recent interview, Don DeGrazia, CPA, ABV, CFF, partner with Gold Gerstein Group LLC, explained the P.L. 115-97, known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, makes the federal estate tax temporarily go away for many tax payers. While state estate or inheritance taxes are still in effect, they don’t provide nearly the same volume of business.

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A behind-the-scenes look at the CPA Exam

Behind the scenesMost CPA Exam candidates can rest assured knowing the time and energy they’ve spent leading up to exam day has prepared them for what to expect. Reviewed content and structure, section by section in the Blueprints? Check. Practiced with the sample tests to learn the exam’s functionality? Check. Confirmed test windows, how scoring works and made that test day appointment? Check. Understood the importance of language in the exam and what goes into the wording of each question? Che...wait. What?

Understanding what goes into the development of exam questions may provide extra insight for test day when you sit for the exam, which surely adds to your confidence. Read on to explore some of the behind-the-scenes considerations from creation to approval, fairness in the wording, as well as knowing with certainty that each multiple-choice question has only one right answer.

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Start your audit off right with data analytics

When planning an audit, how do you approach your preliminary analytics? Many auditors perform a variance analysis. They compare current year account balances to the prior year to identify any unexpected fluctuations. While this procedure often yields relevant insights, did you know performing audit data analytics (ADAs) can be even more effective at identifying potential problem areas? ADAs can be quick and painless, and you probably already have the tools on hand to perform them.

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The one thing stopping you from making better decisions

Shutterstock_640007017
It’s been several years since your last dodgeball game in the high school gym, but you may remember it like it was yesterday. Nervous energy hangs in the air during those moments when the captains choose their teams. No one wants to be picked last.

Human nature is at play, compelling Captain Kim to choose Mark instead of you. Maybe it’s Mark’s athletic ability, or maybe it’s because he lives on Kim’s street and she is more familiar with him. Kim’s unconscious bias drives her toward one classmate over another. For the person whom Kim picks last, it might sting a little.


Without realizing it, every day in our professional lives, we make choices similar to Kim’s. It’s not always pleasant for everyone involved. All humans have a hardwired need to belong. If we don’t check our unconscious bias and unknowingly show favoritism, we risk alienating our colleagues and staff. That can affect engagement, productivity and team cohesion.


The good news is that you can train yourself to become mindful of your unconscious bias and strengthen your relationships in and out of the office. Try this practice I call the Three Rs.

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Engagement letter stories — when they hurt and when they worked

Engagement letterAs a risk management professional at CNA, professional liability insurance carrier for nearly 25,000 CPA firms, I am often asked if engagement letters are worth all the effort. The answer, based on my personal and CNA’s claim experience, is a resounding YES!

I’ve experienced firsthand the value these letters bring to the table. When an engagement letter is used, and a claim arises related to that engagement, the losses are typically less severe (meaning less expensive) than if an engagement letter had not been used. But what means more (especially to a CPA) than more money in your pocket? Many professional liability insurance carriers provide premium credits or other benefits for firms that use engagement letters.

If it’s not enough to just trust the numbers, consider the following experiences of CPA firms that have or have not used engagement letters.

One that hurt — no engagement letter meant higher risk

A CPA was engaged to prepare income tax returns for a small business and its owner for many years. The owner regularly spoke with the CPA about his plans to sell the business and ultimately retire. One day, the client did just that and moved away.

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Blockchain was made to solve 1 problem. Here’s what that is.

Blockchain“Blockchain is a solution looking for a problem. Unless you want to buy drugs on the internet,” said the instructor in a technology training I recently attended.

While not the first time I had heard such a comment, it was disturbing that a hundred of my fellow practitioners were being misled. Ignoring or dismissing blockchain does the accounting profession no favors. Instead, let’s consider the problem that the technology solves. This will provide a basis for later understanding possible applications to our work.

 What is the problem blockchain is trying to solve?

Blockchain, or distributed ledger technology, set out to solve how we transfer a digital asset between two peers without an intermediary. While there are many applications of this transfer, let’s look at it in the context of money.

Imagine you are selling a bike online. You don’t actually know the person who is buying your bike, so you have no way of knowing if the buyer actually has the money to pay for it. You have to trust an intermediary like PayPal for this information. PayPal is crucial to the transaction because it verifies what you cannot – whether the buyer has enough money in their bank account to make the purchase.

The asymmetry of trust in this transaction is known as the Byzantine General’s Problem. Imagine we have four generals planning to attack a city. At least three of the generals must attack at the same time to overpower the army holding the city. However, the only way they can communicate with each other is via messenger, and they do not know if one of the generals is a traitor. If a general were traitorous, he could modify the attack message and cause the other generals to fail. The only way to overcome a traitorous general is to provide the history of all messages sent and evidence they have not been altered. If the generals see that one of their peers has sent a message different from the others, they would know the general is traitorous and disregard his message. If more generals are good actors than bad in this attack, the correct message will be obvious.

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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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