3 Reasons to Embrace Cloud-Based Technology

CloudNew technologies offer ambitious professionals the chance to advance their careers, and their firms, to new heights. They can be especially beneficial to women and, indeed, any CPAs who want to set themselves apart professionally and preserve a healthy balance between their work and personal lives. In my own experience, I’ve used my cloud technology knowledge to expand my opportunities, accelerate my progress, boost my worth to clients and reinforce my relationships with them. How does the cloud enhance opportunities for CPAs?  

  1. It can expand practice development options.

Cloud-based technology makes it possible to store and access data online where it can be accessed by authorized users from any computer. It’s the tool behind client portals that allows clients and firms to update and collaborate on data they share access to. You can use it to distinguish yourself and your firm.  

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Reconciling Tax Reform and Reconciliation

Congress is not an ATM

-Robert Byrd, Former US Senator

Tax reformThe year is halfway through, but it doesn’t feel like we’re halfway to tax reform. Don’t get me wrong – tax reform might still happen. But as one Hill staffer said to me, “Health care is sucking the oxygen out of Washington.”

I’ve talked about the connections between ACA repeal-and-replace and tax reform several times on the video updates found on the Tax Reform Resource Center. In a nutshell, repeal of the ACA-related taxes, such as the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT), before tax reform is undertaken, would make the tax reform baseline score less expensive.

The work on tax reform continues nonetheless, and the AICPA has testified at both a House Small Business Committee hearing and a Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee hearing. We’ve also supported the INVEST Act of 2017 (S. 1144). This tax reform legislation, introduced by Senator John Thune (R-SD), would simplify certain tax rules for small- and medium-sized businesses and their owners.

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Qualified Charitable Distributions Reduce Tax Bills

RMDCPAs are the frontline in mitigating the impacts of Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

CPAs have the opportunity to be proactive in helping their clients take advantage of the tax break for charitable IRA rollovers, technically known as QCDs (qualified charitable distributions). After my IRA update session at the AICPA ENGAGE conference, this topic generated the most questions of everything I discussed. It’s an easy provision to follow, and it’s even easier to know exactly which clients qualify.

The topic of QCDs is an important one for CPAs, because it’s an opportunity to provide real value to clients who are unaware of the provision. One of the most heavily emphasized messages from the ENGAGE conference was how to offer competitive services in the future. The answer always came down to relationships based on knowledge resulting in higher value services. QCDs fit perfectly into this.

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Small Firms Make a Difference in Unexpected Ways

Small firmI recently heard a moving story about an acquaintance’s father who passed away unexpectedly. Married to his childhood sweetheart for more than 60 years, he was a dedicated father and husband. He had been the manager of his family’s accounts. Upon his death, his widow and family had to set aside their grief to grapple with urgent financial issues, including funeral expenses and insurance matters. Fortunately, a trusted advisor was able to help. The family’s CPA, a small firm practitioner who had known the family for years, was well acquainted with their finances, and immediately came to their aid, offering his technical expertise. The CPA restored order to the family’s accounts and eased their worries. They had peace of mind knowing their CPA was prepared to protect their interests during and after a highly emotional and stressful time.      

Stories like this one unfold every day in CPA firms across America. Whether they’re advising startups on growth opportunities or helping individuals handle life changes, small firm CPAs have a profound impact on their clients, supporting them as they strive for their goals, build for the future or deal with crises as they arise.

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Helping College Graduates Reach Financial Independence

Financial independence“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” –Mark Twain

Ironically, the knowledge college students gain while studying for their careers is only one aspect of the education they’ll need to succeed in securing a healthy financial future for themselves. Learning how best to manage their finances and make wise decisions requires both individual effort and solid expert advice. That is where CPAs can serve as educators to help their clients – the parents – share tools with their recent college graduates to help them achieve financial success.

Getting started can seem overwhelming, but having an accurate idea of how much it costs a recent graduate to live monthly or annually is an essential first step. Suggesting clients’ children use simple money-tracking apps such as the one available at mint.com, where individuals can examine every aspect of their financial life in one place, can be helpful. After entering some basic information about their income and expenses, users can get a quick overview of their overall financial health.

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Summer by the Numbers (With a Soundtrack)

Ever wonder how many hot dogs your fellow Americans eat on the Fourth of July? We've got answers.

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5 Steps to Building Your Personal Brand Online

Some brands are almost universally recognizable. With just a glance at their logo, you know precisely the level of service or the quality of product you are going to get.

BrandsWouldn’t it be great if your own personal brand could communicate the same trust and consistency? While top companies have huge teams (and usually more than a few agencies) devoted to the positioning and reputation of their brands, they all follow the same steps--steps you can easily implement into your personal brand today.

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8 Tips to Determine Your Not-for-Profit’s Year-End

Year-end planningNot-for-profits have a luxury that most other individuals and businesses do not. They’re allowed to select their fiscal year-ends for IRS purposes. Partnerships, sole proprietorships, S corporations and other legal structures, with limited exceptions, may not. These groups generally are required to use calendar year-ends for tax filings. Read on to find out what a not-for-profit should consider when choosing a year-end date.

How does a not-for-profit choose its year-end?

By default, many not-for-profits are organized with a calendar year-end, but not-for-profits should assess if this is the best choice. A thoughtfully chosen year-end may produce more meaningful financial statements, ease reporting requirements and even save the organization money. Before deciding on a year-end, organizations should consider the following factors:

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ICYMI: Protect Clients from Petya Cyberattack

RansomwareJust as people are starting to recover from last month’s devastating WannaCry ransomware attack, Petya, another malware worm, is shutting down networks across the globe. No one is immune, international businesses and governments alike have been hit by this new attack. Unlike WannaCry, which spread via the internet, Petya spreads through computer networks and shuts down entire hard drives.

It is imperative that you not only take proper precautions yourself, but also help your clients fortify their defenses against cyberattacks. You can learn more about how to do so with these recent AICPA resources:

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Where Will You be Financially in 40 Years?

Fin Lit gameWhat sounds more appealing to you – reading a bunch of boring facts online or playing a game to learn the same exact thing? You’d probably choose the latter. In fact, research shows a majority of millennials see clear benefits from playing digital games. Two in three (67 percent) say that games are important in helping them to learn how to create winning strategies and 7 out of 10 (70 percent) feel it aids them in learning how to solve problems. The proof is in the pudding, as they say – and that’s where gamification and personal finances come into play (literally!).

Today, the AICPA and the Ad Council launched a free digital game, Yesterday’s Tomorrow.’ The game is a new resource from Feed the Pig to help millennials build savings skills, a product of the idea Scott Garner submitted for the Feed the Pig Game Design Challenge. The challenge invited people to submit ideas for digital games to help educate Feed the Pig’s target audience. More than 70 ideas were submitted, and his concept was chosen to help educate millennials through gamification.

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Effect of Spending Habits on Retirement Planning

RetireesThe traditional approach to retirement assumes that retirees will maintain their pre-retirement standard of living as they transition into retirement, and then sustain that lifestyle throughout retirement. But a growing base of research that analyzes the actual spending habits of retirees, reveals a different story.

In reality, retirees tend to experience a slow but steady decline in real spending throughout retirement. Spending decreases slowly in the early years of retirement, more rapidly in the middle years, and then slows again in the final years, in a path that looks like a “retirement spending smile.” Even the uptick of health care expenses in a retiree’s later years are generally not enough to offset all the other spending decreases that typically occur in retirement. That’s important, because it means your clients may not need as much money in retirement as they think.

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100 Years of CPA Exam as Licensure Requirement

Adding machineA lot has changed over the last 100 years with the evolution of the CPA profession. Old fashioned calculators gave rise to Microsoft Excel. Stacks of financial statements have morphed into data in the Cloud. And many CPAs have expanded beyond auditing or tax services through the growth of specializations such as IT assurance, financial planning and business valuation.

Despite all the change, one notable constant has remained – the Uniform CPA Examination’s alignment with professional practice and the work of newly licensed CPAs. This alignment has continuously ensured that those earning licensure have demonstrated the requisite knowledge and skills vital to protecting the public interest.

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Summer Jobs: More Than Money in Your Pocket

Scooping ice cream

School’s out and many high schoolers and college students are taking summer jobs. Seasonal work can provide extra spending money for many teens or much needed funds for school expenses. But summer jobs aren’t just about earning a paycheck and learning how to manage the money you’ve made. These jobs provide valuable work experience and help youth develop professional skills and discover their talents. It’s an opportunity to take responsibility, learn time management skills and figure out how to get along with co-workers. Summer jobs also provide future employment references, mentorship and can even help teens succeed in school, according to Stanford researcher Jacob Leos Urbel.

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6 Money-Saving Tips You Can’t Afford to Miss

Money saving tipsThose fun, light-hearted GEICO commercials that ask if you are tired of paying too much for car insurance hone in on the idea of wasting your money –– paying too much for something or not getting enough.

As a CPA who is passionate about making my hard-earned money work for me, it’s important to take time to critically analyze what my cash is doing. Busy lives often lend themselves to costly complacency in one’s personal finances. Basically, we want bill paying done and our retirement planning intact with as minimal effort as possible.

At least once per year, I do a serious deep-cleaning scrub on my family’s finances. I look at what we’re paying and why, and I see where we need to do better. This “scrub” saves us thousands of dollars and I suggest each of you take a few hours each year to review your finances critically. Don’t let your money run itself; it needs you to keep it on track.

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New Liquidity Disclosures for Not-for Profits: Are You Ready?

NFP Liquidity DisclosuresUnder current financial reporting standards, not-for-profits are not required to illuminate clearly restrictions that affect the availability of liquid resources in their financial statements. But this is all about to change with the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s (FASB) new financial reporting standard (Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2016-14), effective for fiscal years beginning after December 15, 2017.

In this update, FASB clarifies that the nature of an asset isn’t the only quality that affects its availability. Specifically, liquid resources are quickly converted to cash and available to fund general expenditures within one year following the balance sheet date. Internal (board-designated) and external (donor-imposed) restrictions could mean certain sums of cash and cash equivalents may not be used for general expenditures. If a board designates an amount of cash to be set aside for a building renovation, for example, it cannot be used to buy office supplies.

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How Robots Can Help You Thrive

RobotTechnology is creating opportunities for the accounting profession, but the human factor is still key– that was the message at IdeaAcct, a session at the AICPA Engage Conference highlighting thought leadership and innovation in the profession.

Practical & Immediate Opportunities for CPAs in Artificial Intelligence - Dan Giffiths, CPA, CGMA

Because accounting is highly structured, it lends itself nicely to machine learning. Therefore, many people think that accounting and tax services are likely to be automated. Software already exists that can populate tax-ready financial documents just from an individual’s bank login information, and such services are available for as little as $100 a month. However, clients are willing to pay far more for advisory services drawn from that information. The value, Griffiths says, lies in the relationships and the advice that CPAs can provide. To take advantage of the opportunities, CPAs need to become friends with their tech colleagues. Good friends.

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How to Prepare for Your Organization’s Single Audit

AuditIt’s time for your single audit: Is your organization prepared? If you are a recipient of federal funds, to maintain your organization’s funding you must comply with the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards, known as the Uniform Guidance. Your single audit provides the federal government with assurance of your compliance, and being well prepared for the audit can help the process be more efficient. In this blog post, several CPAs who are either with organizations subject to single audits or who perform these audits themselves reveal valuable best practices that can minimize your worries and set you on the road to success.

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Beyond Bad Jokes: What We Learned from Our Dads

Pop culture would have us believe dads are all lawn obsessed, bad joke telling, tacky sweater wearing, voicemail leaving technological disasters. (Not mine, of course. My dad’s sweaters are perfectly acceptable, but he prefers to rock navy blue crew neck sweatshirts that have been aged to perfection.) But beneath their quirks (and I’ve yet to meet a dad without a quirk or 12) dads are often dishing out great advice or leading by example. In honor of Father’s Day, my colleagues and I share what we’ve learned from our dads:

SamanthaSamantha Delgado, Manager – Communications, PR & Corporate Responsibility:

My dad raised me to be independent and hard-working, always saying that if I want something, to go out and get it myself because “no one else is going to do it for you.” Most importantly, he instilled in me the importance of family, and being there for each other through thick and thin. Happy Father’s Day!  

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3 Trust Ideas for Reducing Estate Taxes

Bob Keebler spoke at the AICPA ENGAGE conference on “The Best Estate Planning Ideas Today.” Included in his detailed presentation were numerous points of interest beyond trusts. The following is a small selection from his 50-minute talk.

Because of the high limit on unified credit, many clients believe that estate planning isn’t for them. The truth, however, is much more complicated. Depending on the client’s state of residence, their positions in real estate or partnerships that might survive them and many other considerations, estate loss can be considerable. Your clients shouldn’t have to pay more than necessary in taxes on their estate, and as their trusted adviser, it’s your job to guarantee that the family’s wishes for their wealth are honored to the fullest extent possible.

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3 Solutions to Firms’ Top Challenges

Find the right peopleYour practice is thriving, but there are some issues that continue to present challenges. Are other firms like yours facing these issues, too? And what trends are other CPAs seeing that you ought to know about?

Practitioners can find the answers to these questions and more in the results from the 2017 Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) CPA Firm Top Issues Survey . This unique survey, which is conducted every two years, identifies the significant concerns for firms of various sizes and spotlights emerging challenges in practice management. Barry Melancon, President and CEO of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, provided an overview of the survey results yesterday during his Professional Issues Update at the AICPA ENGAGE Conference.

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Kevin O’Leary Says CPAs Can’t Be Replaced. Take That, Mark Cuban.

Kevin O'LearyKevin O’Leary, businessman and co-host of the TV show Shark Tank, says the CPA’s role as a trusted adviser in the marketplace cannot be replaced by technology. That stands in stark contrast to the comments his co-host Mark Cuban made earlier this year.

Score one for Mr. Wonderful.

O’Leary, a keynote speaker at the AICPA ENGAGE Conference on June 13, joined me for a Facebook Live session and spoke with me off camera about how technology is impacting the accounting profession. His comments were on point.

“Half of the work the CPA does is to deal with people, to have relationships with people, and to decide how to work with their desires, their direction, and their vision for their business. That is never going to be replaced by a machine,” O’Leary said.

Technology is evolving faster than ever before, but so too are the needs of businesses. For example, while big data means greater accessibility to information, it also creates a need for the analysis and interpretation of that information. While advances in robotics may change some business operations, companies still need advice on how to run those businesses.

“The truth is that we are going to need CPAs more than ever. Their role is to try to figure out and mitigate risk at every stage, and to say, ‘If we do it this way, here is the tax implication. If we do it this way, this is the cost implication.’ The profession is going to continue to flourish,” O’Leary said.

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5 Technologies Transforming CPA Practices

Shutterstock_150531497One message keeps coming up at the AICPA ENGAGE Conference: technology is changing the profession, and CPAs have countless opportunities to incorporate it into their practice. Across conference sessions, conversations keep coming back to the ways practitioners can benefit from deploying to the cloud, embracing social media, providing cybersecurity-related services, using mobile devices and understanding big data. Here’s how: 

1) The Cloud 

In a recent Facebook Live session, conference presenter Jim Bourke discussed the many ways the cloud can improve a CPA’s practice. It allows staff from around the country to work together to serve clients. It houses data without the burden of purchasing dedicated servers and the infrastructure and personnel to maintain them. It gives CPAs access to client information anytime and anywhere. And it keeps that information secure. “Data is more secure on the cloud than it is sitting in your own office,” Bourke said. 

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Learning and Professional Development Go Virtual

An Update on the Future of Learning from AICPA ENGAGE

ENGAGE VR2017 is expected to be the year of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI) and digital assistants, according to Newsweek. Analysts at Gartner also included these technologies in their 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017.  It’s likely you are engaging with many of them already. Perhaps you have an Alexa device on your kitchen counter or you’ve asked Siri a question on your iPhone. If you’ve used Uber or Lift or clicked on a personalized Amazon recommendation, you’ve taken advantage of AI. But have you thought about how these emerging technologies will impact your learning and professional development?

The exhibit hall at AICPA ENGAGE has a plethora of tech demos including AR and VR. I stopped by to see what the AICPA Learning Design and Development team has been working on and got an opportunity to try their virtual reality and augmented reality experiences. This was my first time trying these immersive technologies, and I was eager to put on the VR headset to see what all the buzz was about.

Virtual reality (VR) gained popularity in gaming and is steadily moving into educational settings as the VR headwear becomes more affordable. My middle school-aged daughter has used Google Cardboard in her classroom, and VR is beginning to gain ground in professional development as well. The use of this technology engages multiple senses, which can help a learner retain new knowledge in a way that a text simply can’t. It makes it possible to interact with and manipulate content. VR also mitigates the distractions found in a traditional classroom and forces a student to focus. It is perfect for visual learners.

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3 Tax Technologies You Shouldn’t Ignore

Cloud technologyOMG CLOUD. Cloud, cloud, cloud. You’ve heard it. Repeatedly. By now you probably even know what it means. But running a successful tax practice is about more than acknowledging the technology du jour. It’s about knowing which technologies make the most sense for you, and using them to their fullest potential. But no matter your firm’s size, market or specialty, here are three tax technologies you shouldn’t ignore.

Cloud-Based Servers/Software as a Service

An IT department is a luxury many small- and medium-sized firms can’t afford. Even in larger firms, the demands of day-to-day management of client systems can overtax an IT department to the point where managing servers is a time-draining hassle, not to mention expense.

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4 Steps to Fortifying Your Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity 4Small businesses are “unprepared or poorly prepared for a cyberattack” according to 75% of the 307 insurance and risk management advisors surveyed through the Advisen and Experian 2017 Cyber Risk Preparedness and Response Survey. Unfortunately, no organization is immune to cyberthreats. These days, most companies should have some basic form of cybersecurity program in place. If yours doesn’t, or if you need a refresher, here are four steps you can take to establish a stronger foundation.

Step 1: Create a Comprehensive Set of Cybersecurity Policies

What resources does your organization have that are at risk? Think beyond the obvious. On-site computer systems, laptops, tablets and mobile phones are immediate suspects, but bring your own devices (BYOD) and wearable technology such as smartwatches can also be compromised. Determine what controls you need in place to ensure information is kept secure. Set your rules for communicating, working with, copying and distributing sensitive data; and document those rules and make sure everyone in the organization receives a copy. Necessary policies typically include an IT policy, information security program (including a risk assessment), employee acceptable usage policy, business continuity and disaster recovery plan, and an incident response plan. 

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The One Vulnerability Cyber Thieves Are Desperate to Exploit

PasswordCybersecurity attacks are becoming more pervasive and seemingly effortless to pull off.  Cybercriminals who can execute a successful attack are seizing credit card numbers, bank account information and even Social Security numbers. A 2016 study conducted by the Ponemon Institute found that the average cost of a data breach is $4 million. You can strengthen your organization’s cybersecurity risk management plan by addressing this one vulnerability: weak passwords.

The capture or reuse of passwords, or “static credentials” as they are often referred to in the IT industry, is standard practice for organized crime groups and state-affiliated attackers alike, according to the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report, whose list of contributors represents a “who’s who” of cybersecurity expertise worldwide, from both the private and public sectors. Likewise, passwords are used against all kinds of targets, from the largest organizations to individuals.

A common misperception is that cyber attackers have become so sophisticated that something as simple as a password is no longer effective. The tendency is to think that if federal agencies and multi-national corporations can be breached, there’s nothing individuals can do to protect themselves. This could not be further from the truth. Individuals have the most power in preventing attacks that exploit passwords, which is why a policy on passwords should be a key component of your firm or organization’s cybersecurity risk management program.

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Not-for-Profit Contributions: Counting v. Accounting

Counting moneyWhen is a contribution to a not-for-profit really a contribution? Many would say it depends on whether you ask someone in the accounting or development department. While the accounting office recognizes contributions in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), there are no required standards for counting and reporting fundraising receipts by the development office. The resulting differences create perhaps the greatest source of tension between the two teams. So what can be done to bridge the gap and foster a cooperative relationship that will best benefit the not-for-profit?

First, accept that what gets reported by each group will be different. And that’s okay, as long as the differences can be explained. There’s no need to hash out who’s right or wrong; just take time to understand each other’s math. What gets included, by whom, and when? Accountants need to explain GAAP in “non-accountant” language. Similarly, the development team needs to establish and share its consistent guidelines for reporting fundraising activity. Developing this understanding will take time and patience on both sides but is essential to forming a good working relationship.

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Social Media: The Conference Success Secret Weapon

Conference social mediaConferences give you the opportunity to network and become energized about the accounting profession and the direction in which it’s heading. Most people know the standard networking methods – attend receptions and collect business cards. But how can you make the most of the experience before, during and after the event?

Social media is present at almost every conference, giving you the opportunity to develop high-quality connections while staying in the loop on all the happenings.

Here are five ways you can utilize social media to make the most of your time and money:

Join the conversation.

As social media becomes omnipresent, if you don’t look to these platforms, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to join conversations about conferences and events. Follow the event hashtag on Twitter and Instagram or see if the organization hosting the event has LinkedIn groups you can join. By using these interactive forums, you can see who else is attending an event, set up conference meetups, and even reach out to influencers who may be on site.

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Coming Trends in Services to Individuals

CPAs are forward-thinking and relationship-oriented professionals. Taking the time with individual clients to think about their needs holistically has been a growing trend in the profession over the past decade, leading to the many new areas that now benefit mightily from the expertise and insight a CPA can offer. These are exciting times that bring new possibilities for firms that are willing to embrace them. The firms that do will find success, longevity and a satisfied client base.

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5 Tips to Help Identify Fake Financial News

The AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission Shares Insight on How to Beat the Real Threat of Fake Financial News

If it’s on the internet and in ALL CAPS it must be true! Whether it’s the GUY WHO TURNED $10,000 INTO $20 MILLION or the HOT TECH STOCK THAT WILL SHOCK YOU, you’ve probably seen some version of this fake news dozens of times a day. And, if you’re like me, you’ve probably clicked on one of these articles out of curiosity and quickly found yourself lost in a sea of misinformation. Sometimes it seems like you need to be a detective to decipher what financial news is real and what is fabricated. In this post, I’ll provide some information to help consumers be better prepared. Fake Financial News Infographic

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3 Tips to Help You Remember What You’ve Learned

TabletYou’ve probably heard the expression use it or lose it. It turns out this applies to learning as well as physical fitness. There is a force that gradually erases all the great insights and instruction you stored in your brain during a learning event called "The Forgetting Curve.” German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus first researched this concept in 1885. The curve illustrates the decline of our memory retention over time if we make no attempt to retain our learning. The further we get from the educational experience, the less information we remember.

The speed at which we forget information is influenced by various factors including the difficulty of the material, how meaningful the information is and how it’s presented. Stress levels and lack of sleep can also have a negative impact. Thankfully there are steps you can take to help you retain what you learned. Here a few of my favorite tips to help you remember.

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5 Tips for Navigating the Road to Leadership

RoadMy first job out of college was the best and worst experience of my life, and it taught me a lot about leadership. I started my career at Target, and because I had studied business, they had me running an area with five people reporting to me. My staff ranged from workers with little apparent interest in their jobs, to team leaders who were reporting to me. The challenges of running such a varied team can be overwhelming, but the job also gave me a tremendous range of responsibilities and leadership experiences, forcing me to learn quickly and be decisive. In the end, it was a good first job that certainly stretched me and helped me see that I could be a successful leader.

Taking the reins of leadership can be daunting, but along the way I have learned a number of useful lessons for current and aspiring leaders.

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The One Personality Trait All CPAs Share

Patrick Lee medalsAs Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month comes to a close, we share the story of one CPA, his remarkable achievements and the traits that were instilled in him growing up in a Chinese-American household. 

In my five years working closely with CPAs of diverse backgrounds, I am increasingly seeing one very consistent trait all CPAs seem to share, no matter what their background: drive. I know CPAs who have faced frustrating, even heartbreaking obstacles in pursuit of their credential. Even through the obstacles those same CPAs also strive for excellence in every aspect of their lives. 

That certainly seems to be the case with Patrick B. Lee, CPA. It’s not something he can shut off. Whether he’s teaching or running a marathon, he always seems to be devising new strategies to do things better and faster.

As someone whose instinct tells him to analyze and problem-solve, Lee, an assistant professor of accounting at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, finds that drive creeping into all areas of his life.

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4 Things Advisers Should Know about Technology Today

Voice recognition in a carAs practitioners, we have a responsibility to our clients and to ourselves to stay up to date on the latest tools and techniques of our trade. Most CPAs providing advice to individuals do an admirable job of staying current on tax and financial planning techniques, but not as well staying current on technology issues facing their firm. Here are some technology-related issues practitioners should be focusing on today.

The Pace of Change in Financial Technology (FinTech)

A revolution in financial technology has taken place over the last several years. If anything, the pace of change is accelerating, with implications for all financial service professionals. Until recently late adopters of technology were not penalized for being late to the game, because most of their local competitors were also late adopters. Technology has broken down regional barriers, so today you are not only competing against other local providers, but national and perhaps international providers as well. In addition, new players have entered the marketplace. FinTech startups from Silicon Valley and elsewhere are becoming a disruptive force, raising the technology bar and putting pressure on margins. The bottom line for readers is this: If you are not reviewing and upgrading your firm’s technology at least annually, you are falling behind. If there isn’t someone at the firm specifically responsible for this, the odds are that it won’t get done.

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Learning from Prince’s $250 Million Mistake

Prince 2Finally, almost a year and a month to the date of his death, a judge confirmed Prince’s six siblings to be his rightful heirs – after more than 45 people came forward claiming to be his wife, children, siblings or other relatives.

Last year, the legendary musician passed away, leaving behind not only a legacy of unparalleled music, but also a $250 million fortune – with no will or estate plan to be found. With the long-anticipated announcement that his siblings will inherit his fortune, we’re reminded again of the importance of planning ahead and hiring trusted experts to carry out your wishes.

Whether you have people clamoring after your money or not, it’s important to consider hiring an expert to sort through the, at times, very complicated process of estate planning. There are DIY websites and software packages that may seem attractive (and cheap!), but more often than not, you get what you pay for. More complicated life situations, such as children from a prior marriage, children with special needs, or capital gains from property appreciation, require the hands-on insight of an expert.

If you are a CPA or a lawyer, you might consider yourself the expert – but just as authors have other writers proofread their work, it’s important to have an unbiased third party look over your documents. Even U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who died in 1995, should have relied on estate planning experts to prepare his estate plan – but instead he took it upon himself, and his family paid over $450,000 in taxes because of his errors.

To be better prepared than Prince and Chief Justice Burger, seek out the assistance of an attorney or a CPA to draft a will and do estate planning, respectively. An attorney will help you navigate a will, and a CPA is best positioned to help with more complicated estate planning.

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It’s Time to Speak the Same Language on Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity 3Recent massive ransomware attacks on organizations around the world demonstrate how disruptive—and in some cases destructive—cyberattacks can be. The “WannaCry” malware incident is just the latest alarm on the ever-urgent call for companies to immediately address and manage their cybersecurity risks. Every organization is susceptible to cyber assaults, making a clearly defined, flexible and robust risk management program essential to a business’s ongoing success.

Addressing an Increasing Market Need

With cyberattacks on the rise, organizations are not only reinforcing their ability to prevent attacks, but also taking steps to demonstrate that they are doing all they can to detect, respond to, mitigate and recover from attacks on a timely basis. Customers, investors, boards of directors and even government officials want to know more about what companies are doing to address cybersecurity.

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Tips for Stress-Free Summer Travel

TravelAt long last, the winter coats have been washed and relegated to the back of the closet (or they’ll sit on the laundry room floor until next October waiting to be washed—don’t worry, I don’t judge) and you’re thinking about your summer travel plans. Perhaps you’d like to spend a glorious week at the beach, or take a road trip to visit historical sites. Maybe a lake house is your thing, or you’re jetting half way around the world to stay in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives* before they sink. It doesn’t matter whether your vacation will be via the family SUV or a private jet, there will be some element of drudgery—finalizing itineraries, packing, renting cars, making reservations. And if you’re traveling with young kids, face it: you’re going on a trip, not a vacation. The good news is that there are ways to minimize your vacation stress from the planning stages through the duration of your trip, no matter your destination or the company you keep.

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What Motivates Donors to Give?

Shutterstock_583541458In the summer of 2014, dumping a bucket of ice water on your head while being filmed was all the rage. My Facebook newsfeed was filled with videos of friends voluntarily drenching themselves for all to see. This activity was sparked by the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge, a brilliant fundraising effort designed to increase awareness and support research on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). In one month, the ALS Association raised more than $100 million. How could other not-for-profits recreate this success to benefit their organizations? While I don’t have the answers, I would recommend that you consider why donors give as a starting point.

Donor motivations have been researched, but results are not as straightforward as they may sound. What donors say is not always consistent with what donors do. So, what looks good on paper, is not always going to translate into success.

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Top 5 Reasons to Dig into the CPA Exam Blueprints

BlueprintThere are many things you don’t do unless you have the proper materials, information or training. You just don’t.  

Construction crews don’t build a 100-story skyscraper without a structural design plan. An amateur runner doesn’t jump into the New York City Marathon without having logged a substantial number of miles and completing a qualifying race. And neither you nor I can simply hop into a rocket and head off for a leisurely space walk without extensive training.

The point is, as a CPA candidate, when you finally set foot in a testing center, you should have thoroughly studied and become familiar with the Exam’s content. One of the best ways to do this: Study the AICPA’s CPA Examination Blueprints.

As the Exam’s developer, the AICPA publishes the Exam Blueprints, which is an in-depth, section-by-section guide for candidates preparing to test. If you’re planning to sit for the Exam and said to yourself, What are the Blueprints?, you need to dig in right away because you’ll:

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Just Kidding: Humor at Work

HumorI bought the world’s worst thesaurus yesterday. Not only is it terrible, it’s terrible.

I recently read a CGMA Magazine article which reported that more than 75 percent of CFOs in an Accountemps survey said that an employee’s sense of humor was very or somewhat important for fitting into the company’s corporate culture. I was intrigued by this and inspired to do a little more research on the importance of comedy in the workplace and what I could be doing to add a little levity to my remit. Here’s what I found:

  • There’s a reason we call funny people “witty;” a good sense of humor makes you appear more competent and confident
  • Research suggests that teams who joke more, communicate better (WSJ)
  • It matters what “kind” of funny you are, always be authentic and humble (HBR)
  • Use the right medium; humor rarely goes well over email (CGMA Magazine)
  • It’s OK to tell an unfunny joke; it’s not OK to tell an inappropriate joke (HBR)

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7 Ways to Improve Workforce Diversity

Shutterstock_241967758Do leaders of your organization put an emphasis on recruiting and retaining diverse talent? If the answer to that question is yes, then you are off to a good start. However, if your employer does not look to hire both entry-level staff and c-suite leaders of diverse backgrounds (including gender, age, ethnicity etc.), you may want to reconsider your strategy. Employing diverse individuals throughout the ranks of your organization is important. Diverse leaders in the c-suite provide unique perspectives and serve as role models for younger diverse staff. These leaders encourage a highly engaged workforce capable of effectively doing business in diverse and multicultural markets. Additionally, younger, less experienced staff members of diverse backgrounds are also crucial to an organization’s success. These individuals have opportunities to grow with your organization and fill the talent pipeline.   

Last spring, the AICPA answered the call for more workforce diversity education by conducting its first webcast series entitled “Unconscious Bias” which attracted over 3000 attendees. The conversations continued with the “Workplace Diversity” webcast series this past fall and the “Attracting and Recruiting Diverse Talent”, “Retaining and Advancing Diverse Talent”, and “How to Effectively Coach, Mentor, and Sponsor Diverse Talent” workshops this spring. Archives of these webcasts can be found here. Outlined below are seven workforce diversity best practices.

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How One Next-Gen CPA Dreams Big: Part 2

Jeff Badu - CopyWe spoke with Jeff Badu shortly after he launched his own firm, Badu Tax Services, LLC. Jeff has a bold, intrepid, entrepreneurial spirit and is passionate about helping people and giving back to society. He recently started Badu Investments and is preparing to take the PFS exam this summer so he can broaden the range of services he offers to his clients, who are primarily millennials. In this second part of the interview, we continue to explore Jeff’s journey.

AICPA: We learned a great deal about what drives you in the first part of our conversation. You spoke about your passion to help people and your entrepreneurial spirit. And you’re planning to take the PFS exam this summer. What is motivating you?

Jeff Badu: As a CPA, I get to help people solve some of their most challenging financial problems. I am very passionate about helping people in general, and with their financial future in particular. I work mainly with millennials, like me, and use different strategies to help reduce their income tax liability and maximize retirement and other savings. I find that people tend to prefer working with someone they can relate to, and my clients come to me because we identify with each other.

I have been interested in taxes since I was in middle school. It seems natural to me that tax compliance and planning are key ways to help people plan for their future. It’s very important to me to increase people’s understanding of the significance of making wise financial choices, which I try to do with my radio show, website and social media presence. Being able to increase my own expertise and offer a range of services so that I can be seen as the go-to trusted adviser is what’s prompting me to take the PFS exam this summer.

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How to Get the Most Out of a Virtual Conference


Virtual ConferenceConferences are a great way to network, earn CPE and stay up-to-date on new developments in the profession, but for some professionals, the travel time and expense can be obstacles. Virtual conferences offer the same content and CPE credits, but with some features that are unique to the online experience. You may even find that it’s more appealing than attending on-site.

Benefits of virtual conferences

Perhaps the best reason to attend an online learning event is the flexibility to view sessions when and where you want. With a virtual conference, you’ll get to choose from all the same thought-provoking sessions and speakers as on-site attendees. Plus, you’ll likely receive the handouts and presentations in advance of the sessions. This can help you prepare your questions ahead of time if the session includes a Q&A period. You’ll also be able to access sessions that are held concurrently via the archive, so there’s no need to choose between two interesting topics; you can view one via livestream and watch the other later. And if you missed that key point the speaker made, you can go back and listen again.

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3 Tips to Manage Sustainability Risks and Drive Value

Shutterstock_559076716What would happen if you had to make decisions about your company using only a portion of the financial information that is available to you? Without a holistic understanding of your company’s financial situation and value drivers, it would be tough to assess the organization’s performance, risks, challenges, and opportunities and drive long-term growth. Planning without all the information could potentially put the company at a competitive disadvantage and expose the company to greater risk.

However, that’s what happens in many organizations when they fail to fully consider the operational and financial implications of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks. Examples of how these risks can play out in the market include:

  • A beverage company’s production drops or they lose their license to operate due to drought conditions in water stressed regions in which the company operates.
  • A technology company faces employee turnover and sinking revenues because it fails to encourage or accept the innovative ideas of its highly skilled labor force.
  • An apparel company experiences a stock price drop after reports allege its suppliers are committing human rights violations.

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Thanks, Mom: What We Learned from Our Mothers

It might take 20 (or 30 or 40) years, but eventually, most people recognize that between telling you to pick up/put away/tuck in/eat/clean/don’t stay out too late, your mom probably imparted you with some pretty good wisdom. In honor of Mother’s Day, we asked people to share what they’ve learned from their mothers.

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Find Answers to Your Cash and Tax Basis Questions

Shutterstock_123504565Why do cats purr? Why are pizza boxes square when the pizza is round? Sometimes it’s hard to find a single answer – let alone the right answer - to your questions. Do you know where to turn to when you have a question about the income tax basis or cash basis of accounting? Practitioners frequently ask questions about how to account for transactions using these special purpose frameworks. What they quickly find is a lack of authoritative guidance. Searching and googling can give you umpteen answers. But you need the right one.

The Center for Plain English Accounting, AICPA’s national accounting and auditing (A&A) resource center, often answers questions about the tax and cash bases of accounting. For example, the following two questions were recently posed by members:

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Don’t Let Clients’ Retirement Fall into This Trap

TrapHave you ever been at a party where the owner of a company was bragging about how he used a 401k to start his business? Or heard a story about how a couple’s individual retirement account (IRA) is invested in real estate and that’s going to allow them to live in the lap of luxury when they retire?

They’re talking about self-directed retirement vehicles. And much like real vehicles, when they are driven improperly, the result can be disaster.

What Are Self-Directed Retirement Vehicles?

Self-directed IRAs and self-directed 401ks are increasingly popular. While the usual custodians of IRA and 401(k) accounts will only allow certain investments (e.g., stocks, bonds, etc.), a self-directed IRA or 401(k) allows the owner to invest in such things as real estate, precious metals, businesses, etc. and make all the investment decisions. Profits from the investment build up tax-free until the owner reaches retirement and begins to take distributions, usually when the owner’s tax rate is much lower. Sounds good, right? What could go wrong?

Well, actually, a lot can go wrong. As a matter of fact, if you have clients in one of these situations, they could lose substantial amounts, if not all, of their retirement income. How can this happen and what can you do to help?

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Back to Basics with "Money Minutes"

Money mattersImagine a world where high school graduates confidently understand the pros and cons of credit cards, recognize the significance of an emergency savings fund and even have a strong grasp on what student loans mean for their financial future. Does it sound utopian to you? Maybe, but at the AICPA we strive to provide students with resources to obtain this kind of knowledge each and every day.

A recent financial literacy test given by the National Financial Educator’s Council found that test-takers from 15-18 years old scored an average of only 63.17%. To experts, personal finance topics are seemingly common sense, however, there is a huge discrepancy between what is taught in school and what students are expected to know upon graduation and beyond. To help combat this issue, the AICPA launched Money Minutes, a video module series that gets back to basic concepts of financial management for high school students.

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7 Tips to Get the Most out of Your Next Accounting Technology Event

Tech conferenceThe biggest benefit to attending an accounting technology event is the convenience of having many vendors, thought-leaders and your peers in one location that also provides CPE credits. These events provide the perfect opportunity to problem-solve, learn and investigate technology during a condensed timeline. Whether you have a project planned or if one is on the horizon, being able to talk to your peers and multiple vendors at your next accounting technology event is a convenience and may shorten your investigation time.

Consider these tips to get the most out of your next accounting technology event. 

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11 Things You Need to Know About Your Millennial Co-workers

MillennialsMove over, Gen X; millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Look around your office and you’ll likely see that one in three of your coworkers is a millennial (born between 1977-1995; a.k.a. Gen Y). Currently there are over 83 million Gen Yers in the United States, and that number is expected to grow. As this generation continues to mature and enter the workforce, understanding millennials and what motivates them has never been more important.

For the first time in U.S. history, four generations are working together, and the age gap between co-workers can be as wide as 60 years. You’ll find traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Yers working side by side in many offices. Each of these generations has defining traits that are shaped by a variety of factors. These factors include parenting styles, economic trends, technology advancements, historical events and lifespan. This results in different work and communication styles, career goals and values.

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