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Embracing the Latest HR Trends for Recruitment in Your Firm

As the national rate of unemployment hovers at its lowest rate since the late ’60s, businesses (including accounting firms) are struggling to find and retain quality employees. For the first time since the Paychex Pulse of HR Survey began in 2017, attracting talent surpassed regulatory compliance as the top HR concern with more than two-thirds of HR leaders citing difficulty finding and hiring quality candidates, up from 59 percent last year. These professionals said finding qualified candidates (49 percent) and retaining their best employees (49 percent) are their top hiring-specific challenges.

There are several tactics accounting firms can use to widen the field of eligible candidates. One of which is upskilling or training workers on the job. Eighty-five percent of HR leaders surveyed would be willing to train and upskill an underqualified candidate, and 78 percent said their organizations have already benefited from upskilling underqualified workers. When hiring in the current labor market, hiring managers and their HR teams should assess based on the job description which qualifications are required versus desired and which are must-haves from the start date versus and which can be learned on the job, if necessary. While the accountants you employ are undoubtedly required to have certain skills and certifications to be hired, you may be able to be slightly flexible as you fill office support staff positions at your firm.

Nontraditional benefits and perks are another offering gaining popularity among companies trying to attract and retain top talent today. The most common nontraditional benefits offerings in 2019 are: flexible scheduling, tuition reimbursement, career development programs, financial counseling, free meals, employee assistance programs (EAP), and free wellness wearables.

Younger generations of employees tend to place a high value on work-life integration and weigh benefits offerings (including healthcare, retirement, ancillary perks, and more) heavily as part of their overall compensation package, so firms must seriously consider these perks when creating job packages and workplace policies today. However, before implementing a flexible work policy, ensure your HR team and managers are prepared to manage the challenges that come with nontraditional work arrangements, including engagement and retention, oversight of work, and ensuring consistent productivity.

Though recruitment efforts are key, retention is the other big piece of the employment puzzle and employee engagement plays a major role in getting employees to stay (and feel fulfilled) at your firm. According to the Paychex survey, slightly more than half (53 percent) of HR leaders reported that more than half of their employees are engaged (defined in the survey as “fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and taking positive action to further their company’s reputation and interests”).

To foster better engagement, firms may want to offer employees training to develop new skills. While accountants’ training is naturally tied to keeping up with certifications, every employee can benefit from enhancing their non-technical skills (also known as soft skills), including problem-solving, conflict resolutions, professionalism, and more. Employers should also empower workers to suggest new work methods or projects and regularly ask for feedback about their job satisfaction. Communication is the root of many employee frustrations which can be resolved by creating channels for honest, specific two-way discussion with employees, and utilizing these channels to provide praise and feedback in real time.

From effective communication to perks to training, accounting firms should take full advantage of every tool at their disposal to ease the burden of recruiting and retaining top talent in today’s labor market.

Part Two: Sales & Use Tax Experts Needed: Apply Within

In part one of this series, we discussed how the accountant role is transforming and evolving from a compliance-driven role to a specialty role through the delivery of consultative and advisory services, backed by specialized education and extensive knowledge. By highlighting the legislative environment and the market demand, we outlined an area of growth and opportunity for specialization through SUT (sales & use tax) services, by introducing the concept of the 21st century business dynamic by Geoffrey Moore. In the earlier article, the focus was on outsourcing, automation, and commoditization. In this second part, we focus on the shift to differentiation, specialization, and finally optimization.

21st Century Business Dynamics

Differentiation

As technology evolves and the accountant continues to grow professionally, it is important to define what differentiates the accountant from his or her colleagues, internally and externally. It is through differentiation that the accountant can chart his or her own path as a sales and use tax (SUT) leader and subject matter expert.

As more firms evolve their SUT service offerings, we continue to see the need for expanded employee knowledge and resources. Therefore, education will play a large role throughout this transition, challenging accountants to expand their horizons. A 2016 survey of 2,200 CFOs, conducted by the staffing firm Accountemps, a Robert Half Company, found that CFOs place their largest value on learning, professional development and “soft skills.”

The survey results illustrate that, as an accountant, one of the key takeaways in which you can continue to enhance your value is through education and the adoption of new skillsets.

In the digital world in which we live, education can come from a range of different sources, including advanced SALT educational certificates, workshops, conferences, webcasts, podcasts, blogs, and networking, to name a few. To be successful, it is important the accountant be an independent learner.

Not only do we see differentiation in the role of the accountant, we also see a correlation with what skills the accountant can provide to the expansion of firm services, setting the firm apart in the market.

Specialization

The transition to SUT specialization will likely be gradual over time, without a monumental defining moment. However, specialization from a firm perspective can be viewed as empowering individuals to be SUT leaders, specializing in SUT tax law and SUT services.

When this occurs, the accountant is defined by the services they can provide to clients not only from a compliance perspective but through guidance and advisory services in a consultative role, too.

The following diagram shows the spectrum of SUT services, that require a certain level of specialization based on knowledge and complexity.

Spectrum of Sales and Use Tax Services

Optimization

At the point of optimization, the accountant has solidified their position as a SUT subject matter expert, opening the doors to possible advancement, in position to lead a well-tuned, efficient, high-value SUT service model that continues to grow year over year.

As our economy continues to evolve from brick-and-mortar operations to digital, we are seeing similar change throughout the accounting profession. Not only are we seeing the shift to consultative and advisory services, we are seeing an increase in client demands, enhanced services, introduction to new technologies such as blockchain, and an ever-changing regulatory environment.

As I interact with firms both large and small, helping them to understand their SUT practice and build out their SUT business model, there is one common theme I continue to hear: “How can we find the employee resources that can help us grow?”

By embracing change and understanding the framework outlined by Geoffrey Moore, accountants have the opportunity to grow professionally by challenging themselves and filling the need within their firm to meet client demands.

Marianne has over 10 years of experience working with the tax and accounting profession, guiding and consulting firms as they embrace technology, evaluate internal processes and expand service lines. She consults with firms across the profession, providing guidance on the changing SUT regulatory environment, the accounting firm opportunity and SUT business development.

Sales & Use Tax Experts Needed: Apply Within

Client expectations have changed overnight. In the wake of the Wayfair decision, accounting firms are expected to be experts on sales and use tax (SUT), and provide guidance, consulting, and compliance services.

Firms understand the apprehension and stress this ruling has created for their clients; however, in many cases, they themselves lack the internal resources available to provide or expand SUT service offerings. This has created a perfect storm and the perfect opportunity for any driven accountant looking to define their career path. Becoming knowledgeable about the Wayfair decision and how it impacts clients allows an accountant to develop expertise in specialized advisory area.

The 21st Century Business Dynamic

The 21st century business dynamic outlined by Geoffrey Moore offers a look at the progression and evolution of the business landscape today. We can gain perspective on the impacts that modern technology and automation have on the accounting profession and accountants. By applying this framework, we can understand how the role of the accountant is evolving from a compliance-driven role to a specialty role that leverages a CPA’s extensive knowledge through consultative and advisory services.

21st Century Business Dynamics

Outsourcing

As firms look to enhance client service offerings and increase bottom line revenue, many are expanding services to include SUT outsourcing. We are seeing more and more firms offering calculation, return preparation and return filing services. This expansion is not only seen within State and Local Tax (SALT) service lines but has expanded to Client Accounting Service (CAS) practices.

With the expansion of SUT outsourcing services, the firm will need to rely on accountants who are driven and willing to learn and expand their knowledge. This provides the opportunity for an accountant to become a champion, drive the service offering, and be held accountable for enhancing this service. Think of this as the foundation or the steppingstone to becoming a SUT specialist.

Automation

With the increase in SUT outsourcing services, we see a natural progression and evolution to automation. As firms grow their outsourced services, they incorporate technology and develop processes to enhance and strengthen the client experience while internally increasing productivity and profitability on SUT services.

Automation can benefit the firm and the accountant by providing the tools needed to keep up with changing sales and use tax rates and rules, streamlined reporting and the ability to organize data for an audit. Without automation, SUT compliance can be very time consuming when you add up the activities that compliance encompasses from calculation, compiling returns, filing returns, and managing reporting.

Additionally, experiences in the research and evaluation of technology can strengthen and expand the role of the accountant as they provide advice on the technology solution that aligns with the overall business plan and service offering of the firm. The accountant will become the go-to person throughout the evaluation, and the opportunity is there to be the expert on the implementation of the technology and its day-to-day use. By automating, the accountant has enhanced their knowledge base beyond SUT compliance to include SUT technology and automation. They will be involved with streamlining processes within the firm, and most importantly impacting services delivered to clients using state-of-the-art technology.

Commoditization

As we evaluate the current landscape of the accounting profession, we understand that not all firms are providing SUT compliance services. However, we see momentum building as more firms come to understand the impact SUT has on their clients, as well as the firm opportunity for expansion, growth and differentiation due to this service offering. In Accounting Today’s 2019 Top 100 Firms Report, highlighting top niche services among the top 100 firms in the United States, they ranked SALT as second, with a total of 76 percent experiencing growth.

As we continue to see growth in the profession, we must be aware that we start seeing commoditization of services when SUT service offerings are automated and focused on calculation, returns and transactional processing. To avoid this diminishing value, the accountant can transition to an advisor and strategic partner by redefining their role and helping clients navigate areas such as nexus, audit representation, and product taxability.

This is where we see the accountant role truly begin to transform from a compliance-driven role to a specialty role built on extensive knowledge and offered through consultative and advisory services.

If what you are doing as a professional can continue to be automated and you don’t change or elevate to a higher level of service, you are at risk for commoditization.

In part 2 of this series we will discuss differentiation and specialization and how to expand services from SUT compliance to consultative and advisory services and SUT specialization.

Reference: On June 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court voted on a historic ruling (South Dakota v. Wayfair) favoring South Dakota, overturning Quill and determining that states can broadly require online retailers collect sales tax even if they lack physical presence.

Marianne has over 10 years of experience working with the tax and accounting profession, guiding and consulting firms as they embrace technology, evaluate internal processes and expand service lines. She consults with firms across the profession, providing guidance on the changing SUT regulatory environment, the accounting firm opportunity and SUT business development.

Webinar Recap: Tips to Evolve Your Financial Statement Services... THIS Year

After a recent industry presentation about evolving financial statement services, it was discussed whether workflow and firm portal software had addressed all the key issues and opportunities in engagements. The clear response was, "No."

The other big topic of conversation was how to deliver on the twin mandates at many firms to add value for clients and to innovate through digital transformation. Many people associate transformation with pain and trying to add value to assurance engagements when you’re swamped just completing all the engagements, can seem like just wishful thinking.

All is not lost however, and we have some tips to share and a few potential quick wins for CPA-firms:

Improve Accuracy AND Transparency and Efficiency?

For financial statement services (and all assurance for that matter), accuracy is a must, but improved transparency (a clear understanding of the status of work by everyone involved at the appropriate places where they need to be involved) is incredibly important for quality control (which drives accuracy) as well as for efficiency, and even improved client interaction. The three are quite linked and all can benefit from improvements through new process and tools, this year.

Two newer tools from CPA.com are examples of innovation which offer immediate CPA firm gains in these areas for preparation, compilation and review engagements, including ways to:

  • Improve accuracy and efficiency around compliance with new and changing standards.
  • Create integrated transparency into collaboration efforts, both internally and with clients.
  • Create safeguards against overworking engagements (and all the additional risk and other things that come with that bad habit).
  • Infuse more transparency, efficiency and value into the review (or audit) report issuance process (and finally wrangle the withdrawal/restatement headache)!

Quick Wins

In looking at typical challenges firms have around attestation and assurance services, there are a few quick wins that you can potentially achieve through technology. For instance, would any of these questions be worth asking about your firm?

  • How do you reduce the chances of missing anything on an engagement?
  • How do you help prevent overworking an engagement?
  • How do you add transparency from engagement wrap-up to delivery on reports?
  • What can you do to truly differentiate your firm as it relates to report delivery and distribution?

Firms who have adopted OnPoint PCR for preparation, compilation and review work for example, have seen a real difference in the process they go through to ensure compliance with quality standards. A significant difference maker within OnPoint PCR comes in its use of intelligent guidance. For instance, once you’ve selected "Preparation," "Compilation" or "Review," as the engagement type, the solution adds or removes entry fields to ensure that questions and procedures adhere to that engagement type (and related standards for that engagement type). That intelligent guidance carries over into intelligent letter drafting, as it uses your responses to questions and procedures to generate the engagement letter and representation letter using the appropriate language.

As for transparency from wrap-up to delivery, many firms struggle a bit with controls over the process. The secure, source-validating RIVIO Clearinghouse is an example of a tool that brings efficiency and control to some of the often-chaotic back and forth between wrap up and delivery to the client.

Ideally, you want to move away from a process that might look like this:

Figure 1 Wrap-up to Delivery to Distribution
Figure 1: Wrap-Up to Client Delivery to Client Distribution to third-party recipients (banks/lenders, regulators, investors, etc.)

Further, firms can leverage this same technology to evolve their delivery process beyond just a portal, similar to how moving from paper to fax to emailed PDFs has had a notable impact to the profession. We are talking about true innovation of the report and document delivery process here; something that goes above and beyond for your clients to differentiate your services and truly add value beyond delivery of the review or audit report.

So how do you get beyond using a portal for delivery? Well, portals don’t allow your clients to automate much on their end. They still have to find a way to take what you have delivered, get it to lenders, shareholders, etc. (who are very interested third-parties), and then keep track of who all has a copy in the first place. RIVIO enables you to securely deliver reports and documents in a way that gives your clients powerful distribution management and controls. They can easily distribute to anyone they want. And best of all – if you ever find yourself in the position of having to withdraw and reissue a report, RIVIO provides an elegant, controlled solution to update reports immediately – straight from your firm to recipients (but without you even knowing with whom your client shared the report). A key takeaway here could simply be to think through how your clients currently manage requests for copies of financial documentation that your firm has prepared. It may be worth asking clients that question if you don’t already.

Hopefully, you’ve got some new things to think about and some options to make progress sooner than later. As stated earlier, a quick win on achieving a corporate (or personal) innovation goal is always a good thing these days, especially if it adds value for clients and improves accuracy, transparency, and efficiency.

About the Author:

Steven A. Menges
RIVIO Clearinghouse Product Lead, CPA.com

A business-to-business (B2B) innovator and products executive with 20 years’ progressive experience, Steven Menges is a frequent industry author and speaker on enterprise computing, data analytics, managed service providers (MSPs), IT Security, regulatory compliance, EdTech, and buyer’s journey-based engagement. Mr. Menges is also an Adjunct Instructor and Capstone/Thesis advisor at the NYU MS in Management and Systems (STEM) and MS in Integrated Marketing programs and is the co-developer of the Business-to-Business Marketing Maturity Model.

Sales Tax Evolution: South Dakota v. Wayfair One Year Later

June 21, 2019 marks one year since the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair. The ruling favored South Dakota, determining that states can broadly require remote sellers to collect and remit sales and use tax (SUT), even if they lack a physical presence in the state.

"In my 30 years of practice never have I seen a decision come down that has impacted so many clients, and I probably will never see another decision come down like this for the rest of my career."

-Craig Cookle, Partner in Charge SALT, Wipfli LLP

Fast forward to today, a lot has happened. We’ve identified three major implications since the historic ruling: states have responded and expanded economic nexus, businesses (small to large, across different industries) are experiencing an impact and there is an opportunity for CPA firms to help navigate, advise and consult their business clients.

States Respond

The ruling has paved the way for states to establish and enforce new economic nexus guidelines. Since the ruling, 40 states have responded by enacting new or modified economic nexus rules that require out-of-state sellers to register, collect and remit sales tax. Many of these states implemented economic nexus standards that cloned and/or was very similar to the South Dakota law. However, over time there will be different state interpretations as they evaluate how to react to the decision.

Businesses Impacted

The new guidelines and changes following the decision in addition to over 11,000 jurisdictions across the United States, make it even more challenging for business owners to stay up-to-date and ensure they are properly complying with sales tax regulations. Monitoring changing rules, efficiently collecting and remitting accurate sales and use tax and implementing the right solutions, has become more burdensome.

Opportunity to Help

Demand for sales and use tax services is at an all-time high. Businesses need a trusted advisor with the guidance and technology to accurately stay up to date with the complex and changing SUT requirements. CPA firms have an opportunity to offer a spectrum of sales and use tax services to minimize the strain of tax compliance for business clients. CPA firms are helping their clients by offering some of the following services:

  • Nexus Studies and Product Taxability reviews.
  • Identifying and prioritizing states where the client has the greatest economic presence in order to create a plan to register, collect and remit sales tax.
  • Provide compliance technology that calculates correct rates, file and remits payments and maintains exemption certificates.
  • Maintain SUT compliance through ongoing evaluations

Download our whitepaper South Dakota V. Wayfair: What it means for your firm and watch this hot topic video, Wayfair and Sales & Use Taxes to learn more about the impact of the Wayfair decision on both you and your business clients.

Additionally, if your firm is ready to help clients stay in front of a changing SUT environment and interested in building out a high growth SUT practice, we invite you to join us for our two day workshop this summer: Compliance & Advisory: Roadmap to Your Sales & Use Tax Model.