The Blog for the Digital CPA

Samantha Mansfield
Director of Profess- ional Develop- ment & Commun- ity, CPA.com

Growing through Discomfort

I love Audible! This year I have been able to consume so many more books while doing yard work and running (which I don’t love). Currently I am reading, “On Fire: 7 Choices to ignite a radically inspired life” by John O’Leary, bestselling author and keynote speaker for Digital CPA 2017. As I was listening to him narrate his book, I was struck by how similar one of his lessons was to that of John Engels, leadership coach, who combines family systems knowledge with the science of evolutionary leadership.

At Digital CPA Conference 2016, John Engels challenged us all by asking, “Why do you want to keep others from discomfort?” His point being, we learn from challenges and failures, but we try to shield colleagues, friends and family from it. While running, I listened to John O’Leary retell how his mother refused to help him eat his dinner upon returning from a four month stay in the hospital due to burning 100% of his body at age nine. He had lost his fingers, he was still heavily bandaged and yet when his sister tried to help feed him she was ordered to put down the fork. At nine years old, John’s mother was challenging him to commit to a mindset to solve this problem and all the others he was about to face.

Think of the discomfort in that situation. Any parent hates to see their child in pain, frustrated and suffering. Here the child is hungry, frustrated and probably scared; he couldn’t even feed himself. Yet, mother and son prevailed. O’Leary’s mom knew he was going to be confronted with many more obstacles in his life and he needed to find ways to succeed from the start. John did figure out how to feed himself that night and has grown to have a full and successful life.

This poignant example, is a reminder of the bravery it takes to lead others, and own your own leadership. We each must find our role in any situation.

  • What is my role in the cause of the situation?
  • What is my role in the resolution?
  • What is my role in the long term success?

It comes back to accountability. We can’t look to our manager, mentor, or parent to fix the issues. They play a part in guidance and instruction, but we are responsible for developing our own problem solving and leadership skills. Look back in your career and find a pivotal point; what contributed to your success or failure? What did you learn from it?


Tom Hammond
VP of Corporate Strategy & Product Manage- ment, Paychex

From Data Entry to Data Insights, Technology is Key to HR Strategy

Since the beginning of time, technological innovations have tended to be met with some skepticism. Today, with so much technology at our fingertips, both at home and at work, it’s natural to wonder which solutions are worth the investment. HR technology solutions, when thoughtfully selected with business needs and goals in mind, can improve efficiency, providing the extra time and insightful data needed for the strategic decision making that can transform an HR leader’s role. In fact, the first annual Paychex Pulse of HR Survey found that 75 percent of HR leaders at small and mid-sized companies (50-500 employees) feel HR technology has enabled them to secure a seat at the leadership table.

For HR leaders and their teams, technology solutions can drive efficiency and free-up valuable time currently being spent on administrative tasks or data entry. But on a more strategic level, technology can provide an objective and comprehensive view of the workforce, allowing HR leaders to see and suggest more informed, purposeful actions to executive leadership. Speaking of the workforce, in addition to helping HR leaders become more efficient and strategically engaged, technology also keeps employees engaged with mobile solutions and self-service HR capabilities. These solutions are particularly appealing to Millennials, who’ve come to consider integrated technology a given when they enter the workforce.

While the benefits of technology – including informative data analytics, improved efficiency, and recruitment advantages – are tempting, all technology is not created equal. Solutions that do not effectively meet business needs can burn both time and money. In fact, 44 percent of survey respondents are using several separate systems with some integration as opposed to a single integrated suite. That means they’re spending valuable time rekeying data into multiple systems; 30 percent say they spend as many as 15-29 hours per month.

The purchase of technology solutions should stem from an understanding of how these systems will help the company save time, save money, and ultimately contribute to achieving overall business goals. Your guidance in understanding your small business client’s needs and financial processes can help ensure that they don’t miss the technology boat or jump onboard with the wrong solution. Done right, technology can become a selling point for small and mid-sized businesses looking to attract and retain enterprise-caliber talent. It can also help HR leaders effectively evaluate ways to better manage people and save money, which is a win for HR leaders, a win for the C-suite, and a win for you as a well-integrated solution can provide the accurate information you need for taxes and other financial processes down the line.


Samantha Mansfield
Director of Profess- ional Develop- ment & Commun- ity, CPA.com

Augmenting Our Skills with Artificial Intelligence

This week the news had a story about robots and humans collaborating. It focused on how robots had become an extension of what we do, allowing them to do what they do best and freeing us up to do what we do best. Another way to think about it: they do more and we think more. When looking at artificial intelligence (AI) this way, the possibilities are endless.

Gartner, the research and advisory company, predicts a third of all jobs will be automated away by robots, smart machines and software by 2025. Accenture, Deloitte predicts 40% of transactional accounting work will be automated or eliminated by 2020. This means in the next 3-8 years we have the opportunity to free up time and start innovating in our processes and business models.

Many times, technology is invented for one purpose and finds relevance and adoption in a completely different industry. To get the creative juices flowing, let’s look at a few examples of how AI and machine learning are being used outside accounting today.

Artistic application

  • 20th Century Fox used IBM Watson to make a movie trailer
  • Stitch Fix, an online personal stylist site, used AI to design clothing
  • Sony CSL Research Laboratory is using AI to compose original music
  • Google has an AI tool to generate art

All these tools are performing creative functions, typically thought to be something only humans can do, but the finished products all include a human touch and final review.

Usage in the accounting profession

What we should take away from this is AI is more about augmenting our workflow, not just automating it. Think of how it frees time and provides more insights through larger amounts of data. The possibilities are still being imagined.

For many of us, AI moved from sci-fi to daily life when IBM Watson became a contestant on Jeopardy in 2011. In 2017, it really came into the mainstream during a Super Bowl commercial from H&R Block pointing out the inclusion of IBM Watson in tax preparation. During various spring and summer tax and accounting conferences, we are asking audiences which technology they see as having a big impact in the future and CPAs are ranking AI in the top of the polls. This is not a time to be afraid of losing jobs, but a time to think of ways to do your job differently; let these robotic tools augment your systems and processes, so you can raise the value of your time and services.

If you are trying to learn more about the possibilities note:

AICPA and CPA.com are sponsoring an initiative called Startup Accelerator to help support up to five early-stage companies over the next year get these new and innovative ideas off the ground.

The 2017 Digital CPA Conference is featuring a member of the IBM Watson team to discuss AI.

There are many articles on possible uses, what will be available next?

What are your thoughts on AI in accounting?


Frank Fiorille
VP of Risk, Compli- ance, & Data Analytics, Paychex

Small Business Owners Increasingly Cautious About Employment Growth

After the election of President Trump in 2016, countless surveys reported increasing small business optimism. Post-election research conducted by Paychex showed similar results. Slightly more than half of respondents (small business owners) felt confident to highly confident in their ability to grow under the Trump Administration and 37 percent expressed moderate confidence. But has that optimism translated to small business employment growth?

To gauge trends in small business employment growth and wages, the monthly Paychex | IHS Small Business Employment Watch tracks small business jobs growth and wage trends on a national, regional, state, metro and industry scale. The report serves as an indicator for the state of small business, and, as small businesses represent nearly 95 percent of all U.S. employers, the economy overall.

In May, data from the Small Business Employment Watch revealed that the Small Business Jobs Index declined for the third consecutive month. After a strong start to the year, the index declined to 100.34, the lowest rate of small business employment growth the country has seen since late 2015, a rate 0.25 percent slower than the pace of small business jobs growth in May 2016. After a steady increase in hiring over the three months immediately following the election (December 2016, January 2017 and February 2017), it seems that small business owners have shifted to a wait-and-see approach.

While many of the policies President Trump proposed during his campaign have small business owners feeling hopeful, there is still a great deal of uncertainty around which policies will ultimately come to pass, including healthcare, tax, and immigration reform, to name a few. As such, small business owners must make business decisions, such as whether or not to add employees, based on uncertain economic and regulatory issues, seemingly leaving many to forego hiring until they have a better idea of what’s to come.

In addition to the uncertainty around regulatory and compliance requirements, small business owners are also keeping a watchful eye on the changing nature of work and the workforce. For example, the past couple years have seen a rise in the number of part-time and freelance workers as part of the “gig” economy, a trend which we’re seeing mirrored among our client base.

We’re in a period when macro-economic trends and policy-related issues are having a greater impact than ever on how small business owners make a variety of business decisions. By keeping an eye on these national trends and topics, in combination with an audit and assessment of a small business’s financial situation, CPAs can help their clients make informed decisions to drive the long-term business growth and success.


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