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Sales and Use Tax enforcement: What your clients need to know

CPA: “Hey! I’m so glad to be able to catch up with you – it’s been a while. What’s on your mind?

Client: “I was talking to my friend who owns their own business, and they just found out that they owe the state a ton of money in uncollected sales taxes. They were still in a state of shock.”

CPA: “…and you started wondering if it could happen to you.”

Client: “Absolutely. I don’t want to get blindsided by an audit. Should I be worried? What should I do?”

If you haven’t already had some version of this conversation with clients, you may want to start preparing for it. It’s been over three years since the landmark South Dakota v. Wayfair ruling, which determined that states can broadly require online retailers to collect sales tax even if they lack a physical presence - expanding nexus. Many states enacted their economic nexus laws within six months of that decision, and most have a three-year statute of limitations for uncollected sales taxes, which means now is the time for state and local taxing agencies to audit online sellers with economic nexus.

Since the 2018 ruling, consumer behavior has evolved dramatically, largely due to the pandemic. E-commerce has exploded, resulting in more businesses with multi-state sales activities and a greater and more complex set of sales and use tax needs. The Wayfair ruling was a big deal for businesses before the pandemic. Now it’s an even bigger deal.

State sales tax rates did not increase during the pandemic; however, city and district sales taxes have risen rapidly and are on pace for a record-setting year. “States are reluctant to raise their sales tax rates because they know that the increase in sales tax can be regressive,” explained Mike Bernard, Chief Tax Officer at Vertex. “We saw the same thing during the recession of 2007-2009. However, changes below the state level have been abundant. We expect the frequency of new and changed city and district sales taxes to continue.”

In its Mid-Year Report, Vertex shares statistics on sales tax changes that tax professionals should notice:

  • State-level sales tax rates continue to be stagnant:
    • There were no state sales tax changes in the first six months of 2021. The last state-level sales tax rate change occurred in 2019.
  • District-level and city-level taxing agencies are making sales tax rate changes at a record-pace:
    • There were 127 new district sales taxes enacted in the first six months of 2021, up 88 from the same time last year. This trend continued in July 2021, with 36 new district taxes enacted.
    • In the month of July 2021 alone, 22 new city taxes went into effect. The total number of new city taxes for the first six months of 2021 was 23.
    • The average number of changes per month to city sales tax rates for the first six months of 2021 was 22 per month. In July of 2021, there were 54 city rate changes.

Clients can’t ignore sales and use tax anymore. Neither can you.

Clients who are non-compliant with the growing web of sales and use tax regulations at the state and local levels could be facing catastrophic risks to their businesses. Perhaps even worse, many don’t know they are at risk, and don’t understand the implications of their exposure. This is a critical moment for businesses, small and large. Accounting firms can solidify their role as a trusted advisor by proactively protecting their clients from the mounting risks of sales and use tax non-compliance.

Where should you start? First, determine which clients are at greatest risk, and where. Sales and use tax requirements are applicable to many different industries across a wide range of jurisdictions and are often applied in different ways. Some industries targeted most by auditors are:

  • Construction and Real Estate
  • Digital Goods and E-Commerce
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail

If you have clients in these industries, it’s time to reach out to them to discuss their potential exposure to sales and use tax regulations. Of course, these aren’t the only industries that should be on high alert. Any business that sells goods into a state where they don’t have a physical presence (often referred to as “remote retail sellers”) is at risk and should be made aware of their potential exposure. Ensure your clients understand the costs and risks of noncompliance, as well as the benefits of complying – all in the context of their bottom line.

Your clients also need to understand the threat of an audit is real. Not only do states have access to clients’ transactional data, but they’re communicating with each other in ways that they’ve never done before, in order to ensure that they have a clear picture of how businesses are operating.

Need a sales and use tax confidence boost? It helps to have the right tools for the job.

It’s easy to feel discouraged by the massive complexity of sales and use tax compliance. However, with the right technology, developed by a trusted partner, you can feel confident in your firm’s ability to meet clients’ growing and complex sales and use tax needs. By leveraging technology, your firm can automate many of the manual tasks associated with tracking regulatory changes at the state and local levels—and understand how those changes apply to your clients’ businesses.

CPA.com has partnered with Vertex, a leader in sales and use tax technology, to help firms navigate the new sales and use tax landscape. Whether you’re seeking guidance on developing a referral strategy or looking to scale up your firm’s sales and use tax compliance practice, we’re here to help. Our Vertex Firm Advisor Program offers an efficient, proven way for firms to ramp up their sales and use tax capabilities, regardless of where you or your clients are in the journey.

To learn more about the resources available through this program, or to learn more about Vertex’s capabilities, visit cpa.com/salestax.

Creating Your Firm’s Path Toward Audit Transformation

The accounting profession has been talking about transforming the audit for years. Today, there are plenty of signs that this moment has finally arrived.

First, cloud capabilities have created entirely new opportunities for collaboration and data sharing between firms, clients, and regulators, as well as within firms themselves. Add to that disruptive developments in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and blockchain and the profession now has the right capabilities to transform the audit. With these advancements, auditors are well-positioned to reimagine how they perform the audit – what they look at, when they look at it, and how they look at it – to drive a more precise focus on higher-risk areas and deliver deeper insights and more value to clients.

Despite all this, many firms have not yet identified or pursued their strategies for turning these advances to their advantage in the audit. Rather than proactively transforming, they are reacting on an ad hoc basis.

In practice, transforming the audit is manageable with the right strategy in place – and the results are worth it. Each firm’s transformation can and should take its own path, based on size, client needs, business goals, and current maturity levels in everything from technology infrastructure to processes and methodologies. As firms move towards transformation, they should be aware of three overarching touchstones to guide their efforts – principles that are shared across all other issues guiding their approach. These three touchstones are: Cloud, Connect and Create.

Utilizing cloud technology

While cloud technology isn’t new, its impact on the accounting profession has grown exponentially in recent years. This is reflected in the growth of online accounting solutions and cloud-based file-sharing tools that are capable of better securing files and centralizing client collaboration. Still, most firms today are defining and developing their comprehensive cloud strategies. Having a clear strategy for cloud adoption and use is a critical aspect of audit transformation.

Connecting with clients

What does “connect” mean in the context of audit transformation? From a methodology standpoint, it’s about enabling a truly data-driven audit through a fully integrated workflow. This translates to using client data and auditor knowledge to drive a dynamic linkage to understand the entity, identify risks, and influence any related controls or procedures. Connecting also means finding ways to deepen client relationships through meaningful discussion about key data insights.

For many firms, connecting still requires a lot of manual processes and redundant efforts, which leads to less than optimal outcomes. Transforming the audit will require entirely new ways of connecting.

Creating the Modern Audit

In an audit transformation, “creating” refers to developing a new methodology that maximizes the potential of technology and data analytics to deliver greater insights – to both the client and the firm. A new methodology, enabled by advanced technologies like those mentioned elsewhere in this article, can help auditors do their work more effectively – mainly by helping them focus squarely on the matters most important to the audit. Instead of following a linear, checklist-approach, auditors can leverage data analytics to guide them through the audit, drilling down on the areas that require attention.

Think about it this way: If your firm could create a brand-new methodology from the ground up, enabled by today’s technologies, what would it look like? This is essentially the question firms should be answering in the “create” phase of transformation. Fortunately, it’s a question that a number of leaders in the profession are already seeking to answer. The AICPA and CPA.com, through the Dynamic Audit Solution (DAS) initiative, are creating a clear picture of the modern audit, with an emphasis placed on how audit methodology changes and adapts to address the challenges of the modern audit.

Accelerate your Firm's Journey Toward Audit Transformation

Want to know how your firm can put these principles to work to actively transform your approach to the audit? Start with our whitepaper on this topic, The Path to Audit Transformation: Cloud, Connect, Create. This report offers practical, specific details on each of these cornerstones of audit transformation, including insights from professionals who are already transforming their firm’s audit approach. The key is simply taking the first step because audit transformation is here – stay a step ahead and your firm and its clients stand to reap the benefits over the long term. Contact us today to learn more.

3 Tips to Building a Successful FP&A Practice

It’s the goal of every accountant and CPA firm to be the trusted advisor to their clients. But to achieve this, you need to deliver constant communication, consistent value add and dependable service that’s entrenched in multiple facets of your client’s business.

This was our aspiration when we created GrowthLab, a Finance-as-a-Service (FaaS) company that supports start-ups and operating companies with Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A), Accounting, Tax, and CFO services. Like many CPA firms that offer outsourced FP&A services, we strive to achieve the trusted advisor status by acting as an extension of our clients’ management teams. We do this by focusing on the same three pillars that made us successful in building our other accounting and finance divisions: cadence, rigor and team.

If you’re looking to build your firm’s FP&A practice, you can use these pillars as a framework to develop your service offerings, regardless of client type, size and needs. You should also be acutely aware of your firm and team-level capacity and capability. Takt time, widely used in manufacturing to measure the average time interval between the start of production units, is one metric that might be useful to your firm in measuring and optimizing your workflow to meet client demand.

The framework: 3 pillars

Since timing is everything, the first pillar is cadence. Cadence defines “when” and “how often” you’re interacting with clients. Just like tax or bookkeeping, timing dictates deliverables in our FP&A services. FP&A cadence is grounded in the annual strategic business cycle and, at best, an accounting calendar. The annual strategic business cycle is meant to not only set the cadence, but to define the underlying rigor.

Rigor is the second pillar of our framework. Rigor defines the “what” you are delivering. For every business, there are consistent “things” that come up throughout the year. Most CPAs are already touching one or more of them – annual taxes and year-end cleanup. At GrowthLab, we align both the deliverables to the annual strategic business cycle.

This cycle is a series of financial and business strategy outputs that organizations should be leveraging to touch every function of their business. Our FP&A services have a unique deliverable every month. For example, coming into the end of the fiscal year, we’re focused on the Annual Operating Plan process, or the Long-Range Planning process in the end of Q3. The annual strategic business cycle is a great way for trusted advisors to define constant and consistent deliverables and communication throughout the year.

Firms should also aim for 80% standardization with 20% ad hoc analysis. Productization is critical in FP&A and CFO services to deliver those timely and high-quality services cost effectively. For growing FP&A firms, cadence and rigor must be managed using scalable workflow systems.

The GrowthLab Four, which are four areas that challenge most entrepreneurs and business leaders, is the overarching theme in our communications with our clients. They include:

  1. Understanding your clients’ cash flow
  2. Understanding where clients are making and losing money
  3. How to market for profit
  4. How to pay for performance

Inherently, product standardization de-risks the quality aspect of cadence. A key to success is understanding how to create efficiencies without losing effectiveness. Having a tech stack helps improve quality while achieving cost efficiencies. There are many dashboards, spreadsheet templates and planning software, yet we’ve started to migrate many of our client’s financial models to Jirav, an all-in-one financial planning & analysis tool, to improve efficiencies.

Now that you have cadence, which is the “when” you’re delivering, and you have rigor, which is “what” you’re delivering, you can begin to build the third pillar: the team. In the beginning, the team may just be you. But just like in your other divisions or service offerings, you build an organization with an eye toward leveraging human capital—people. At GrowthLab, we do that by ensuring we have the right mix of capability and capacity to execute on the client’s needs, which are grounded in cadence and rigor.

Next steps for building an FP&A practice

As you think about the importance of strategic planning for your clients based on cadence, rigor, and team building, incorporating your FP&A practice into your existing bookkeeping, accounting, and tax divisions provides the building blocks to creating a full stack Finance-as-a-Service company. Now, your firm is truly set up to become an extension of that client’s team.

We find that these three pillars are important as you build a profitable FP&A practice. We’re not selling fractional CFO services—we’re providing ongoing, recurring cost-effective monthly services to our business clients, profitably.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to build a successful FP&A practice, CPA.com has a breadth of resources to guide you, including a free on-demand webinar, as well as whitepapers, case studies and more.

5 things CPAs need to know about the Blockchain Space

What a difference a year makes. The AICPA and CPA.com recently held their annual Blockchain in Accountancy Symposium in collaboration with the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance (WSBA), and the changes in the blockchain/crypto landscape couldn’t be starker. The event, now in its fourth year, brings together thought leaders, firms and advocates in accounting and finance to share updates, offer insights and work through issues in this area. CPA.com will be releasing a special report later this year that recaps the event, but if you’re eager for a preview, watch our LinkedIn Live with WSBA chairman Ron Quaranta or read on for five key takeaways:

  1. Crypto is expanding fast.
    In almost every category, the cryptoasset space has advanced. At the time of the symposium, market cap stood at $1.39 trillion, up from $250 billion a year ago (Source: Coin Codex). The number of individual cryptoassets has risen 50% from last September, from roughly 7,000 to 10,540. Major financial services firms such as Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Goldman Sachs are now allowing crypto on their networks. And the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency earlier this year authorized the first national crypto bank, Anchorage.
  2. Regulators are hard-pressed to keep up with innovation.
    The mechanics of blockchain and cryptoassets create many technical challenges for enforcement agencies. Panelists said policymakers have become more sophisticated in the past year and are asking the right questions about potential guidance, although that fluency can vary agency by agency. The IRS, for one, is devoting more resources to enforcement, but many challenges loom.
  3. DeFi is the next frontier.
    DeFi is decentralized finance, which replicates traditional finance services but runs over blockchains, deploys so-called “smart contracts,” and operates without third-party gatekeepers. “Two years ago, no one was talking about DeFi,” Quaranta said. Last year, the total value of this category was $1.66 billion. As of June 30, it stood at $51.5 billion.
  4. Blockchain transactions are not untraceable.
    Blockchain Intelligence Group, one of the companies that presented during the symposium, has developed tools that can identify high-risk transmissions over public blockchains linked to terrorism, ransomware or other financial crimes. Its clients include law enforcement agencies worldwide and corporate stakeholders. Other companies are developing similar forensic capabilities for blockchain transactions. “Anonymous does not mean invisible,” Quaranta said.
  5. Keeping up is critical.
    Whether you’re well-informed in crypto/blockchain or just getting familiar with this space, continuous education is paramount for the profession as things move quickly. Blockchain-specific news sites including CoinDesk and The Block are great information sources to inform CPAs and CGMAs. CPA.com and the AICPA & CIMA are also regularly developing new resources for the profession in this space, including a practice aid on digital assets, a whitepaper on blockchain risk for professionals and various learning programs. The WSBA and CPA.com also recently put together a primer on DeFi.

Stay tuned for the Special Report on the 2021 event and check out previous recaps of past Symposiums.

Top-level domains are on the rise. Here’s why CPAs should pay attention.

You probably don’t think much about your firm’s top-level domain. In fact, “top-level domain” may not even be a term you’re familiar with. But you use them every day – .com, .edu, .gov.… these are the most common examples, which have been around since the popular emergence of the internet in the 1990’s.

In the last decade, new TLDs have become commonplace, with more than 1,200 of them entering cyberspace. TLD’s including .ai, .io, .xyz and even Google’s .new are increasingly being used by individuals and businesses. Yet, despite innovation in the TLD space, most CPA firms haven’t upgraded their domain and are still using a .com address. As a result, many firms are stuck with long, confusing web addresses that are difficult for clients to remember and look strange in marketing materials and client communications.

Meanwhile, cybersquatters and other online fraudsters and criminals have found new ways to exploit the weaknesses of old-school TLDs. If you’ve ever bought a ticket online to a concert or event from a website that looked like a trusted site, mimicking the domain name, layout, and design of a legitimate ticket seller, but turned out to be an online scalper, you’ve experienced just one of the many ways in which fraudsters are increasingly using sophisticated TLD-based strategies to their advantage.

This is a common example, but digital criminals have made inroads into virtually every industry – and accounting firms are no exception. In fact, they’re a prime target given their access to the intimate details of their clients’ finances.

This is just one of the many reasons that the roster of TLDs is finally being expanded in a thoughtful, measured, strategic manner. Many industries are recognizing the need to service professionals with a dedicated TLD. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) acquired .realtors, for example. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) is using .pharmacy. And now the AICPA and CPA.com have secured .cpa in a similar move to protect and promote the reputation of certified public accountants.

Should you or your firm move to a .cpa address? We think so – and now is a good time to act. Here are a few of the top reasons thousands of firms have already made the move to a .cpa domain.

Enhance their brand
With TLDs, firms can secure the unique domain that best suits their brand, rather than settling for whatever remaining .com addresses are available – just ask Ryan King, CPA, partner at Michigan-based King & King. His firm was able to shorten their domain by securing King.cpa, and they rebuilt their brand around the new URL. Firms have also secured domains to promote industry niches, practice areas, and even geographical locations. A sampling of these domains include: dentist.cpa, church.cpa, forensics.cpa, orlando.cpa and usa.cpa, among many others.

Promote trust and security with clients
The .cpa domain tells the world your firm is licensed and approved – unlike a .com domain, .cpa domains are not available to anyone with a credit card. As a result, existing and new clients can feel secure working with you and sharing sensitive data. This level of trust will only grow as TLDs become more widespread across industries.

Demonstrate they’re digitally progressive
In today’s virtual world, a firm’s website might be their only visible ‘doorfront’. Having a .cpa domain signals to clients that you’re keeping stride with new technologies and changing times. Plus, wouldn’t you want your ‘doorfront’ to be as modern and progressive as your competitor’s?

It’s easy to secure your desired .cpa domain right now – or just explore the possibilities. Visit domains.cpa for more details, as well as resources and video interviews with leaders at firms who have already made the switch. We also invite you to attend our free CPE webcast on August 12 at 1pm ET to hear best practices on branding, marketing and search engine optimization from two firms that have already secured their .cpa domains.

A Closer Look at Our Startup Accelerator Companies

The CPA.com/Association of International Certified Professional Accountants Startup Accelerator is an annual program that finds, invests in, and guides early-stage tech companies with solutions that support accounting and finance professionals. This blog series provides a deeper look at the five companies in the 2021 cohort.