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How to successfully transition your A&A firm to the cloud

Even before the pandemic accelerated cloud adoption, almost half of all A&A firms had begun utilizing cloud-based technologies to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness. This is not a surprise, given the list of onramps to the cloud in the world of audit and assurance is growing every day – and it’s becoming so seamless it’s often unnoticeable.

But at the same time, most firms are a long way off from having majority of their workloads in the cloud.

For the sake of the audit, this should change.

In part 1 of our 3-part webinar series, The Path the Audit Transformation, we discussed the benefits of moving toward a cloud-based auditing ecosystem, which leverages modernized security protocols, and provides instantaneous, transparent teamwork and collaboration. Here are a few key highlights.

Key drivers that necessitate a proactive cloud plan

Using a range of poorly integrated desktop-based tools leads directly to inefficiency and inaccuracy, as well as host of other potential issues such as version control, protecting sensitive client data, dropped handoffs within the process and lack of transparency. It’s not surprising then that for many of our webinar attendees advancing to the cloud is still very much a work in progress:

How much of your A&A technology stack is cloud-based today?

Many firms have adopted cloud-based file-sharing tools such as ShareFile, DropBox, and Google Drive to better secure files and centralize client collaboration. Still, these advances have often been piecemeal, and most firms are still defining and developing more comprehensive cloud strategies.

The benefits of building a cloud ecosystem strategy

Cloud-based auditing ecosystems help firms avoid the above pitfalls in a modernized security environment. No more workpapers downloaded and saved to laptops. No need to keep sensitive data local, where it’s at greater risk of being compromised. No more wondering whether files are up to date and reliable – on the cloud, updates are instant and shared.

How does the cloud address audit challenges?

Working in the cloud also introduces enormous benefits to both internal and client-facing collaboration. No more endless back-and-forth over email. No more having to sync notes before communicating with clients on audit-related issues. In the cloud, people can see requests, comments, notes, and questions relevant to their role in real-time and within the natural audit workflow.

This is the type of environment that firms get with the OnPoint A&A Suite, which is built on the CaseWare Cloud platform – a single, centralized, secure online platform developed specifically for audit and accounting firms.

Change management strategies to help your team win in the cloud

Evaluating and implementing new cloud-based technology solutions requires effort and dedicated resources, including time and people with relevant skills. However, with thoughtful planning, firms can easily lay the groundwork for making a successful, nondisruptive transition to the cloud. For example, by gradually implementing and testing new capabilities into the audit workstream, staff have shown to be more receptive to changes – a critical factor in facilitating smooth transitions.

A clear, disciplined approach to change management is how transformation plans become an everyday reality in the firm. By building trust and communicating openly across the firm the team leading the transition can have a positive impact on firm-wide perceptions of planned changes.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to attend part 1 of our Path to Audit Transformation webcast series, you can view a full recording on-demand.

Also, be sure to save your spot for part 2 of our series, June 23rd at 2pm ET, where we will explore the ways in which firms can better connect the audit experience to improve audit quality and efficiency, starting with initial engagement acceptance and ending with final delivery of the audit report. [Sign up here]

Opportunities to Boost Quality and Efficiency in your EBP Audits

More than 1,000 accounting professionals attended this year's virtual AICPA & CIMA Employee Benefit Plans Conference to learn about key opportunities within the EBP space. Attendees gained expert insights and received valuable resources to guide their firm with this service offering. Among the highlights were the complimentary pre-conference Gear Ups sessions, including a topic I was excited to present, Uncovering Opportunities to Boost Quality and Efficiency in your EBP Audits.

In case you weren’t able to make it this year, here are a few key takeaways.

Membership in EBPAQC is a quick win

When auditing employee benefit plans, firms often struggle with inefficient processes and engagement quality. Traditional practice aids can lead to a fair amount of redundant data entry, other inefficiencies, and poor documentation, requiring extra work to ensure the audit complies with professional and regulatory requirements.

In fact, according to a report from the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) and DOL, 39% of employee benefit plan audits contained one or more major deficiencies. Even more startling, the number rises to 72% for firms who audit five or fewer EBPs. Also of note: the vast majority of those firms are NOT members of the Employee Benefit Plan Audit Quality Center (EBPAQ). So, a quick win right away for many of these firms with a lower volume of EBP audits is to investigate becoming a member of the EBPAQC. Non-members of the EBPAQC are over 2.5x more likely to have audit deficiencies than member firms.

Keep your team informed and engaged

To get the most out of your EBP team, you must motivate them in a healthy, productive way. Keep your team informed in the company’s direction. For instance, 85% of auditors say they’re most motivated when management provides regular updates on company news. Empower your auditors to challenge how they work – let them know you don’t want a same as last year mindset even though it feels “safe”. Engage with everyone on your team and be deliberate with when and how you communicate with clients. Perhaps most important, enable your team with a modern, adaptable set of tools.

Leverage a 5-step approach to the EBP audit

The session laid out five areas of focus to achieve the goals of: 1) more complete, linked documentation 2) faster arrival at an informed audit approach and 3) deliverables drafted automatically from procedural outputs. As you go through each step, keep in mind how methodology is tied to your firm’s technology:

  • Ensure you understand the plan under audit
    Leverage the right tools to gain a holistic understanding of the plan under audit early in the engagement. This will aid in identifying potential areas of risk and will help you audit more effectively by linking plan information extensively throughout the audit to avoid redundant entry.
  • Familiarize yourself with risks common to defined contribution plans
    Fine-tuned methodology, augmented by technology, can help level the playing field around specialization. In this part of the process, technology and methodology should be pre-populating information based on what’s typical of a limited scope audit and include a risk assessment with assumptions for each financial statement area and the corresponding audit response.
  • Connect your understanding of the plan to risks common to employee benefit plan audits
    Look to support each risk assessment area, help validate assumptions, and tailor audit programs in response.
  • Standardize your testing templates
    Technology should support a consistent format with clear instructions, scoping and testing areas.
  • Standardize your footnote disclosures
    Technology should include a financial statement template that contains comprehensive footnote disclosures, as well as footnotes disclosures that are automatically tailored in based on how you document your understanding of the plan.

Overall, technology decisions should be fueled by the impact to methodology – can you deliver faster, at higher quality, with more confidence, and to your customer’s satisfaction?

Drive efficient, high quality Employee Benefit Plan audits with OnPoint EBP

An exciting part of the session came at the conclusion as I went through a brief demonstration showing how OnPoint EBP, part of the OnPoint A&A Suite powered by CaseWare Cloud, serves as a comprehensive end-to-end solution that successfully enables the five key steps highlighted above.

For an up-close look into the ways OnPoint EBP expedites risk assessment and provides the right guidance to help ensure quality watch our 30-minute on-demand product tour.

Registration is now open for the 2022 AICPA & CIMA EBP Conference so take advantage of early bird pricing and sign up now. Networking and building connections have become an integral part of this conference, and we are already looking forward to sharing more valuable resources with you and your peers on some of the key opportunities within employee benefit plans.

Wayfair and the Pandemic: New Scrutiny on SUT Compliance

As we look ahead to the prospect of an economic recovery and reflect on changes that the disruption of the last year set in motion for your business clients, sales and use tax (SUT) compliance looms large as a growing issue.

SUT was already gaining steam before the pandemic struck, following the Supreme Court’s 2018 Wayfair decision, which determined that states can broadly require online retailers to collect sales tax even if they lack a physical presence - expanding nexus. Then, the economic effects of the pandemic created the perfect SUT storm: Consumers ramped up their online spending and cash-strapped states and localities began looking for new sources of revenue. As a result:

  • E-Commerce has reached new heights, and there are few indications that it will retreat to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, according to emarketer.com, e-commerce sales are expected to reach 19.2% of all US retail spending by 2024, surpassing the 14.4% of spending experienced in 2020.
  • States are desperate for revenue – most predict revenue declines in FY2021. In fact, in November 2020, the Congressional Budget OfficeCBO predicted an approximate $400 billion loss through 2022. While this was before subsequent legislation was passed that brought direct relief to states, there are still lingering questions, including whether it is enough to close the revenue gap.

Given the significant increase in online sales, SUT is a natural area of focus for state tax authorities. This means your clients need to get up to speed on the SUT issues facing their businesses – including many who have never before had a reason to pay attention to SUT.

It also means you and your firm need to deepen your understanding of SUT issues fast – in time to help clients avoid noncompliance with SUT regulations as tax authorities sharpen their focus. If you are not seeing an uptick in client demand today, get ready – it’s coming.

Preparing for Success: Where to Start

Being prepared for the greater uptick in client demand isn’t as simple as putting a new “We can help with sales taxes” section in your client newsletter or on your website. It’s a more complex issue that requires preparation. Compared to other tax areas, SUT simply requires more effort given its complexity, extraordinary variance across jurisdictions, and constantly evolving nature.

If your firm is ready to branch out and provide SUT services, we’ve outlined key considerations as you proceed. From determining where to start, to identifying all the foundational resources, tools, and best practices it takes to be a SUT success, we have the right resources to guide you.

Where are YOU on your SUT journey?

Resources: Getting Started

Here’s a useful list of resources we developed to help SUT professionals get started:

  • SUT can be a big deal for your firm and your clients – whether they know it or not. Spend a little time on understanding this issue and opportunity now, and your firm can be well-positioned to realize the benefits in the coming year. Learn more in this article.
  • Want to learn more about the different types of SUT practice development and education that are available to the accounting profession? Our guide, Mastering SUT Services: Plan, invest, network, is the best place to start. It discusses where to focus, which types of education opportunities (workshops included) are most important, and which specific education programs can help most.
  • If you’re exploring how your firm can leverage technology for your services – whether advisory, compliance or even referral – our preferred partner solution offers some suggestions. Learn more here.

For additional resources, insights and expert guidance, visit cpa.com/sut.

4 firms, 4 different reasons to adopt the .CPA domain

Why have thousands of firms, including most in the Top 500, acquired the .CPA domain? What’s driving sole proprietors, mid-size firms and even the Big 4 to replace their .com, .net, and .biz domain names with a unique .CPA URL? And what recommendations can they offer for you and other firms who might be evaluating the benefits of the top-level domain?

WHAT IS .CPA? .cpa is a new, secure domain exclusively available to CPA firms.

We asked several early adopters to share their reasons and experiences. The videos below feature our one-on-one interviews with leaders at these firms. If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines of this opportunity, waiting to see how it’s working for others, now is your chance to hear directly from your profession peers. These firms have updated their websites and emails, notified clients, and are embracing a new, exclusive online identity.

Here’s some of the top reasons these firms have adopted the .CPA domain:

  1. To strengthen brand identity and security
    Widmer Roel PC is a mid-sized firm that moved to .CPA primarily for branding and communications purposes, but quickly realized the benefits of enhanced security. “When our third-party vendors or clients are receiving our emails, they know it’s a legit email with .CPA,” says firm partner Tracee Buethner, CPA. “While firm leaders were most excited about the brand development opportunities, the trust and security that come with the adoption of a .CPA domain has been equally important in practice.” Hear more from Tracee in this video.
  2. To elevate a firm’s digital presence
    Driven Business Solutions is a small, online-only firm that jumped at the opportunity to improve its digital presence. The firm doesn’t have a storefront or even a traditional office, instead relying heavily on digital and one-on-one interactions with clients. When firm owner Jonathan Satterfield, CPA, learned that the new .CPA domain was finally available, he saw a clear link between the market trends shaping the future of his firm and his decision to adopt the domain. “I’m a firm believer that in 5-10 years, a younger generation will search the internet for a CPA, and if your site isn’t verified like .gov or .mil, they’re going to wonder if you’re legitimate,” he says. Hear more from Jonathan in this video.
  3. To enhance credibility with clients
    Good Steward Accounting is a small firm whose leader was looking to clarify his market positioning and reinforce its professional credibility. “My previous url was really long,” says firm owner David Villiotti, CPA. “When I gave out my email it was always a long conversation that was unproductive, so I was excited about the opportunity not only to shorten my domain – but to show that I am a CPA, because that’s one of the questions I get most often.” Villiotti also says that the .CPA domain provides additional credibility for him and his firm. “We didn’t get the [CPA] license to hang on a wall, we got it to use it. This gives me the opportunity to use it without even saying a word, presenting us an authority in the accounting industry before somebody even talks to us.” Hear more from David in this video.
  4. To generate new leads
    Acosta Tax & Advisory was looking to capitalize on common keywords that prospective clients in the Miami area might search when seeking a CPA. The firm secured several location-driven names, including MiamiBeach.cpa. “Today, prospective clients are looking for firms online,” says firm founder Julio Acosta, CPA. “And when they search, many of them search by geography – they’ll add a city name to the search. So when we saw that .CPA domains were finally available, we moved quickly.” Hear more from Julio in this video.

Security. Branding. Trustworthiness. Credibility. These are familiar themes among those who have adopted the .CPA domain, but each firm puts these capabilities to work in different, innovative ways.

Want to learn more about the benefits of a .CPA domain? Visit domains.cpa where you’ll find a host of resources to guide you, including a whitepaper, on-demand webcasts, firm case studies, FAQs and more.

If you’ve already secured your preferred .CPA domain and are looking for recommendations or best practices on how to transition your website, consider joining our weekly onboarding webcast. Our customer excellence team will walk you through the process, including best practices and top tips to ensure a smooth transition to your new .CPA domain. If you’ve purchased a .CPA domain and are looking to activate it, you can do so on this link here.

Saasable Helps Unlock Recurring Revenue Trends

Do your small business clients know what their recurring revenue is? Probably not, yet that’s almost certainly where a large portion of their organization’s value lies.

The problem: Crunching that kind of data can be a headache and most small businesses don’t do it. And if they do, it typically is compiled manually in Excel, with a risk that the information can get rapidly obsolete without routine updates.

This is where Saasable, one of the 2021 companies selected by the CPA.com/Association of International Certified Professional Accountants Startup Accelerator, comes in. The company has developed a tool that integrates into accounting software packages such as QuickBooks and creates real-time data on monthly recurring revenue, annual recurring revenue, customer acquisition costs, and the like.

This data can help companies identify trends, develop metrics, monitor churn rates and have a better overall understanding of their business, according to Michael Ly, one of Saasable’s cofounders, who recently sat down for a LinkedIn Live session with CPA.com Senior Director Kacee Johnson. Identifying strong, recurring revenue streams is also a key to higher valuations for businesses looking to grow and gain access to capital, he said.

More and more companies are turning to subscription-based models because customer acquisition costs can be prohibitive, no matter what a firm’s business model might be. That’s not hard to understand – it’s easier and cheaper to hang on to what you’ve already won. Still, Ly recalled being surprised recently to see car washes in Arizona offering monthly fixed fees to customers. The same applies to other unlikely categories, including professional services.

“How can you incentivize and create an experience or product that a customer always would want to repeat and not have to think about buying one at a time?” Ly said. “That’s the idea.”

Ly said the Startup Accelerator has already given his company deeper insight into different software-buying habits, firm transformation strategies, and diversity of business models within the accounting profession. The lessons Saasable and other startup accelerators have learned will be featured in a showcase session at this year’s AICPA & CIMA ENGAGE conference, which will be held July 26-28 in Las Vegas and virtually.

To learn more about the accelerator program, click here.

 

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.