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Clients judge your firm by its website. Here are 4 ways to make it great

How often do you think about your firm’s website? For leaders at many firms, the answer is “rarely.” Once your site is up and running, there are a million other priorities competing for your attention. This can be especially true for smaller firms – if you don’t have a dedicated web team or even an IT person, you may only think about your web site when it goes down.

But your website plays a central role in the relationship between your firm and your existing clients, as well as prospects who are looking for a CPA they can trust. It’s often their first point of contact – who among us doesn’t visit a service provider’s website when we’re assessing whether we should work with them? In a matter of moments, potential clients will judge your firm based on what they find on your site. For existing clients, your firm’s website can serve as a hub for service delivery – the place where they download forms, upload data, check on the status of your work and more.

If your firm’s website isn’t a priority, it should be – clients and prospects are paying closer attention than you might expect.

Four at the core

Entire books have been written about what makes a great website – but you probably don’t have time for that. So here are four fundamental features that make for a great firm website:

  1. Short, memorable URL. Your URL is your web address – like CPA.com. The best ones are short, which makes them easy to remember and advertise. But as websites have proliferated over the years, it’s become more difficult to secure short URLs in familiar domains such as .com and .net.
  2. Clean design, simple structure. How quickly can a visitor make sense of your site? The answer depends on the combination of simple, straightforward design elements, easy navigation and concise copywriting. Seasoned web developers know from experience that it’s usually quite difficult to achieve simplicity – but it’s worth it.
  3. Strong call to action. You know what you want visitors to do, so say it clearly and prominently. Don’t make them hunt for your call to action.
  4. Clear contact information. How many times have you tried to find a restaurant’s phone number on their site, only to get lost deep in the “about us” section? Sometimes visitors just want to know how to call or email you. Make it easy.

A simple new tool for building your firm’s site (and it’s free)

Maybe your firm hasn’t launched its website yet. Or maybe it has an outdated website, making it easier to start from scratch rather than overhaul it to embrace these principles. If either describes your current situation, CPA.com has developed a simple, practical tool to help you get up and running with a basic site that embraces best practices in web design for accounting firms. Our free .cpa Starter Site the simplest way to launch your own professional website.

The Starter Site is:

  • Easy to use: Just fill out a simple one-page template
  • Professionally designed: No need to find your own web designer
  • Commitment-free: You can turn it off at any time.

The Starter Site is only available to owners of a .cpa domain, the only secure, verified, top-level domain exclusive to the accounting profession.

There’s never been a better time to make a fresh start, building on the proven principles above to improve web traffic and conversions – and we’ve made it easy to get going. It’s just one more benefit of being a licensed CPA.

To learn more, visit https://register.domains.cpa.

5 Reasons Not to Miss This Year’s Digital CPA Event

What do you do with all those big-picture questions you keep putting off?

You know, questions like, “What’s this profession going to look like in five or ten years? What will our firm look like? What are the technologies that should be on our radar today, but we don’t know enough about? Which new service lines should we be considering?

If you’re like a lot of your CPA peers, it probably feels like you never have time to think about questions like these, no matter how important they are to the future success of your career and firm. And even if you did set aside time to consider the future of the profession and how it will impact your firm, you can’t answer these questions on your own.

Future in Focus

The Digital CPA conference is designed to allow you to focus on the issues, trends and technologies that will shape your firm’s future. It’s a smaller, more intimate event that brings together some of the most innovative, forward-thinking minds in the industry, in an environment designed for collaboration, information sharing and networking. This Dec. 4-7 event in Austin, and livestreamed online, will be a hotbed of new ideas and innovation.

Haven’t booked your ticket to Austin yet? Here are five reasons you should.

  1. Stay a step ahead of trends and technologies

    Think about how much things have changed over only the past five years – you’re probably working with technologies today you hadn’t even heard of then. And there’s a good chance your firm has expanded in directions you would not have anticipated a few years ago.

    From crypto to client advisory services, these advances were anticipated and discussed in previous years’ DCPA events. You can bet that many of this year’s hot topics will be part of running a successful practice a few years from now. That’s why our theme is “Future in Focus.” At this year’s DCPA, you’ll get a front-row view of what’s next for CPA firms.

  2. Team time!

    The past few years have made it more difficult for your team to connect in person. This event is a prime opportunity for your people to strengthen and support team bonds – in Austin, no less, where good food and fun are around every corner. It’s a chance for your colleagues to recharge, refresh and get inspired. When they return, they’ll be more connected, productive and effective as a team. To make it easier for your whole team to reap the benefits, group discounts are available to save you an extra $150 - $300 per person.

  3. Choose your own adventure

    DCPA already has more than 30 sessions scheduled, with more on the way. It includes three learning tracks – CAS 2.0, Technology and Leadership – with several additional focus areas including Financial Planning & Analysis and Audit & Assurance. That makes it easy for you to build your own agenda, matching your unique insight needs.

  4. Networking

    Ask anyone who’s been to DCPA before, and they’ll tell you that some of their most important, lasting connections have been made at this event. The Digital CPA conference will be full of like-minded firm and thought leaders facing the same challenges and opportunities you are. This is your best chance to meet them and join our community.

  5. CPE bonanza

    DCPA is a great way for your entire team to expand their knowledge and skills in key areas while earning CPE. Participants can earn up to 16 CPE credits, and on-demand viewing is readily available after the conference is over so you can check out the sessions you missed or those that you attended and want to revisit. While CPE credit isn’t available for on-demand viewing, your team will appreciate revisiting everything they’ve learned so they can put it into action.

Get ready for what’s next

Are you ready for what’s next in accounting? You’ll be better prepared after spending a few days in Austin with the people who are actively shaping the future of the profession. In-person registration sold out at last year’s DCPA, so be sure to register early. If you sign up by 10/31, you’ll save an extra $100 per person.

It’s easy to register at DCPA22.com. While you’re there, you can also find the full schedule for the event, a speaker list, testimonials from previous attendees, and more.

Hope to see you in Austin!

Top 4 takeaways from the 2022 Blockchain Symposium

Cryptocurrencies and NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are really cementing their place in global business and commerce. That's why these digital assets were key focus areas at the fifth annual AICPA and CPA.com Blockchain in Accountancy Symposium, held earlier this summer in collaboration with the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance (WSBA). The event brings together thought leaders, regulators, developers and firms that are subject matter experts in blockchain to share updates, offer insights and work through real and potential impacts on the accounting and finance profession.

CPA.com will release a special report later this year that recaps the event. In the meantime, I wanted to share the top four takeaways:

  1. Crypto-winter is here. The cryptocurrency market, like many areas of the economy, has cooled recently. However, this downturn provides a great opportunity to step back – to think about the lessons learned over the past several years and really reassess and reimagine how crypto markets work, how digital assets are assessed and what regulatory discussions are needed moving forward. Progress won't happen overnight – it will be an evolution.
  2. Regulations need room for innovation. With new technologies and cryptocurrencies adding to the complexity of financial markets, it's important for tech companies and regulators to work together to allow space for innovation. This was an area we discussed with SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce, one of the speakers at this year's symposium. We are seeing more activity coming from different regulators and support of conversations around what needs to happen. Regulators recognize the need to be open to allowing room for trial-and-error, because it's through failure that success happens. But to enable this, the tech companies need to provide transparency into the potential value, risks and use cases for new technologies and digital assets to mitigate risks for investors. Having a safe harbor to work together will allow the financial system to evolve.
  3. More guidance is needed. It's not just cryptocurrencies that are gaining a foothold in business. NFTs, unique digital assets that represent real-world objects, are becoming ubiquitous. From art and entertainment to club memberships and virtual time shares to government tracking of homeless communities, the growing usage of NFTs raises new considerations and complexity. For instance, how do you tax gifted or converted currency? How do you value NFTs, when there are currently so many different methodologies? What is the role of auditors? The AICPA advocacy team is calling for guidance on behalf of the profession, and as this regulation and guidance becomes available, the natural progression of firms supporting activities in this space will grow. CPA.com and the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance published an NFT primer that helps accounting professionals dive into this emerging area.
  4. Technology solutions are growing. There continue to be a growing number of technology solutions emerging to help address the challenges that many businesses face related to crypto and digital assets. During the symposium, a few of these emerging tech vendors demonstrated the functionality of their tools in areas such as pricing and valuation. It's evident that these innovative vendors will lead the way for many practitioners in how they support their clients' evolving needs.

Despite the current downturn we’re seeing in the crypto markets – which is common in financial markets – there’s no slowdown happening in the adoption of digital assets backed by blockchain technologies. In fact, trends show that more and more organizations, financial institutions and government entities are dipping their toes into cryptocurrencies and NFTs – with some foreign governments even using blockchain for identify management and voting. This growth in the number and diversity of use cases is what will drive broad adoption.

Stay tuned for the full 2022 Blockchain Symposium special report that will dive into more detail around each of these areas.

In the meantime, the AICPA, CPA.com and our partners have developed a number of tools and resources to help you stay up-to-date on the latest blockchain-related news, insights and skills you need, including:

2021 Blockchain Symposium Report
AICPA's Blockchain & Digital Assets resource page
Crypto Asset Solutions
Webcast: Demystifying Blockchain & Cryptocurrency
FASB Adds Digital Assets Accounting To Its Technical Agenda | Lukka
Suzanne Morsfield on Valuation of Crypto Assets | Lukka
Identifying Principal Markets for Crypto-Assets | Lukka
Beyond Bitcoin: Challenges to applying a standardized Digital Asset Classification System | Lukka
Beyond Bitcoin, Part 2: Increasing Accessibility Through a Digital Assets Classification System | Lukka

The Audit of the Future? It’s happening right now.

Here's a sneak peek at what that means for you.

Wondering when the “audit of the future” that we’ve all heard so much about over the years will become a reality? Well, it’s clear from my conversations with leaders at firms across the country that it’s already happening. While many of these firms used to approach an audit by using the previous year’s audit files as a template, they’re now coming at it from a completely different perspective. They’re fully re-engineering the audit to meet higher client and regulatory standards while achieving new levels of efficiency and delivering a lot more value along the way.

But what does that mean in practice?

I recently discussed this very topic with Jim Bourke, CPA, CITP, CFF, CGMA, Managing Director of Advisory Services for Withum, where we took a closer look at important changes in the audit underway today and what they mean for firms of all sizes. Here is a summary of the key highlights.

New data capabilities are changing what’s possible
Many core aspects of the audit will remain unchanged – regulators will still require a lot of the same basic principles and reporting. But how auditors achieve those outcomes is already changing considerably – starting with data. The difference between old ways of delivering the audit and new approaches is stark. In the past, firms relied on clients to feed them data, often paper-based, and then the firm’s staff would input the data into their own systems. Today it’s all about using advanced digital tools to ingest the data, analyze it, and find patterns and signals buried in the data to inform the audit and provide valuable insights to clients.

How firms are shifting to meet the moment
For many firms, this evolution requires a more dynamic, fast-moving and technology-centric approach than they’re accustomed to using. And it will require that they change in some important ways – not at some unknown point in the future, but right now. The first step is for firm leaders to embrace this change, signaling the importance of conducting the audit in new ways to the entire firm. Without that level of leadership and visibility, don’t expect anything to change. When it starts at the top, the message makes its way throughout the entire organization.

Once the firm recognizes that the audit of the future is a top priority, other critical activities will cascade out. Technology assessment and selection. Process updates. Training. Data strategies. And more. For example, Jim explains how his team routinely assesses the potential impact of new technologies and tool sets on improving audit quality, and how important it is to ensure that team members have the training and support they need to use the tools effectively.

The Dynamic Audit Solution – a practical, powerful tool for firms to transform the audit
The development of the Dynamic Audit Solution (DAS) is a partnership between the AICPA, CPA.com and their technology partner, Caseware International. DAS will play a central role in pulling together all the different threads of the audit of the future – people, processes, technology and data. DAS enables firms to transform the audit, not just make incremental improvements. Today, DAS is being piloted by a limited number of firms before a larger-scale commercial rollout in 2023.

You can read more about what’s next in the audit of the future, and subscribe to receive the latest updates, on our cpa.com/das web site.

In the meantime, you also can watch my full conversation with Jim in this 10min video, where he shares lots of practical front-line insights on the changing world of the audit. It’s an unscripted, insightful conversation that I think you’ll find useful as the profession moves to embrace the audit of the future.

How does the cloud address audit challenges?

Participate in the CAS Benchmark Survey to get exclusive access to see how your firm measures up

Client Advisory Services (CAS) are one of the newest and fastest growing services areas for firms today. According to our last CPA.com and AICPA PCPS Benchmark Survey, CAS practices are growing more than three times the median CPA firm growth rate. But CAS brings unique considerations and challenges for firms as they build their CAS practices, and each firm is approaching it differently. In fact, the definition of CAS itself varies widely because of the enormous effort firms have undertaken to pull together existing work under the label of CAS.

In light of this growing demand and the opportunity that CAS offers firms, it’s critical to understand the broad landscape of what’s happening in this area across the profession and best practices that go into building a successful CAS practice. To do this... we need you!

We’re pleased to share that the 2022 CAS Benchmark survey is now open through August 5th, and we are seeking firms of all sizes to share insights from their CAS practices. Through your participation, you’ll contribute to the advancement of the profession by helping shed light on recent growth in the CAS area, the impact of the pandemic on the demand and how practitioners are evolving. Plus, once the report is released in December, participating firms will get access to a detailed firm comparison to survey data and an exclusive invitation to a special early access webinar to learn how to use the data to benchmark your own practices.

The survey and subsequent report will cover a number of key areas, including:

  • Pricing models. While CAS differs from other firm service lines in several ways, pricing may be the most stark among them. The survey will dive into the firm’s approach to pricing, including the distribution of firms still using “by the hour” billing services versus those priced as fixed fee or value based, as well as upfront pricing and pricing for onboarding services.
  • Technology. CAS is built on the foundation of a cloud-based tech stack that allows firms to build repeatable processes and shift compliance tasks to technology, freeing time to focus on the advisory services clients are demanding. The survey will address firms’ service offerings, categories of technology use and shifts happening to optimize client advisory service practices.
  • Key Performance Indicators. KPIs for CAS are radically different from other areas of the firm; the traditional realization and utilization metrics can’t be accurately calculated when a CAS practice has shifted all or most of its client billing to a value-based model. The survey covers insights around clients served, CAS revenue, staff FTE and CAS costs to calculate net client fees, net client fees per professional, margin % and profitability.
  • Staffing. How do you staff your CAS practice? The survey aims to correlate dedicated CAS staffing to CAS success, while understanding the impact of the CPA and CGMA designations for staff. It will help firms understand how to recruit and train staff to deliver on new technologies and skills needed to support clients.

This is also a great opportunity for you to work on your CAS practice by reviewing your practice data in preparation for entering it into the survey platform.

Ready to get started?

You can access the survey or learn more at www.cpa.com/cas-benchmark-survey. It will only be open until August 5th, so you’ll want to get started now by:

  1. Selecting a point person to coordinate participation from your firm.
  2. Downloading the 2022 question set at casbenchmarksurvey.com.
  3. Working with your CAS practice and firm to gather the data and enter by late July.

If you have any questions about the registration process, the survey platform, questions or more, please email our team at assessments@hq.cpa.com.

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.