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The Internet of Things Should Be on Your Radar

The Internet of Things (IoT) is about to become a major phenomenon, and there are substantial implications for accountants, finance professionals and business in general.

What is IoT? It’s any device that can connect to the Internet, be recognized by other devices and communicate data, according to David Bray, a Singularity University faculty member and one of our guest speakers at the 11th Annual AICPA/CPA.com Executive Roundtable held this January in our New York City headquarters. Think Fitbits, Apple Watches, smart TVs and the like.

A graphic artist's take on David Bray's Executive Roundtable presentation

There were 7.6 billion people in the world in 2019, and 26 billion Internet-enabled devices, Bray said. Soon enough, we will have 10 IoT devices for every person in the world. One problem: the devices aren’t evenly distributed – wealthier countries and individuals have more.

For accounting and finance, IoT can mean a more robust audit and more predictable supply chains. And there are other unexpected wrinkles: Bray said hedge funds are already using satellite imagery of retailers’ parking lots to gauge demand from shoppers before the company’s quarterly report so they can go short or long on stocks. Similarly, stores already exist that let customers “pay” simply by having their biometric data scanned when they pick up an item and carry it out of the shop.

Of course, there are concerns about privacy and security. What does it mean when virtually everything can be captured on camera, and our movements and consumer choices can be tracked and analyzed through our devices – either by corporations, hackers or, in some cases, governments?

“We’ve got to have the conversation about how this data is going to be used,” Bray said. “Not just to have better data for accounting, but better choices for the society we’re going to create.”

If you’d like to hear more, check out our LinkedIn Live conversation with Bray from the Roundtable.

Audit Report Delivery, Compliance, and More for the Credit Union Eco-system

Audited financials are critical today, especially for the credit union-CPA firm-regulator eco-system. In an era of increasing fraud and cyber-risk, how these sensitive documents are exchanged and delivered has never been more important.

At the recent conference on credit unions, I presented on audit report delivery, compliance, and more for the Credit Union Eco-system. Here are some key points discussed during the session:

Evolution of CPA professional audit report delivery

Firms (and their clients) have evolved their audit practices, and one area that has evolved tremendously is the delivery of the completed audit report to clients. These important reports are each the result of an extensive audit effort and how they’re delivered is part of the audit engagement and reflects upon the firm itself.

Audit Report Delivery, Compliance, and More for the Credit Union Eco-system 1

Why evolve? Why do firms change what worked OK for years? Here are some key reasons to evolve your audit report delivery:

If you’ve worked at a firm (or been an audit client) for any period of time, these stages of “evolution” should look familiar. Many of the firms we spoke with at the conference shared that their firm is simultaneously at 3 or more early stages of the evolutionary scale!

  1. Speed and Efficiency
  2. Differentiation
  3. Risk
    • Fraud
    • Cybersecurity
    • Compliance/Guidance
      • Independence
      • Withdrawal Due Diligence
      • Regulator Requirements
    • Reputation
  4. Adding Value
  5. Quality Control

The quality control-responsible partners at the event were particularly focused on ways to reduce risk. Firm leaders on the other hand confirmed their interest in increasing speed and efficiency, finding new ways to add value for financial institution audit clients.

The fact that innovations were so unevenly adopted within their firms, and even with the audit department, was definitely an area for improvement. Environment-specific evolution it seems is not limited to the Galapagos Islands.

The financial institutions and regulators in attendance were also fixated on risk, but more so related to compliance (e.g. National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) compliance), and the risk of financial statement-related fraud respectively.

Regulators and lenders are key users of audited financial statements and their concerns were justified considering these current market drivers:

Audit Report Delivery, Compliance, and More for the Credit Union Eco-system 2

Leveraging the latest evolution of audit report delivery

Next up was how to address current and longstanding challenges around audit report delivery and exchange through a private company clearinghouse designed for CPA firms, private businesses, and recipients of audited financials. These recipient users want to ensure the quality of the data they’re receiving is accurate, thorough, the most current available, and is from an authenticated source. Finally, as we’re living in a digital world, they would like to be able to request and receive it efficiently.

We provided an up-close look at RIVIO Clearinghouse, the online platform designed to meet the need for accurate, source-verified financial information exchange between CPA firms, credit unions (and other private businesses), and third-party users of audited financial and other types of financial documents.

Shawn Martin, Product Sales Manager for RIVIO and assurance solutions at CPA.com, detailed the specific RIVIO workflow for credit union audit reports for each group in attendance:

  • CPA Firms
  • Credit Unions
  • NCUA Examiners

With the change in NCUA policy regarding annual submission of audit reports, seeing the entire process from the perspective of each user type was illuminating for the audience, especially the ease of issuing reports and responding to document requests.

Audit Report Delivery, Compliance, and More for the Credit Union Eco-system 3

Figure 1: View of the workflow process from the NCUA examiner’s perspective

Mr. Martin also showed how the platform enables one-step withdrawals/recalls for firms and for credit unions, and the equally simple restatements/reissues. This addresses a longstanding due diligence/compliance issue for firms and clients alike.

Audit Report Delivery, Compliance, and More for the Credit Union Eco-system 4

The session concluded by showing how the clearinghouse solution enabled delivery throughout the eco-system while also increasing quality control through a standardized process for audit report delivery and complete reporting on all document exchange activities.

Audit Report Delivery, Compliance, and More for the Credit Union Eco-system 5

Figure 2: View of the audit report workflow, including multi-recipient delivery

If you’d like to go further into these topics, you can watch our recent on-demand webinar, Credit Union Audit Reports: Insights, Compliance, and Innovations for All, or visit RIVIO.com to learn more.

Follow RIVIO on Twitter at @RIVIO_CH

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.

3 Staffing Insights for CPA Firms, Credit Unions, Banks and More

During a recent presentation for the firm-credit union-banker-regulator audience, an important topic that cuts across all the organizations today − staffing, or more specifically, challenges with finding and retaining quality staff – was discussed in detail.

New research by the American Institute of CPAsshows staff recruitment remains the top issue for most CPA firms, while risk management and compliance regarding privacy and data security are rising challenges.

“Finding qualified staff” was the No. 1 issue for every firm-sized segment except sole practitioners, according to the 2019 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey; that matches the topline results from 2017, the last time the survey was conducted.

2019 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues

When we start to consider areas for improvement for firms today, finding and retaining qualified staff is rightly top of mind. Staffing issues for credit unions, banks and other private businesses and organizations are ever-present as well.

There’s a generational element for all employers that you’ll need to embrace (or be caught unprepared):

  • Generation Z, born after 1996, is already here. 61M in the US and the first wave have graduated college already.
  • Millennials will comprise the majority of the workforce in 2025. That’s just 5 years from now.
  • Generation X workers begin retirement in 2030, and thanks to credit unions, in many cases they will retire or semi-retire because they’ve planned well, saved, and CAN retire.

Here’s a shocking finding from a new survey whose findings were just published in Harvard Business Review:

“About half of millennials, and 75% of Gen Zers, have left a job because of mental-health reasons.”

Credit unions (and smaller CPA firms) face another staffing risk: senior management and the C-suite. According to an article in Credit Union Times from 2012, the majority of the CEOs at credit unions with more than $100 million in assets are likely to retire in the next 10 years, so while this isn’t a new issue, it has been and is still a big issue.

While most credit unions have a succession plan prepared for their CEOs, less have one for other senior executives, and these are positions that can be much harder to fill. If you elevate an executive to CEO, who will replace them as CFO, Chief Lending officer, etc.? The AICPA PCPS study also listed succession planning as a top 5 issue for smaller firms, so this cuts across industries as well. These are real issues with big consequences if not addressed.

Attracting, developing and retaining talent is an immediate, short-term and longer-term priority for this entire eco-system, including firms and credit unions. How big of an issue is retaining staff? Over 40 million people now quit their job each year in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is a 25% increase over just 5 years ago. A not-so-unrelated pair of statistics to note are:

  • Just 32% of U.S. workers are “engaged” in their jobs
  • Engaged employees are 59% less likely to seek out a new job in the next 12 months

Employee engagement is the real insight here.

A major initiative at leading organizations is now to create a positive work environment for new staff. From our discussions with firms and other organizations, we’re hearing that this often includes quickly getting new staff involved in what they consider to be meaningful, or at least interesting work. Preferably, that involves some type of interaction with clients (or “members” for the credit union folks). Having them working with innovative technology that facilitates member or customer interaction can be an ideal way to get new staff engaged quickly.

Many newer staff are digital natives, so they can get up to speed very fast and can bring insights as to incorporating new technology more effectively. Take advantage of that! Also consider asking a sampling of them what types of work would they find more engaging and valuable.

NOTE: If you’d like to hear more about CPA firm staffing issues and innovative ways to address them quickly, check out this key webinar, Addressing Staffing and Cultural Challenges in Attest Services, presented by CPA.com’s Matt Towers.

References/Links:

About the Author:

Steven A. Menges Assurance Team / 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.

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.