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Leveraging Your CPA Brand

Now that tax season is underway and firms are emailing clients nonstop we need to ask ourselves; what am I saying about my brand?

2015 is in full swing and it is important as ever for CPAs to join the digital community by being CPA branded. Your personal brand is in the spotlight every day for everyone to see online. Building your brand requires constant attention—always identifying new opportunities to promote your firm to both clients and prospects. With email as the core communication vehicle, every message sent using a generic account is a brand experience wasted.

Why is self-branding important you ask? Here are 3 quick reasons:

Stand Out from the Crowd
Creating a brand as a CPA allows you to develop an image that is consistent with who you are and what your firm offers. The goal for any self-branding is to have a clear and consistent message so that with a simple Google search, any new prospect will be able recognize who you are and what you do. Being CPA branded allows you to easily promote your specialized area of expertise.

Build Trust and Recognition
Being CPA branded instantly adds an additional layer of trust and recognition to your prospects. Not everyone will know what you do or your skill set immediately but something as simple as a CPA.com email address, or an account that includes your firm name and credential, makes it instantaneously recognizable that you are a licensed CPA. Prospective clients can easily understand from one single email what type of services you offer and what your credentials are. This positions you as an expert in the field.

Leaving Your Mark
Any part of self-branding involves being known for something, so it's essential as a first step to establish a strong CPA brand. Defining who you are to current clients and prospects ensures that people will remember you through your expertise, your actions and your business.

How are you branding yourself as a CPA? Share your thoughts on some good examples of self-branding.

To learn more about how to be CPA branded with your email

Unlock the Value in Write-Up Services

I have been fortunate during my entire career to have had “write-up” services in every firm I have worked for. When I first started my career I was trained in that department which gave me the accounting fundamentals that I never knew would be so valuable as I stretch my career into the high value of business consulting.

Over a decade ago, curiosity got the best of me as I wandered into the “internet” world and the accounting profession. Not much was going on other than a couple small companies with trial balance services. A company called “NetLedger” and another one called “Intacct”. Today these same companies are the market leaders in the “cloud accounting”. NetLedger is now NetSuite a very progressive publicly traded company and Intacct is still Intacct but with a robust offering that is slowly being adopted by the public accounting firms around the country.

Over the last several years there have been numerous stories and studies predicting a comeback of “write-up” services now being referred to as “Client Accounting Services” or CAS because of the enhanced services that can be delivered using the internet based accounting systems of NetSuite, Intacct, QuickBooks Online, Xero and a host of supporting applications built to streamline operations and serve the needs of today’s remote and mobile workforce and business leaders. Seems like this all makes sense but is remote access to accounting data enough to really drive value to bookkeeping services?

I’m in the camp that says absolutely NO! Business owners are much too wise to take that bait. So what is all the hype about CAS being potentially the biggest growth driver public accounting firms has seen in years? The answer lies in the capabilities of these fascinating accounting platforms and all the other cloud based tools that can be seamlessly integrated into the accounting system easier and better than ever before. Think about where the information used to make business decisions comes from. You know what I’m talking about. Where does the information come from that companies use to compute their metrics or key performance indicators (KPI’s), or critical success indicators as some people call them?

Most of that data is buried somewhere in the accounting data as it arises from business transactions that ultimately get recorded in the accounting system. The power of these new platforms and services are that they have the capability of easily reporting information much more robustly than just the common balance sheet, income statement and cash flow like most of the “old” accounting systems. Now they can combine information from different areas of the system to compute things like average sales per customer or sales per square foot or even combine elements from the balance sheet and the income statement to create custom reports that might compute net income net of debt payments. You can now slice and dice your data to report by fund or department or location without have a 10 to 50 digit account number and go through a mental bootcamp every time a new location or division is added. Now we’re talking about delivering valuable information to our business owners and key levels of management.

The value of CAS isn’t in the production of the basic financial statements but in delivering meaningful operational data based on the accounting data and during the same process used to create the financial statements. Could this be done before? Of course it could, but not in a timely manner which is what makes it meaningful and valuable to the business owner. Now this information can be delivered as soon as the data is in the system which can be as quickly as it happens in “real time”. Throw in a real-time dashboard and business owners have real-time snapshots of their KPI’s whenever they want them and accessible from where ever they may be as long as they have internet access. This is value they are willing to pay for and that’s how you deliver true value with the new “write-up” service.

New Era for Client Accounting Services and BPO driven by SSARS-21

If you’ve heard me talking at Digital CPA or other events, you know how excited I am about SSARS-21, the Statement on Standards for Accounting and Review Services No. 21, which creates a bright line between delivering reporting and accounting services for clients.

Many claim this is the most significant non-audit standard change of the past 35 years. To say the least, this new standard is being positively received by firms that are providing strategic client accounting services (which have many titles such as BPO, Virtual Controller or CFO services).

Over the past few years, I have had a number of passionate discussions with firm leaders who felt constrained in providing BPO services due to the requirements of the compilation standard.  This has all changed with the new Preparation of Financial Statements Standard outlined in Section 70 of SSARS-21. Firms now will be able to provide outsourced accounting services under this Financial Statement Preparation Standard. It’s a real game-changer, which I believe over time will drive more firms to provide client accounting services. Technology has demonstrably changed how financial statements are put together and is one of the key drivers behind the growth of client accounting.

There are many things firms need to think about as they move to adopt SSARS-21. One is how they position client accounting and BPO services versus compilation services. Firms also will need to update their engagement letters and how they provide these services.

A key element of the Financial Preparation Standard under Section 70 is the legend requirement, in which firms must state that no assurance was provided. However, firms also should think about making an affirmative statement in the legend regarding the service they are providing. In a recent Digital CPA webcast, we discussed a number of examples related to this legend. We also plan to be sharing more firm best practices related to the legend requirement and other implementation elements of SSARS-21 over the coming months.

SSARS-21 provides firms a great opportunity to rethink how they are providing their client accounting services. Over the past few years, client accounting has reemerged as one of the most strategic practice areas of the firm. We believe this is clearly one of the greatest growth opportunities for firms today, thanks to cloud computing, and firms are now in a great position to deliver upon the promise of being their clients’ trusted advisor through these services.

I encourage you to view our recent Digital CPA webcast where we discuss more of these strategies in detail.  You can also browse through AICPA SSARS-21 resources to learn more.

SSARS-21 FAQ

How do firms know which standard they should use when preparing financial statements?
Make clear at the onset what your firm is being engaged to do – and not do.

When does a compilation need to be completed?
Only when an accountant is hired to perform a compilation engagement.

What legend needs to appear if attest services aren’t required?
A statement on each page of the financial statements stating, at a minimum, that no assurance is provided.

Does the legend need to be signed?
It’s not required but there’s no reason not to.

What if an accountant prepares financial statements bearing the disclaimer legend, and a client includes the statements in a report to investors? Does the legend need to be included in that report?
Yes. The legend needs to remain on the financial statements in all cases in which they are reproduced.

How are you planning to reposition and recalibrate your accounting services to take advantage of the SSARS-21 opportunity?

Putting the pieces in place to begin the digital journey

Interview with Barbara Ostrander, CPA, Partner, Vanacore, DeBenedictus, DiGovanni & Weddell LLP

How are client accounting services different today than 5 years ago? The adoption of cloud computing has transformed how accountants and clients are collaborating and communicating. When traditional accounting services are part of your DNA, it’s hard to reimagine what they can be. We had a conversation with Barbara Ostrander, CPA who shares why and how Vanacore, DeBenedictus, DiGovanni & Weddell LLP approached this growing opportunity.

HW: Why did you decide to expand into outsourced accounting and advisory services?

BO: We were receiving an increasing number of requests for added assistance with accounting in areas such as paying bills and processing payroll, but we weren’t set up to manage this type of work. We didn’t have an answer for clients, so we began thinking: what if we could do it all for our clients? The challenge was how we could deliver these services.

HW: How did you develop your strategy for offering these new services?

BO: We weren’t sure where to get started, so we decided to attend the CPA.com Client Advisory Services workshop to ensure that we had the right strategy in place and that our client accounting services department was set up properly and structured most effectively to deliver these services.

HW: What part of offering these services excited you most?

BO: I got very excited about focusing on a vertical; that’s where I could really see the value. This isn’t just low-level write-up and bookkeeping work. We’re gathering data because it’s necessary to get to the level of virtual CFO services and provide real-time, relevant information, instead of being in the month of September and reporting their second quarter financial statement information.

HW: What was your approach to technology?

BO: We weren’t familiar with the current technology options and didn’t have time to conduct product trials so we turned to the CPA.com to help us identify the best solutions. We could immediately see the benefits of providing these services to clients very efficiently. We decided to take the time to increase our knowledge and proficiency of these cloud solutions before transitioning clients and marketing to prospects.

HW: How do you feel about the future of your firm now?

BO: I’m no longer worried about being left behind and becoming obsolete to clients. I’m excited to continue our digital journey and the opportunities that await. I’m confident we have the tools and support to be successful.

Read the full success story to learn more.

What has helped you on your digital journey?

Do I have to think about that anymore?

For years I spoke to firms about integration. With appropriate setup you click a button and everything happens automagically! When you did the setup right this is what it looked like to everyone else, magic. In that same vein what amazes me today is the new concept of Internet of Me.

Have you stopped to look at how many devices and function you can have set up to be interconnected and at the ready? I recently bought a new house so have made many trips to the hardware store! One trip I came across an entire display of detectors, timers, etc. that can all be interconnected via the web and I can access via apps on my phone. We are getting to a day where the thermostat will start when my alarm clock goes off eliminating one more thing for me to do in the morning. It all just seems to happen automagically.

I am a “Big Bang Theory” fan and all this automation got me thinking about the episode when Sheldon used the dice to make all the minor decisions for him so he could free himself up to contemplate deeper questions. It seems to me using this automation gives us that same opportunity! This ability to have so many tasks in our daily life automated, i.e. turn my phone on silent as soon as I arrive at the office, without even having to think about them. Without giving our attention to those tasks we really do have a chance to go deeper and get more advanced in our work.

So many surveys and studies are showing the concern over staffing in accounting firms, be it retention or recruitment. When we look at giving accounting firm staff tools to automate and eliminate the basic tasks you can accomplish more with fewer staff, and engage your staff by employing their real talents! Give each of your staff an assistant through technology and see where your services can go.

Do you agree? How do you use the available automation?

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.