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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.

Democratization of business forecasting: Why CAS firms should add this service offering

Lesson No. 1 from the pandemic: When a crisis hits, it helps to have a plan.

Lesson No. 2: When the recovery comes, it helps to have a plan.

See a pattern emerging here?

For accounting firms, COVID-19 and the resulting workplace shutdowns helped accelerate trends already underway in client advisory service practices – the push to the cloud, demand for virtual CFO services amid remote work and a need for real-time data analysis to guide business decision-making, according to Michael Cerami, CPA.com’s vice president of strategic alliances & business development, who spoke during our recent webinar FP& A Services: The Future of Your CAS Practice (available now on-demand).

Based on these trends, there is a newfound appetite for CPA firms to provide financial planning & analysis to small and medium-sized businesses – not just to aid in navigating hardships but to lean into the recovery, as well, he said.

Recognizing the need for firms to have advanced tools in this area, CPA.com last year partnered with Jirav, a leading provider of FP&A software build, to align with the unique needs of CPA firms and their CAS practices.

Jirav’s driver-based financial model combines accounting, workforce and operational data to generate more reliable forecasts. It delivers highly customizable reports and dashboards that allow clients to easily grasp trends, spot red flags and see new opportunities. And it’s a solution designed for small to medium-sized businesses.

That same appetite can be found on the management accounting side, too, where a stepped-up pace of digital transformation and the continuing “role stretch” for CFOs requires more agility and analytical prowess in the finance function, said Tom Hood, CPA, CGMA, executive vice president of business growth and engagement for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA & CIMA) and another webinar presenter.

“We think the tool is an absolute key part of any client advisory services platform,” Cerami said.

“Our goal was to democratize FP&A,” said Martin Zych, the company’s CEO and co-founder. “How do we bring that down to the mass market?”

Jirav allows CPAs to construct regular, routine financial models for clients.

“You’re starting a conversation,” said Zych, a former outsourced controller. “We walk through what happened. We tease out from there, ‘Well, why did this happen?”

Armed with business forecasting insight, the client can move to what Tom Hood called the “actuator” role, a shift from asking “Why did it happen?” to “How can I make it happen?” That’s a powerful, next-level service for CPA firms to provide.

John Kogan, a practitioner with Armanino LLP who uses Jirav, said it’s also the kind of insight small businesses in particular need to survive and grow.

“Smaller companies can’t afford a lot of pain because they don’t have much margin,” he said.

How does the cloud address audit challenges?

Meet client needs: Grow your firm’s expertise in FP& A services

If you’d like to learn more about how to integrate business forecasting into your firm’s CAS line-up, we have a breadth of resources to guide you including a whitepaper, case studies and webinars. Consider also attending Digital CPA, our premier conference for practitioners focused on technology, held December 5-8 in Nashville, and also offered virtually. Our CAS sessions will share expert insights and best practices on how to successfully expand your firm’s CAS practice with FP&A offerings.

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.

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.