CPA.com Blog

Tom Hammond

VP of Corporate Strategy & Product Manage- ment, Paychex

From Data Entry to Data Insights, Technology is Key to HR Strategy

Since the beginning of time, technological innovations have tended to be met with some skepticism. Today, with so much technology at our fingertips, both at home and at work, it’s natural to wonder which solutions are worth the investment. HR technology solutions, when thoughtfully selected with business needs and goals in mind, can improve efficiency, providing the extra time and insightful data needed for the strategic decision making that can transform an HR leader’s role. In fact, the first annual Paychex Pulse of HR Survey found that 75 percent of HR leaders at small and mid-sized companies (50-500 employees) feel HR technology has enabled them to secure a seat at the leadership table.

For HR leaders and their teams, technology solutions can drive efficiency and free-up valuable time currently being spent on administrative tasks or data entry. But on a more strategic level, technology can provide an objective and comprehensive view of the workforce, allowing HR leaders to see and suggest more informed, purposeful actions to executive leadership. Speaking of the workforce, in addition to helping HR leaders become more efficient and strategically engaged, technology also keeps employees engaged with mobile solutions and self-service HR capabilities. These solutions are particularly appealing to Millennials, who’ve come to consider integrated technology a given when they enter the workforce.

While the benefits of technology – including informative data analytics, improved efficiency, and recruitment advantages – are tempting, all technology is not created equal. Solutions that do not effectively meet business needs can burn both time and money. In fact, 44 percent of survey respondents are using several separate systems with some integration as opposed to a single integrated suite. That means they’re spending valuable time rekeying data into multiple systems; 30 percent say they spend as many as 15-29 hours per month.

The purchase of technology solutions should stem from an understanding of how these systems will help the company save time, save money, and ultimately contribute to achieving overall business goals. Your guidance in understanding your small business client’s needs and financial processes can help ensure that they don’t miss the technology boat or jump onboard with the wrong solution. Done right, technology can become a selling point for small and mid-sized businesses looking to attract and retain enterprise-caliber talent. It can also help HR leaders effectively evaluate ways to better manage people and save money, which is a win for HR leaders, a win for the C-suite, and a win for you as a well-integrated solution can provide the accurate information you need for taxes and other financial processes down the line.

Samantha Mansfield

Director of Professional Development & Community, CPA.com

Augmenting Our Skills with Artificial Intelligence

This week the news had a story about robots and humans collaborating. It focused on how robots had become an extension of what we do, allowing them to do what they do best and freeing us up to do what we do best. Another way to think about it: they do more and we think more. When looking at artificial intelligence (AI) this way, the possibilities are endless.

Gartner, the research and advisory company, predicts a third of all jobs will be automated away by robots, smart machines and software by 2025. Accenture, Deloitte predicts 40% of transactional accounting work will be automated or eliminated by 2020. This means in the next 3-8 years we have the opportunity to free up time and start innovating in our processes and business models.

Many times, technology is invented for one purpose and finds relevance and adoption in a completely different industry. To get the creative juices flowing, let’s look at a few examples of how AI and machine learning are being used outside accounting today.

Artistic application

  • 20th Century Fox used IBM Watson to make a movie trailer
  • Stitch Fix, an online personal stylist site, used AI to design clothing
  • Sony CSL Research Laboratory is using AI to compose original music
  • Google has an AI tool to generate art

All these tools are performing creative functions, typically thought to be something only humans can do, but the finished products all include a human touch and final review.

Usage in the accounting profession

What we should take away from this is AI is more about augmenting our workflow, not just automating it. Think of how it frees time and provides more insights through larger amounts of data. The possibilities are still being imagined.

For many of us, AI moved from sci-fi to daily life when IBM Watson became a contestant on Jeopardy in 2011. In 2017, it really came into the mainstream during a Super Bowl commercial from H&R Block pointing out the inclusion of IBM Watson in tax preparation. During various spring and summer tax and accounting conferences, we are asking audiences which technology they see as having a big impact in the future and CPAs are ranking AI in the top of the polls. This is not a time to be afraid of losing jobs, but a time to think of ways to do your job differently; let these robotic tools augment your systems and processes, so you can raise the value of your time and services.

If you are trying to learn more about the possibilities note:

AICPA and CPA.com are sponsoring an initiative called Startup Accelerator to help support up to five early-stage companies over the next year get these new and innovative ideas off the ground.

The 2017 Digital CPA Conference is featuring a member of the IBM Watson team to discuss AI.

There are many articles on possible uses, what will be available next?

What are your thoughts on AI in accounting?

Frank Fiorille

VP of Risk, Compli- ance, & Data Analytics, Paychex

Small Business Owners Increasingly Cautious About Employment Growth

After the election of President Trump in 2016, countless surveys reported increasing small business optimism. Post-election research conducted by Paychex showed similar results. Slightly more than half of respondents (small business owners) felt confident to highly confident in their ability to grow under the Trump Administration and 37 percent expressed moderate confidence. But has that optimism translated to small business employment growth?

To gauge trends in small business employment growth and wages, the monthly Paychex | IHS Small Business Employment Watch tracks small business jobs growth and wage trends on a national, regional, state, metro and industry scale. The report serves as an indicator for the state of small business, and, as small businesses represent nearly 95 percent of all U.S. employers, the economy overall.

In May, data from the Small Business Employment Watch revealed that the Small Business Jobs Index declined for the third consecutive month. After a strong start to the year, the index declined to 100.34, the lowest rate of small business employment growth the country has seen since late 2015, a rate 0.25 percent slower than the pace of small business jobs growth in May 2016. After a steady increase in hiring over the three months immediately following the election (December 2016, January 2017 and February 2017), it seems that small business owners have shifted to a wait-and-see approach.

While many of the policies President Trump proposed during his campaign have small business owners feeling hopeful, there is still a great deal of uncertainty around which policies will ultimately come to pass, including healthcare, tax, and immigration reform, to name a few. As such, small business owners must make business decisions, such as whether or not to add employees, based on uncertain economic and regulatory issues, seemingly leaving many to forego hiring until they have a better idea of what’s to come.

In addition to the uncertainty around regulatory and compliance requirements, small business owners are also keeping a watchful eye on the changing nature of work and the workforce. For example, the past couple years have seen a rise in the number of part-time and freelance workers as part of the “gig” economy, a trend which we’re seeing mirrored among our client base.

We’re in a period when macro-economic trends and policy-related issues are having a greater impact than ever on how small business owners make a variety of business decisions. By keeping an eye on these national trends and topics, in combination with an audit and assessment of a small business’s financial situation, CPAs can help their clients make informed decisions to drive the long-term business growth and success.

Michael Trabold

Director, Compliance Risk, Paychex

Small Business Regulation Under the Trump Administration

One thing that’s certain in today’s political climate is almost nothing is certain. While we can never know for sure which proposed policies will make the final legislative cut, there are several anticipated regulatory actions that accountants and their small business clients should keep an eye on in the coming months.

Healthcare remains a prominent issue on Capitol Hill, in the media and in the minds of all citizens. So far, since President Trump took office, we’ve seen the first failed attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, with the original AHCA, but currently legislators are working to pass a revised version of the AHCA through the Senate. While total bipartisan cooperation remains unlikely, there appears to be agreement across the board on certain aspects of healthcare, including the expanded use of HSAs and FSAs. A definitive direction on healthcare is likely some time away, until then, the ACA remains the law of the land and its regulations, including offering adequate and affordable health insurance coverage, reporting, and return filing, still apply to Applicable Large Employers (ALEs).

Several aspects of employment law are also on the Trump Administration’s regulatory table. Immigration policy reform was a major campaign promise for President Trump and though no legislation has been passed yet, small business owners should be aware how they can remain compliant in the face of potential mandatory e-verification and increased workplace audits. The Final Overtime Rule is also in flux after being delayed late last year. While many employers are already making anticipatory changes, it remains unclear what the final income threshold will be if the rule is implemented. In the meantime, state and local governments have taken it upon themselves to start passing their own minimum wage increases and paid time off (PTO) policies. President Trump has also spoken in favor of a higher federal minimum wage and federal PTO regulations, so small business owners should keep these potential changes in mind.

An awareness of the importance of retirement savings and an aging American population has brought retirement to the forefront of the regulatory discussion as well. While federal policy on retirement issues has been minimal so far, many states are starting to mandate workplace retirement programs. This gives small business owners the choice to offer their own 401(k) and retirement benefits or allow their employees to utilize the established state-run programs for retirement planning. Small business owners who choose to offer their own retirement plans can use these benefits as a recruitment advantage, but also must remain cognizant of potential changes to the fiduciary rule, which may impact the nature of investment advice and plan administration.

An important consideration when analyzing potential regulation is cause and effect both economically and with regards to additional resulting regulations. For example, many small business owners are eagerly anticipating tax reforms that may bring down their rates, but legislators first have to consider what impact lower taxes may have on the economy and potential sources for additional money, which may spur yet another new policy. Additionally, often regulations made at a federal level cause state and local governments to look at how this policy impacts their funding and make policy adjustments accordingly.

One thing is for certain, the regulatory environment is changing – quickly. To keep up-to-date on the latest, visit Paychex WORX.

Mike Trabold is director of compliance risk for Paychex, Inc. Paychex is a leading provider of human capital management solutions for small- to medium-sized businesses.

John Engels

Founder and President, Leadership Coaching

Listening: Four Strategies for “Tuning In”

I know a few people who are natural listeners.

These individuals seem to possess an inner stillness and natural curiosity that enables them to intuitively grasp another’s content, meaning and feelings. They listen not only with their ears, but with their eyes, heads and hearts.

When in the presence of an exquisite listener, a speaker is likely to feel tremendous freedom, greater clarity and emotional relief. In a relatively short period of time, tightness, confusion and isolation can be moderated, simply by being listened to.

Despite these benefits, listening is becoming not only rare, but devalued. Most leaders I know function as if they believe their words are more important than what others have to say.

Increasingly, we leave no time to listen. In a fast-paced and often frantic society, who’s interested in stopping the busyness long enough to really tune in to someone else?

I want to confess that I do not belong to the Natural Listeners Club. I have to work at it. Every day. And even when I concentrate, I catch myself making the usual listening mistakes:

  • Wandering away from the speaker by getting lost in my own thoughts.
  • Rehearsing to myself what I am about to say, while the other is talking.
  • Interrupting so I won’t forget my thought, and because I think it’s brilliant.
  • Listening for a point of disagreement that I can pounce on.
  • Cutting someone off because I’m in a hurry, sometimes finishing their sentences due to impatience.

To counter these automatic, selfish tendencies, I decided a while back to re-invent my listening practice. Here are four ideas and strategies that have become useful to me:

1. Listen to My Self

If I cannot pay attention to myself, how in the world will I ever be able to listen to another? As fast as I move from meeting to meeting, I’ve discovered that I move even faster inside my brain. Is there a way for me to calm down?How can I drop the preoccupations and be present, right here, right now? What’s going on with me at this moment?

I have spoken with numerous colleagues and friends who meditate, reflect, pray, journal, use neurofeedback or walk outside. The common denominator in these practices is “quieting the mind.” The rule of “one size fits one” operates here: each must discover for themselves how to “quiet the mind.” The desired outcome is improving my ability to stay calm and focused.

No matter what method I use to slow down and prepare to receive another, it sets me up to be a better listener.

2. Develop an Intention

What’s a bigger challenge: knowing HOW to listen, or WANTING to listen?

I try to begin my interactions with a simple, internal intention to listen. Developing that intention changes my mindset. It’s simply the case that I listen better when I INTEND to listen.

Here are some specific intentions I whisper to myself as I prepare for a discussion:

  • “I want to learn as much as I can about this person.”
  • “I want to observe and hear what is going on with her.”
  • “I want to take in what he’s communicating to me.”
  • “I want to get as much detail as I can and not jump to conclusions.”

3. Pause Before Responding

After the speaker finishes a thought, an intentional, few-seconds delay “holds” what has just been said, as if in a sacred vessel. By slowing the pace of the exchange, pausing:

  • Regulates reactivity impulses while expanding the emotional space for connecting
  • Enables deeper understanding of the message
  • Supplies the space for formulating a thoughtful response

4. Communicate, “I’m hearing you”

It’s important for me to let the other know that I am paying attention to them and hearing their message (which might be a thought, a feeling, a complaint or a question).

The “I’m hearing you” message can be sent verbally, vocally or visually, for example:

  • Making eye contact
  • Taking notes
  • Deleting distractions
  • Reflecting back to the speaker what you are hearing
  • Verbally articulating, “I hear you,” “I’m following you,” etc.
  • Inserting vocalizations that express attentiveness, e.g.. “hmmm…

Listening attentively establishes an important foundation for coaching. I’ve found that when I listen well, whatever I say after that seems to be considered more carefully by the person I listened to.

In that way, robust listening helps credibility as well as understanding.

Can any coaching strategy be more important than that?

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