Todd Colvin

Director, Enterprise Data Security, Paychex, Inc.

Happily, a cloudy forecast for cyber security

It's every accountant's nightmare: A hacker breaks into your computer system and steals clients' personal and financial information. Your firewall proved inadequate, your data encryption failed. The security you promised your clients was no security at all.

Cyber security — the protection of computers, networks, programs and data from unauthorized access — is mandatory in our technology-dependent society. It's not only large companies such as retailers Target and Home Depot, and health insurer Anthem that have suffered grave and embarrassing data losses. Businesses of every size are vulnerable to data theft.

If your accounting firm still hosts data in-house or on a locally hosted server, your sensitive client files are at risk from:

  • Computer viruses, malware and other invasive programs that can erase or corrupt information;
  • Breaches resulting in data theft, which can damage your firm's reputation and bottom line; and
  • Disasters, such as fire, flood, tornadoes and hurricanes, which can wipe out local storage, disrupting business operations on a major scale.

So dire is the threat to the safety of the nation's digital information that President Obama, in February 2016, directed his administration to implement a Cybersecurity National Action Plan to take near-term action and establish long-range tactics to "enhance cybersecurity awareness and protections, protect privacy, maintain public safety as well as economic and national security, and empower Americans to take better control of their digital security."

CNBC listed the top five current cybersecurity risks as:

  • Ransomware – malware that restricts access to the computer system that it infects;
  • The Internet of Things – the connection of physical devices, such as home appliances and cars, to the internet;
  • Cyber espionage by foreign governments;
  • Cyber theft of personal and financial information; and
  • Insecure passwords.

Here are a handful of reasons why the so-called "cloud" offers a much safer haven for your company's data than on-site servers. An easy way to think of the concept of the “cloud” is to think of it as your electric provider – it’s always on whenever you need to use it. Not only that, it’s hosted outside of your office and allows 24/7 access to your data from anywhere.

Benefits of cloud service offerings

For businesses of any size, cloud-based safeguards include:

  • Automatic backup;
  • Dedicated firewalls;
  • Fraud protection;
  • Electronic audit trails;
  • Encrypted data storage; and
  • Off-site servers.

For CPA firms, for example, the security benefits of cloud-based accounting application can exceed those provided by locally hosted software. Businesses recognize those benefits and are reacting: As of October 2015, more than half of small to midsized U.S. businesses had adopted cloud-based service offerings.

Other research shows that:

  • 56 percent of companies are still identifying information technology (IT) operations that fit with cloud hosting;
  • Security, IT integration challenges and information governance are the three biggest issues delaying organizations from going to the cloud; and
  • The three departments that fund cloud initiatives outside of IT are marketing, sales and human resources.

Some organizations prefer to take a hybrid approach to data security, using cloud services from several vendors, rather than just one, and using both public and private clouds. A 2015 RightScale survey found that 82 percent of enterprises reported a multicloud strategy, compared with 74 percent in 2014. This can be helpful when trying to avoid the risks that can be association with putting “all your eggs in one basket.”

Cloud services yields significant ROI

Moving data to the cloud is cost-efficient as well as security-wise. Return on investment (ROI) can mean average annual savings of more than 20 percent annually. Cost effectiveness comes in a number of ways:

  • Lower cost – No need for in-house servers or staff to maintain data on site. No more budgeting for in-house technology, such as servers, routers, software and support. With cloud services, you pay a monthly hosting fee and the cost of a dedicated internet connection. A DC Velocity survey found that 50 percent of business cloud users decreased IT expenditures by 25 percent by leveraging this strategy.
  • Ease of use – If you use the software as a service (SaaS) model supplied by online application service providers, you interact with your data via a web browser. (SaaS is any software you run that's not located on site, and makes the most sense for business.) The application, as well as data storage, is securely outsourced.
  • Anytime access to data – Cloud storage with SaaS often allows authorized personnel to securely access the firm's data at any time via computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Vendor-managed upgrades, backups and security – Because the vendor hosts the software, it's responsible for its maintenance, enhancements and reliability. Data-center hosting of your company's information yields the added benefit of at least some disaster recovery. The DC Velocity survey found that 94 percent of respondents stated tangible security benefits from moving their business data to the cloud.
  • IT staff freed for other work – Employees who once supported in-house data storage and reacted to problems can now shift their focus and help your business with expansion, data analysis and other proactive tasks.

Choose a vendor for the long haul

When choosing a contractor for cloud-based services, do your research and make your selection thoughtfully. Ensure the vendor has a sterling reputation, an established presence in the marketplace, financial stability and exemplary customer service. Get in touch with other accounting firms to learn about their experiences with cloud services and particular vendors.

Peruse the details of potential contracts. Ensure you understand what vendors offer regarding data security, data ownership and data access — and data recovery, if the relationship ends.

Data theft and security breaches represent pervasive threats, regardless of the size of a business. That's why, after a systematic appraisal of the risks and benefits involved, it's easy to see why many accounting firms are opting for a cloud-based software solutions to increase ease of access, cost effectiveness and data protection.

Todd Colvin is the director of data and systems security for Paychex, Inc., a leading provider of integrated solutions for payroll, HR, retirement, and insurance services.

Samantha Mansfield

Director of Professional Development & Community,

Taking the Lead Through Anticipation

“When rapid change happens you have to anticipate more.” – Joey Havens, CPA

Wise words and so true, but easier said than done if you haven’t practiced the skill of anticipation.

In a recent Digital CPA Webcast, we discussed the importance of developing the competency of anticipation. Not the feeling, we learn that at a very young age, but the action of preparing for the future; we have to filter through all the data and changes happening daily to get to the future facts. Future facts are what Daniel Burrus, futurist, calls hard trends; we know these things will happen, such as increased bandwidth, further automation, faster processing, etc. Instead of getting bogged down with soft trends, which Burrus describes as assumptions, we need to zero in on the hard trends that will impact our future.

Questions Burrus encourages you to consider:

  1. Are you considering relevancy?
  2. Are you thinking big enough?
  3. Are you sharing information or actually communicating? (There is a difference.)
  4. If it can be done it will be done, but if you don’t do it who will?
  5. What if you could tell your clients what will happen? (How much value will that bring?)

As you start anticipating the future and ask yourself these questions, be aware of your mindset. Are you aiming to keep up or leap ahead? Daniel Burrus points out with the powerful skill of anticipation you have the ability to jump head and take the lead.

What future facts do you see?

Richard Shuback

Richard Shuback, LLC

Move your brand to a professional level

These days many CPAs and their firms are looking for solutions that will put their company on the map and help them compete professionally. Naturally branding plays a key role in a firm’s overall perception and credibility.

Over time investments are made in finding the right office space, creating a memorable logo design or even serving clients the perfect cup of coffee.

An area often overlooked within this effort is the firm’s email address. As the firm has moved forward professionally, it can have a hard time letting go of its outdated or irrelevant technology.

This could be for many reasons:

  • It was good enough to use in college – why not now?
  • Too complicated to migrate
  • Not certain what domain to use or even how to get one
  • No one pays attention to it anyway

The reality is that your email address is a reflection of you and your firm. In fact the 2014 GoDaddy Survey found that customers are 9 times more likely to choose a company with a professional email address.

By holding on to a consumer grade email client, many clients may question the firm’s legitimacy. It’s also worth noting that consumer workflow is considerably different than business. Your current email client may not be up for the challenge.

Building your brand requires constant attention -- always identifying new opportunities to promote your firm to both clients and prospects. With email as your core communication vehicle, every message you send should reinforce your dedication to your clients and your practice. Visit to learn about a CPA branded email address.

Andy Childs

VP of Marketing, Paychex

The Next Generation of Business Owners Has Arrived

According to a recent study, 67% of business owners are expected to retire in the next 10 years. Baby Boomer owners are selling their businesses at a record rate, leaving the door open for a new generation of business owners to take shape. This crop of new entrepreneurs is drastically different and dramatically changing the small business landscape.

Here’s a look at this new group of entrepreneurs – younger and more diverse than ever before:

  • Millennials Shaking Things Up

    Research indicates 70% of Millennials say they’d reject traditional business to work independently. Those Millennials who have taken the leap and started their own ventures have experienced significant success. In fact, 47% of Millennial-led businesses exceeded revenue goals last year, as opposed to 21% of Boomer-led enterprises.

    These are the leaders of small business entrepreneurship in the future, at least according to 66% of current small business owners surveyed.

  • Women Emerging as Entrepreneurs

    Millennials aren’t the only group making their mark on the small business landscape. Recent years have seen a surge in women entrepreneurs as the daily average number of businesses started by women has doubled in the last three years. In fact, the number of women-owned small businesses in the U.S. has increased 50% faster than the overall number of small businesses since 2014.

    In addition to the obvious tangible needs, starting a business takes vision, drive, and the ability to juggle many things at once. These are areas in which many women tend to excel. Research shows that 30% of U.S. small businesses are owned by women, which is a number that’s likely to increase as more and more women choose this path.

  • The Changing Face of Business

    We know Boomers are selling their businesses at a record pace and younger entrepreneurs are taking them over or starting anew. Not only are those entrepreneurs younger, but they’re coming from more diverse backgrounds. The U.S. is a melting pot, and the small business landscape is not unlike that national makeup.

    Of those interested buyers of Boomer businesses, 19% were of Asian/Pacific Island decent, 15% were Hispanic, and 12% African American. When it comes to startup ventures, Latino-owned new businesses increased from 11% in 2001 to 23% in 2011.

    As you can imagine, diversity in business and other sectors of American society will increase as America trends toward what the U.S. Census Bureau dubs a “plurality nation.”

  • Veterans Assuming a Different Role

    Entering the business world with varied experiences in the military, veterans increasingly seek to start and run a business of their own. As they look to transition from the life of an active service member to a member of the civilian workforce, veterans offer an inherent leadership quality. They excel at teamwork and are used to leading a group of people to accomplish a common goal. A strong work ethic and the ability to self-direct make veterans a natural fit for running a business.

    More and more veterans are starting down that path after service. According to the Small Business Administration, many are going down the road of entrepreneurship. In fiscal year 2015, loans to veterans rose 101% in the total dollar amount and 45% in the number of loans from the previous year.


In the time it took to write this post, it’s pretty likely that at least one U.S. business opened its doors for the first time. If research is any indication, chances are that owner is young, diverse, and ready to put his or her stamp on American commerce.

To learn more about the next generation of business owners, click here.

Andy Childs is the vice president of Marketing at Paychex, a leading provider of human capital management solutions for payroll, HR, retirement, and insurance services.

John Engels

Founder and President, Leadership Coaching

Fear and Succession Planning

I have been doing some deeper exploration of the hidden ways in which fear affects functioning.

This is an important topic for firm partners because fear-based decisions are not always obvious yet frequently produce negative personal and organizational outcomes.

The challenge of succession planning illustrates the subtle and powerful ways in which fear influences important decisions.

Family business succession

Most experienced CPAs have observed their share of succession planning nightmares among family business clients.

In that setting, succession offers an intense mix of emotional factors that can easily freeze the thinking capacity of its members. Questions pop up everywhere: Are my kids qualified to lead the business? If I favor one of my children for leadership, how will the others feel? What if there’s tension or philosophical differences between the generations or between the successor siblings?

When such uncomfortable questions arise, the path of least resistance is avoidance.

I often get calls from firm partners who complain that their family business clients won’t plan for leadership succession.

“Even when we agree on a process for a path forward, the important conversations with the next generation just don’t happen,” partners say. “If they do, it typically doesn’t go well.”

Accounting firm succession

It’s easy to, pick on family businesses, yet the same lack of traction occurs in accounting firms. Even though it’s in the financial interest of soon-to-be-retiring partners to plan for succession, they tend to move slowly and uncomfortably – or not at all – in developing younger partners.

For example, opportunities routinely get overlooked to introduce and transition younger partners to long-time clients. Instead of encouraging emerging leaders to make their mark, established leaders often leave them out.

The commonly-cited excuses are time problems (“I’ve been so busy…”) and perceived skill limitations (“I’m not quite sure how to go about this.”). Those might be legitimate impediments to succession planning, but the big one rarely gets mentioned: “legacy jitters.”

Deeper fears

The succession procrastination of firm partners likely reveals an unconscious fear of losing their standing as key influencers. Deeper fears lurk under the surface:

Fear of losing status.

Fear of losing satisfaction and meaning.

Fear of moving on, into an “unknown” lifestyle.

Fear of death.

It would be good if these fears could be named, accepted and managed. An unfortunate irony is that most of us are afraid of fear itself. We don’t want to feel it, we don’t want to think about it, and we don’t want to address it.

Our reactive fear of fear makes it difficult to find our way out of this emotional maze.

One starting point might be to deepen our understanding of fear.

Understanding fear

The fear-driving mechanisms of humans have a purpose: to protect us from real threats. If we couldn’t feel fear, we would routinely take stupid risks. Healthy fear stops us from speeding past a railroad crossing or jumping off a cliff. Less dramatically, fear helps us keep doctor appointments and motivates us to research an investment before we commit.

That makes fear a vital asset.

But there’s a problem.

When humans fail to regulate their fear, it gets out of control. Unregulated anxiety, worry and fear disables our ability to distinguish real threat from fake threat. Now, we over-estimate a threat, or imagine threat where it doesn’t exist.

For example, we see a terrorist beheading on the internet and unthinkingly become more protective of our kids. In response, their anxiety ratchets up. They grow more wary than trusting, and become more concerned with safety than adventure. We want our kids to possess confidence and courage, yet our fear-driven parenting can have the opposite effect.

A fearful response to imagined threat generally produces low-maturity outcomes.

“No lion in the bushes”

Few of us can think straight when we get scared. Instead, we react instinctively, as if a lion was lunging at us from the bushes.

In the case of succession planning, “there’s no lion in the bushes.” Although we can slip into imagining succession as a threat, it’s actually developmentally appropriate. A time arrives when a founder or partner moves on because it makes sense to do so. Though it comes with understandable trepidation, letting go and moving on is not “unfortunate” or “a problem.” It’s healthy and necessary.

What gets us in trouble is the fear-driven resistance to the false threat of succession.

Is there a way to discover that there is no lion in the bushes?

Self-observing and reflecting

The trick is to cultivate the discipline of self-observing and reflecting.

The challenge to grow a succession mindset depends on our ability to observe ourselves in a reactive mode: “I’m feeling worried and fearful right now, and I need to check out the accuracy of my threat-perception. What’s really going on here?”

Sober thinking informs us that succession is more a mindset than a strategy.

Reflection enables us to recognize a fact of human history: Preparing the next generation to function at a high level has always defined parenting and leadership. It’s simply what we do.

Taking time to recognize what we are feeling and experiencing, and to assess the reality of our perceived threats, helps us become better observers of ourselves. Reflection becomes our path to reducing fear.

Smart leaders tune in to what’s really going on so they can act more out of intention and less out of fear.

John Engels founded Leadership Coaching, Inc. in 1996, based on the integration of three cutting-edge research disciplines: neuroscience, Bowen Family Systems Theory, and the evolution of leadership in non-human species. Under John’s guidance, his consulting team continues to draw on decades of learning with family researchers and with accomplished scientists who study the leadership behavior of wolves, elephants, chimpanzees, and other animals. Currently, John spends much of his professional life as a mentor to executive coaches and family business consultants. He recently developed the “Leadership Skills That Change Firms” program for accounting professionals.