The FASB recently issued an invitation to comment on its agenda for the coming years. With the releases of standards on revenue, leases, financial instruments and credit impairment, the big work from the previous agenda is now more or less complete. While smaller projects will always be part of what the FASB does, it’s now time to decide what big projects the FASB should work on in the coming years. The invitation to comment suggests four areas for the FASB to focus on:
- Intangible Assets
- Pensions and Other Postretirement Benefit Plans
- Distinguishing Liabilities from Equity
- Reporting Performance and Cash Flows
While pensions and postretirement liabilities, as well as, distinguishing liabilities from equity will have a more limited audience, everyone needs to pay attention to intangible assets and reporting performance and cash flows. With the balance sheets of public companies only showing assets that make up 20% of their market value on average, there appears to be some pretty important assets missing from most company’s reporting. Today those assets are missing because that is what is required by the rules. Research and development must be expensed in the U.S., and other intangibles like the value of customer relationships and brand names are only valued when they are acquired as part of a purchase of another business. If you create that value on your own, then it never gets to the balance sheet and all of the efforts and costs are flushed out of the income statement as expense. While the idea of trying to value those types of assets gives me pause and makes me wonder if all CPAs will be forced to become valuation experts, the fact that our product – financial statements – is becoming increasingly irrelevant makes me think we do need to do something in this area.
The final area of interest is focused directly on those increasingly irrelevant financial statements. The FASB has previously released some ideas on how to completely revamp the income statement, and if you saw the initial proposal on not-for-profit financial statements, you saw that the FASB is very interested in requiring companies to report operating cash flows using the direct method. If you thought implementing the changes in accounting on revenue, leases and financial instruments was fun, having to set up the systems and process to gather cash receipts and expenditures to report cash flows under the direct method will make us all wonder why we became CPAs. Such a requirement will essentially force companies to keep a whole separate set of books. That means we can add the cash set of books to the accrual and tax basis sets of books we all keep today.
If you have thoughts on these items or other items you think the FASB should address you can send comments to the FASB through October 17. If you are really worked up about these issues you can also ask to participate in roundtables to discuss the agenda that will be held in the fourth quarter of 2016. You have to request an invitation (and submit written comments), but like voting, if you don’t participate, you have no one to blame but yourself for the outcome.
LinkedIn is an amazing tool for many reasons… certainly not just for job hunting. However, a profile built for job search purposes needs additional content that may not be as vital for profiles built for other purposes. The way in which that content is presented is key to making a good first impression if in fact the first time an employer notices you is through a LinkedIn search.
These four items are necessities if you are using your LinkedIn profile to get noticed by employers:
- Keywords. Just as keywords are important in your resume, they are equally important on LinkedIn. While a non-job-search profile can be less complete, it’s important to make sure your profile as a job seeker covers all your pertinent skills. The search feature on LinkedIn works similarly to search features in resume databases and applicant tracking systems. Therefore the more you can work important keywords such as skills, software, and common titles into your profile, the more ‘findable’ you will be.
- Subtitle usage. The title that shows up under your name can be an incredibly powerful tool for job seekers. While many people use it simply as another title line (ie.. “Accountant”), it is actually much more beneficial to use it to state your intent to locate a new job. Listing something such as, “Looking for my next Accounting opportunity”, or “Searching for a position in Tax,” is much more likely to attract faster attention than a simple title. When searches are performed, this is the line that will show-up directly under your name, thereby making it obvious to any potential employer that you are interested in being contacted. (Caution: If you are currently working and your search is confidential, you obviously would not want to do this. It is best used when you can be open about your search.)
- Recommendations. From the standpoint of a job seeker, these are LinkedIn’s version of online references. Recommendations can be helpful, but make sure they portray the impression you want them to portray to a potential employer before approving them to be listed on your profile. Also, while a few recommendations certainly doesn’t hurt, going overboard with them can. If you have to scroll more than once to get through that section, you probably have more than you need.
- Picture. This is in total contrast to your resume where you definitely would not want to add your picture (at least in the US). However, your LinkedIn profile is truly incomplete without the inclusion of a good photo. The most common issue we see with job seeker’s LinkedIn photos are that they frequently are a selfie where the person was concentrating so much on taking the picture that they forgot to smile. LinkedIn profiles without a picture seem cold and distant, but LinkedIn profiles with a frowning picture may make you seem unapproachable. It isn’t necessary to have a professional photo done, but make sure it is a smiling photo that portrays the type of professional image that you wish potential new employers to see.
I hope this short list benefits you. When utilized appropriately, a well written LinkedIn profile can do wonders to simplify your job search by causing the right opportunities to actually come to you instead of you having to find them.
Until next time, I wish you the best in your career.
Mark Goldman CPA
Mark Goldman is the founder of MGR Accounting Recruiters, a San Antonio based recruiting company whose primary business is the placement of accounting professionals in both permanent and contract positions.
Mark graduated from St. Mary’s University in 1992 with a Bachelors Degree in Accounting. After working for a few years in public accounting, he entered the recruiting industry. In late 2006 he started MGR Accounting Recruiters, which was recognized by the San Antonio Business Journal as one of the fastest growing companies in 2010 and 2011. He currently serves on the board for the San Antonio Chapter of TSCPA as President-Elect. Mark received awards for outstanding work as a volunteer with SACPA for the 2009-2010, 2011-2012, and 2013-2014 chapter years. In addition to his work with the SACPA Chapter, Mark is also involved with Financial Executives International and volunteers with the career transition ministry at his church.
On a personal note, Mark is married to his high school sweetheart, Sayuki Goldman, who owns and manages the business with him. They have a beautiful 9-year-old daughter that is growing up too fast.
CPE became mandatory in most states during the 1980s. Most state CPA societies, as well as some early private providers answered the demand for CPE by creating one-day (8 hour) courses on a variety of subjects. A few conferences were also created that had a series of 1 hour CPE sessions, usually put on as a teaser for a full course taught by the presenter at a later date. Finally, you had dreaded self-study, which involved reviewing a dense book of information, or maybe if you were lucky a book and a video tape (remember those), then taking a test at the end that was submitted to determine if you had gotten enough right answers to merit getting the assigned number of CPE hours several days, or even weeks later.
One thing all of these forms of CPE had in common was they cost money. That created a mini-industry to support the profession and a way for CPA societies to increase revenues without increasing dues. But the one-day courses are under siege today because of their limitations such as:
- The learning is scheduled for the future, not when you need it.
- The learning is focused on large accounting issues that can fill a day rather than the many small ones that CPAs deal with constantly.
- The learning requires travel to the training location (out of the office) and away from family & community.
Technology has enabled titanic shifts in the way CPE is offered and the way it is thought about in the profession. The ability to access stored self-study content on the Internet and get instant feedback on successfully passing the test has made anytime anywhere CPE possible. But more so, the providers of CPE have changed. Many accounting firms developed strong in-house CPE services and they turned these into ways to highlight the strengths of the firm to potential customers, many of whom are CPAS in business and industry in need of CPE. In doing so, the firms did not view CPE as a money maker, instead CPE was the way to bring people to the firm to eventually sell other services. The provision of such free CPE, coupled with the reach of the Internet, enabled members of the profession to get CPE when they wanted, potentially focused on smaller, unique issues without ever leaving the office.
The proliferation of quality, free CPE has dramatically changed how CPAs view continuing education. Conferences are still seen as a great way to network, get in touch with a variety of experts and get some CPE too. As a result conference attendance has tended to increase as the number of CPAs has increased over the years. Self-study CPE has been transformed to new technology platforms focused on unique subjects without a wide audience that provides instant feedback on your success in learning the subject matter. And the one-day CPE course, it is an idea from the past that is dying a slow death. It is slow because there are so many dollars vested in its success that people don’t want to give up on it.
State societies offering CPE need to take a serious look what and how they offer CPE because the world is changing around them whether or not they want it to change. Just ask travel agents, newspapers, magazines and taxi drivers about how traditional delivery models can be completely disrupted by new players. The CPE infrastructure of the future is very different from the past, and we can either embrace and make the dramatic changes necessary to continue to provide a valuable service to our members, or we can fight to keep things the way they were – with decreasing success and increasing irrelevance to our fellow members.
I have enjoyed camping since I was a young when my parents started taking me. My wife grew up as a Girl Scout and she loved camping as well. We passed that tradition on to our kids, and family camping has been a memorable and important part of our lives. We have many great family camping stories.
- Like our dog turning her nose up at her dog food until she gets the left over bacon grease from breakfast poured over the top.
- Like our daughter being lifted off the ground as the wind gust from the thunderstorm lifted the tarp she was trying to hold down.
- Like the dog looking at us like we were crazy after we told her to “go get the geese” that were chasing our daughter for food – after the poor dog had been told all weekend NO, she couldn’t do that.
- Like the hikes being done for the first time with each child being carried on my back and then again years later when they implored Mom and Dad to “keep up.”
But I wanted to take a minute to talk discuss one foundational rule of camping taught to my wife and I that we have passed on to our children, “leave the campsite better than you found it.” I find this is not just a rule for camping, but a rule for life. Whatever you do, leave it better than you found it. Therefore, I think CPAs have an obligation to leave the profession better than they found it. We all took a big step in doing that with the recent vote to create a new association combining the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA). While the AICPA and CIMA will continue to have separate governance structures, they will share staff and resources enabling both organizations to provide more and better support to their members. Having been involved from the beginning of our efforts to work with CIMA including initiatives starting with the Business and Industry Executive Committee then onto the AICPA Board decision to create a joint venture with CIMA and the creation of the CGMA credential; I feel that I have worked hard to leave this profession better than I found it.
While that is a big thing, often, like picking up that last piece of trash, it’s the little of things that build up over time that truly make things better than we found it. The little things like volunteering for your professional association by working on a committee or task force to help the profession progress forward. While it is immensely important that we all serve our clients and employers well, keep up with ongoing education and following our professional ethical responsibilities, that is simply using the campsite built by others. I have volunteered for my professional associations for years and I am asking you to get involved and leave the campsite, your profession, better than you found it.
The PCAOB recently issued several proposed changes to the auditor’s report. The first change is for the auditor to include their tenure in auditing the entity in their report. This one is intriguing because there are those that believe long-term auditor tenure somehow reduces auditor skepticism, maybe even independence, and is therefore a bad thing. I think most preparers would vigorously dispute that position, but whatever your belief, under this proposal the auditor tenure will be more transparent to investors. With auditor tenure being more transparent it will be interesting to see if investors prefer long tenure, shorter tenure or simply don’t care.
The second change will be the inclusion of CAMs (Critical Audit Matters) in the auditor report. CAMs are matters that required significant judgment, greater audit effort or more detailed scrutiny. Disclosure of CAMs was proposed a few years ago, but the new proposal has a critical difference. CAMs are now material items that were discussed (or should have been discussed) with the audit committee. One of the concerns with the earlier proposal was that CAMs could include too many items and were infringing on the responsibilities of the audit committee. By limiting CAMs to matters discussed with the audit committee, the current proposal seems to address both of these concerns, but it brings a question to my mind. With auditors basically listing all of the material critical matters they discussed with the audit committee in their report, will the audit committee feel compelled to address their perspective on those matters in their audit committee report? The audit committee report format is certainly flexible enough to allow for such a discussion, and it might actually enhance investor confidence in the audit committee to see what they are doing as the investor advocate in the governance of the company.
The final change I want to address is the requirement to include a statement that the auditor’s responsibilities are to provide reasonable assurance about the financial statements being free of material misstatements whether “due to error or fraud.” This may not sound like a huge change at first, but embracing a requirement to take on responsibility over fraud is a giant step over the “expectation gap” that has existed for decades. As a preparer this one word scares me a lot. Not because I don’t think investors will love it, but because I am worried about how auditors will react to it. My concern as a preparer is due in part because of the potential for auditors to increase, or maybe better said significantly increase, their audit work and demands on me as a client because of the perceived increase in responsibilities to detect fraud. More concerning to me is that such a requirement will change the auditor’s perception of me as a client. Auditors are already required to view me, as a preparer, with skepticism. For example, inquiry – asking me a question and getting and answer – is not sufficient standalone audit evidence. But it is one thing to be skeptical of what I say, i.e. ask me to prove it, and a completely different thing to think I may be committing fraud and trying to hide it. It is human nature to react negatively to be falsely accused of doing wrong and that is potential exactly what this new phrase in the auditor report will do to the relationship between auditor and preparer. It will take a skeptical relationship to an adversary relationship which will not benefit preparers, auditors or investors.
I hope that my fears are not true or can be addressed in the final rules that ultimately are issued by the PCAOB. Either way, I think this is one auditing standard that preparers might want to follow and even consider writing a comment letter to the PCAOB prior to the August 15, 2016 deadline.
Whether it’s sports, hunting, fishing, automobiles, cooking, golf, photography or your business…the list is endless…technology has permeated them all. If your pocketbook (and spouse) allows, having the latest and greatest technology *may* help you catch more fish or smoke a better brisket. However, most of us frequently make the purchase because it’s cool rather than it stands a decent chance of a positive ROI. One’s marital relationship notwithstanding, in the area of business, this propensity can have wide-ranging negative effects. Certainly, there are pockets of technology whose purchase price is so small as to be essentially neutral, like buying the latest iPhone. But when we consider offerings at the tip of the technological spear, such as the Cloud, the choices made will ripple through the coming years.
Libraries of books (or should I say petabytes of data) have already been written on the Cloud. My goal here is to fly above the Cloud, as it were, in the hope that when I’m done, you’ll look at it again for your business or practice with different eyes. Given that our readership ranges from newly-minted CPAs to those who received their certificate in the haze of the groovy ‘60s, let’s start with a general description and move progressively into the deeper layers…always at a high level.
To my father, a child of the 1930s, I would say that the Cloud is millions of computers around the world which can talk to each other. He would respond, “No, that’s the Internet”, and he would be right. So what’s the difference? For regular users, it’s a matter of perspective, albeit an important one. Generally speaking (and there are many exceptions), the Internet is used primarily for communication. When we talk about the Cloud, we envision a place where we can do things far beyond email and Facebook. The ability to create, interact and accomplish much more than ever before are the key attractions.
For most of us, we doubtless touch the Cloud now every day, knowingly and unknowingly. The role of some very important women (Siri, Cortana and Alexa) greatly affect where we eat, how we get to our destination and what we’ll wear today. All of these are Software-As-A-Service (SAAS) services, which silently handle our interactions with the Cloud. While these services typically just “come with the phone”, there are many SAAS services that we intentionally purchase and use, such as Office 365 or Google Docs. Because of the Cloud, these services are ridiculously inexpensive for the commensurate productivity they provide. Imagine ten years ago paying $10/month to use the full suite of Microsoft Office products (either on your desktop, your phone or in a browser), have email and a place to store terabytes of your files. Oh, and you automatically get the newest versions, don’t have to worry about maintaining the servers on which they reside and can rest assured that your data is backed up in triplicate at one datacenter and then replicated at least 500 hundred miles away in triplicate again in another datacenter. In the case of a SAAS service, you can count on the fact that the companies that offer them have spent large sums of money to tie together disparate offerings made possible by the Cloud to bring you a seamless application that just works…most of the time.
Travelling a bit further down the rabbit hole, we enter the domain traditionally occupied by your IT person. While SAAS is the face that most of the public sees, other acronyms like IAAS (“Infrastructure-As-A-Service”) and PAAS (“Platform-As-A-Service”, which we will not discuss in this post) are the lingua franca of this layer. IAAS basically amounts to having a network and/or a server in the Cloud. While there is hardware involved, you don’t own any of it. You pay for it by the minute or hour…sort of like electricity or a rental car or a massage. The proper terminologies are “virtual network” or “virtual machine (VM)”. Most people “spin up” their own virtual machine and use it in a myriad of ways. Even though it’s virtual, it offers everything your computer in the closet does, with some nice exceptions. For example, if it’s month-end and you need a bit more horsepower, then literally drop down a selection box, pick a stouter offering and you’re off to the races. When things cool off, then lower the heat (and the cost). What if you like to have the latest operating system? No problem. Go to the library of different operating systems, make your selection and “voila” your VM is created right in front of you. Also, no one can walk in, cut the cables and slink away with your virtual machine. But how does my office network “see” this server? That would be another Cloud offering, called a Point-To-Point VPN (“Virtual Private Network). It’s about $35/month and lets you connect your whole office to the Cloud. Instead of your server down the hall, it’s now your server in the Cloud. But what if you like the server that you have, but could use some extra help on occasion? Again, not an issue. You can have your on-premises server (geeks say “on-prem”) on the same network as your Cloud server, talking to each other. This is called a “hybrid” environment.
So, since we’re accountants, all discussions lead to the question “How much is this going to cost me?” Cloud pricing is very competitive and continues to drop every month. As you would expect, the big players are Amazon, Microsoft and Google. However, there are many 2nd-tier providers that may meet your needs even better and/or cheaper. How they provide their services differs more than what they provide. Most billing models are “Pay-As-You-Go”, but if your monthly charges normally exceed $500, then you can take advantage of up to a 25% discount if you commit to a twelve-month subscription. That’s a decent amount of beans. So, using the Microsoft Windows Azure Cloud as an example, you can use their pricing calculator to translate your needs into dollars. Even though it has greatly improved, because of the overabundance of services, sometimes you actually need to be a CPA to achieve a high level of confidence. This is why you team up with your IT person. In the end, the most common scenario is that you want one server (a Virtual Machine). So, let’s say we want a fairly solid virtual machine with a 100Gb SSD hard drive, 7Gb of RAM and 2 Cores. Given that there are between 672 and 744 hours in any given month, the cost to run this VM all month long is, at most, $208.32 (roughly 28 cents an hour). But you likely don’t need to run it every hour of every month. So you have your IT person write a handful of lines of code to automatically shut it off when you don’t need it and turn it on when you do need it. So, if you have no use for it during the weekends (except tax season, of course), then you can eliminate 192 weekend hours or $53.76. This drops our monthly cost to $154.56. If you also turn it off from 1:00am to 5:00am every weekday, the monthly cost drops to $132.16. Of course, if you need more power or more VMs, then it costs more. However, it’s pretty straightforward to calculate the ROI. So does this mean that you can get rid of your IT person? Eh, probably not. But their current skill set is more than adequate for Cloud work.
The Cloud also allows for much more complex work to be done than we’ve discussed thus far. The best way to wrap your head around the possibilities afforded by the Cloud is to imagine that you have personal access to more computing power than many of the Fortune 500 companies individually had 20 years ago. This means that you can store oceans of data (the first 5 terabytes are free) and perform as many types of analyses as you desire. Imagine paying $9.60/hour for a VM with 444GB of RAM, 32 Cores and over 6 terabytes of disk space. Let’s say you are an energy company and need to crunch a lot of data every night. Five of these high-end virtual machines for five hours will cost you $240. Even the company in this example could find it hard to justify the purchase of the firepower to accomplish this task. But the “rentable” Cloud makes it not only doable, but hard to pass up the business case.
This leaves us with two huge topics which could fill multiple blog posts; security of and accessibility to the Cloud. In the continued context of our high flyover, I will address both very briefly. Regarding the security of the Cloud, many may ask “What about the data breaches at Target or Sony or Anthem Health?” I might add, “What about the thousands of breaches each year of smaller and/or private companies that no one ever hears about?” Now I’m not saying that since it seems like breaches are everywhere, there is nothing one can do. A deeper analysis of the larger breaches tends to show that the stated security policies were not enforced, followed and/or updated. Use of the Cloud is an extension of your current on-premises environment and should likewise be subject to the same level of scrutiny and consideration. Insofar as the top-tier providers, there have been very few breaches and none where the data of the majority of affected users has not been recovered. This means that, just as a disaster recovery plan calls for an alternative location in the case of a fire or other catastrophe, it may be prudent to implement a fallback plan for your Cloud services (which could be the use of the current server in your closet). The greatest potential loss in regard to a Cloud breach is not the loss of data, but the loss of business time (which historically has been measured in hours to a couple of days).
Insofar as the argument that if you’re in the Cloud and you Internet goes down, you’re sunk…it just doesn’t have basis anymore. The fact is, you already rely heavily on the Internet being up. And honestly, when did your Internet last go down and, if so, for how long was it down. With the abundance of cell and Wi-Fi options as temporary alternatives, this contention is no longer viable. Nor is the concern about bandwidth. Most of us can get 20-50Mbps down and 1Mbp up. Within the first half of 2016, AT&T has put in place or announced its GigaPower 1Gb service in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston metroplexes, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso. Google Fiber is already in Austin and kicking off in San Antonio. So, clearly, Internet speed and accessibility is largely a non-factor in most of the populated parts of Texas.
You know, this is such a deep and wide topic. With so many viewpoints about the Cloud, mine is certainly just another one. But I have had the opportunity to view the Cloud from many perspectives, both for my own business and my clients’ businesses, as a CPA and a software developer. Yet the conservative thinking that seems to be part and parcel of CPAs in public practice and in industry (in which I have participated in both) is the largest part of the lens through which I view technology. Technology may be cool, but at the end of the day, it serves business…not the other way around. My greatest hope is that you dust off the green eyeshade and take another look or a deeper look at what the Cloud offers today. You may not have a need for some of the more complex Cloud services, but your clients might. Regardless of the fact that those in the IT department (even a department of one) are the ostensible keepers of the technology, it is always the company owners or those in the “C” position who ultimately determine the technology purchased and used to serve the needs of the business. As trusted advisors, we are whom they consult when important business decisions are to be made. The Cloud is now at a tipping point where it’s portends some level of business upside for those who partake. It’s worth your time to see for yourself.
Chris is a Senior Software Architect, Analyst and Developer having spent 20 years in formal software development for both an international software development company and his own firm. He also has 10 years of experience in Chief Financial Officer and Controller positions for local and Fortune 500 manufacturing concerns. He currently chairs the TSCPA’s Technology Committee.
Allyson Baumeister, Immediate Past Chairman of TSCPA, went through a brief history of CPAs in Texas at our annual meeting held July 1-2 in Galveston (which is where it all began by the way) and I have augmented it with some additional national developments below.
1915 – TSCPA Board set up and licenses issued
1915 – First CPA exam – 3 took, 2 passed
1915 – TSCPA formed in Fort Worth by 16 people
1934 – SEC formed with power to set accounting standards (allowed the profession to continue setting standards)
1939 – Committee on Accounting Procedure (AICPA committee) formed – Issued Accounting Research Bulletins (ARBs)
1959 – Accounting Principles Board formed (still part of AICPA) – Issued APBs
1973 – FASB formed (separate independent entity from the profession)
1984 – Emerging Issues Task Force (EITF – under FASB) formed
1989 – Mandatory CPE started
1989 – Peer Review started
1997 – 150 hour rule to sit for CPA exam took effect
2001 – IASB formed (independent body to set international accounting standards)
2002 – Sarbanes-Oxley Act passed/Public Company Accounting Oversight Board formed to review auditor’s work and set audit standards for public company audits
2004 – CPA exam computerized
2004 – COSO became a term everyone used in the profession even if they didn’t know what it stood for (Committee of Sponsoring Organizations) because reports on all controls were now required for all public companies
2016 – TSCPA celebrates 100 years with over 28,000 members
2016 – AICPA/CIMA members approve the creation of a new international association with over 600,000 members
In the first 50 years, things moved relatively slowly and the profession was still very much self-regulated; while you weren’t required to keep learning after you passed the CPA exam, the knowledge basis for CPAs was not changing rapidly. It was at the end of the next 25 years (through 1990) when things really started to change. The FASB began issuing many more standards and the EITF issuances created a growing base of very specific rules that needed to be followed. As a result, the profession changed to include reviews to make sure our members were performing audits appropriately and to require continuing education to stay in the profession because you have to constantly update your knowledge base to be an effective CPA.
In the last 25 years, the world has hit the accelerator pedal. Two forces – internationalization and increased regulation – have converged and the profession has responded. In order to serve the public better the members of the AICPA and CIMA agreed to create a new international accounting association with over 600,000 members. This association will help CPAs provide better service while appropriately reacting to increased rules and regulations that can start anywhere in the world.
I am proud to be a member of a profession our predecessors established as forward looking and a bastion of integrity. I am also proud our current members have kept those key attributes alive as we lead the profession into the uncharted international future.