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Place Your Oxygen Mask on Before Helping Others

Young, carefree, lighthearted... these were the adjectives of your youth. But with back to school going on for many in these past weeks, you begin to wonder where all the time went and what are you going to do about the future. CPAs will advise their clients that a sound retirement plan is essential not only for their business but also themselves so why are not more CPAs taking their own advice? Clients look to CPAs to provide educated business advice beyond the numbers but how can a CPA firm recommend to clients the importance of tax credit for establishing a qualified retirement plan when they themselves fail to have one?

It is time for CPA firms to start taking their own advice! Continue to read below an excerpt from an open letter to AICPA members from Chair of the AICPA Firm-Based Retirement committee. This is a great start to learn more about investing in your own retirement while also benefiting your business and employees. The AICPA Retirement committee understands how CPA firms can lose themselves in the shuffle of helping their clients but much like putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others during airplane emergencies, it is imperative for CPA firms to take time to review their own firm’s retirement security.


Sometimes, with all the demands on time and priorities among CPA firms, the topic of retirement planning for partners and employees of the CPA firm can be overlooked. This letter serves to encourage firms to take a closer look at an extraordinary program created by the Member Retirement Committee — we believe it offers the flexibility to meet the needs of most firms and presents a significant value the firms may not be able to achieve on their own.

The Committee conducts member research annually to understand key retirement needs and ensure alignment with our program. In designing a program that encourages firms of all sizes to establish and maintain a competitive 401(k) program, the Committee, mindful of member feedback, has the following objectives in mind:

  • Encourage firms to “get in the game” by offering a retirement plan design with larger contributions than an IRA or SEP, while keeping control of employer contributions in line with the firm’s objectives for establishing a plan;
  • Enable firms to offer a wide range of investment lineups, ranging from a selection of pre-screened “core” funds to an open-architecture platform to allow firms to utilize the services of an independent investment professional in selecting among a large pool of funds;
  • Provide for ease of administration through a world-class payroll provider along with options for fully bundled administration and the use of an independent consultant;
  • Contain program pricing that can help fulfill the firm’s fiduciary obligations by keeping costs reasonable
  • Provide participant educational materials that both encourage saving through the 401(k) program and allow firms to take pride in offering a solid retirement program; and
  • Provide the flexibility to amend and adapt the plan, when desired, for sophisticated plan designs such as age-based or cross-testing profit sharing formulas.

To view the letter in its entirety please visit AICPA.org/retirement.

As the Safe Harbor deadline approaches on October 1st, take this time to discuss retirement strategies with your clients. How are they planning to save?  Have they reviewed the different retirement strategies and funds options available in the marketplace? Have you? Retirement planning is fundamental for firms and businesses of all sizes. For additional resources on retirement planning visit our website AICPA.org/retirement.

What is a brand anyway?

Whenever I first meet someone, and they ask me what I do, my response is usually something like: "I develop corporate branding."

Their reaction is generally a pause, then a nod of the head, followed by an: "Ah, logo design."

> YES AND NO.

Branding isn't just about logo design.

In its most basic form, branding is about taking a business and connecting it with an individual on an emotional level. By this I mean building a relationship so tight that their customers say things like: "I only buy Beamers" for BMW or "I love my Tar~Jay!" for Target. This is audience loyalty so strong that they give their brand a nickname. As if they're friends.

That's a true emotional connection.

Logos help us remember the brand and can also remind us of its attributes, but logos alone can't achieve this level of engagement with customers.

> WHAT BRANDING IS:

For a brand to truly function effectively, it needs to express the company, its products/services and the people behind it in one clear package. This is done by identifying and defining the heart, mind and soul of the organization it represents.

We do this by looking inside and outside of the organization – from employees to the competition. This brand process informs the whole picture as to:

  • What the company stands for
  • Why it's successful
  • Where it's going
  • Who the audience is and could be

Brand definition leads to the mission statement, tag line, messaging and brand promise. By clearly understanding the voice and attitude of a company, the creative direction or overall look and feel begins to take shape.

Design elements such as logos, imagery, color and typography are explored and established to give the brand its physical look. The visual expression of a company is the most immediate way to draw in customers and make a strong connection.

In other words, branding (visually and verbally) is the physical manifestation of what an organization is today and can be in the future. It's informed by authenticity and succeeds through continuity.

Once the brand is defined, Brand Standards establish communication guidelines for advertising, web sites, collateral, events and more. This clear definition of the brand keeps an array of vendors such as web designers, ad agencies and graphic designers all on the same page. Brand Standards are the most effective way of keeping the brand consistent – regardless of platform or creative team.

Branding enables a business to define its personal traits – helping their consumers understand what the company looks like, how it thinks, why people are drawn to it and what it stands for.

Now when people ask me what I do, I guess it's best to just direct them to this post. Hopefully it will help them look beyond the logo and see the identities that live under the companies they love.

Learn more from Richard Shuback on branding in his class at DCPA15.

Improving Your Bedside Manner

We have all been to a doctor that had an impeccable bedside manner and we tend to remember it for a while. Bedside manner is the way a doctor interacts and communicates with us, their patient, and it is most memorable when we have an ailment that is either extremely concerning, painful, embarrassing or all of the above.

Typically, a physician with a good bedside manner is a strong communicator, while one without a good bedside manner may offend or may be overly abrupt with their patients. When we are fearful, in pain or uncomfortable, those medical personnel that readily put us at ease and make us feel that we have come to the right place are those that we depend on time and time again. They are those advisors that we come back to-even if they are more expensive than others in the field.

In the world of accounting, we don't typically talk about bedside manner as it relates to how we communicate and serve our clients. We reserve it for the medical world. I believe that CPAs and CAs have a great opportunity to focus on improving their bedside manner for the good of the profession as well as for the good of the companies and individuals they serve. Health is a very personal thing and so is money. People take money seriously, get excited about it, nervous about the lack of it and sometimes experience great anxiety and pain when sorting out their financial position and forecasts. So, who is in a better place than you, the trustworthy accountant and most trusted business advisor, to show great empathy, listen well and ask questions in order to help put your patient, i.e. client, at ease?

The recent downturns and uncertainty of the economy has sparked many professionals to step up their communication with clients through what we call The Bear Hug Action Plan. This plan is a document that acts as a guide for the CPA and allows them to ask relevant questions of their top clients about their goals and issues and plans. This is one way to improve bedside manner. Many others have their own version and have begun communicating with clients more often and scheduling more face to face meetings to counsel their clients. Either way, the point is that many are out there asking pertinent questions and listening to our clients' concerns better than ever.

A good bedside manner for a doctor might include showing empathy, being open to communication, involving the patient in health decisions, and helping the patient feel more comfortable. A poor bedside manner can appear as hurried, a failure to listen to a patient, abruptness, a dismissal of a patient’s fears, and arrogance. I would argue that the same goes for the CPA or CA.

In the medical profession, it appears that concern about bedside manner has increased in the past few years. Some medical schools for nurses and doctors now offer specific courses in practicing an empathetic approach to patients. In some hospitals, doctors are tested on their bedside manner with mock patients who are meant to test their tolerance. These courses and tests hope to improve the bedside manner of doctors who are not good communicators and who have little apparent sympathy for patients.

While you may have perfected your communication and treatment of your clients, how well have you passed down these standards to others in your firm? With such a strong focus on meeting budgets and realization, many firms are finding that partners and managers feel hurried and stressed and skip the connecting and listening phase when dealing with clients in order to be efficient. What happens is that the relationship suffers, true needs and wants go undiscovered and the relationship does not flourish the way it could. The full potential is lost due to the unintended lack of focusing on the actual client or person instead of the work itself.

A similar issue affects the modern physician. Doctors now see far more patients per day than ever in the past. What happens is that some doctors are abrupt and appear rude because they do not have time to listen like they have in previous years. This is a monumental problem because crucial information can be missed when a patient is not given enough time. Studies show that doctors who listen to their patients thoroughly before diagnosing are more likely to order the proper tests and make a correct diagnosis than those who are hurried and not listening well and jump to immediate conclusions based on their past experiences.

Bedside manner can affect the quality of care a patient receives in a doctor's office or hospital just as it can affect the quality of advice and work in your office or your clients’ office. Now may be a good time to take a look at the quality of the bedside manner both you and your staff are offering to your clients. This includes how your phone is answered, how your material is gathered, and the time that you spend with them getting to know their business and the people in the business. This also very much includes the way that you communicate solutions and actions steps.

Think about a time that you really helped a client and you could see it in their eyes that you made a difference in their life and business. Strive to have more of those moments. You don't have to cure a disease to have these.  Improve your bedside manner and use your gifts of financial literacy and accounting and have more moments like this. Encourage your staff to focus on the people, the pain, the problem so that you can do what you do best and have a long term impact on the financial health of your clients and their businesses. Trust me-they will remember it.

5 Tips for expanding your client services and cloud technology

Now is the perfect time to explore ways to add new client services and generate additional revenue. Here are some tips for identifying areas of opportunity and adding new technologies.

  1. Listen to your clients: What services are they asking for that you don’t provide today? Adding services such as bill pay and client accounting can help round out your offerings and attract new clients.
  2. Structure for success: After deciding the additional services to offer, ensure your firm is set up to support these services. Do you have the proper strategy and staffing in place?
  3. Leverage the right technology: Evaluate and select the technology that best aligns with your firm's needs. Adopt cloud solutions that eliminate manual work, scale with businesses, and allow you to collaborate with clients.
  4. Become an expert: Take the time to increase your knowledge and proficiency of your new technology solutions before transitioning clients and marketing to prospects.
  5. Communicate your new offerings: Utilize various marketing and customer channels to inform clients and prospects about these new services.

Survey Says: Managing Vendors and Service Providers is a Key Priority

The AICPA released its 25th Anniversary Top Technology Initiatives (TTI) Survey this spring, and part of the research effort looked at the issue of managing outsourced services, a subject of great interest to advocates of cloud accounting.

The TTI survey looks at the top priorities for North American CPAs in technology, and also explores how confident accounting professionals feel about meeting those goals. Data security, for example, almost always tops the list. And while it gets less attention, the category of “managing vendors and service providers” invariably makes the cut of top 10 concerns, too. In fact, in the current survey it ticked up a notch to No. 9 for U.S. respondents. (It stood at No. 9 for Canadian survey takers, too.)

In our view, given the growing acceptance the cloud in accounting and finance, this task will only grow in importance.

So how do CPAs feel they’re doing in managing vendors and service providers? Overall, 48 percent of survey takers in the United States said they were confident about meeting the challenge. Some 52 percent said they were performing the right amount of due diligence before hiring an IT partner, although less than half said they were confident about making sure IT service providers were in compliance with service level agreements (SLAs).

The authors of the TTI survey commentary make it plain that key issues regarding risk should be fully negotiated before SLAs are signed.

“Successful organizations should work to fully understand SLAs and insist that contracts are flexible enough to allow the organization to exit the relationship,” the report states. “Exiting a service relationship can be a huge issue, and organizations should focus on getting their data back in a usable format, and on planning a cooperative cut-over to any new provider.“

But CPA firms – and their clients – need to know that one of their core duties going forward is managing vendor relationships and ensuring the success of any IT partnerships. At CPA.com, we are focused on assisting with this by taking some of the guesswork out of choosing vendors through our Partner Solutions program, a lineup of best-in-breed providers in the client advisory services space, collecting reviews and feedback from practitioners to share with the profession, and offering classes like “How to Evaluate Software” at our 2015 Digital CPA Conference (DCPA15). Use these resources to help you manage your vendor and service provider relationships.

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.