Tuesday, April 17, 2018

What’s Your Cybersecurity DQ?

For years the measure of someone’s intellect was the Intelligence Quotient or IQ. And anything over 130 was considered high. Growing up I recall there was a girl who lived on the next block who was rumored to have scored 180 as an 11-year old.

Needless to say I was never in any of her classes.

But as time wore on, it was discovered that such things as “environmental factors” can influence someone’s score by 20 points. That must have been why my teacher wrote “see me after class” on my test paper.

Today, with the advent of all things technological, there’s something called a DQ – or digital quotient, which measures your IT IQ so to speak. In a 2014 study conducted by a U.K.-based consulting firm it found that the average adult has a DQ of 96. By contrast, the average six-year-old had a DQ of 98.

I have never been completely comfortable in the tech arena, but with all the new advances encroaching (blockchain, AI, robotics) it has prompted us as a company to expand past our comfort zone of the CPA community and look at pairing our core clients with the higher end advisory and consulting services – HR and medical consulting, family offices, BPO and of course cybersecurity.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“Thinking about it,” never cuts it

The summer between my junior and senior years in college, I worked for the now-defunct Jack LaLanne chain of health clubs. My job basically was to sell memberships to people who, in all honesty, most had no intention of embarking on a regular exercise regimen.

Also I was instructed in no uncertain terms to present them with a basic pricing model and then at the 11th hour convert them to what they referred to as the “platinum” tier. Many of you are probably familiar with this underhanded sales tactic – known fondly as “bait and switch.”

It probably goes a long way to explain why the chain is not around today. But if nothing else, I did learn one carryover sales tactic. When I had a prospect in the office who was on the fence about joining and admitted they’d been “thinking about it,” I countered by pointing out that “thinking about it” never got anyone in shape.

That worked about 50 percent of the time, which in sales terms was a pretty good conversion rate.

I sometimes think about that process when I visit CPA firms at the end of tax season which is fast encroaching. I try and schedule my appointments shortly after the filing deadline, so the aggravation and frustration of tax season is still fresh, especially for those firms who are in dire need of a succession plan. A few months down the road, what I like to call “revisionist history” sets in and suddenly those 14-hour days and seven day work weeks don’t seem so bad.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Some Things Are Almost Too Obvious

Years ago I remember watching a news segment which profiled a drawbridge that if memory serves, was located in Michigan’s famed tourist attraction - its Upper Peninsula.

Now for you Michiganders, you know that there isn’t a whole lot of activity in the “U.P.” from November to April. The same could be said for this particular structure, which for those six months, stretched across a frozen waterway devoid of any boat traffic. Yet some obscure state law mandated that the bridge be manned even during the off season. So each day someone sat in the small booth with obviously nothing to do until the spring thaw. Talk about a no-show job!

I believe that some years later, saner heads in the Wolverine State prevailed and the law was finally changed.

Talk about no-brainers. Here’s another.

Wellness programs.

I have been reading with increasing frequency about how a number of companies are attaching bonuses to them including a recent announcement from a Big Four firm which launched a $45 million investment for a broad-based program to include parental leave, child adoption, surrogacy, eldercare consultation and of course, health activities such as gym memberships.

Again, some policies should be automatic. Nearly 20 years ago, the CEO of the publishing house where I worked was beside himself because his health care claims were piling up and premiums rising steadily. So a number of us suggested he immediately discontinue the designated smoking room to help clear the air – literally – and strike a corporate rate membership with the new health club that had opened down the street.

He listened intently and then proceeded to ignore everything we suggested. It wasn’t until three years later that he finally acted on both. But in between he managed to sink $1 million into a failing newsletter and then grossly overpaid for a small medical publishing company. Predictably, his company today is a literal shell of what it once was – having siphoned off many of the marquee publishing titles to raise cash in order to stay afloat and just steps ahead of the creditors.

Some 30 years ago a podiatrist told me that medicine in the future will be predicated on the preventive rather than the traditional method of reactive treatment. I don’t think I need to explain how eerily accurate that statement was and wellness programs vs. preventive medicine combine to form a Venn diagram of that. Wellness should be policy at every company with the resources to subsidize such programs. Maybe there’s even a place somewhere for an ex-drawbridge operator.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Working through tax season is what you make of it

Over the weekend, a friend of my youngest who works for a Big Four firm in its New York City office was complaining about the skill set of her managers in terms of workplace atmosphere. Now full bore into tax season she harbored no illusions of her position adhering to a 9-to-5 schedule through April 16, but the other night her manager made her remain until nearly midnight on a Saturday to run some minor reports and apparently kept the entire team there for what today they often refer to as “good optics.”

She knows she has to put in at least a year at the firm for continuity sake and the fact that at least a year’s worth of Big Four experience looks good on her resume. But she was stunned that several of her colleagues enjoyed being there, often until 1 or 2 a.m. with seemingly little to do.

As she’s only a mere 22 years of age, I advised her to bite the bullet now and she will have plenty of time down the road to pursue a job at a firm she truly feels comfortable with.

Contrast that with another young, budding CPA who works for a smaller practice. Yes, he’s often there until 9 or 10 pm on weekdays, but was given his choice of working either Saturday or Sunday on the weekends until the annual landfill of 1040s begins to ebb. It’s needless to point out which one is often in the better mood when I see them.

As someone who has either covered or consulted on the accounting profession for nearly 18 years, I’ve seen both sides when it comes to working environments during tax season. I’ve met managing partners who abide by a code that their staff will never be there past 8 pm regardless of how busy they are, and then I’ve spoken to tax partners who lug along cots to the office and see their families about as often as someone confined to protective custody.

You don’t need to be an industrial psychologist to know that the first few years out of college forge a formidable imprint as to working in a profession or industry of one’s choosing. As an example I once thought of entering the hospitality profession, but several weeks of 16 hour days and leaving at 3 or 4 am quickly absolved me of that notion.

No matter how you spin it, tax season is a rough haul – always has been and always will be. It’s up to you and your firm how your younger staff will perceive it on an annual basis. My daughter’s friend is already thinking about the private sector.

For those in public accounting that’s an unpleasant scenario that could probably be avoided with an equitable mixture of creativity and compassion.

Friday, March 9, 2018

DIYer is DOA

Seeing as we’re knee deep into filing season the chatter on many of the social media platforms naturally turns to tax matters. On Facebook I read where one poster who had “friended” me several years ago, complained that after 10 years with the same CPA, his accountant actually had the temerity to raise his fee.

The complainant groused about now having to pay $500 for his return and sent out a group question of whether or not he should use Turbo Tax to save money.

Since I’m the furthest thing from a DIYer, my immediate and very vocal response would be a decided “NO.”

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Lessons from a storm

For those who were fortunate not to live in Northeast this weekend, the area got walloped by the worst storm since Hurricane Sandy. Rain, sleet, snow and wind gusts approaching 70 miles per hour knocked out power to roughly 1.5 million people from Maine to Pennsylvania and downed thousands of trees and power lines.

As of this writing there are still nearly 100,000 people in my area without electricity and appears that it will not be restored anytime soon. Many school districts are closed and to add insult to injury, another storm is expected to hit in mid-week.

As you can imagine, residents are at the end of their patience as the local power suppliers have been almost glacial in their response. In fact one of the towns had to call the local and state police to quell a near civil riot as some folks threatened the repair personnel due to their inability to make any progress.

In a word it’s ugly.

So yesterday I happened to be in line at the local grocery store and struck up a conversation with one of the repair lineman who explained that part of the problem was jurisdictional squabbles between state and local power authorities and who was responsible for what.  

So in addition to slow progress, residents have to bear the brunt of red tape as well. Strangely this got me to thinking about the changes about client services now impacting the CPA profession.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Dr. Jeff and the search for a new accountant

In full disclosure, I have enjoyed a “bromance” with my dentist – Dr. Jeff – since I first wandered into his midtown Manhattan practice back in 1995, with two cracked fillings and a new experience in oral pain.  He’s simply one of the best practitioners – medical, dental or legal – I have ever met. He takes the time to ask about family – even remembering their names – and never, ever performs any work without it being absolutely necessary.

I made the commute from my suburban home to New York City for 25 years to my office and despite working from home since early 2012; I still make the trek in to see Dr. Jeff.

Even though he’s approaching his late 60s he assured me, he will not retire anytime soon. That elicits a collective sigh of relief.

Ditto for my accountant Rocco.

He’s been preparing my 1040s since 1991 and is basically a tax code geek – aware of even the minutest changes that most CPAs would have to research. He, much like Dr. Jeff, assured me he will never retire.

So when a fellow member of my health club began complaining about his dentist and asked me for a recommendation, I realized that despite their differing professions, dentists are much like accountants in that their client base is predicated largely on referrals. Think about how many of you are patients and clients of either and how you got there. I’ll wager over 90 percent of you came to both through a referral by a friend or colleague.