Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Should Financial Education be Mandatory?

Depending on the time of year Sunday mornings are usually taken up by either a workout at my gym or a best-of-three singles match with Paul, my longtime tennis partner.

And as I have noted in this space on more than one occasion, the winter of 2015 has forced yours truly indoors roughly 99 percent of the time – which for the past several months has meant the gym.

Sunday mornings are also a listen to veteran financial planner and author Rick Edelman, whose show on the Sabbath airs from 10 am to noon, where he expounds on a variety of topics as well as addresses various money-related questions from callers. To some he may be a familiar name with financial tomes such as “The Truth About Money,” to his credit.

This Sunday he posited an interesting point  – should a course or two in financial education be mandatory for high school students much the way math and science are?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring Cleaning 2.0

This week I celebrated an anniversary of sorts.

I find it difficult to believe, but it’s been three years since I officially joined the ranks of the 30 million or more folks who work remotely at least once a week.

And, as I’ve noted in this space, there are advantages and drawbacks to having a home office. Although considering the winter we endured in New York this year the positives of working from home easily outweighed any negatives.

For example, it was far more convenient to shovel snow and chip away at ice blocks the size of Greenland during the day than having to do it at 7 pm in the evening as I previously had to when I commuted to New York City and returned home exhausted. As you can image, an hour of shoveling at the end of a long day didn’t rank very high on my to-do list.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Retirement Plan That Should be DOA

Milton Friedman once remarked that you could take any three letters from the alphabet, scramble them in any order you want, and you'll end up with an acronym for a federal agency we could do without.

I think about this quote from time to time when I run into a bureaucratic snafu – such as clogged lines at the DMV or the Post Office.

But I digress.

This weekend I came across an interesting article focusing on 401(k) plans and how they have fallen woefully short of their intended goal of helping the average American save for retirement. The article was somewhat more direct labeling the program a “failure.” According to a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, the median amount in a 401(k) account is $18,433, with nearly 40 percent of employees having less than $10,000 in their respective plan.

For older workers, the median for those ages 55 to 64 was $76,381. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Are You An Employable Employer?

The other day I received a survey question via email and the premise was a simple one.  The question read “What one change do you recommend that firms undertake to make their CPA firm culture more engaging and attractive to the next generation leader?

Since we have a fairly narrow focus at this company consulting almost exclusively on myriad succession issues, I sort of viewed the inquiry as incomplete – meaning there probably is no one thing that can make a company more enticing to work for and remain with, but rather I think it would be more like a series.

Oh sure, some perks, benefits and work initiatives will be more important to some than others in terms of ranking, but can anyone really recommend one  universal thing that will help line the halls outside your HR office with hopeful applicants? 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Getting Bad Clients off the Bus

A number of years ago I was at a restaurant and ordered a double-cut pork chop as an entrée.

When the waiter arrived at my table I noticed his had his thumb squarely lodged in the center of the meat.

When I angrily asked him why he was doing that he sheepishly replied, “I just didn’t want to drop it on the floor again.”

As you may have surmised by now, it didn’t really happen that way but that vignette always provides a decent laugh or two, and to a larger point touches on the subject of service – or more specifically bad service.

Most CPA practitioners that I know usually categorize their clients in different tiers – whether it’s a rating of A, B or C, or numerically, they know which ones reside at the “gold” level and those whose return on investment in both time and fees more resemble scrap metal. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

If You’re Not Smart, at Least You Can Look Smart!

My father used to tell anyone who would listen that it only took his son (yours truly) three terms to graduate from college – Nixon’s, Ford’s and Carter’s.

But he also dispensed this bit of sage advice, “if you look like a player you just might fool someone.”

That reference was to my accomplishments in organized athletics, an annual exercise in futility that often prompted my coaches to inquire if I was born with six ankles.

But thankfully those days are firmly pressed into a glad-to-be-forgotten scrapbook. Now at my advanced age, I found that you can gain respectability in the corporate world – if not the athletic fields - even if you have the workplace skills and knowledge of the pointy-haired boss from “Dilbert.”

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Winter of My Discontent

As strange as it may seem that despite living in the Northeast for 90 percent of my life, I’m not a fan of winter. And especially snow. In my younger days, my parents dragged me kicking and screaming to various ski destinations, where my hands and feet promptly froze and I would snowplow turn back to the warmth of the lodge as quickly as I could.

My sessions skating on frozen ponds and lakes would yield similar blue finger and toe results, which is why I’m a hockey spectator in lieu of a participant. Cold weather and I are just not compatible. I attribute that to my Mediterranean heritage – our tribe generally prefers sunshine and palm tree lined beaches in lieu of glacier like icicles and snow piles approaching the height of Pike’s Peak. I’ll leave that to my Scandinavian friends.

My personal climate experience ranges from 119 degrees in Arizona to 24 below zero in Minneapolis. Given that choice today, I will opt for Arizona every time. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tell Me Something Else I Don’t Know!

This weekend, I made my annual pilgrimage to the home of Rocco, my long time CPA, to drop off my tax organizer. After covering the profession for 12 years, one can imagine the horror stories I’ve heard over that time and even now from preparers whose clients simply pile all their W-2s and other relevant documents in a manila envelope or a shoebox and say, “have at it.”

By contrast, I’ve always prided myself on the way I organize my client file, an explanation is paper-clipped to each document thereby easing Rocco’s already difficult job of somehow getting me a refund – of any kind. I know he has at least 300 other tax clients, so I’m sure he appreciates one less 1040 mess to try and unravel. 

But this year he was beside himself. He has never been a flag-waving fan of the support department of the IRS but he claims that 2015 reached a new low –even for his skeptical expectations. He tried on several occasions to get an answer to a question related to an irrevocable trust and after three days of waiting he gave up. A similar outcome came less than a week later regarding one of college tuition reimbursement.