Friday, December 16, 2016

Ringing Out 2016

Whether it will be on the receiving end of cheers or jeers, this is my last post for 2016.

Over the past year, this space has addressed a wide range of succession-related topics and a few that were shall we say, a bit off the primary topic – i.e. this week’s rant against one particular air carrier.

After 16 years either covering the profession in my former life, or, consulting to it, I’ve learned that despite quantum advancements in such areas as technology the basic landscape of the profession can probably be graphed via a single unwavering straight line.

Predictably, the last 365 days have seen – more mergers among CPA firms (no surprise there); a mountain of succession procrastination (picture my E*TRADE baby shocked face!); and, despite our repeated cautions to the contrary, far too many owners and partners expecting a white knight in the form of a young CPA to walk through their door and lead them to the promised land of growth over the next decade.

I’ve already given you unsolicited advice about taking a holistic view of your respective practices to determine what needs to be done in the coming year in order to remain competitive.

Several of my columns have also recommended gauging your internal “bench” to see if there’s anyone capable of one day assuming the reins of a firm badly in need of a succession plan.

Whether you listen or ignore all of the above is of course your choice. We tell our clients that they are in the enviable position of ignoring everything we tell them and doing what they want. And of course many of them followed those instructions to the letter.

This inaction to what is often painfully obvious reminds me of when I was about 17 and convinced I was light years smarter than my parents. When I was 24 or so, I was busy attempting to figure out how they became so much smarter in such a relatively short span.

We’ve been at this 26 years now, so I’m fairly confident our approaches work.

In 2017 we have our customary line up of webinars with the first one debuting on January 12 and hosted by yours truly as I take a look back at this year and what we can expect in the coming months. We’ll also be contributing a number of articles to the national accounting press, so stay tuned.

So from all us at Transition Advisors, best wishes for a healthy and happy holiday season.

I’ll return in January.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Culture Mesh or Culture Clash?

Last week I was fortunate enough to be asked to deliver a presentation on partnership agreements in a one-firm culture – one of the rapidly emerging shifts in the profession as CPA practices gradually wean themselves away from the “eat what you kill” book of business culture.

I have not seen my session reviews just yet, so I’m unable to tell you if I got through to my audience. If the folks at the AICPA send along a note thanking me for my participation and little else, I’ll know that it’s time to begin lobbying for another organization to speak before.

Mine was hardly the only session at the confab which addressed the quantum changes going on in the profession, but one attendee pulled me aside later and explained that they were in dialogue with a potential successor firm for an upstream merger and asked what were the categories they should be reviewing to determine if it would be a good “fit.”

Immediately I began my soliloquy on the 4Cs – chemistry, culture, capacity and continuity – the quartet essential to any successful merger. He seemed to quickly grasp three out of the four but stumbled a bit on culture.

“How do we know if our cultures are a good fit?”

Friday, December 9, 2016

Flying the Unfriendly Skies

Despite my well-documented ineptness with all things technology I continue to try and at least learn enough about the latest applications and techniques as to not appear a laughingstock in my own household.

Hence, I attend technology conferences such as this week’s Digital CPA in Las Vegas, where each vendor booth will gladly demonstrate how their applications will revolutionize the tax, audit, workflow (or add your own category here) processes. And hopefully along the way, I’ll pick up a few things here and there to elevate my tech IQ to a respectable level.

I doubt anyone, anywhere, will dispute the benefits technology has brought not only to the accounting professions, but countless other fields as well.

But you know what hasn’t changed for the better over the last two decades, despite all the tech advancements?

The air travel experience.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Raise Your Hand if you Like Your Boss!

Like many of you, I’ve been fortunate to have a number of good-to-occasionally great, supervisors, and conversely, some that should not have been allowed within three area codes of managing people.

With few exceptions, I’ve learned something from almost all of them – my previous post being a notable exception to that rule - but that’s discussion fodder for another column.

Some were mentors who selflessly and patiently imparted their experience and wisdom and made me not only better at my job, but better as a person as well.

On the flip side, I’ve had a few managers whose only lines of communication opened when something went wrong and they demanded answers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Being Great at Not Doing

In full disclosure, I’m on the treadmill as I’m dictating this column, a byproduct of eating enough over the Thanksgiving weekend to power a commuter train. In a season of giving thanks, I’m thankful beach season is at least six months away. At this point I’m in no danger of Sports Illustrated calling me to appear in their annual swimsuit edition.

Let’s just say that when filling out my pants size for a Christmas wish list, discretion is the better part of valor so I’ve added a size or two for good measure – if you’ll pardon the bad pun.

But on to the topic de jour. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I Robot

Sixteen years ago just as the tech bubble was about to erupt like Mount St. Helens, two software executives from a company in California dropped by my office to demonstrate their latest product, an accounting application that could be accessed remotely via the Internet.

Back then, vendors like those were referred to by the acronym of ISPs – Internet Service Providers – which as most of you know by now the online product movement has evolved to the more updated and colorful nomenclature of “cloud applications.”

I compared that experience to the first time I saw my uncle demonstrate the Bowmar Brain, a hand-held electronic calculator back in 1972, or when I witnessed a crude form of email in the early 1980s.

Today, many CPA firms have eschewed the expense of servers or on-site remote people and opted for the hundreds of available cloud apps, as over the past decade even the traditional accounting software vendors now offer a cloud version of their product lines.

But there’s an emerging trend that’s a bit eye-opening and, from my standpoint, a tinge frightening.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Throwing “The Book” out!

In full disclosure, I’m a statistics junkie.

And always have been.

I think I’m one of the few people other than those who pursue it as a career, who took not one, not two but THREE statistics classes in college.

Whether it be sports, business, professional services or some other arcane arena, I file fact and figures away for future reference, which usually manifests itself in columns such as these or CPE presentations.

Other numericals such as batting averages or yards per pass attempt are best left for backyard barbecues or cocktail parties.

So as you can imagine, I got a minor thrill when the AICPA recently released its quadrennial succession survey, an amalgamation of several hundred slides citing responses from both sole practitioners and multi-owner firms on a variety of succession-related topics.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Sometimes it’s the smaller picture

Tired of election coverage?

Join the club.

As someone who has voted in every Presidential election since Ford-Carter in ’76, I’m adamant about not reading or watching anything election-related for the next 48 hours.

That may be easier said than done, because Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton more resembles a five-car pileup on the interstate that you can’t help but rubberneck as opposed to choosing the next four-year occupant of the Oval Office.

But in many cases, the voting public in any big election misses the bigger picture, or more accurately, the smaller picture.

A number of years ago when I was cutting my proverbial teeth at a local newspaper, my wizened editor who so often served as a mentor, pulled me aside one election night and explained that too often the citizenry focuses on the larger elections instead of the ones that affect them the most.

A bit puzzled I asked how so?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Payback is a you-know-what!

Earlier this year I chronicled my adventures with those overseas scammers posing as IRS Agents who claimed I was in danger of arrest for failure to repay back taxes.

As someone who covered the accounting profession for 12 years I was more than familiar with standard IRS collection procedures something our friends in India were obviously not aware of.

Well I’m happy to report, actually, “giddy” is more like it, that the Justice Department has charged some 61 individuals and entities that victimized thousands of people with false IRS claims resulting in millions of dollars in losses. As of now, some 20 have been arrested in the U.S. and another 30 or so and five call centers in India have been charged.

Friday, October 28, 2016

These Firms are a-Changing

For nearly a quarter century I made the weekday commute from my leafy suburb to Manhattan. First a 45-minute ride on the railroad, followed by a lengthy subway ride. As a remote worker, let me tell you that daily grind is not one of the things I miss about my old office.

As anyone who has ever done an overlong apprenticeship as a commuter knows, each train and subway car is overrun with billboard advertising – whether it is for medical or dental practices, banks and financial institutions or even the state lottery.

Since I began my involvement with the accounting profession more than 16 years ago, I always paid special attention to the advertisements trumpeting both the regional and global CPA firms – from those on the cusp of cracking the Top 100 to the behemoths of the Big Four.

As an advertising and marketing reporter in a former life, old habits die hard as with any ad I pay close attention to the copy.

And do you know what word the copywriters almost never use in those ads for those firms?


Let me repeat that for emphasis.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Long Lost CPA Movie Thriller

Since becoming empty nesters – at least for the duration of the 2016-2017 academic year – the bride and I have enjoyed frequent date nights and that includes regular movie viewings, something we only did in 20th century B.C. – before children.

Last week it was “The Girl on the Train” which despite receiving mediocre reviews I enjoyed and a film that will surely propel its star – Emily Blunt – into the Oscar conversation.

Saturday we plan to see “The Accountant” in which Ben Affleck plays an autistic green-eyeshader who just happens to moonlight as an assassin with skills that go far beyond computing goodwill or completing a K-1.

I got to thinking about some of the famous accountants in the movies – as I’m sure everyone who either blogs or writes on the profession is sure to do in the ensuing weeks since the film’s debut.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sometimes, there’s no use trying…

Some people are just oblivious to reality despite all evidence to the contrary.

Take my neighbor for example. Since the day his daughter was incredulously given a driver’s license, she has had three fender benders, smashed into my mailbox while backing up and just recently was clocked at 93 miles per hour on a highway with a 65 speed limit.

Her fault right?

Not a chance. The father is taking the case to court, charging that the highway patrol “did a lot of things wrong?”

Like what? Citing her for driving nearly 30 mph over the speed limit and endangering others?

Sometimes there’s nothing left but to simply shrug your shoulders.

Let’s face it we’ve all known people like that. And there’s no amount of trying to sway their way of thinking.

And many CPAs are no different.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Case of the Great Declining Multiples

Ah, the 1990s – Seinfeld, LA Law, Jurassic Park, Boyz II Men, Sega, Netscape and mobile phones the size of rugby balls. Some things from that era were to be treasured, others, like my pale blue “Members Only” jacket were eventually given to a clothing charity where I’m not sure they kept it.

In full disclosure I also owned a purple one that mysteriously disappeared from my closet. I always suspected my spouse but she has steadfastly remained loyal to her alibi of visiting her mother at the time.  I still find it strange that her mother lived in Florida and I don’t remember her absent for a week, but that’s fodder for another column or at least a segment of “Unsolved Mysteries.”

You know what else will most likely never return from that bygone era? Receiving high multiples for CPA firms.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Firm of the future or future of the firm?

Next month, I have been tasked with a 100-minute presentation on what I believe the CPA firm of the future will look and operate like.

Yes I know this subject has been addressed ad nauseum over the past decade and perhaps longer, but in its defense it always seems to be in demand – even by a group of tax professionals who will comprise the bulk of my audience in November.

I’m not going to regale you with highlights of my speech – or in some cases bore you with them – but remember anything that is of a futurist trend in nature will always be heavily oriented in technology, a subject that doesn’t often make the older generation comfortable.

So I begin by asking the session members how long they think common tech-related devices that they use every day have been in existence. The answers are, more often than not, surprising.

Friday, September 30, 2016

I’ll Vote for Groucho!

In the classic Marx Brothers’ movie “Duck Soup” the main character, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), is debating with the Secretary of War on whether to raise taxes on the mythical country of Fredonia and the ensuing exchange goes something like this…

Secretary: “How about taking up the tax?”
Firefly: “How about taking up the carpet?”
Secretary: “I still insist we must take up the tax”
Firefly: “He’s right; you gotta take up the tacks before you can take up the carpet.”

I thought of this absurd parody while watching the much anticipated Presidential Debate earlier this week – a political train wreck that you just can’t help but rubberneck. And of course one of the main talking points during that often painful and finger-pointing 90 minutes was the oft-discussed subject of taxes.

I don’t often get political in this space, but after Monday night, there are some things that need to be said with regard to proposed tax changes – whether real or imagined.

Hillary Clinton has stated that under her plan the rich would pay their fair share of taxes, while Donald Trump would cut the corporate tax rate to 35 percent to usher in a more business friendly environment.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Good Walk Spoiled

I once knew a wizened public relations professional who spent the majority of his career at the Ford Motor Co. In his college days, he played golf for the University of North Carolina, which in the early 1950s was one of the powerhouses of collegiate links. Each year they routinely would drub interstate rival Wake Forest University until one day the UNC coach warned his players that WFU had recruited this strapping 18-year old from Pittsburgh, who, reportedly, could drive the ball 300-yards plus.

UNC’s dominance came to abrupt end the first time their team saw Arnold Palmer walk out of the locker room, a blond Adonis in a white T-shirt whose broad shoulders looked capable of seating a family of four for dinner. He teed up the ball on the practice tee and calmly sent it to the next county.

The match was over before the first stroke.

Even though I’m not a golfer, I was saddened to read the passing of a legend, who left legions of fans and admirers not to mention being instrumental in elevating the game to the national and global reach it enjoys today.

This in a roundabout way brings us to the topic de jour. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Where did it all go?

I’ve always considered myself to be reasonably young looking and in good physical shape for someone my age. I go to the gym regularly, eat cleanly and can never make it to the end of Monday Night Football without falling asleep.

But sometimes reality of your internal chronometer smacks you squarely in the face.

Case in point.

Last week I was in the waiting room of my doctor and noticed among the stack of un-interesting publications he routinely subscribes to, that 80s pop star Cyndi Lauper was on the cover of AARP magazine.

I did an immediate double take. But there she was in all her red headed glory on a publication geared toward the 50 and older crowd. For those keeping score at home, Ms. Lauper is actually 63. Let me repeat that for emphasis, 63.

I mean, it wasn’t all that long ago that “Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and “Time After Time” were at the top of the charts.

Or was it?

I don’t know whether it was reflexive or desperate, but as soon as I returned home I phoned my financial planner to get a status report on my portfolio.

Too bad the accelerated pace at which the years pass by doesn’t always register with some.

Again case in point.

Friday, September 16, 2016

They’re nothing if not persistent

Of all the communications-related technology advancements over the past 20 years, the one I’m probably most grateful for is caller ID.

Like many of you, my home phone receives no less than five solicitation calls per day and just slightly less than that on weekends. Thankfully, the caller ID feature alerts me to each and every hopeful looking for a donation.

Then there are those who demand money via intimidation. I’m referring specifically to the threatening calls from people claiming to be with the IRS giving you final notice of a pending lawsuit for payment of back taxes.

Since the beginning of the week I’ve gotten five of these messages and thanks to caller ID, they’ve all originated from a wireless phone somewhere in Miami. The recorded voice identifies themselves as a member of the Internal Revenue Services (sic) and instructs you to call a different number – although one still in a Miami area code.

So much like last year when I went through a similar exercise, this was too good an opportunity to pass up.

And so I called.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Does Your Firm Suffer From Meeting Overload?

For those of you who, like me, are loyal readers of the cartoon Dilbert, you’ll likely remember one of the great characters ever introduced in that classic strip – The Meeting Moth. The Meeting Moth could not pass a meeting in progress without flapping his wings in excitement and curiosity.

We all have worked with Meeting Moths, although hopefully, sans wings. I once worked for a company so ensconced in a meeting culture that they would actually have meetings to schedule a time for a meeting.

But it went even deeper than that.

One late Friday afternoon just as everyone was about to depart for the weekend, the CEO called an emergency meeting for 6 pm. Amidst a tidal wave of dissent, loud grumbling and language heard only within the confines of a locker room for the Teamsters, he stood up and actually said the following: “Folks, we’re not really having a meeting, we just wanted to see how fast we could gather everyone in case we had to call one.”

Thankfully for him, two of the larger employees successfully fended off several intended assaults. I reminisced (although not happily) about that day when I stumbled across some incredible statistics about the state of meetings in the U.S.

Friday, September 9, 2016

What Do They Really Want?

Last week I completed my annual pre-Labor Day pilgrimage to New England for a host of in-person visits to several client firms.

Thankfully I ended my journey on a Thursday, one day before the Massachusetts Turnpike and I-95 did their best impressions of parking lots with thousands of vacationers making their way to Cape Cod or other local beach destinations for the final weekend of summer.

Wasn’t it just Memorial Day? But I digress.

After exchanging the requisite pleasantries with each managing partner I asked them point blank about their pressing issues of the moment. Want to know what the unanimous answer was for all six practices?


Specifically, the secrets, if any, to hiring and retaining younger staff.

Since five out of the six MPs were Baby Boomers I took that specifically to mean “how do I hire these Millennials?”

Good question.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Expiration Date

Inspiration comes in many forms.

For me, I get inspired by folks who truly believe that age is just a number. One of my physical fitness idols growing up was the ageless wonder Jack LaLanne, who, each year on his birthday, would perform incredible feats of strength and endurance even when he was well into his 80s.

For those keeping score at home the health and nutrition icon finally went to that giant gym  in the sky in 2011 at the age of 96.

I also admire people who don’t think that the date on the birth certificate should dictate how long they should work – provided they can still do the job of course. I knew a 90-year old attorney who came into the office every day and occasionally would still litigate cases in the lower courts. And I’ve seen hundreds of CPA firms with people well into their 70s putting in 40-50-hour weeks.

So as someone who is on the north side of middle age, it angers me when I see workplace litigation predicated on age discrimination. Case in point, I read recently where four former employees of Hewlett Packard are suing the company for what they claim was a purge of older workers as part of a major restructuring in 2012 involving the shedding of 27,000 jobs.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

You’ve got to Start Sometime

There was big news at Chez Carlino a few weeks ago.

After slogging through two years at temporary positions, where she did everything from walking dogs, taking her boss’s car to the repair shop to supervising contractors on construction of a pool, my eldest daughter landed a full-time and hopefully, permanent gig at a marketing and communications company, which incidentally were her two pursuits of study in college.

Not to temper her feelings of employment euphoria, I told her one of the first things she needed to do after signing up for company health benefits was to enroll in their 401(k) savings plan.

After outlining to her the basic principles of compound investing and explaining how if she began saving now by the time she was ready to retire she would have a sizeable sum to begin drawing from, she hopefully will take my advice and do just that.

In a remarkable coincidence to my paternal savings lecture, financial services specialist Bankrate recently released a survey which said that more Americans are saving for retirement than ever before.

That’s the good news.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda…

When it comes to facing reality, there are two types of people in this world – those who listen and learn and those who do neither despite repeated efforts to convince them otherwise.

Case in point, people (who shall remain anonymous) that continue to lend my brother-in-law money, despite a two-decade long track record of being stiffed on a regular basis, they continue to write checks.

Once was enough for me, I didn’t need to learn that lesson twice.

This brings us to today’s subject, succession, or, in too many unfortunate cases, lack thereof.

The other day I was visiting a long-time client, who as he approaches age 70 continues to put in absurd hours when at that period in his life he should be lying about his golf handicap like most of his peers. Instead he comes into the office on most weekends even during the 1040 off season. His son works at the firm but the owner told me in all honesty that he lacks the leadership skills to carry the firm into the next generation.

So, naturally, I bring up the “M” word – merger.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Balancing Act

I once was visiting a colleague’s house when suddenly a landscaping truck pulled noisily into the driveway. It struck me as strange because I knew him to be a real DIYer, everything from performing simple repairs on his car to re-grouting his bathroom tile.

So when I asked him why he outsources his lawn maintenance, he replied, “I already work 60 hours a week, I don’t need to work 63.”

Good point. And a prime example of one of the fastest growing and most in-demand job perks over the past 10 years – “work life balance.”

Whether we like it or not, we’re working longer hours today than previous generations – no doubt fueled by technology which has enabled an overlap between the office and the home. Twenty years ago it was unthinkable to be answering emails on a Sunday but think about how many of us do exactly that?

Toward that end, I ran across an article that rated the 25 best companies in the U.S. for work-life balance as rated by the company review site Indeed. To qualify the company must have at least 100 employee reviews on Indeed and hire primarily full time workers. The list did not include colleges, non-profits, government or military organizations.

The companies were rated on such criteria as flexible work schedules, employee wellness programs and, of course, perks.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Are They Partner Material or a Lifetime Employee?

Not long ago I was discussing internal succession with the managing partner of a firm in the Midwest. During the course of the conversation, the elephant in the room emerged when I asked point blank if there was anyone on his bench who could step up to an equity role and be part of the succession team.

He thought about it for a while and said there was a long-time employee who could conceivably assume partner status. He’d been with the firm nearly 20 years and had performed well. But admittedly there was one serious roadblock – he was not credentialed.

This was a moment I like to call “windshield reality” – where the verbal effect can often mirror the impact of being thrown through a car windshield in an accident.

I told him in no uncertain terms that the candidate has made a commitment only to being his employee, not to the accounting profession or else in two decades he certainly could have found the time to get his CPA certification.

He thanked me for my analysis and went on to admit him anyway. I would be interested to see where this firm is in say, five years.

Aside from “what’s the multiple?” one of the more frequent questions I’m asked is what qualities constitutes partner material? Now, there’s no blanket answer for that one, as obviously the circumstances surrounding the admission of a new partner will vary from firm to firm.

But I’ve taken the time to compile a short checklist on some of the characteristics of evaluating potential candidates for an equity role.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Of Accountants, Dentists and Auto Mechanics

At my rapidly advancing age, I’m always comforted when I receive a clean bill of health from Dr. Jeff, my dentist. I may have long ago lost my hair, but I take pride in the fact I still have my original 28 (sans wisdom teeth) intact.

So at the end of my semi-annual check-up and cleaning earlier this week, we reminisced at how long we’ve enjoyed our doctor-patient relationship. For those keeping score at home, my first visit to him was in 1995 and four grandchildren (for him) and another daughter for me (now 21) since then, we’re still keeping the faith.

Now that’s even more surprising when you consider that Dr. Jeff practices in New York City and I have to take the train in to see him, despite the convenience of roughly 50 dental practitioners within a five-mile radius of my suburban home. But when you find someone you like and perhaps more importantly, trust, you keep the ship sailing in the same direction.

He’s never recommended any unnecessary work and many times told me that if I ever had a problem on a weekend, he’d gladly come in the office for an emergency. Thankfully, I never had to call in that favor.

I’m sure it’s a similar story with regard to choosing and staying with, an accountant. As a matter of fact, I’ve had Rocco, my accountant, two years longer than Dr. Jeff.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Some Folks Will Never Get It

I once had a professor in college who frequently employed a common expression but with a colorful twist. For example, when you painstakingly showed someone the correct procedure for something, and they did their best impression of ignoring it, he would straighten up to his full 5-foot-5 inch frame, wag his finger and said, “you can lead some people to water, but invariably they will p#&$ in it.”

Graphically put, but point well taken.

Now, within our company we also have an expression when meeting with clients and that being we don’t pretend we’re experts in things we’re not. We don’t offer services such as executive recruiting, or technology consulting although we have excellent referrals for each.

Another area we don’t wade in too deep is training and marketing although again there are some very good people in the profession who do and we’re glad to pass any inquiries along.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t understand the critical importance of each.

Unfortunately, our understanding of that tandem’s value doesn’t translate universally to the profession.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How Technology Killed the Live Conference

There are certain events in your life – good or bad – that no matter how long ago they happened, you remember exactly when and where you were. For the purpose of brevity in today’s missive, let’s focus on technology.

For example, I was at a friend’s house in 1984 when his wife was typing on her IBM 286 equipped with a Prometheus modem who explained she was “talking” to one of her colleagues at the large cosmetics company where they worked. Their “conversation” came across as simple block letter text, but that was my inaugural introduction to e-mail.

Some 15 years later, a CPA friend who needed some more credit hours in order to fulfill his CPE requirements for the year explained that he was going to attend a “webinar” – an online course he could take while seated at his desk.

“One day this is going to replace live conferences,” he predicted. When I asked how, he explained that the savings in terms of travel, lodging (if the event was a regional or national) not to mention time, would be huge determining factors in terms of attendance.

Obviously that didn’t happen overnight.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A man walks into a CPA’s office…

Henny Youngman, the so-named “king of the one-liners” often told this joke about a man walking into a psychiatrist’s office.

“Doctor, I need help.”

“Okay, get on the couch. And before we start what do you do for a living?”

“I’m an auto mechanic.”

“In that case get under the couch.”


I often lament the fact that I never majored, or even minored, in psychology, considering how many times I have had to assume that role during my career. As an editor, I always maintained that my job was equal parts manager, mentor and psychologist.

Now, as a consultant, those percentages are skewed far more toward the psychiatric side, since we’re helping CPA owners and partners to embark on the biggest business decisions of their lives.

Case, or, more appropriately, cases in point.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Have I Got A Deal for You!

I have never enjoyed great success opting for those massive discounts on name brands – especially the ones appearing with annoying regularity as online pop-ups.

Case in point: last year, I ordered a $30 pair of Oakley sport sunglasses which as anyone familiar with the brand knows is roughly 1/5 the retail price. A month later, the glasses came – in a crumpled package replete with a return address in Mandarin.

These knockoff “Oakleys” were constructed of such substandard materials that after just three uses, one of the lenses came tumbling out.

Never again.

Which brings me to the topic de jour – that of a $4 smartphone.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Is Good Help Really That Hard To Find?

There’s been a lot written in the space over the past several years about the dearth of young talent in the accounting profession and the stunning number of calls I receive each month from firms with identical wish lists –find me a young CPA with or without a book of business.

If only it were that easy.

Along those lines I was speaking with a partner of a firm in the Northeast earlier this week who lamented that not only did he need a young high potential (or several for that matter) to come aboard, but also bemoaned that fact that they did not have the recruiting resources of some of his larger competitors.

For example, he admitted that due to his staffing shortage and quite honestly lack of name recognition, he was unable to attend any of the recruiting days at the local colleges. And even if he did, how many candidates could he successfully attract?

I must admit I had never thought about it in those terms.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Of Summer Grilling and Tax Compliance

With the onset of summer, I decided (or more accurately, my wife and kids decided) it was time to put our 7-year old grill out to pasture and buy a new one for the 2016 grilling season.

Since the newspapers are filled with flyers from various home improvement chains trumpeting great deals on grills, there was no shortage of models and options to choose. So after a brief discussion and consensus, we chose one that could easily handle a dinner crowd of 20 or so.

Then the fun began.

Turns out, most models were at least $25-$50 more if you opted for the retailer to assemble them.

The missus would not hear of it and strongly suggested (emphasis on strongly) we put it together ourselves.

I’m from the Woody Allen School of mechanical problems and assembly instructions. I try something twice and if it still doesn’t work I begin to hit. The bride is far more patient and after 4 hours or so, our gleaming new Weber four-burner was ready for its maiden voyage.

Now to me four hours is a lot to spend on most things.

But how about something that consumes 8.9 BILLION hours?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Don’t Try This At Home

I’ll have to admit it took a bit longer this year than in the past, but apparently getting three extra days to finish up the stockpile of 1040s has put most people at least a week or two behind with regard to preparing their firms for the rest of 2016.

Case in point: last week I spoke to a three-partner firm in the Northeast whose owners’ ages are, in ascending order, 55, 62 and 68. And perhaps to no one’s surprise, least of all mine, they have no one on the bench to assume the reins when the older partners begin to slow down. Their technology is, to be kind, about a decade past a much needed upgrade  and their revenues have been either stagnant or falling (depending on the year) for at least the past five years.

Perfect, an ideal candidate for an upstream merger, an aging firm that with the help of a larger practice with greater resources and expertise could slowly begin to resurrect it.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Let’s Put These Buzzwords to Sleep for Good in 2016

I once had a colleague who, in the course of everyday conversation, seemed to almost despair if at least one of his sentences within a complete paragraph didn’t contain a common buzzword.

“Bill, at the end of the day we have to get this out the door.”

With pearls of wisdom like that lobbed at you on a daily basis, you sort of get the idea.

So, along those lines and at least once a year, I feel the need to vent about the absurd overuse of workplace buzzwords and jargon, which unless it’s my imagination or perhaps paranoia, has seemed to proliferate exponentially over the past several years.

Perhaps it’s collateral damage from the abbreviated world of Twitter or texting, but I’ll let far brighter minds than mine sort that out.

So with that in mind, here’s my 2016 list that should long ago have been put out to pasture (I didn’t just say that did I?) and some suggested alternative phrases that can be used.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Certain Things Should Never Go Virtual

More years ago than I want to remember, my father and I walked into an automobile dealership that showcased cars of the now defunct American Motors Corp.

I was all of six years old, but the sight of gleaming new automobiles of every color and size is something that is not easily erased, even in the aging memory crypts of yours truly.

That afternoon, pop plunked down $150 and we drove home in a new cherry red Rambler American, a boxy 4-door with what car enthusiasts often refer to as “three on the tree” – a three-speed manual transmission on the steering column.

Even today, I still tingle on a showroom floor while examining each model and often shuddering at the pricing stickers pasted to the window – especially considering that our Rambler cost all of $1,600.

But that feeling may gradually become a thing of the past.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Retiring Procrastination

There’s an old joke about saving for retirement and it goes something like this:

“My accountant assured me I have enough money to live on for the rest of my life; provided I die by 5 o’clock this afternoon.”

I’m here all week ladies and gentlemen.

Now all kidding aside, it’s estimated that more than 100,000 CPAs perform some type of financial services for their clients – from simple product referrals to more complex estate planning.

And yet I find it astounding that even without the luxury of a personal financial planner there is virtually an infinite amount of free information about investing for retirement, money management, debt avoidance and everything in between that remains largely overlooked.

I read an article last week that unveiled, sadly, it’s not only the 20-somethings who are literally placing retirement savings on the proverbial back burner, but roughly 30 percent of folks over 55 surveyed by GoBankingRates, have no retirement savings whatsoever.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Mosaic of Perspectives

Ray Kroc, a one-time milkshake machine salesman from Chicago who took a flyer on a small burger operation in San Bernardino, Calif., operated by two brothers named McDonald and transformed it into one of the largest global brands in history, harbored an immovable theory on assembling a management team.

Long before the overused term “diversity” made its way into the American lexicon, Kroc was steadfast in his opinion of having different views on strategies and operations.

“If I have two executives who think alike, I don’t need one of them,” he would succinctly utter.

And considering the 60-year growth and success of the world’s largest hamburger chain, it’s rather pointless to argue with Kroc’s management mantra.

Friday, May 20, 2016

You Can’t Always “Bank” on Customer Service

I’ve always viewed the services provided by banks and CPA firms in a similar vein.

Both entities oversee your money albeit in different ways and each strives to engender long customer relationships that hopefully will, over time, include additional ministrations.

For example, a CPA who prepares a client’s 1040 may want to expand that to include financial planning. Ditto for a bank who maintains a customer’s checking or savings account and offers a favorable interest rate on a mortgage or small business loan.

But consider this unlikely scenario: A CPA raises his billing rates by double digits to a long term and low maintenance client without a rather incredible explanation or reason.

If you were that client you would be more than understandably upset and certainly within your rights to begin shopping for a new accountant.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Customer Service and the Internet of Things Part II

On more than one occasion I’ve been blindsided by technology – or more accurately, advances in technology.

Case in point: I attempted the relatively simple process of printing a document from my home computer. After hearing the familiar whirr of the unit beginning to engage there was one problem – the finished product was a blank sheet of paper.

Now I have a sound method of dealing with tech malfunctions.

First I Google any troubleshooting blogs. If that doesn’t work, I speak softly to it. My third option and usually the one by default, is I begin to hit.

An exception report showed that I was low on ink – for once a relatively simple fix. A quick trip to Staples and some $70 later, I was armed with a “full metal jacket” so to speak of fresh ink.

Again I found myself staring at a blank page.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Back to business – for everyone!

No, that was not a mild 3.0 on the Richter Scale most of you felt last week, but rather the collective exhale of thousands of exuberant CPAs delighted that another 1040 season is in the books.

Now it’s back to business as usual – not only for 50,000 or so accounting firms across the country, but for us as well.

Firms that from mid-February through April 18th treated us like telemarketers trying to convince them of the virtues of the pocket fisherman or how good a Chia Pet would look in their offices, are beginning to once again address the succession issues that a busy filing season managed to sideline – albeit temporarily.

So for the next few weeks, our team embarks on the gradual process of resurrecting the relationships we formed during BF (Before Filing) and hopefully, pick up moderately close to where we left off before their clients began dropping tax organizers like a Vermont snowfall.

Now in my fourth full year of making the difficult transition to the consulting world, I’ve come to expect a number of post-tax season inevitabilities.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The CPA Playbook

In the early 1960s while an assistant coach at a California junior college, future NFL Hall of Famer John Madden, once scraped together enough money to attend a local football clinic which happened to feature a session led by legendary Green Bay Packers’ head coach Vince Lombardi.

Madden, who was in his mid-20s at the time, was arrogantly skeptical that he could learn any more about the game than he thought he already knew – even from the great Lombardi.

Hours later, after Lombardi had spent the entire session dissecting ONE PLAY – the famous Packers’ sweep – a humbled Madden walked out of the clinic now convinced he knew next to nothing about football.

But as Madden learned that afternoon, Lombardi’s coaching philosophy was predicated on perfection not complexity. The Packers’ playbook was truncated compared to other teams, containing relatively few plays unlike their competitors, but all executed to a point where every contingency and assignment was precisely calculated.

He unrelentingly demanded the team do a few things better than anyone else, as opposed to a whole roster of plays mediocre. And since he won five championships in nine years, it’s probably pointless to argue his methods.

That, in my humble opinion, is the blueprint that CPA firms should follow particularly when it comes to client service offerings.