Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Nothing is Forever – Nothing

The fact that I’m now solidly ensconced into my golden years is reinforced each Sunday during football season when I hear a player with a familiar name and realize that I recognize it only because I watched his father or uncle play. Or in the case of Los Angeles Rams’ dynamic 32-year old head coach Sean McVay – I remember when his grandfather – yes with a “G” - John McVay – coached the New York Giants.

I prefer to think of myself as experienced, as opposed to old. But with age comes the inevitable current of change – or in some cases a tidal wave.

I read with some sadness this week about the umpteenth bankruptcy filing of Sears and its decision to shutter 142 stores. Growing up, it was unthinkable that the company with the annual catalog the thickness of the New York City White Pages would ever disappear from the country’s retail landscape.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Sorry, No One is That Busy

Every three months or so, my health club sends out an online survey asking that its members rate the facility on several fronts – cleanliness, condition and availability of equipment, quality of staff assistance and the like. It also leaves a comment box at the end for whatever is top of mind in terms of complaints.

In the five years that I’ve belonged there, my comments/objections have never wavered from the initial poll – curtail the use of cell phones on the exercise floor and certainly in the individual conditioning classes.

They once tried placing a sign at the welcoming desk that asked that cellphones not be used on the main floor, but that had about as much effect as a no smoking sign in a longshoreman’s lounge. 

Unless you’re a trauma surgeon on call, work for the Department of Defense, or are a 911 first responder, there’s no reason you need to be talking on a phone while on the treadmill or exercise bike.


I’m sorry, no one is that busy. No one.

I was once training with someone when a chatty member began yammering away on her phone and I told her that she obviously mistook the room for the teacher’s lounge. I received a look like I had just handed her a $150 speeding ticket.

I guess the same logic can be applied to the 9-15 and 10-15 deadlines.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

At Least They Get an “A” for Effort

You know how some parents of Little Leaguers rail against kids receiving those “participation” trophies at the end of the year? Their complaint – and it’s not without some merit – is that it detracts from the other more deserving team awards such as Most Valuable Player.

Why bother giving trophies at all if everyone gets one?

Think of how the kid who bats .450, hits 12 home runs and steals 20 bases feels if Joe Benchwarmer receives a shiny statuette at the end of the year as well.

However, there are times I feel that awards absolutely should be given for effort and persistence.

And my 2018 Achievement/Participation Award goes to those overseas scammers who call and pretend to be from the Internal Revenue Service.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Doing What Makes You Happy

My paternal grandfather was, for lack of a better term – a mechanical and mathematical genius. He dropped out of school in the 6th grade to work by collecting driftwood under Brooklyn’s famed Coney Island boardwalk for $1 a day.

He later fished out a worn calculus textbook from a trash bin and taught himself how to determine such esoteric things as critical numbers and average function values. At 16, he built his fist car from scratch and as an adult earned seven mechanical patents from the U.S. Navy in World War II.

He later became the chief mechanic at the old Topps Factory – best known for their packets of Major League Baseball cards. Needless to say, as his first grandson, I had more MLB player cards than any 10 kids in the neighborhood.

I always maintained that had he been born in say 1951 or 1961 instead of 1911, he would have easily been in the same software development arena as a Gates or Jobs, he was simply that smart.

But for all his accomplishments, do you know what he really wanted to do?

Operate a hot dog cart.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Pardon My Disinterest

In one of the classic episodes of M*A*S*H, Trapper and Hawkeye are getting into a heated exchange over some minor issue (the real reason behind the verbal skirmish and rising tempers was that the C.O. had banned liquor on the base indefinitely). Following some more back and forth, Hawkeye ends the conversation by telling his bunkmate, “there isn’t a machine invented that can measure my indifference to that remark.”

In full disclosure I have used that put-down over the years – giving full attribution of course.

Sadly, I find myself repeating that phrase more frequently of late, especially regarding social media – and in particular, Facebook. Now I realize that “social” casts a wide net with regard to meaning and scope, but do I really want to know how good the pot roast was last night, or what great seats you scored to “Hamilton?” Congratulations, your kid got into Podunk State, or you nailed your best time in a regional 10K, but truthfully, there isn’t a machine invented… well need I go on?

In other words, don’t bore me.

And in truth Facebook has become a J.D. Power certified bore.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Time Waits for No Man – or CPA Firm!

In full disclosure, I’m impatient by nature. Always have been always will be. My parents would often council me, either via a soft lecture (my mother) or by an avuncular gesture by my father – a swift crack to the back of the head - about the importance of taking your time about things.

Like the time I broke a basement window with an errant baseball toss and then in my haste incorrectly measured the frame. Later I felt the full brunt of my father’s wrath when he tried to refit a pane that was obviously too large.

I’ve settled down a bit since then, but still, when something drags along far more than it should have, I begin pacing like an expectant father.

The accounting profession is no venue for someone with a patience quotient like mine. If someone assured a CPA that McDonald’s sells hamburgers, he/she would likely have to perform a prolonged due diligence.

And that goes double for M&A.

We have a company axiom regarding the mergers of CPA firms that goes like this: “Time kills all deals.”

There’s no exception to that rule – ever.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Remembering an Accounting Pioneer

Accountants as a rule are not natural entrepreneurs. In fact, they’re trained from their first class on the subject to be cautious and, well, question everything. As someone who has both covered and consulted on the profession for nearly 20 years, I have seen otherwise intelligent CPAs make incredibly idiotic business decisions.

Like the firm owner in the Detroit area who needed to merge upstream for lack of a succession plan bragging to me that he just signed a 5-year lease extension at a terrific rate.

It didn’t dawn on him that by signing, he just eliminated 80 percent of the potential successor firms that might have been interested in merging. But now any firm would either must assume the lease or try and sublet the space.

“Oh” was the muted reaction I received when I broke this bit of unwelcome news.

But the ones that are born entrepreneurs stand out from the rest of the pack and can be justifiably labeled as pioneers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Sometimes You Just Have to Ask!

Following a performance, the great Louie Armstrong was once questioned by an interviewer about his definition of jazz music.

“Satchmo” glared at the writer and curtly replied, “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.”

I thought about that long-ago response by one of America’s musical icons and its seemingly anachronistic application to the M&A arena.

Six years into my second life as a consultant to the accounting profession, I’m still amazed about how many of our existing or potential clients are still unsure of what success looks like.

Sometimes you do have to ask.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

When You Don’t Listen to Your Accountant

For 12 years through the late 1980s to 2000, I worked at a family-owned retail publishing company that had been in business for nearly 40 years prior to my arrival. It was founded by the patriarch who, when he retired, predictably passed the leadership reins to his son.

It wasn’t long before I realized that as it often happens, the scion possessed little or none of his father’s business acumen and made a series of head-scratching investments and personnel appointments worthy of their own mention in a Dilbert cartoon.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The check is in the mail. Yeah right!

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that outstanding invoices are one of the most frustrating aspects of owning your own business. Most of you in practice for yourselves can speak volumes on the frustration of weeks dragging on to months and repeated promises that the proverbial “check is in the mail.”

We’ve all been there.

In fact, this weekend, during a conversation with my long-time landscaper, he complained that one of my neighbors hasn’t paid him in nearly two years. TWO YEARS. My first question to him was why does he continue to service her lawn? I can safely say that after six months I would have cut my losses (pardon the bad pun) and try and recover what I could in small claims court.

But I digress.

I’m sure you’ve all encountered clients that are shall we say, a bit sluggish in opening their checkbooks. The alligator arms-deep pockets image will fit nicely here. For example, many CPA firms that I’ve spoken to will not send a client’s 1040 until they receive full payment. If they don’t then by law the preparer is required to return all documentation to a deadbeat client and wish them best of luck in completing it.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Two Annoying Phrases

For those of us in the Northeast this has been one hot summer.

To put the last two months in perspective, my monthly invoice from the power company is averaging $20 more than I paid for my first car.

My air conditioner has been running non-stop seemingly from Memorial Day and I’m sure that my situation is not unique to other parts of the country as I scour the national weather reports. This is not exactly what I envisioned after a particularly brutal and unforgiving winter.

But what compounds an already uncomfortable situation and makes my ears screech in that “fingernails on a blackboard” sort of way is when someone remarks, “It’s not so much the heat but rather the humidity.” It may not be everyone’s most annoying phrase, but it certainly merits a place in the discussion.

I immediately want to go to my local gym and take a few well-aimed whacks at the punching bag.

Now in our business, the weather doesn’t usually make an impact – unless of course, we’re talking something on the order of Category 3, but you know what does? Perhaps the second most annoying phrase – “I’ve been thinking about it.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Some Folks Are Just Not Closers

In the 2000 movie “Boiler Room” a thinly veiled portrayal of the infamous Stratton Oakmont brokerage firm that was later featured in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the main character Seth is enjoying a breakfast bowl of Cheerios when he receives a call from a telemarketer.

The salesman is selling subscriptions to The New York Daily News, an institutional tabloid in the Big Apple for those of you who are not from the area. Seth tells him he’s not interested and the salesman thanks him for his time and prepares to hang up.

The ensuing conversation goes something like this.

Seth: “That’s your pitch? You’re giving up? C’mon sell me on it.”

The salesman goes full bore into his script and then waits breathlessly for an answer.

Seth: “See, that’s better. But sorry, I already subscribe to the New York Times.”

Sort of smile inducing for sure, but too close to home especially in our business.

Accountants by nature are not what is known in sales parlance as “closers.” I’m convinced that procrastination and driving 15 mph in a 55 are somehow required courses as opposed to electives in accounting education.

Friday, July 20, 2018

I’m Not Ready!

You know how every Fourth of July there are countless articles and television spots warning holiday celebrants of the danger of using fireworks and how the average person should leave the cherry bombs, M-80s and Roman Candles to the professionals?

Then invariably you read about some unfortunate – and most likely careless – soul who waited a millisecond too long and had one detonate while still in their hands – often severing off fingers or requiring someone call 911 like yesterday.

Some people will never learn no matter how many warnings they receive.

While not quite on as drastic a level as having an M-80 explode in your palm, the accounting profession has, historically been a tough group to catch on – especially when it comes to succession.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Experience Required!

This week marked the debut of the New York Accounting and Finance Show, the 2018 iteration of the former New York Accounting & Technology confab, a repetitive annual debacle that convened in a hotel venue that by some miracle had city health and safety inspectors somehow looking the other way.

After spending several hours there it would not have been impractical for those who are certified germaphobes to undergo a complete physical and receive a tetanus shot for good measure.

It attracted legions of sole practitioners whose firms generated an average of $100k a year and aside from getting their required CPE it was a matter of how many pens and other free giveaways they could stuff in their canvas conference bags.

Simply put, it was hardly our target audience. It was a show that had technically died somewhere circa 2005 but no one bothered to tell the management.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A “Driver” Toward Small Business Ownership

I don’t think a week goes by when I don’t receive a text from ridesharing concerns Uber or Lyft offering me up to a $500 bonus if I decide to begin driving for them.

Since driving is not one of my decided passions, visions of a late Friday afternoon pickup at Newark or JFK airports or attempting to get cross-town in Manhattan quickly eradicates any notion of me signing aboard.

Although in full disclosure I do kind of like the “be your own boss and make your own hours” mantra of each.

Late last week Amazon jumped into the fray – sort of – recruiting folks to begin delivering their Prime packages from its local sorting centers to the customers who ordered them - in company branded vans and uniforms as what they call “local delivery service partners.”

All you need is $10,000 and, if you’ll pardon the bad pun, and a drive to succeed. According to an announcement from the company, its Amazon Prime unit ships 5 billion (yes, that’s with a B) packages a year on a global basis. The $10,000 initial outlay will go to helping them start an independent business that has to begin with at least five delivery vans and ramp up to 20 vans over an undisclosed period.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Slow Cracks in the Ceiling

In college I enrolled in a business law class as an elective which was taught by a former corporate attorney – a no-nonsense woman who once regaled us with a story of how in her first day at law school in 1962, a male classmate leaned over and told her in no uncertain terms that she had taken a deserving seat from man.

Knowing her as I did, I can only imagine her response. It most likely could not have been reprinted in a family publication.

Think about that for a moment in this era of movements like #MeToo.

That scenario seems almost inconceivable today and without doubt would incur severe reprimands if not outright dismissal and/or legal action should it be repeated in the 21st century.

But that was then, and this was now.

I recalled this misogynist episode when I saw an article ranking the best CPA firms in the U.S. for women. The roster was compiled by the Accounting MOVE Project, a nine-year-old annual undertaking that provides a benchmark for the status of women in the leadership pipeline in the profession as well as diversity and the Accounting Financial and Women’s Alliance.

According to the 2018 poll, women currently comprise 25 percent of the management committees at participating firms—up from 19 percent in 2014 and 24 percent of partners and principals at CPA firms. 

According to the AFWA, the below listed firms were measured by a trio of factors related to the advancement of women in accounting:

•    Consistent, measurable progress in advancing women to leadership.
•    Proven and continually evolving programs that retain and advance women.
•    Clear and compelling integration of the business case for advancing women with business results.

So, for those keeping score at home, the best practices for women in 2018 were:
  1. BPM, San Francisco, Calif.
  2. Brown Smith Wallace, St. Louis
  3. Clark Nuber, Bellevue, Wash.
  4. CohnReznick, New York
  5. Kerkering Barbario & Co., Sarasota, Fla.
  6. Lurie, Minneapolis
  7. MCM CPAs and Advisors, Louisville, Ky.
  8. Moss Adams, Seattle
  9. Novogradac & Co. San Francisco
  10. Plante Moran, Southfield, Mich.
  11. Rehman, Troy, Mich.
  12. Bonadio Group, Pittsford, N.Y.

And for those who care, I earned an A in the class - one of the few and far between to appear on my college transcript. And I should mention that she never once told me my seat should have gone to a more deserving student.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Honey-Do List for CPA Firms

This past Saturday my better and half and I decided to take advantage of arguably the most beautiful back-to-back days of the year in terms of weather and went for a lengthy walk. While strolling past a neighbor’s house I noticed he was busy getting ready to stake a “For Sale by Owner” sign into the ground.

Selfishly this set off some minor internal alarms, since he owned what anyone would consider an older and decidedly smaller home, I knew instantly that anyone who bought it would immediately target the property for an immediate tear down and replace it with a much larger structure.

So, we got into a brief but lively conversation about his plans. His children were now grown and had moved out of state and he was growing weary of the seemingly endless New York winters (boy was I with him on that one). They had acquired a piece of property near Naples, Fla., on which they had planned to build their retirement villa.

But first, he had a laundry list of home improvement jobs that had to be completed. At the top of that itinerary was repaving his driveway, then painting several rooms as well as re-grouting his master bathroom.

Strangely I equated this “to-do” agenda with a CPA firm owner who decides its time to wind down and look for a successor firm providing his bench wasn’t deep enough to carry on internally. Almost always there’s work to be done to make a firm more attractive for a sale. Very few CPA firms I’ve seen could be classified as being in “move-in” condition.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Do Go It Alone

In an episode of the classic 1950s sitcom, “The Honeymooners,” the Ed Norton character was bemoaning to Ralph Kramden that he had just gotten fired from his job in the sewer. He insisted that finding other work was going to be difficult, if not impossible, because in his view “sewer workers are like brain surgeons, we’re both specialists!”

I thought about this the other day when I was a guest at an engagement party for my nephew and struck up a conversation with a young man while waiting at the bar for a drink (naturally).

He was a typical Millennial, able to converse and text simultaneously and I gather seemingly without a slew of grammatical errors. He revealed to me that he had just started an IT company that had developed some app whose purpose, and of course functionality, was far over my Baby Boomer head.

So, in my line of work, the next question unsurprisingly, was did he have an accountant?

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

You Expensed What?

Years ago, when I first was taught how to fill out an expense account, I was probably more hesitant to write something off than I should have been and thus, probably spent more of my own money than necessary.

In fact, the only thing I can remember being kicked back by the accounts payable department was a $7.95 box of cold tablets I desperately needed once in New Orleans - fighting galactic congestion while navigating a conference in a city that at the time was hovering at 97 degrees with 90 percent humidity.

Upon my return I discovered one of the women in the classified section of the company had been fired for attempting – I kid you not – to write off a fur coat as an expense. Another employee, a group publisher, submitted a receipt for a $1,000 dinner – allegedly with business contacts. Only he was far from discreet and a colleague had spotted him at the restaurant in question with a woman other than his wife.

I harken back to those halcyon days of seeing what you could and could not get away with when I saw the results of a recent survey that concluded business travel fraud is costing U.S. businesses nearly $2 billion a year.

Meanwhile, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners expense reimbursement fraud makes up 17 percent of all business fraud.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The “Drive” To Pare Down Debt

During the 25 years I spent in publishing, I’ve taken more car service rides to airports or events than I care to remember. I used to keep a tally just for kicks but stopped at about 250.

So, a number of years ago when ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft debuted, I stubbornly continued either to avail myself of my local transportation service or use my personal car– which during convention season meant sticking it in long-term parking at JFK and LaGuardia.

Last month I’m sure I became just about the last person in the U.S. to take an Uber. The booking process was relatively easy – even for a technology Luddite like myself and the rides showed up promptly and certainly less expensive than my former method of getting around.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What Are You “Wearing?”

For Mother’s Day my daughters decided to pitch in and present their mother with an upscale fitness tracker that resembles an oversized watch. Actually, it is an oversized watch. Since she’s a faithful gym attendee, it was both a practical necessary gift – although the early returns are in and she’s paying far more attention to it than she is any of us.

Recently, I had been noticing more gym members with fitness “wearables” obsessively monitoring their heart rates and oxygen levels (often to my annoyance while endlessly waiting to use a piece of equipment) and decided to perform some ad hoc research on the market.

Turns out that some 315 million wearable devices were sold worldwide last year and by 2022 – just four short years from now, sales are expected to top $75 billion, (yes, that’s with a B). Obviously high-profile wearables such as the Apple Watch dominate the category and according to tech research Gartner, sales of smartwatches will hit 81 million units within a span of three years.

That gave me pause.

Although I’m about three area codes of being knowledgeable on future tech trends, I could not help but harken back some 37 years ago when IBM rolled out its version of the PC and in just a few short years revolutionized back office accounting.

So my question is how long before wearable technology beings to make inroads into accounting?

Not long. In fact it already has.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Getting Your House in Order

Recently I went to a local restaurant with friends for a “quick” post-event meal – emphasis on “quick,” which turned out to be anything but. A glass of house wine arrived a mere 15 minutes after ordering and the specialty flatbread took almost an hour.

Our server could not be found on the side of a milk carton and as far as water was concerned, you could have gotten a refill faster stranded in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

Now to preface this fiasco, the place had recently received a lot of local press, primarily because the owners had opened several other locations throughout the Tri-State area. As one who covered the restaurant industry for 12 years and worked within its confines for another six, I tend to judge my dining experiences with a fairly critical eye but also with a bit of sympathy for those in one of the most demanding businesses there is.

But there are limits to even what I will tolerate.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Instant Replay

Now that another filing season is over, it’s usually about this time of year when my inbox begins to become overstuffed with reminders of upcoming conferences and subsequent links to their respective agendas.

By my count there are 14 prospective accounting-related events that I could conceivably attend by August, but for all practical purposes, will probably settle on one or two.

However like others in the profession, I’m becoming rapidly convinced that the time required, not to mention the expense of traveling to other cities, can be categorized by the law of diminishing returns. That coupled with the fact that the sessions staged in any specific year could simply be copied and pasted to events taking place in 2018.

As an example, I realize CPA firms have trouble getting good people. I’m reminded of it every day when I speak to clients. And yes, few would argue there is a significant cultural divide between Baby Boomers and Millennials that has to be addressed.

But tell me, does that scenario command roughly 14 sessions at several events dedicated to reaching out to Millennials and how to engage them? To me that’s the CPA version of summer television where reruns are the rule rather than the exception.

Ditto for blockchain and other pending disruptive technologies. At last count there were more than two dozen hours across the board assigned to that topic, not to mention a series of webinars.

Haven’t we seen this movie before?

Friday, April 20, 2018

“Rising” to the Occasion

Over the next several weeks, our company will begin in earnest contacting our CPA firm clients again to gauge their succession readiness or willingness. Or conversely, their lack thereof.

Traditionally, from mid-February until the end of April, our calls to clients are treated with equal disdain to those peddling replacement windows or the latest vacuum cleaner models. In other words, it’s one of the slower periods of the year.

So with tax software glitches, last-minute rule changes and of course, tardy clients who feel that it’s perfectly okay to send in their documents at 2 a.m. on deadline day, I like to re-engage these firms as soon as possible so that the aftertaste of another grueling season is not lost to revisionist history several months down the road.

But on a fee basis if nothing else, most of our clients should be pleased with the 2018 filing season as well as other accounting-related services they provide. Even though the oft-debated tax cuts enacted late last year curtailed the amount going this year to the coffers of the U.S. Treasury, the accountants and preparers were on the receiving end of record-breaking largesse in terms of client spending.

According to a recent survey, Americans doled out some $44 billion on accounting, tax prep, bookkeeping and payroll services in the fourth quarter of 2017. For those keeping score at home, that’s roughly $1 billion more than the year-ago period.

Distilling that figure down even further, it translates to about $135 for every person in the U.S.

On the taxpayer end, an estimated 65 percent of filers will receive a tax cut in 2018, according to the Tax Policy Center, averaging $2,200 from the new law’s individual provisions.

Closer to home, my long-time accountant Rocco said that his fees rose nearly 20 percent this year and that was without an increase or a bump up in the number of clients.

So the question arises, are there more people filing or is it a result of fee increases?

After observing the profession for nearly 20 years, my guess is that it’s an equitable mixture of both.


Not to throw out an oft-repeated cliché, but we’ll strike when the iron is hot and begin our annual client canvass when they’re relieved to have survived another season. And it won’t hurt that many of them will have a bit extra in their pocket.

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.