CPAs Who Innovate: What box?

October 11, 2017By Stephanie Parton, CAE, INCPAS Vice President - CommunicationsArticle, Blog, Changing Role of the CPA, Innovation, The Changing Role of the CPA

Meet the innovative virtual CFO firm that’s disrupting the profession

Summit CPA Group was founded in 2002 as a firm that wanted to change the way people think about accounting. Co-founders Jody Grunden, CPA, and Adam Hale, CPA, didn’t want to just do accounting work. They wanted to make a difference in business owners’ lives.

“Traditional accountants generally focus on the past way too much in my opinion,” Grunden said. “We wanted to be more of an influencer for those clients. We wanted to talk strategy. We wanted to be proactive instead of being reactive. So, we turned a traditional financial statement review meeting into a strategic meeting focusing on forecasting and the metrics that are used to build it. Only about a quarter of the meeting talks about the past. The remainder of the meeting is strategic in nature focusing on the past influencing the future.”

Summit CPA Group wanted to educate business owners and teach them to build and manage a profitable business. This “want” eventually evolved into what is now their primary service and cornerstone of their company. In 2004, they named the offering “Virtual CFO Services.” “We help small business owners make informed decisions that generally translate to increased profits and cash accumulation. That is why I think we’ve had such high retention with our clients,” Grunden said. “For me, that has been the most rewarding part of being a business owner—helping other business owners.”

Summit CPA Group prides themselves on offering completely different CPA services. They’re not competing against other CPA firms in the traditional sense. They are competing against a position of value. They take over the role of the CFO.

“We didn’t want to deliver a product that everyone else delivered—that’s boring. We wanted to give them a service that offered a greater value than what they could get even by adding an employee to their team. It came from the idea that we wanted to do something different, give them more value, and then it developed from there.

“What we’re doing is providing a similar service and ‘feeling’ as what’s innate at the big companies. That’s something that most small businesses have never had the chance to experience. Most small business owners feel isolated because they have no one to talk to. As a Virtual CFO, we can talk to them as a peer and give them a straight, candid answer. That’s what they really want. They want confirmation. They want to be able to bounce ideas off a peer. The entire experience is pretty eye opening for most of them.”

Like most great innovators, Grunden and Hale wanted to find a solution to a problem and make life better for themselves and those around them. Grunden says the idea for Virtual CFO Services was a selfish thing at first. He was his kids’ hockey coach and had to be present at all of the events. Hockey season, as you may know, falls at the exact time as the traditional tax season.

“We didn’t want to deliver a product that everyone else delivered—that’s boring. We wanted to give them a service that offered a greater value than what they could get even by adding an employee to their team. It came from the idea that we wanted to do something different, give them more value, and then it developed from there.

“I knew I was taking weeks off at a time to go on a hockey trip and it wasn’t fair to the other employees,” Grunden said. “It wasn’t fair to ask my team to work hard while I was traveling around the U.S. or Canada for a hockey tournament. It didn’t feel right to me.” Grunden found a solution to his problem by looking for ways to change the way typical CPA firms do business. His answer was taking a traditional tax client that they would meet with once a year and looking at how they could really help their client, and in the same process help Summit CPA Group and the culture the duo wanted for their firm.

The process developed into taking that annual tax client and turning them into a monthly client. Then when it came time for their tax return, it didn’t take as much time. That approach was so successful that clients started asking for weekly meetings. Clients were so excited about the level of service they were receiving from Summit that they started referring clients to them.

Summit CPA Group is headquartered in Fort Wayne, but their team is distributed and works primarily from home. Their virtual office consists of 40 employees, all but four whom work remotely. Employees are located in 10 states and their client base is represented in over 40 cities across the country.

Summit CPA Group initially performed their Virtual CFO Services communicating over the phone and during in-person meetings. It wasn’t until 2009 that they started transitioning the service to 100 percent remote. In order to give the client the feeling that they are part of their team, they utilize the latest technology through video chat and screen sharing with tools like Sococo and GoTo Meeting. This is Summit CPA Group’s primary means of communication with clients. Because they can service clients anywhere, they have expanded their service across the United States.

Hiring at Summit CPA Group is all done virtually as well. It’s pretty eye-opening for new hires. Grunden says 99 percent of the new hires have never worked virtually before. So, employee onboarding is an extremely important process and key to Summit’s high employee retention. New hires receive a “care package” in the mail which includes a laptop, big screen TV (four monitors), headsets and a technology stipend which they can use for various home office needs throughout the year.

The onboarding process includes being buddied up with a seasoned employee. For example, Tom is a new hire who has been with the firm for 90 days. He is buddied up with Angie who is the senior team member on the account. They hang out in a virtual room all day with video and headsets on. They can have casual conversations as they work through the day.

When nearly all of your employees work virtually, staying on top of technology is imperative. “You have to be adaptive and make changes quickly. That has never been an issue with me, really, in anything I do,” Grunden said, “which is atypical for accountants.”

Grunden and Hale are constantly looking for the newest and greatest thing. Five years ago, Hale was looking for a second revenue stream that could take advantage of the distributed model. He determined that 401K audits could be that avenue. He did his due diligence and sought out an expert in the field. They were able to bring in Kim Moore to run this new opportunity. Since 2012, Moore and her team have been able to grow the 401K audit department from an experiment to currently performing in excess of 120 audits a year. They were able to take full advantage of the distributed model working virtually with their clients.

“We’re always looking for better ways of doing things,” Grunden said. “We’re never stuck on one way being the only way. It comes from identifying a weakness in an area and coming up with a solution to make it better.

“We take what other people are doing well and make it better. We view the world in a different way, always thinking outside of the box. Or, better yet, what box? That’s the mindset that we built the company.”

Summit CPA Group was recognized for their innovative accomplishments in 2017 with the inaugural Indiana CPA Society Innovation Award.

The world as your workplace

October 4, 2017By Jessica HillBlog, Future of Work and Change Management, Innovation, Talent Management and People

Mobility policies, or being able to work outside of the office, are becoming more common as we embrace and become more comfortable with internet-based technology. With a mobility policy, you can work anywhere as long as you have two things: a laptop and internet access. I’ve been with a firm for a little over a year that strongly embraces mobility, and I have certainly taken advantage of the policy—either working from home or at Starbucks when I’m not expected to be in the office or at a client site.

At a recent college career fair, people loved hearing about the luxury of working from home; however, their questions revealed their skepticism. Below I’ve included the most common questions I’ve received about work mobility:

  1. How are you held accountable?

This is almost always the first question out of the gate. Accountability is a valid concern when you have the ability to work somewhere with no direct supervision. However, people tend to miss the fact there is still supervision—even though it might not equate to someone physically looking over your shoulder. If you’re working from a laptop distributed by your employer, then most likely there are tools in place to monitor your online activity. No matter where I’m working, my coworkers can see when I’m online. When I step away, my computer automatically times out after fifteen minutes to show that I’m inactive.

Communication is important no matter where you work, but it’s extremely important when you’re away from the office. Always check in with your coworkers to let them know how you’re progressing and if you have any questions. This makes your work more transparent and ensures your team that you’re working—just be sure to be honest!

  1. How do you stay focused?

Staying focused is the most difficult aspect of working mobile, but the solution varies from person to person. I need to have a designated office space to work efficiently. An office with a desk, a comfortable chair, and very minimal distractions is the best work environment for me. I am not fond of working in bustling coffee shops or restaurants because I think they’re too distracting. If I do find myself getting distracted no matter where I’m working, headphones and some music always helps.

  1. How do you determine when you work from the office?

More often than not, this will be an easy decision. If you need to access office equipment, check your mail, or work extensively with a coworker, then you should definitely work from the office. Some people prefer working in the office because they can’t focus at home, or they enjoy seeing other people. If you have a terrible commute, car problems, or you’re feeling under the weather, then working from home is a better option.

  1. Does a mobility policy help with work-life balance?

Yes and no. There are many ways working mobile can help with work-life balance. If you have a long commute and can work from home for part of the week, you can work at the times you would have been driving. Parents can work from home whenever they need to be there for a sick child. A parent can work at a coffee shop close to his toddler’s daycare for easier pick-up. However, for some people being able to work anywhere brings the feeling that you are obligated to work wherever you are. It is still important from a work-life balance perspective to have a clear understanding of your work expectations and your personal limits. If working from home makes it impossible to turn off the laptop and relax after working hours, then working from the office would be best.

There are many gains from a mobile working environment. However, the most important advice I give when working away from the office is to maintain a solid line of communication with your coworkers. While you may not be working in the office, you are still expected to perform, and perform well.

Does your employer have a mobility policy? What advice would you give on the matter? Please share in the comments below!

 

Perspectives on the changing role of the CPA

September 11, 2017By Jess Halverson BowyerArticle, Innovation, The Changing Role of the CPA

Today’s world is increasingly one of change. This is especially true in the CPA profession, where new technologies and strategies are changing the very role of the CPA itself. Because of all this constant change, the need for CPAs to innovate has never been greater. We posed some questions to five CPAs who have been at the forefront of innovation in their careers.

Why Do You Innovate?

Meghan Applegate, CPA, Applegate & Company, CPAs: A better question is why NOT innovate? When you go to a business to purchase services or even a product, you have expectations in your mind of what you should receive. More likely than not, your expectations are very high. As innovators in the industry, we are working hard to exceed our client’s expectations of the services they believe they deserve. Innovation would include not only cost savings, but efficiencies in how we work as well as how they work in their business, meeting their financial and strategic needs, etc. From a client’s perspective, we have been put on this earth to make their life easier. Innovation is key in fulfilling this expectation.

Kent Williams, CPA, Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University: I enjoy it! A proper balance is to keep one foot in the reality of the present and one in the possibilities of the future. As professionals we have an obligation to our clients, employees and in my case to my students to remain innovative.

Stephen Lukinovich, CPA, CVA, PFS, Mountjoy Chilton Medley, LLP: In order to meet a need the market is not filling. Further, it means CPAs are viewed as thought leaders in our field. Developing innovative solutions means spending a significant amount of time building consensus, structure, formalities, and interest. Sometimes it’s trial and error. Failure is ok—although, it’s often hard to isolate why the idea did not fully succeed. Was the failure due to lack of firm participation, inability to fill a need, failure to implement, or inability to market the proposed solution?

How do you create an innovative culture?

Kent: I believe that in order to facilitate an innovative culture, leaders must provide an environment that is free from fear, builds trust, looks to encourage, hires for innovation, celebrates and learns from failure. Start small so that employees can get their “innovative legs.” If innovative experience is good, they will want to do it again. If we want innovation to permeate the culture then we need to hire for that characteristic.

Rick Dennen, CPA, Oak Street Funding LLC: Oak Street Funding is deliberate in our attention to innovation. In addition to working quickly and effectively to meet the needs of our clients, we also meet the needs of our team by giving them the tools necessary to bring ingenuity, creativity and value to the organization. Our focus on the employee experience produces job satisfaction and pride that translates to a consultative, knowledgeable and caring approach with our clients and a distinctive client experience. We continuously ask the questions “Are we doing what is right to meet the needs of our clients as well as our employees?” and “Is there a better approach?” If there is a better way, we implement it. In addition, we are focused on working collaboratively across all departments and business lines, resulting in cross functional buy-in, operational excellence, and, of course, innovation. Finally, we embrace the latest technology and the utilization of data and analytics to help us best serve our current and potential clients.

Where do you think the profession is heading and how can innovation get us there?

Tom Gabbert, CPA, mAccounting, LLC: The CPA profession is at a unique time in history. Technology changes are streamlining accounting processes and removing geographic and service delivery barriers. As a firm, we are spending much less time getting information into the accounting system and far more time working with our clients to analyze their information and helping them make informed business decisions. I believe this will only accelerate in the next few years as new technologies are developed. I also believe that by leveraging new technologies, firms will no longer be subject to geographic limitations in the clients they serve.

Rick: While there will continue to be regulatory and reporting changes in the profession, I believe the areas in which innovation will make the biggest impacts are technology, data, and the utilization of that data. With regard to technology, it is increasingly important to utilize all of the ever-evolving smart and sophisticated technologies—for both effectively managing compliance, risk and communications, as well as connecting with current and potential clients quickly, accurately and in their preferred medium. There will continue to be less emphasis on the traditional, quarterly face-to-face meetings and more on a relationship in which the client can text, email, Skype or call at any time.

What skills do you think will be important for CPAs in the future, particularly as their roles are changing?

Tom: The CPA has always been a trusted advisor, but I believe this role will take on even greater importance in the years to come. The CPA of the future will need excellent analytical, communication and interpersonal skills. They will spend less time getting the numbers right and more time analyzing the results and working with clients to make informed business decisions.

Meghan: Communication and interpersonal skills are not only required now, but will continue to be imperative as the profession changes. No longer are CPAs able to sit behind a desk and crank out a ton of tax returns/financial statements. The clients want to see you, hear from you, and see what they’re getting for the money they’re paying you. They want that additional business/data analysis and consulting to help them in their businesses.

Stephen: Ability to identify problems that exist outside compliance. Then, the ability to develop enthusiasm surrounding innovative ideas—the risk of failure and the energy required to get it off the ground normally stymies pursuing extraordinary offerings.

What MacGyver taught me about innovation and lifelong learning

August 28, 2017By Jess Halverson BowyerBlog, Innovation

MacGyver was my hero. I was 10 years old and feeling like a bit of an outcast. Big plastic glasses, a propensity to use new words I read in books out on the playground, and seriously confused by the other girls in my class. They talked so much at recess instead of doing anything interesting.

But MacGyver was a guy who was the hero because he was the outcast. He was the weirdo who used the things he learned from books to SAVE. THE. WORLD. He entered a situation and solved it with his brain (and whatever tools he had with him, like duct tape, which does fix everything). I didn’t have a crush on MacGyver, I wanted to BE MacGyver.

MacGyverPart of me knew I should be true to myself, with all that nerdy reading and the anti-establishment streak I had. But still, I was a “good girl” who also wanted to never get in trouble and to be accepted by all the other kids in my class. My insides were in a bit of a conflict, even in the 4th grade.

So I must say thank you to my parents, because they didn’t ask why MacGyver was so important to me, instead they just went with it. I begged for a Swiss Army Knife for Christmas that year – and they got it for me. It’s good to be validated.

I’ve since developed an aversion to explosions and would rather be home with my family than chasing after the bad guys. Recently when staff began talking about how to communicate what we’ve done on our INCPAS Innovation Task Force, someone made a joke about MacGyver and I started realizing how this silly ‘80s TV show actually did influence my life and work.

My role is Strategist for the CPA Center of Excellence® – which is a great title, but how I usually describe my job is “to do whatever needs done.” I imagine there’s one of these at every start-up organization, and this type of role has always been where I’ve thrived. While I’m absolutely not the only person who works on this project, I touch all the parts at some point.

Sure, I do quite a bit of strategy and planning for the Center, but I also do sales, work with the marketing team, post on social, shoot video, deliver content marketing, meet wonderful people and talk with them, develop partnerships, spend a lot of time in meetings, build online courses, tech troubleshoot, manage and build the website(s), product development, research, and run the table at events. As a part of the INCPAS management team, I also have responsibilities for the larger organization from time-to-time.

While I don’t carry duct tape with me, it certainly feels like I enter a lot of “duct tape situations” in this role. I put together what works with whatever resources are available at the moment, then later I get feedback from users on how to improve the product or process. Once I’ve gotten the resources we need to improve on version two, we cycle through the process all over again.

What’s the training for this sort of gig? It’s lifelong learning. It’s challenging yourself. It’s trying something even though you might fail. It’s being willing to stick it all together with duct tape for now, knowing you’ll do something better next time. It’s looking into your bag of tricks to see what you can make work.

This mindset is what I idolized every day at an age where I was trying to figure out myself in the world. And while I don’t really know how I got here, I’m glad I did. The gumption to follow your gut can pay you back tremendously.

The next time you think you “can’t” do something, or you don’t have the resources, or maybe it’s impossible, I challenge you to find what you can do. Go with your gut, escape today’s latest explosion, patch it up with the best duct tape and paperclips you have, learn more, do your research, and come back and fix it on version two.

To dig into innovation and what it means for the CPA profession, keep coming back to cpacoe.com. We’ll be featuring new thoughts on innovation for the next year, centering around the themes the Changing Role of the CPA, Talent and the Changing Workforce, Globalization and the Marketplace and Disruptive Technology and Innovation. Start here by reading why we know innovation is an important topic for CPAs. 

What Does It Mean To Be Creative?

July 31, 2017By Corey Stark, CPAInnovation, Learning and Career Development

It’s a new year and there’s a new political and economic environment on the horizon. For much of 2016, those of us participating in the CPA Center of Excellence® Online Community talked about being innovative. My question is, do we currently have the ability to recognize when we are being creative and innovative?

My normal day is immersed working in spreadsheets, and talking about that work in spreadsheets with people who love spreadsheets. Our long-term outlook has really evolved too. We work to find ways to make these dope spreadsheets even better.

Sounds pretty creative.

Well the fact is, if some innovative thought is going into what creates new solutions for your people or your clients, then you are being creative.

The public accounting profession may be one of the least progressive out there. Personality types do not, by nature, thrive in environments of constant change. Change can bring back “first date anxiety” and uncertainty that the world no longer fits in a box that can easily be taken anywhere.

I’ve sat in too many conferences where CPAs say they need to change with the modern business environment. You know what this led to? Ten years’ worth of work to try and evolve accounting standards to have standardized financial reporting throughout the world. They’re more or less scrapping this idea now. Good job guys.

Reluctance to change has led to missed opportunities in the profession in big data, talent acquisition, and who knows what else. The point is, innovative solutions don’t need to create a new product or industry in one step, but your organization needs to move in this direction to meet your full potential. It is an essential element to creating an engaged organization.

Let’s put this into practice … hey CPAs, why has the structure of firms continued in the same manner for over 100 years? Literally. 100 years. Would you prefer a car with modern amenities or would you go with a Model T? So why have accounting firm structures not changed?

On the other end of the spectrum, let’s look at the tech sector that utilizes mobile workplaces, where flex time is required, and profit sharing is in entry level compensation packages. What if a CPA firm came along that flipped the script? Most of the innovation has been done at the Big 4 firms where they have the capital and clout to make this happen. But even they can lag behind.  They just know that they can’t do it themselves and pay people whose job title should read “Guy that thinks of stuff.”

What if we had an entrepreneurial structure? What if each client was its own business, and the partner group was really venture capitalists making investments in teams? Picture how an evaluation might go differently if it was staff defending their performance not to their boss, but their investor? What if you give a group a portfolio of clients, tell them to make the budget actually work, and part of the deal is they have to run a business. They won’t have the backstop of depending on the next team to help us out with staff. Well you can go to other teams for help, but now they are billable consultants.

This new structure provides the platform for people to really think about purpose, execution and making a business work. And, really, how different is it than the present? You can keep your safe LLC structures and staff tree. All you’re doing is adding accountability to accountants to make their own future.

Did you find it funny that I tried to sell change to CPAs when this isn’t really change? The first step is the hardest, but make it your new addiction. Be tact, think bold, and find the calculated risk.  Where can you or your organization be creative? Read, comment, share. Start the conversation.

How Management Accountants Innovate

June 12, 2017By Rebekah Payne, CPAChanging Role of the CPA, Innovation

Innovation is a top priority for the CPA profession. Gary Bolinger discussed innovation at this year’s Professional Issues Update and INCPAS just released its white paper on innovation. And, in recent months, there have been several posts related to innovation on the CPA Center of Excellence® Online Community. It’s imperative for CPAs in public accounting and industry to embrace and influence innovation within their organizations.

Several articles have been published this year on innovation within accounting firms, specifically Big Four firms. Some of these ideas include cognitive computing, big data analytics, surveyor drones for inventory observation, and machine learning technology. Many published examples of innovation in the CPA profession are occurring within public accounting.

So what about CPAs in industry? How can CPAs in management accounting positions (e.g. CFO, controller) influence innovation within their organizations? Innovation requires an investment that translates into cost. A management accountant will have significant involvement in “crunching the numbers” for innovation. This may include building cash flow models, budgeting costs, allocating resources and advising on financing. But focusing solely on these traditional responsibilities of a management accountant wouldn’t be innovative.

How else do management accountants influence innovation? A CGMA Report issued by the AICPA and CIMA provides deeper insight into managing innovation. This report identifies the following areas where management accountants can influence and support a more innovative business.

  1. Create an innovation mindset: Fostering a culture that encourages innovation has to start with leadership at the top, including CFOs. CFOs can help develop incentives to encourage employees to be innovative. CFOs can also help determine the proper metrics to utilize based on a project’s stage.
  1. Nurture creativity: “The goal of operational excellence is to drive businesses toward certainty, while the goal of promoting innovation requires a high tolerance of uncertainty, ambiguity and constant change,” according to the report. CFOs will need to assist companies with adapting financial processes and metrics to align with the stage of each project. Financial measurements for projects in the early stage will most likely be more relaxed than at a later stage. 
  1. Prepare the path to profit: In this area, CFOs will perform some of their traditional responsibilities. Innovation takes those responsibilities to the next level as CFOs need to move from being viewed as a constraint on innovation (saying “no”) to becoming a valued contributor (helping assess “how”). CFOs are essential in managing both projects and risk.
  1. Match metrics to the stage of development: CFOs will need to help create “stage gates” through which each idea can be challenged and refined to prepare for the next stage of investment. As discussed above, part of this process will involve tailoring metrics to each stage of a project.
  1. Take a balanced view on risk across the innovation portfolio: Portfolio management is crucial for a company’s sustainability, and CFOs play a vital role in this process. Management of the innovation portfolio includes defining and understanding a company’s strategy and risk appetite, strategically managing risk, and building both tangible and intangible risks into strategies.

The areas above identify several examples of how management accountants can support and influence innovation within their companies. Are there other examples of innovation that you have observed in your company or clients?

Interested in learning more about innovation in the CPA Profession? Read the Indiana CPA Society’s innovation white paper at this link. 

Now is the time to be a CPA

May 8, 2017By Lisa Brown, CPA, CGMABlog, Innovation, Technology

I’m a big fan of the TV show, Shark Tank, so I was curious when I came across Lindsay Patterson’s blog, “That Time I Told Mark Cuban He Was Wrong About the CPA Profession.“ Cuban was speaking at the SXSW Conference and Festival and stated, “we’ll see more technological advances over the next 10 years than we have over the last 30.”

In an effort to describe how technology will change the most desirable jobs and skill sets and how important critical thinking will be in the future, Cuban says, “I wouldn’t want to be a CPA right now. I wouldn’t want to be an accountant right now.” Lindsay not only had the opportunity to explain to the public how Cuban did not understand how the CPA profession is already embracing technology, but she was actually able to explain to Cuban, himself, how wrong he was about the CPA profession. She even has a picture to prove it!

There are so many ways technology is impacting the CPA profession that it is mind-boggling to reflect back on the days when creating a spreadsheet in Lotus 1-2-3 seemed like cutting edge technology. Patterson writes about how today’s technology automates many functions which now free CPAs to perform higher value services, services which require specialized knowledge and critical thinking skills. 

Blockchain, FinTech and Artificial Intelligence would have been considered science fiction not so long ago. In fact, I had not even heard of Blockchain and FinTech until fairly recently. Today, these are technologies in which the CPA profession is strategizing on how to incorporate and utilize. FinTech is an entire industry of technologies used and applied in (or disruptive to) the financial services sector. The March 2017 edition of CFO Magazine features the articles, “Betting on Blockchain” by Randy Myers and “How Auditing Will Incorporate AI” by Bill Brennan, Michael Baccala and Mike Flynn.

According to Meyers, blockchain is a type of distributed ledger that is shared by many users over a peer-to-peer computer network. Each “block” of data is built on the block that came before it, ensuring a complete, highly transparent, audit-able trail of information on an ever-growing blockchain that cannot be changed or altered. In 2016, venture capitalists funded $1 to $1.5 billion of capital into blockchain and bitcoin companies. A survey of 200 commercial and retail banks found that by 2018, nine out of 10 will have invested in blockchain solutions for deposit-taking. Other finance applications include elimination of reconciliation, streamlining of settlement activities, facilitating supply chain financing and optimizing and unlocking liquidity.

Brennan, Baccala and Flynn report that artificial intelligence can assist auditors by acquiring, processing and churning through the mountains of data that a business‘s financial reporting systems generate. AI can make it possible to move toward auditing 100% of data instead of sampling. This will allow auditors to study the totality of a business and provide assurance service through thoughtful examination and exercise of judgment, again the specialized knowledge and critical thinking skills possessed by CPAs.

I’m excited to learn more about these and other technologies and see how they’ll be utilized in the CPA profession in the future. Lindsay was right; Cuban was wrong. This is an incredibly exciting time to be a CPA!

The War for Talent

April 4, 2017By Stephanie Parton, CAE, INCPAS Director – Marketing CommunicationsArticle, Blog, Innovation, Talent Management and People

 

Across the country, high school seniors are donning caps and gowns for graduation. Many will head off to college in the fall, full of hope for a bright future. Through the help of family, teachers and counselors, they have decided on a major which will determine the career they will enter into for the rest of their professional life.

Pretty simple, right?

Not so fast. Landing your dream job right out of college and sticking with it throughout your career is a thing of the past.

Only 14 percent of U.S. workers believe they have the perfect job and more than half want to change careers, according to a 2013 Harris Poll.

Making the Career Change

Deciding to make a career change is a huge decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are many risks to consider including the cost of going back to school, juggling a full-time job, and maintaining work-life balance while pursuing a new degree and career.

Robert Reynolds, CPA, CGMA, made a career switch in his early 30s. He went from manager of a convenience store to director and shareholder with Brady Ware.

“I finally found my calling, public accounting, at the tender age of 31,” Reynolds explained. “After obtaining my associate degree in business administration, I embarked on my journey to real adulthood as a mid-level manager for Stop-N-Go. Needless to say, the 24/7 retail environment lost its appeal after a few years, and in my late 20s, I found myself still struggling to determine just what I wanted to be when I grew up.

“A wise person I knew at the time spoke of the career opportunities available in accounting, and since I enjoyed working with numbers, I enrolled at Wright State University in the fall of 1985 as an accounting major and the rest is history,” he added. IU Health Ball Memorial Director of Finance Bettie Caldwell CPA, CGMA, also made the career change switch after reflecting on her long-term goals.

“I was a mid-life career–changer, having worked as a registered respiratory therapist in the hospital setting for over 15 years,” said Caldwell. “A family move to a new job market prompted me to re-evaluate what I wanted to do with my remaining 25 plus years of work life. I was primed for a challenge and a change, and found what I was looking for in the CPA profession. Eventually my career as a CPA led me full circle back to the healthcare setting, but this time as a director of finance for a large hospital system.”

“I was primed for a challenge and a change, and found what I was looking for in the CPA profession,” Bettie Caldwell, CPA, CGMA, a mid-life career changer.

Desire for Change

While not everyone who wants to change careers will actually make the decision to go through with a switch, a significant portion of the American workforce would like to do so.

Nearly 80 percent of workers in their 20s said they wanted to change careers, followed by 64 percent of 30-somethings and 54 percent in their 40s according to the Harris Poll.

“I just wasn’t thinking long-term about my career,” explains Mary Milner, staff accountant at Baden Gage & Schroeder LLC. “I didn’t really know myself well enough at age 19 to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So I got a job in the real estate industry. I did leasing and a little bit of sales and customer service, putting out fires, conflict resolution. It was great experience and I did that for seven or eight years.

“There were a lot of things about it that I enjoyed but it just wasn’t where I wanted to be for my career,” she continued. “After a while I started doing some soul-searching. I found that all the things I enjoyed doing in real estate had to do with accounting. That was kind of my light bulb that maybe I should be doing this.”

Milner recognized her decision to go back to school and pursue an accounting degree was a risk.

“It was a big risk to say OK, I’m going to go back to school, I’m going to take out more student loans,” she said. Milner said she decided to make the commitment and take the risk knowing it would pay off in the long run. Quitting was not an option for her.

“It’s a whole different experience trying to go to school when you already have a full time job and I was starting a family,” she said. “And it leaves no time for anything because every free moment is spent studying. Looking for a job was probably the scariest part. I was unsure how to navigate that more so than just deciding to go back to school. It was almost a full time job looking for a full time job.”

Enter the CPA Profession

INCPAS President & CEO Gary Bolinger, CAE wrote about career changers entering the CPA profession in a post “The ‘War’ for Talent” on the Society’s blog I Was Just Thinkin’.

“Career changers are going to end up somewhere in the workforce,” Bolinger wrote. “It might as well be the CPA profession. A lot of these people have got the perspective and talent to be significant contributors in the profession. If we want to leverage this trend, the profession (which includes firms, corporate accounting departments, colleges and universities, and accounting associations and societies that serve the profession) needs to reassess recruitment. Are we willing to accept the need to aggressively recruit talent in places that we have never looked before? The places to start are the ‘career changer’ marketplace and the non-traditional student marketplace.”

Nontraditional Students

There are more than 17.6 million undergraduates enrolled in American higher education. The National Center for Education Statistics reports 38 percent of those enrolled in higher education are over the age of 25 and one-fourth are over the age of 30. The share of all students who are over age 25 is projected to increase another 23 percent by 2019.
“More seasoned candidates can bring a perspective on business and the role of being a professional to an organization that rests on a foundation built through real life and work experiences,” says Reynolds. “All I can say is at 31, I know I was a much better listener than I was at 21. At 31, I was more patient than I was at 21. I certainly was more thoughtful and empathetic at 31, than 21. I feel these traits and my journey not only allowed me to advance my career, but they contributed greatly in helping me become a trusted advisor to clients.”

Purdue University Northwest Department of Accounting Head Ed Furticella says nontraditional students are faced with challenges traditional students might not face.
“The speed of the course work can also be challenging for the nontraditional students,” he said. “Especially the students who are balancing work and family commitments. They are worried about balancing work, life and school. They worry about getting behind in class and typically, these are the students that will drop a class if they don’t think they’re doing well.”
Once Milner made the commitment to go back to school for her accounting degree, her concern shifted to what would happen after graduation.

“I was afraid as a job candidate that the people interviewing me would have concerns about it,” said Milner. “I was afraid they would have concerns and say ‘why did you go back to school, why are you at this age and you’re just starting out, why did you go to school online.’ What I found was that I had more anxiety about it than they did. They just wanted to understand. They wanted to know my story. I was afraid it was going to be a problem and it wasn’t.

“I think the first step begins with the people in charge of hiring having an open mind and seeing the value people can bring when they’ve had different experiences,” Milner continued. “When they look at a résumé, if they’ve been in a different profession, don’t automatically discount them. I think I got lucky here that’s what Baden Gage did. They didn’t discount me because I didn’t have accounting experience.”

Bold Challenge

One of the four “bold challenges” created by the Indiana CPA Society Board of Directors is to “Build bridges to the profession …” and one of the bridges must be the bridge for nontraditional students.

“We tend to focus our energies on current high school and traditional college students as potential future CPAs,” said Caldwell. “We value the longevity and new ideas that youth brings with it, but more mature candidates have their own advantages. When I returned to the hospital as a CPA, I brought with me my previous work experience and understanding of how a hospital operates, as well as the appreciation for the hospital culture and our ‘patients first’ focus.” The Society is working on reaching nontraditional students and encouraging them to pursue a new career in the CPA profession.

“Nearly every day I receive a phone call from a person considering a career change or wanting more information about the CPA designation, specifically the process applying and sitting for the CPA Exam,”said INCPAS Director — Diversity & Outreach Ali Paul. “They are often relieved to learn that depending on their previous college education, only a handful of additional classes may be needed to meet the 150-hour requirement in Indiana.”

The Society’s Diversity Advisory Council is developing a new toolkit to help career changers and nontraditional students better navigate the pathways to becoming CPAs. The goal is to help make the process as clear as possible and give candidates a better idea of what they can expect as they enter this profession. Career changers bring so much experience to the table and when you think about the core competencies of a CPA (Communications, Leadership, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Anticipating and Serving Evolving Needs, Synthesizing Intelligence to Insight, Integration and Collaboration) these are skills that career changers have been developing for years, allowing them to really hit the ground running upon entering the CPA profession.

Do You Know How Blockchain is Changing Business?

April 3, 2017By Jason Bainter, CPABlog, Changing Role of the CPA, Innovation, Technology

If you don’t know what blockchain is, you should because it is going to change the way all businesses transact financial information in the future.

Blockchain is widely known as the technology that underpins bitcoin, but it is a lot more than just bitcoin. Blockchain is the technology that backs distributed ledger technology, which is a trusted way to track the ownership of assets without the need for a central authority. As a result, it could speed up transactions and cut costs while lowering the chance of fraud, according to an article in CIO Journal.

Per Business Insider, blockchains are basically ledgers that accept inputs from a host of different parties. The ledgers can only be changed if all parties consent. These ledgers can be shared publicly. They are housed on servers, or nodes, which maintain the entries (known as blocks) and every node sees the transaction data stored in the blocks when created. Since these blocks are publicly shared, there is no central authority to approve the transactions. The ledgers and underlying databases are immutable and irreversible. The date can’t be revised or tampered with even by database operators. The distributed nature of the network requires that the computer servers reach a consensus, which allows for transactions to occur between unknown parties. The software behind blockchain is written so that no conflicting or double transactions can be written in the data set and thus, transactions can occur automatically.

So what does all of this mean? In basic terms, let’s take a personal transaction and break it down. Let’s say that you have a child in daycare and every week, you have to pay the daycare for the services they provide. You write a check and update your checkbook ledger, or do you? The daycare provider deposits the check and updates their checkbook ledger. But things could go wrong. Although you wrote the check, you just picked your child up and they are excited to see you and tell you about their day. So you go off to hear about their day, but wait, you forgot to update your check register for that check you just wrote. And your bank doesn’t know immediately upon you writing that check if you have enough funds in the account to cover that check.

With blockchain, instead of two separate checkbook registers with debits and credits, both you and the daycare would both be looking at the same ledger of transactions. It’s private (encrypted) and decentralized, so neither one of you control the ledger. Since the ledger is decentralized, you both can look at the ledger and each transaction is put into a “block.” Then if you and the daycare provider validate that block of information, it’s added to a chain. That chain is then protected by a sophisticated cryptography, and no one can change the chain after it is created. In this way, you know how much is left in your bank account and your bank immediately knows if there are funds in your account to cover the check. The transaction is instantaneous and there is no more “float.” Also, because of these chains, there is no longer any additional work on the daycare provider’s part on having to issue year-end statements for taxes because you would now have the availability to look at the chain to see your annual payments. Do you think this would assist in year-end tax planning?

Although blockchain is in its infancy, it is quickly gathering speed among financial institutions, trading companies and the health care industry. There are still challenges to overcome such as regulation, cost and security issues. However, financial institutions are big proponents of moving this forward as they see this as a huge cost cutting method by removing back office staff that have to approve trades and transfers.

As this system develops, clients are going to be utilizing these blockchains, and CPAs must keep up-to-date on this technology in order to audit the system. However, based on the premise of this technology, our audit procedures could be reduced or eliminated because there really would no longer be a reason to confirm A/R, contracts or bank accounts. That would all be within the chain of transactions validated by each party.

How do you think your clients could benefit from this technology?

#9: Innovate

January 14, 2017By Gary Bolinger, CAEBlog, Future of Work and Change Management, Innovation

Relish change and embrace the opportunity

I am sure that many, or most of you reading this, have heard the famous Jack Welch quote “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Well, that isn’t the exact quote. Actually, the concept was published in the GE’s Annual Report 2000 in the section on “Relishing Change.”

“We’ve long believed that when the rate of change inside an institution becomes slower than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight. The only question is when.”

Change is difficult. Change is frequently a source of significant discomfort. Change is complex. And today, the rate of change — the velocity of change — is accelerating. Much of the increasing velocity of change is attributed to technology. But there are other factors. Increased entrepreneurship is driving change. Ever evolving demographics drives change. And geopolitical influences on our global economy certainly drives change.

All of these influences on change (and more) are driving a mandate. We must learn to embrace change. Or, as the GE annual report said in 2000, we must relish change. We need to encourage our colleagues to view change as opportunity. There’s really no alternative. Change must be embedded in our cultures. Change needs to be positioned as the energy to create the new.

When you, your organization and /or everyone within your organization gets over the feelings that fuel the discomfort of change, you can move on to framing change as a primary source of innovation.

Innovation is probably the primary driver of growth in our businesses today. The engine driving positive economic improvement. Innovation = future success.

But, innovation is scary too! What? You expect me to innovate? I don’t know HOW!

Innovation should NOT be unsettling to you or your colleagues. Wikipedia defines innovation as a “new idea, device, or method.” Sure, there is a little more to the definition. Solutions that meet new requirements, more effective processes or something that breaks into a new market. In 2016 the Indiana CPA Society (INCPAS) Board of Directors established an innovation task force and they elected to use a definition of innovation crafted by Dan McClure: “Any practice that leverages creative invention to respond to an important challenge.” There are others. Pick one that fits you best and embrace it!

Innovation is process improvement. It might be a series of little things (marginal gains) that eventually make a big difference. Everyone in your organization can and should be challenged to find one or two little things that could be improved. Everyone should embrace the opportunity!

You will hear more in the near and long-term future from the CPA Center of Excellence®, powered by INCPAS, about innovation. We hope to hear from you as well. As we embrace change and implement thoughtful and purposeful innovation, we can all help to ensure a valuable and relevant future for the CPA profession. Let us know how you are innovating in your career.

Gary Bolinger, CAE, is president & CEO of the Indiana CPA Society, a position he has held since 1991. He has spent the last 32 years of his career at INCPAS, beginning in 1984 with the role of field activities director. Bolinger has served in numerous volunteer and presenter capacities in both the CPA and association professions nationally and in Indiana. He was named as one the most influential people in accounting by Accounting Today for each of the last two years. Bolinger is a regular blogger for the Society.