CPE for CPAs


In our previous post, we talked about the core competencies for interviewing. In the following post, we apply those compentencies in a step-by-step break down of how to conduct a successful interview.

1.
 Break the ice
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as an interviewer is to immediately sit down and start hammering the interviewee with questions. Everyone needs a little time to get used to each other; you need to feel out the personality of the interviewee and he needs a moment to acknowledge that you aren’t that intimidating after all. So, start with something non-threatening and build common ground with the interviewee.

2. Brief the interviewee
Tell the client the objective of the audit and the purpose of the interview. Tell him what you hope to accomplish with this meeting. Then ask him if he has any questions. This makes sure he is clear on what you are doing and establishes more equal footing—more of a peer-to-peer relationship. Also tell the client about your status on the audit. Are you the in-charge or the staff person? Who do you answer to? This is another equalizer and folks always like to know the status of the person they are communicating with.

3. Obtain background information from auditee
Here is the interviewee’s chance to show his feathers—or establish his status. Giving the interviewee a chance to tell you more about himself goes a long way to reducing his fear. Sharing about his role in the company slowly levels the playing field and makes him feel more confident and trusting. Ask him to tell you about his:

  •  Job title
  • Scope of responsibility
  • Tenure

4. Ask interviewee if he has any questions
Before you begin with your questions, it is a good idea to ask the interviewee for his questions. Get all that baggage out of the way so you can have a clear, focused conversation. How you phrase this makes a difference. Ideally, you ask, “What are your questions?” This has a much more welcoming and non-judgmental tone than, “Do you have any questions?”, “Do you understand?”, or “Is there anything you need to say?” Each of the last three questions could be construed as mildly condescending.

5. Questioning
Here is where you get down to business. It is time for you to get answers to your most pertinent questions.  Instead of using a questionnaire filled with closed-ended yes/no questions, try using some open ended ones. It will make your interview more conversational and less like an  interrogation.

6. Summarize and paraphrase
Paraphrasing does several powerful things:

  •  It lets the interviewee know that you respect him enough to listen.
  •  It makes sure you “got it”.
  • It allows him to change his mind and save face by saying, “Oh, no. You misunderstood. What I meant to say was…”

The response to each significant question should be summarized or paraphrased as well as the results of the entire interview.

7. Close
After you have asked your questions and summarized the results verbally—basically parroted the main points of the interview back to the interviewee—you are ready to leave. But don’t just stand up and walk out the door. A little ritual is necessary here to maintain happy client relations.

Before you leave, you need to:

  •  Explain what happens next
  • Leave the door open for follow-up
  • Ask if the interviewee has any questions
  • Leave your business card
  • Say “Thank you”

8. Documenting the interview
Write down everything from your interview before you forget.  Don’t worry about formatting it or grammatical correctness, just write it all down. You can go back and edit it after your coffee break.

The information in this list was pulled from Leita Hart-Fanta’s  Essential Skills for the Government Auditor. To learn more about the role of the Auditor, be sure to check out her course.

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I think it’s safe to say that most of us are not naturally good at interviewing. The first few times you conduct an interview may feel awkward, and you never know what to ask. All you want to do is get to the bottom of your list of questions so everyone can go back to their daily routines. Thankfully, our instructor Leita Hart-Fanta has put together a list of skills and competencies every auditor needs in order to conduct interviews and build client relationships.

Eleven competencies for interviewing
1. Analyze background materials
Coming into an interview unprepared can backfire on you. The client does not feel respected if you don’t know their name and the names of the others in the organization to whom you have already spoken. You should also be aware of this person’s job responsibilities and the objectives of their department.  Write everyone’s name down on a pad of paper and take it with you to the interview. Take an organization chart with you. Use whatever you need to jog your memory so that you show respect to the client.

2. Assure preparation of the meeting site
You called the meeting; therefore you are responsible for making sure that the meeting is held in an environment that is conducive to communicating. If the client is distracted or unable to concentrate on your questions because the environment is chaotic, noisy, or uncomfortable, then you – the leader of the meeting – need to do something to remedy the situation.

3. Establish and maintain credibility
Your credibility as an auditor will never come from knowing how the client’s accounts payable process works. You will never know their job as well as they do, nor should you or should they expect you to! Your credibility comes from knowing how an audit works and always having a “plan” – a clear next step, a confidence that lets the client know that you know what you are doing in terms of your job.

You can admit – and I suggest that you admit it frequently – that you don’t know the details about their job. Hesitate to admit that you don’t know what happens next on the audit or why you are asking certain questions. This alternative source of credibility – your knowledge of auditing – is what allows a 23-year-old to audit a 60-year-old finance executive’s job functions.

4. Manage the emotional and physical environment
If the client is upset over something, it won’t do you any good to keep hammering her with questions. As a matter of fact, it can do quite a bit of damage.

5. Demonstrate effective communication and presentation skills
This isn’t anything fancy. You just need to present your best self to the client. That self is clear spoken and energetic. You can go back to your desk later and rest or be bored. But in front of the client, you set the tone for the meeting and manner which it is conducted. It is a good idea to have an agenda and communicate that to the client up front. An agenda also helps you keep the meeting on track.

6. Demonstrate effective questioning skills
Close-ended questions get terse, close-ended responses. Build in open-ended questions that encourage the client to share. You do not have to have a witty follow-up question prepared for every statement the client makes. If you are worried about your next witty follow-up question, you aren’t listening… the focus of our next competency.

7. Demonstrate effective listening skills
If your mouth is moving, you aren’t listening. In most interviews, 90% of the words should be coming out of the client’s mouth.

8. Provide clarification and feedback
The client will be much more comfortable with you if you allow them to participate in the conversation by asking for their feedback and making sure they are clear about your audit objectives. A few well-placed, “What are your questions?” go a long way to build relationships and clear the air of any uncertainty or unpleasantness.

9. Record results in a clear manner
After an interview, get right back to your desk and document what was discussed. Don’t stop for coffee; don’t go to lunch. Sit down and type what you found out. Every minute between the interview and the typing is another chunk of your memory gone! You can edit and tweak it later to fit the format that your supervisor or manager prefers.

10. Resolve all outstanding issues
Sometimes, the client brings up things in an interview that don’t fit neatly into the scope of your audit. Unfortunately, we can’t just let those things simply “hang out” in our interview documentation. We must resolve them formally: report them, discuss them, add them to our audit plan, create a separate project for them, or formally include them in next year’s audit planning.

11. Evaluate interviewer’s performance
To get better at anything, you have to do a little self-examination. After each interview, ask yourself whether you did your best or whether there is anything you would want to change for your next interview. Interviewing is a competency that is learned by correcting mistakes and practicing.

Need to further sharpen your interview skills? Our next blog post will go over how to conduct a successful interview step by step. If you feel like you’ve already got enough interview experience under your belt and want to  learn more about what it takes to be a great Government Auditor, check our Leita Hart-Fanta’s course Essential Skills for the Government Auditor (You can even earn 9 CPE hours).

Last week we went over the Advantages of Budgeting, yet we did not discuss the number of serious disadvantages. This week’s article gives an overview of the general issues, while the following sections address the particular problems associated with capital budgeting, as well as the use of budgets within a command and control management system.

  • Inaccuracy. A budget is based on a set of assumptions that are generally not too far distant from the operating conditions under which it was formulated. If the business environment changes to any significant degree, then the company’s revenues or cost structure may change so radically that actual results will rapidly depart from the expectations delineated in the budget. This condition is a particular problem when there is a sudden economic downturn, since the budget authorizes a certain level of spending that is no longer supportable under a suddenly reduced revenue level. Unless management acts quickly to override the budget, managers will continue to spend under their original budgetary authorizations, thereby rupturing any possibility of earning a profit. Other conditions that can also cause results to vary suddenly from budgeted expectations include changes in interest rates, currency exchange rates, and commodity prices. 
  • Rigid decision making. The budgeting process only focuses the attention of the management team on strategy during the budget formulation period near the end of the fiscal year. For the rest of the year, there is no procedural commitment to revisit strategy. Thus, if there is a fundamental shift in the market just after a budget has been completed, there is no system in place to formally review the situation and make changes, thereby placing a company at a considerable disadvantage to its more nimble competitors.
  • Time required. It can be very time-consuming to create a budget, especially in a poorly-organized environment where many iterations of the budget may be required. The time involved is lower if there is a well-designed budgeting procedure in place, employees are accustomed to the process, and the company uses budgeting software. The work required can be more extensive if business conditions are constantly changing, which calls for repeated iterations of the budget model.
  • Gaming the system. An experienced manager may attempt to introduce budgetary slack, which involves deliberately reducing revenue estimates and increasing expense estimates, so that he can easily achieve favorable variances against the budget. This can be a serious problem, and requires considerable oversight to spot and eliminate.
  • Blame for outcomes. If a department does not achieve its budgeted results, the department man ager may blame any other departments that provide services to it for not having adequately supported his department.
  • Expense allocations. The budget may prescribe that certain amounts of overhead costs be allocated to various departments, and the managers of those departments may take issue with the allocation methods used. This is a particular problem when departments are not allowed to substitute services provided from within the company for lower-cost services that are available else where.
  • Use it or lose it. If a department is allowed a certain amount of expenditures and it does not appear that the department will spend all of  the funds during the budget period, the department manager may authorize excessive expenditures at the last minute, on the grounds that his budget manager may authorize excessive expenditures at the last minute, on the grounds that his budget tends to make managers believe that they are entitled to a certain amount of funding each year, irrespective of their actual need for the funds.
  • Only considers financial outcomes. The nature of the budget is numeric, so it tends to focus management attention on the quantitative aspects of a business; this usually means an intent focus on improving or maintaining profitability. In reality, customers do not care about the profits of a business – they will only buy from the company as long as they are receiving good service and well-constructed products at a fair price. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to build these concepts into a budget, since they are qualitative in nature. Thus, the budgeting concept does not necessarily support the needs of customers.

The discussion of budgeting has cast serious doubts on the need for a detailed and rigorously-enforced budgeting system, especially one that integrates the budget model with bonus plans. Nonetheless, the decision to install a budget is up to the reader. In Budgeting: The Comprehensive Guide, Steven Bragg shows how to create a budget, whether there are variations on the traditional budgeting concept that may work better, and how to operate without any budget at all. The discussion also covers capital budgeting, flexible budgeting, zero-base budgeting, and all of the procedures, controls, and reports needed for a functioning budget system.

 

Continuing professional education (CPE) hours, those pesky requirements needed to maintain your CPA license, are also necessary to ensure that you remain current on tax codes and other legislative developments in the field of accounting. But they can also be an excellent opportunity to increase your value to your employer, broaden your professional knowledge, and choose a CPA specialty. In other words, it may be time to look at fulfilling CPA requirements as an ongoing process that continues throughout your career. (Tip: Each state’s CPA requirements differ, if you want a full list of CPA requirements by state click here)

Today’s CPE providers understand that CPAs often want to do more than brush up on the new tax laws; they want to explore new opportunities and expand their skill set to include everything from ethics and management to communications and marketing. CPE courses are now quite diverse and creative, covering everything from today’s hot button topics and trends to the current economic climate and personal development.

With advances in technology, many CPE programs are offering a variety of formats for the delivery of their course material, thereby making achieving your CPE requirements easier than ever. Online education, satellite programs, podcasts, and webcasts are just a few of the ways CPAs are satisfying their CPE requirements.

CPE courses are evolving to meet the demands of today’s CPA, so it may be time to consider the many ways in which CPE can benefit your career:

CPE allows you to build upon your professional knowledge and expertise.

Your expertise as a CPA professional, as you are no doubt well aware, doesn’t end when you receive your CPA license. Therefore, when assessing your CPE options, it is important to consider expanding your skill set with both “hard” skills and “soft” skills.

CPE courses that build upon your hard skills may cover accounting technology, such as the newest accounting software or enterprise management software, as well as key business skills, such as Six Sigma, project management, and portfolio management. Although obtaining these skills certainly is not essential to accounting, they certainly allow you to become more effective at your current position and allow you to begin achieving specific business and career objectives.

CPE courses that concentrate on soft skills will allow you to concentrate on communicating better with clients and interacting and collaborating better with colleagues. Soft skills cannot always be measured, but they are, without a doubt, essential for achieving success and long-term growth. Soft skills may include leadership, team building, communications, international business relations, and public speaking.

CPE allows you to enhance your career options.

CPE is likely the most effective way to enhance your value to your current employer, as well as future employers. For ambitious accountants, CPE is the perfect opportunity to gain specific skills that allow them to increase their earning potential and move to higher-level positions within their company. If you’re a CPA seeking a supervisory role, CPE courses in human resource planning or organizational skills may arm you with those specialized skills needed to climb the professional ladder.

In short, extensive and well-rounded CPE training allows you to expand your skills, surpass your employer’s expectations, and satisfy your specific professional goals.

CPE allows you to expand your scope of practice.

A CPA specialty may be just what you need to take your career in a new direction, and CPE provides you with the opportunity for doing so. CPE allows you to expand on your general accounting skills, but it may also provide you with the opportunity to explore an area of expertise. For example, you may want to begin exploring CPE in financial planning, forensic accounting, or international accounting practices.

CPE allows you to gain a competitive edge in the industry.

One of the most effective ways to stand out from the competition within the accounting industry is to show employers you have an expansive and well-rounded skill set that sets you apart from other CPAs. Your CPE should show employers your ability to offer a number of value-added services to their business. It should also reflect your commitment to your profession and your willingness to not only remain current on specific, tax-related issues, but to also stay current on those skills that enhance your career in different ways, such as communications, marketing, and customer handling.

A business’ goals are never static, so your professional goals should never be static, either. When choosing CPE, consider practice niches in which you may want to gain more knowledge, and consider your overall professional development goals and the skills you want to bring to your current employer or future employers. Your CPE portfolio should represent a commitment to personal and professional growth, and it should be uniquely yours.

Guest Blogger: Tony Smith

Do any of these complaints sound familiar?

1. I have too many requirements to keep track of.
2. It’s the 21st century for Pete’s sake—I shouldn’t have to keep paper files of certificates anymore.
3. Requirements keep changing. I’m afraid I’ll miss something.
4. I want to be more efficient. I wish it was easier to tell which courses will meet multiple requirements.
5. I have a career learning plan and I have CPE requirements. I wish they meshed better and reinforced each other
6. I’m a firm admin and have to manage the requirements of scores of professionals. A spreadsheet just doesn’t cut it.
7. I often end up scrambling for courses at the last minute. I wish I could check my status as I go.
8. I get so busy. Reminders about CPE deadlines would really help
9. Lucky me, I “won” the audit lottery. I wish I were more confident that I’ve done everything required.

These are some of the problems we hear about from professionals, like you, who take our courses. If any of above common laments sounds familiar, we invite you to check out CPE Link’s Compliance Manager. It just might be the solution you’re looking for.

What’s your biggest issue managing your CPE compliance?

Over the past three years as an online CPE provider, CPE Link’s national webcast audience has grown, mobile learning has also advanced.

Mobile learning (or m-learning) allows the student to access the information from virtually anywhere—which supports today’s widespread work-from-anywhere lifestyle. It is an especially good fit for today’s accountant.

Given the popularity of tablet devices for both work and play, it was a natural evolution that we use tablets for learning as well. They are portable and so easy to use. To participate in one of CPE Link’s live webcasts using a mobile device, the user simply downloads the “Adobe Connect Mobile” app onto his/her device—Apple iOS or Android. On the day of the webcast, the learner logs in to join the class. The Adobe Connect app launches automatically. There are minor differences for the mobile user–such as the way to answer a polling question and toggle back to the main presentation view. But, overall the webcast experience is the same using the mobile app as it is on a PC.

Seeing the number of mobile users in its webcasts grow, CPE Link quickly responded by gearing up to support these attendees. Webcast hosts tested both Apple and Android devices, added instructions for mobile participants to the FAQ web page, and primed the customer service team to answer questions.

Mobile learning is here and CPE Link is ready!

Life is filled with unexpected twists and turns, and many of them lead to unpleasant places.

CPE Link instructor Arthur Joseph Werner teaches a calm, rational approach when helping clients navigate life’s rocky road. It’s important for the practitioner to understand clearly — and thus help the client understand — the tax and non-tax issues related to divorce and what he calls other “bad situations.”

Personal bankruptcy, cancellation of debt, foreclosure, repossession and reporting of bad debts all require expert handling. Werner teaches just what planning considerations and potential problems practitioners should watch for.

In the often messy areas of personal relationships, there’s a lot to take into consideration. Werner points out that practitioners must be up on the latest surrounding support issues and tax treatment of back child support, as well as less conventional problems.

The odds are very good that practitioners will have more than a few clients facing such issues. According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau report, marriages in the country hit an all-time low in 2009, the most recent statistics available.

In some states there are more marriages but also more divorces. For example, in North Carolina 19 marriages took place for every 1,000 of the state’s women in 2009, compared to a rate of 17.6 marriages for women throughout the country as a whole.

However, women in North Carolina had a divorce rate of 10.3 percent per 1,000, up from the country’s overall 9.7 percent. Other Southern states also had relatively high marriage and divorce rates.

Couples who live together, or who do — or do not — have premarital agreements, present a completely separate set of tax and non-tax issues that must be managed. Also on the table are married versus unmarried tax rate comparisons, head of household status and marital property rules.

Werner is a shareholder in the lecture firm of Werner-Rocca Seminars. His areas of expertise include business, tax, financial and estate planning. He’s also an adjunct professor of taxation at Philadelphia University.

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