Tools for CPAs


As an accountant would you say that you are analytic, organized, and  precise? How about detailed, factual and accurate? Accountants hold a set of certain characteristics (Whether it be from professional training or personality) that could potentially be carried into a Controller position, but only if they can break out of the “number cruncher” mindset… which is not easy to do.

Corporate Controllers

So what is the Controller position? The Controller is more than just a bean counter or a number cruncher; the controller is the analyzer, interpreter and disseminator of financial information to all interested parties. Functioning mostly in planning, accounting, and reporting, controllers are often the budgeting lead, company historian, and number translator for non-number people… all at the same time. The Controller position is a big role in every company— which means that it is a position that can not be perfectly customized to fit your liking.  There will be occasions when accuracy is sacrificed for timeliness, and “big picture” thinking is considered to be more efficient than detail oriented thinking.

The Controller position is more than just supervising the accounting and financial departments. Controllers must also work with and advise company leaders by providing the financial information needed to develop successful strategies,  meaning that the Controller needs to be able to communicate accounting and finance principals to non-accounting professionals. Being responsible for everyone’s transactions and bills requires the controller to not only be well read in other departments, but also be able to build relationships in order to effectively communicate with them.

Qualifications and Capabilities
Before stepping up to such a large and diverse position, make sure that you have the necessary prerequisites required to become a successful controller.

  • Education: Managerial and financial accounting, regulatory compliance, business analysis tools, communication and leadership, and Federal, state and local taxes.
  • Personal: Dynamic/Likable, Analytic/Problem Solver, Supportive/Positive, Credible/Reliable
  • Credibility: Knowledge, Judgement, Objectivity, Candor and Integrity
  • Technical: Accounting, Analysis Tools, Regulatory Laws, Accounting and Financial Systems

DISC Personality Assessment and Leadership Styles
In order to ensure the well being of the company, it is important that the controller has both the educational background and the ability to mediate conversation between different personalities and backgrounds. Success stories come from those who not only know themselves, but know how to read and react to other people and personalities. This intuitive ability allows them to assess situations and act in a way that is best for the group.

The  DISC tool is based off of four personality traits: Dominance, Influence, Submission, and Compliance. In most cultures, 50% of group personalities fall into the Submission category, while the rest were evenly distributed between the other three quadrants. People with Dominant and Influencing traits tend to be extroverted, assertive, and move towards change, while those with a Compliant and Stable personality tend to be more introverted, passive, and gravitate towards stability. On the other axis of the quadrant lies the task-oriented (Dominant and Compliant) and the people-oriented (Influencer and Stabilizer). So which of these quadrants makes a successful controller? The answer lies in your ability as a leader to exercise each of these four traits in the necessary situation. When the situation calls for you to make a decision or take the lead, will you as the Controller have the discernment to decide which quadrant to act upon? In the meantime, take a look at the DISC quadrant to identify your most prominent trait set and recognize your blind spots.

Think you have what it takes to be a Corporate Controller? If you understand the general character of the position and feel that you may be a good fit, join Miles Hutchinson on February 28 as he talks about the specific functions of a Corporate Controller.

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Are you an Outlook user looking for ways to operate this powerful platform more effectively? There are many helpful aspects of Outlook that many users overlook.

Here are some recent tips from David Ringstrom, CPA.

1. Did you know…There’s a free macro that can prompt you if you send a message without a subject line:  www.codeproject.com/KB/office/outlookblanksubject.aspx

2. Most e-mail systems impose a 10 MB limit on the size of e-mail attachments and there are some types of files you cannot attach. But, there are various free sites on the Internet that enable you to send restricted or large files. You can try:

http://www.yousendit.com (Lite Account), Free Outlook plug‐in available
http://www.dropsend.com (Free account)
http://www.transferbigfiles.com (Free account)
http://www.dropbox.com (Free account)

3. To sort your inbox (or any folder) on multiple columns, hold down the Shift key and click another column to sort based on two columns.

4. Overloaded with emails? In Outlook you can use “rules” to manage your email. Rules can sort e‐mail into folders and even reply automatically. Although it takes time to develop rules in Outlook, the payoff over time is tremendous.

5. Push “send” too hastily? Retracting an e-mail is possible when you’re on an Exchange Server, the e-mail was sent internally, and the recipient has not yet read the message.

For further insights into how to get the most out of Outlook, including numerous add‐on tools, that extend Outlook’s capabilities, view David Ringstrom’s free on-demand webcast, Outlook Secrets for CPAs.

Sherlock Holmes’ uncanny knack for solving cases actually comes from a combination of broad knowledge, keen logic, and a close attention to detail. Similar to the consulting detective of 221B Baker Street, the Sherlock Holmes of Tax Practitioners would combine equal parts deep knowledge of tax law and strong research skills, says Annette Nellen, San Jose State University professor and CPE Link instructor on tax research.

So don your deerstalker cap and get your magnifying glass. Here’s a mystery for you to ponder. A new internet company, which we’ll call Printers to Go, has formed to sell computer printers on line. What method of accounting should the company adopt on its first tax return?

You discern the following facts:

  • The form of operation and business plan has already been created.
  • The company has arrangements with several printer manufacturers.
  • It has a website where customers can search for printers by features, obtain product specs, and place orders.
  • Manufacturers might set some limit on pricing and other sales terms.
  • Printers to Go expects first-year sales of $1.5M.

So what method of accounting is best for the company’s first tax return? How would you go about solving the mystery? What questions would you ask? What tax issues are involved? What do you already know about the topic and issues? What general rules are relevant? What IRC sections apply? And if you don’t get an answer in the Code, where else might you need to look for answers?

The client is waiting for your solution.

The customer is always right, right? Maybe if you sell clothing or run a restaurant. But for accounting firms, let’s dispel that myth immediately. If you want your firm to be more efficient, productive, and profitable, seize the reins from your clients and take client accounting online, advises Darren Root, CPA CITP, and CPE Link instructor.

“For many years in my own practice, I allowed my clients to dictate the process. It was the client that was in control, delivering their data on CD, in paper format or by email. They also got to choose what client accounting system they used—and version!” Root calls this “living in the silo” and says its time knock down those silo walls and break out into the clear air of “the cloud.” The next generation accounting firm will have a strategy for online accounting and delivering services in a shared space that’s convenient for both the client and the firm.

“In a shared space, data is always accessible, current, and easily exchanged between the firm and the client because it resides in a shared environment. The real value of adopting the shared space mode is that you control the workflow. And when you are in control of your own processes, many pain points are eradicated,” says Root. In a shared online environment, you won’t be waiting for the client to deliver CDs. Instead the data is always available to you. You have correct data at processing time, because errors in journal entries have been caught and corrected along the way. And you’ll take back several days during the month because the client is no longer a bottleneck.

What do you need to move your practice into the cloud and greater productivity? Here’s what Root recommends:

o Think about your services
o Take an inventory the solutions your clients use
o Develop a strategy that promotes efficiency
o Identify solutions hosted and software-as-service solutions that support your strategy.

Many of our parents and grandparents had the security of knowing that when they hit their pre-determined retirement age they’d be handed a commemorative gift, feted with a cake, and comforted with a lifetime of retirement checks.

For most of us today, that’s not the case. People are living longer and working longer, and most companies have abandoned corporate retirement accounts, turning control — and responsibility — over retirement funds to each individual.

Baby boomers are now facing very high stakes. In years past financial experts created retirement plans that ended at age 85; today they’re looking ahead to 90 or 95 years. At 65, the average life expectancy in this country is another 12.4 years for women and 10.3 years for men.

CPE Link instructor Anthony J. Rocca
points out that practitioners need a solid understanding of the vast estate and financial planning issues affecting the baby boomer generation, including the mistakes this group often makes.

For example, while many of us fully expect to work well into the traditional retirement years, that kind of thinking can be a pitfall because it can keep baby boomers from making the planning choices they should. In addition, health factors need to be taken into consideration. We may feel like we can conquer the world at age 50, but unexpected health problems, overwork, lack of sleep — any number of factors — can change all that a decade later.

Long-term care costs can also wipe out a lifetime of savings. My parents, for example, lived frugally and saved with the zeal of people who were young and impressionable during the Great Depression. They paid off their home and had what seemed like a comfortable amount in savings, but before the end of their lives it had all been spent on assisted and long-term care.

Added to all the uncertainty is the volatility of domestic and foreign stock markets and ever-changing federal tax and health-care laws.

Rocca teaches in his upcoming webinar how practitioners should determine each individual’s needs, what the risk management issues are, the factors affecting estate and financial planning, and the changing workplace.

It’s been a long, tough haul for the construction industry. Extended slowdowns in home sales and construction have taken their toll, and other factors — banks’ debt exposure, stock market volatility, national and foreign politics — have just exacerbated the problem.

The good news is that in some places the industry may have hit bottom. In California’s Silicon Valley, for example, the most recent quarter’s growth resulting from new construction recorded a small improvement over historic lows in 2010.

CPA Link instructor Rebecca Ogle teaches on the latest, hottest topics on that front. For example, Ogle says, joint ventures and investments in entities other than subsidiaries will generally use one of three methods of accounting. Ogle teaches which of them — equity method, cost method, or fair value method — should be used when, and why.

An Accounting Standards Update was issued in June to “improve comparability, consistency and transparency,” Ogle says, and explains the other reasons as well.

She also teaches the fine points of multi-employer plans in which “two or more unrelated employers contribute, usually pursuant to one or more collective bargaining agreements.”

The construction industry touches nearly every other business realm, and its participants are numerous: contractors, commercial project owners, residential developers, subcontractors, architects and engineers, lenders and surety companies, to name a few.

With all the problems faced in day-to-day business dealings, it’s more important than ever to be on top of the very latest in accounting and tax changes for the construction industry.

Ogle is a principal in the construction and A/E team at Somerset CPAs. She provides clients with audit and tax expertise that she has gained during her 10 years in public accounting. She received the “Five Under 35” award from the Indiana CPA Society in 2006.

As individuals and businesses weigh whether to be PC- or Mac-based, one of the major issues is what crucial computer tools will still be functional, and how hard it will be to learn new ways of using them.

I’ve been through two company-wide PC-to-Mac conversions, with all their accompanying temper tantrums and confusion. The old familiar shortcut keys no longer worked, the pathways through systems that we could once do in our sleep now had unexpected twists and turns.

One by one, staff members had to re-learn basic applications in a new format.

One of those key business applications is QuickBooks, but CPE Link instructor Shelly Robbins says there’s no reason to fret when Mac-based clients come your way. Robbins says QuickBooks/Mac 2011 is “multi-user capable and much more user-friendly” than earlier ways of converting QuickBooks to Mac.

According to Robbins, businesses that often opt for Mac systems include:
* Architects and Engineers
* Graphic Designers, Interior Designers, Web Developers
* Small Retailers

Robbins’ newest project an online “Help Wanted” and Directory exclusively for people who need QuickBooks support. “There is so much work to be done in the constantly-moving and ever-expanding field of QuickBooks consulting that there is much to be gained when QuickBooks consultants team up together,” she says.

These are, of course, some differences between the Windows and Mac versions. There’s no accountant’s copy on Mac, for example, and there are limited third party app integrations. Payroll and banking are online, and functions such as progress invoicing are different.

But there’s no need for worry, Robbins says, and nothing to be afraid of. QuickBooks for Mac works just like any other Mac software and has “the ease of use you expect from QuickBooks, and the elegance and simplicity of the Mac.”

Robbins — who got her start as a bookkeeper with the first version of QuickBooks in DOS — is a QuickBooks training and troubleshooting expert. She is founder and president of Seattle-based The QuickSource.

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