Think sustainability’s unsustainable? Think again.
As a CPA, you build strong relationships with your small business clients, so you’re not surprised when one of your clients, who is running a startup, asks for a meeting to talk about her goals for the coming year and beyond. She is looking to enable growth by attracting new investors, to continue recruiting quality talent and to differentiate the company in the marketplace by giving it a competitive edge going forward. You want to help, but where do you start?
Rethinking the business
While such goals can sometimes seem daunting, you know that there are simple steps she can take to improve her chances of achieving all three: Make changes that ensure her company is operating in a sustainable manner. There are some direct results of embracing greater sustainability. These include fostering innovation, driving financial performance and improving risk management, according to a Harvard Business Review article. Other benefits include improved brand image, greater appeal to employees and investors and increased ability to comply with regulations.
Have your clients already raised questions about environmental, social or governance matters i.e., sustainability concerns? If they haven’t, you should be prepared to hear more on this topic as interest increases. There are two main suggestions you can make to clients to get them thinking about the importance of sustainability.
Consider what sustainability can do for you. Your clients may not be aware of the benefits that sustainability can offer, or they may think this is a topic that only applies to much larger organizations. CPAs can take the opportunity to bring it up when:
- A client is moving locations. Moving into or building a greener site may help them enhance profitability and productivity. For example, a manufacturer may cut costs by lowering energy or water use or by reducing reliance on toxic chemicals, thereby improving environmental conditions.
- A client is seeking to enhance risk management. With the increasing prevalence and severity of environmental, social and governance (ESG) related risks, ranging from product safety recalls to extreme weather events, managing ESG-related risks and opportunities is critical to enhancing organizations’ resiliency. The Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development recently released guidance intended to bring ESG risks into clearer focus for businesses and organizations.
- A client is seeking funding. Many investors and venture capital firms focus specifically on green businesses or prefer to work with organizations that demonstrate an understanding of environmental, social and governance concerns. They consider sustainability important to long-term financial performance.
- A client wants a competitive edge in a crowded market. Once again, a commitment to business practices that acknowledge sustainable issues is likely to appeal to many workers, companies and potential investors.
Become a B Corp. Don’t know what a B Corporation is? Over 2,500 corporations in more than 50 countries have decided to expand their business purpose beyond maximizing short term profits. Their business models are intentionally designed to create a positive social or environmental impact. They’re all for-profit companies that have been certified by the nonprofit B Lab because they’ve met high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
CPAs are well qualified to work with companies becoming B Corps because many of the areas assessed involve good business practices. You can, for example:
- Help them prepare a required Impact Assessment.
- Develop a work plan to address identified areas for improvement and implement process improvements.
- Prepare external reporting.
- Provide assurance on sustainability reporting.
Many challenges, one solution
It’s rare that one answer can address a variety of concerns, but for many small companies, a greater understanding of sustainability can really make an impact. CPAs can seize the opportunity to provide advice and ideas that can help clients position themselves for a more sustainable future. Check out our new sustainability toolkit, featuring a backgrounder on sustainability assurance, a brochure outlining the benefits of CPA provided sustainability assurance, a document defining key sustainability terms and a guide to implementing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
You may also be interested in attending the Sustainability Investment Leadership Council Conference, taking place May 9, 2019 in New York, NY. Register using the coupon code “AICP” before December 31, 2018 for the early bird rate ($255 instead of $595).
Desire Carroll, CPA, Senior Manager- Assurance and Advisory Innovation, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Your life. Your terms: Four steps to reducing stress and reclaiming your life.
Life is stressful, there’s no doubt about it. But you have the choice to maintain a different perspective, instead of letting stress overtake you every day. Here are four steps to reduce stress and live a well-balanced life:
Step one: Get clear on your purpose
Living life on your own terms requires clarity of purpose. Do you know what matters to you most, and why? Consider the life wheel. There are eight buckets on the wheel: family, work, money, personal growth, health and wellness, spirituality, community and living environment. You must decide which three or four are most important to you, and why. Time is limited, which means you can’t weight all life areas equally. When you know your “what” and your “why,” you’ve got power—the power to dial up the time and energy for what matters most, and the power to pull back on what doesn’t.
Step two: Dial up GUTS over FEAR
Living life on your own terms requires guts over fear. The guts to cure the disease to please. Be gutsy enough to press pause on perfection. Be gutsy enough to stop and ask the question, “Do I need to add value here?” And be gutsy enough to say no to adding more monkeys onto your back. By being gutsy enough to embrace some “no’s,” you’ll reduce stress, increase productivity and regain hours of time each week.
Step three: Let go of judgement
Living life on your own terms requires you to stop judging yourself when you fall short. We all fail, in large and small ways. Accept the moments you miss the mark by saying, “Oh well, I’m human” instead of, “O.M.G. I’ll never work again—I’m a failure!” A forgiving attitude is critical for keeping your energy focused forward—and your sanity.
Step four: Shed your “shoulds”
Living life on your own terms requires you to shed your shoulds. You should accept that job. You should join that board. You should take on that new client. “Shoulds” are the things we do out of obligation because we have not thoughtfully considered our true objectives. Often, they are derived from fear: What if I never get another opportunity like this? What will others think of me? What will I think of me? Here’s the thing: If you can’t say no, then your yes doesn’t mean anything. Think about that. Your commitment to something means much less when you’re committed to everything. So, shed your “shoulds,” and make your “yeses” count. (Download my free guide to shedding the shoulds here.)
It’s your life, and you only get one of it. Own it. Claim it. Love it.
Regan Walsh, NYU-certified executive and life coach who focuses on helping women who are over-programmed and underwhelmed reclaim their lives, both personally and professionally. She is located in Columbus, Ohio and has coached hundreds of women from all over the world through her one-on-one and group coaching programs. She regularly gives keynotes and facilitates workshops for Fortune 500 companies, including Nationwide, OhioHealth, Scotts Miracle-Gro and AllianceData. Regan contributes to Harvard Business Review and Forbes, and has been featured in Ladders, Smart Business, and Columbus CEO.
5 tips to help small business clients prevent cyberfraud
Imagine you’re at work on a typical Monday morning. Suddenly, an email from the CEO hits your inbox. It’s marked ‘urgent,’ so you open it right away. She needs you to wire $15,000 to one of your regular vendors ASAP. You make the wire transfer, and head to the break room to refill your coffee. There’s just one problem – that email wasn’t really from your CEO. And that bank account where you sent the funds? That’s not your vendor’s account. You just sent thousands of dollars to a cyber criminal. Uh oh.
It’s a scheme called executive impersonation, a type of business email compromise (BEC) scheme mentioned in an SEC alert issued last month. Unlike a typical scam email, which may have poor grammar or overly suspicious requests, BEC scams are convincing because the criminals spend time figuring out the corporate culture and common phrases and terms used by employees. CPAs should take note, because scammers could try to perpetrate a similar fraud against their small business clients.
The AICPA’s Forensic and Litigation Services Fraud Task Force has been sounding the alarm on executive impersonation for some time. And its latest Eye on Fraud report highlighted new schemes to help CPAs raise awareness with clients, so they can stay one step ahead of the scammers. Below are 5 tips for you to share with your clients:
- Awareness and discussion of the risks, the characteristics of these schemes, and the potential consequences are necessary for all departments that may be involved in the payment of funds, including IT, treasury, and purchasing. Be sure that practitioners keep themselves apprised of the varying types of impersonation schemes and ensure that clients have adequate training of personnel in addition to appropriate internal control measures.
- Training should begin with the on-boarding process of new hires for the accounting and finance functions. Some or all of these people will be in positions to authorize, initiate, or record wire transfers. Teach employees about both internal and external cyber threats (e.g. phishing, fake vendor emails and executive impersonation schemes) and test them to see if they would fall victim to scams. Require two employees to approve wire transfers and train them with a focus on BEC schemes. Enforce a policy of verifying all wire requests that arrive via email with phone calls to company-registered phones.
- Encryption should be implemented before backing up important data. Even safeguards like two-factor authentication (2FA) are not foolproof. Sending an SMS text as part of 2FA seems secure, but if the carrier account is compromised, the authentication can still be hijacked. If hacked, a small business can still protect its data by using strong encryption. Always make sure data is encrypted – and can only be unlocked by keying in a password – before saving to external devices or backing up to the cloud.
- Security controls must be implemented and maintained. It is estimated that about 90% of cyber breaches could be prevented if the proper security controls are in place. Stay aware of the latest trends in firewalls and anti-virus protection and install software updates and patches as soon as they are available. Frequently remind employees to use complex passwords and change them often.
- Repetition. Obviously, a one-time training session will soon fade from memory. Periodic updates for accounting and finance staff regarding recent frauds perpetrated against companies within the client’s industry will serve as reminders that the need for vigilance is constant.
With the costs of cybercrime estimated to climb to six trillion dollars by 2021, it doesn’t look like cyber scams are going to disappear anytime soon. And while fraudsters often target small and medium-sized companies because they may have fewer security controls in place, CPAs can play a critical role in helping their clients keep their defenses strong.
The bottom line is that cyberattacks preying on human fallibility can be mitigated. AICPA’s quarterly ‘Eye on Fraud’ reports are a great resource for all CPAs to help them protect their clients or their organizations from latest scams. The current edition is always available in the FVS News and Publications section of AICPA.org. Also check out our Cybersecurity Resource Center, which has cybersecurity resources for CPAs providing advisory services.
Brian Simpson, Manager, Public Relations, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
The secret to less copying and pasting – Robotic Process Automation
Remember the last time you copied information from one system and put it into another? Wasn’t that three hours of Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V fun? It wasn’t? Sounds like you might want to look at robotic process automation (RPA) then.
The name is long and slightly intimidating, but the actual use of RPA isn’t. Despite the name, the technology is accessible and easily integrated into your existing platforms. It increases efficiency and reduces mistakes. This means you can be more productive and can spend more time using your higher-value skills like data analysis.
So how can you get started using RPA?
First, identify areas in your practice where automation makes the most sense. Generally, a process is suitable for RPA if it’s repetitive, rules-based and a swivel chair skill (taking data from one system and putting it into another). Some good starting places include accounts payable, accounts receivable and bank reconciliations.
For example, RPA software can extract sales listings, import that information into an Excel file, calculate total sales and compare it to a trial balance – all in a matter of seconds. You can use the technology to capture information from PDFs – such as mailing addresses, credit card numbers and due dates – and automatically update your databases. RPA can also automatically pay invoices that come in every month from the same vendors. You could even use it in human resources to assist with staff on-boarding.
Once you’ve identified the areas where RPA makes the most sense in your firm, you’ll need to invest in the technology. Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and UI path are some of the more well-known RPA software providers, but there are dozens to choose from. Analyze as many vendors as you can to make sure the one you pick best aligns with your RPA goals. And if you still need to convince decision-makers in your organization to make the investment, run a demonstration where RPA software competes against a group of humans to complete a task. Spoiler alert: the RPA software is going to win every time. Most software providers will happily coordinate such a demonstration for your leadership.
Finally, make sure everyone in your firm understands what’s going on. Just as email wouldn’t be a very effective communications tool if only a few people in your office knew about it, you’re not going to reap the most benefits from RPA if only certain teams are aware of its existence. Get your staff trained on what the technology will do, and how staff can best take advantage of it.
Robotic process automation completes repetitive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans, freeing you up to perform higher-level data analysis so you can help your client make better decisions. And if you aren’t using the software soon, you’ll quickly find yourself playing catch-up. Ready to take a deeper dive? Check out our Facebook Live video “Robotics in your accounting practice” or our RPA learning series.
Lindsay N. Patterson, CAE, Senior Manager – Communications and Public Relations, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Licensure under fire in the states
A powerful narrative is taking shape across the country that could define the future of licensure. State legislators are coming together to challenge the necessity and value of occupational licensing.
So far, there have been no direct challenges to whether CPAs should be licensed. However, there’s a national anti-licensure legislative strategy that does not distinguish between occupations and learned professions such as CPAs.
The changing legislative environment means we risk losing licensure as a means to protect the public. That would mean no licensed architects, no licensed engineers and no licensed CPAs. We’ve spent decades ensuring that only qualified and educated professionals can hold out as CPAs. Clients trust CPAs to act as their fiduciaries because they know the profession is well regulated.
There is resistance to the expansion of occupational licensing across the political spectrum. In the 1950s, 5% of workers in the United States required a license, whereas 30% required a license in 2015. The increase leads to a lot of questions about whether licenses are truly protecting the public or whether they are stifling competition. While state legislatures are not looking directly at learned professions — like the CPA — all occupations and professions are getting swept into the legislation.
But if licensing has increased since the 1950s, why is the conversation changing so much now? In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in FTC v. North Carolina Dental Board that the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners was not entitled to immunity from antitrust laws when it tried to prevent non-dentists from offering teeth whitening services. The case did not address occupational licensing directly, but it provided an opportunity for anti-licensure voices to enter the national conversation.
From 2015 to 2018, 34 states introduced legislation related to occupational licensing reform. On both coasts and in every region, state policymakers are seriously considering these reforms. For example, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez signed an executive order that would allow people to perform services normally restricted to licensed professions, including CPA services, if they had the customer sign a waiver.
This national conversation around licensure threatens our mobility laws and could eliminate substantial equivalency. If this legislation succeeds, requirements for licensure will vary wildly across states, creating costly compliance burdens for CPAs.
This issue will continue into 2019 state legislative sessions. The AICPA is working with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, state CPA societies and state boards of accountancy to educate state policymakers on how smart, uniform and predictable regulation protects the public and promotes economic growth. Reach out to your state CPA society to learn more and get involved.
You can read more about this topic here and listen to this podcast to hear a state CPA society’s first-hand account of fighting this kind of legislation.
Skip Braziel, Vice President, State Regulatory and Legislative Affairs, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants