How to be thankful – even in 2020
For me, Thanksgiving has historically been an endurance sport. I’ve repeatedly proven to myself that if I can only survive my family’s barrage of questions regarding my singlehood, if I can simply feign an interest in football, if I can laugh off an inebriated uncle’s inappropriate limericks while covering the ears of my innocent siblings, then I will be rewarded with hours of judgment-free gluttony. Turkey with gravy and stuffing. Warm biscuits — split, buttered and steaming. Multiple unnecessary versions of the ever-ubiquitous green bean casserole. Tomato aspic, ostracized and jiggling in a darkened corner of a makeshift buffet table. And pies. Pecan pies. Pumpkin pies. Chocolate chess pies. The delicious bounty makes the familial challenges worth it all.
But this Thanksgiving is different. For many like myself, instead of the bounty and the family, there’ll merely be isolation.
So, in a doldrum, I did what any sane person would do: I called my CPA.
CPAs, after all, have an earned reputation for telling it how it is. For not mincing words. It’s an occupational advantage. Equivocating on the facts, after all, could mean a client’s business folding, a company may not properly address essential cybersecurity risks, a tax client getting a much-dreaded letter from the IRS, a startup’s intellectual properties being undervalued or overvalued… and so on.
I expected to have a partner in sadness — a misery-loves-company companion. Instead, I got a quick rebuke. My CPA reminded me that, regardless of current realities, there’s much for which to be thankful.
I’ve discovered that those in her profession mostly share her sentiment. In a recent AICPA Update Weekly Weigh-in poll, AICPA members were asked to state, in a few words, what they were most thankful for this year. Many answered, and the results showed that accounting and finance professionals aren’t so quick to let current events diminish their gratitude.
Heather Meier, CPA, is one example. Like many in the profession, she began her career at a public accounting firm. She’s since worked in accounting for various higher-education institutions such as Villanova University and now manages five teams at Montgomery County Community College. She can see “MontCo” from her home office. During the pandemic, her convenient commute across the street became even more convenient — at least physically. Now, she walks from one room to the next.
She admits to missing the clatter and chatter of formerly busy hallways, hallways she’s proud to say are bustling with diversity, from first-generation college students to older women pursuing fresh starts and new careers.
There’s a wistful tinge in her voice when we speak, but there’s also plenty of hope. When asked what she’s most thankful for this year, she’s quick to point out what may not have been obvious a year ago: “Accounting can be done anywhere.” For Heather, this flexibility has translated to job security. She admits that there has been a lot of adjusting. She and her teams have had to create new processes for collaborating virtually. It’s involved plenty of mental and procedural agility: scrapping what doesn’t work; keeping what does; and keeping a team of remote workers engaged, committed and connected. Ultimately, they’ve discovered that many virtual processes are more efficient than their traditional, more manual counterparts. She and her teams have also learned that by creating a sunshine fund for birthday cards, holding virtual coffee breaks in the morning and partaking in virtual happy hours in the evening, the distance between doesn’t seem as vast.
Heather is also thankful for this year’s many challenges. She states that the influx of federal dollars and resulting compliance with Paycheck Protection Program and CARES Act requirements have thrust her into a tighter-knitted knowledge-sharing network of accountants across her state’s community college system. “Things are changing so quickly. I don’t even think the government even knows all the rules,” she says. That makes this network irreplaceable. She’s also dealing more with small details, partnering with academic departments in her institution on best ways to save and leverage funds and even helping the culinary arts director get creative with sourcing chickens.
Bill Wood, CPA, also works in education, heading finance for Concordia University Wisconsin. Like Heather, he misses the face-to-face energy that comes with working with and among students. He leads a currently shorthanded finance team. His biggest pandemic-related challenge has been finding and onboarding talent. Yet, despite having fewer people on staff, Bill has recently undergone probably the most seamless audit of his experience. After 17 years with the same auditing firm, the University decided to make a switch, and he’s incredibly thankful for that decision. While many organizations are opting to delay audits during the pandemic, his university’s audit was done ahead of schedule with few, if any, hiccups.
Michael Murray, Director of Finance at the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, was also surprised with the ease and seamless level of service of his annual audit. He attributes this largely (and with gratitude) to the availability and affordability of technology such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which for nonprofits such as his are free — or close to it. Before the pandemic, Michael led his organization through a thorough digital transformation. For obvious reasons, the digitizing process then has proven serendipitous now. “[COVID-19] drove a lot of this forward, and it’s going to stay in that forward position when all this is over,” he says.
Jean-Luc Bourdon, CPA/PFS, is most thankful this year for his clients. The relationships he forges in the personal financial planning process are truly reciprocal: he helps those he serves secure their dreams and futures and, in return, he enjoys indescribable feelings of fulfillment. He’s even been able to help estranged family members set aside their differences and come together again at long last. He cherishes these memories and achievements, keeping a drawer full of thank-you cards in his office as a reminder of the impact he’s made in others’ lives.
So, despite the pandemic, , social unrest, hurricanes, wildfires, UFOs and — yes — murder hornets, plenty of CPAs (and those they serve) don’t view 2020 as a dystopia but as a year of challenges that can serve to highlight all we have to be thankful for.
For more heartfelt messages of gratitude, be sure to check out this amazing ThisWayToCPA Instagram story, and — above all — have a wonderful Thanksgiving. You’ve earned it.
Your support matters: Give back this Giving Tuesday
Many of us take stock of our good fortunes during the holiday season, reflecting on what we’re most grateful for and giving back to help others in need. This year has been trying for most of us. Just as businesses and professionals face economic hardships, many college students face challenges and uncertainties about how to fund their education and secure their futures.
That’s why the AICPA Foundation’s work has never been more important. Established nearly a century ago, the Foundation aims to advance the science of accountancy and accounting education. Through the profession’s generous donations, we equip accounting students with the much-needed support they need to progress in their journeys and reach their ultimate goal of becoming CPAs.
This year, I hope you will consider contributing to the AICPA Foundation to help us build on our efforts to bolster the profession’s future in these difficult times.
Our commitment and support focus on three areas:
One of our most significant efforts fund scholarships that provide CPAs with financial assistance toward their education expenses. Fueled by the AICPA Foundation, the AICPA provides more than $700,000 in scholarships, grants and fellowships for accounting students each year.
The AICPA Legacy Scholars program offers several opportunities for outstanding future CPAs of diverse backgrounds. It provides financial assistance to help offset the cost of their education, along with educational and professional development opportunities throughout the year. They include:
This year, we also established the COVID-19 Student Hardship Grant to specifically benefit undergraduate and graduate students who faced pandemic-related hardships. We awarded 25 students with $2,000 grants each. This type of support can go a long way to help future CPAs continue their paths forward, as it did for Sammy:
“COVID-19 impacted me in many ways. I lost my internship, and my father lost his job. The grant is extremely helpful since I am better prepared to complete graduate school in December 2021 and pursue a CPA license.” — Sammy, 2020 COVID-19 Student Hardship Grant recipient
2) Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)
Additionally, the AICPA Foundation has been a long-time diversity proponent. Increasing diversity within the accounting profession has been one of its long-standing objectives. We support several DEI initiatives, including the Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop (ASLW), an annual invitational program for minority accounting students, and the AICPA National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion (NCDI), which proposes strategies to recruit, retain and advance underrepresented minorities in the profession.
3) Accounting education
We also support quality accounting education and accounting research. Programs include the Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program, which aims to increase the pool of academically qualified accounting faculty in auditing and tax with recent experience at U.S. universities, and the Accounting Program for Building the Profession (APBP), which trains high school educators to teach a higher-order accounting curriculum and promote accounting as a viable career option.
Your support goes a long way
These are just a few examples of how the AICPA Foundation works hard to build and support the next generation of CPAs. I encourage you to read more about the progress made in these and our many other programs in the most recent AICPA Foundation Annual Report.
If you are willing and able, please consider making a contribution this holiday season to the AICPA Foundation. Any amount makes a difference. Together, we will help empower the next generation of CPAs and ensure the future of the profession remains strong and vibrant for generations to come.
Christopher Radford, Senior Manager — Development & Fundraising, AICPA Foundation
AICPA advocacy makes big impact during pandemic
As the accounting profession continues to build trust, create opportunity and grow prosperity amid the global pandemic, the AICPA has implemented numerous advocacy initiatives, built coalitions, created tools and provided leadership that simultaneously propels the profession while addressing its issues and concerns. The AICPA’s advocacy efforts have helped the profession navigate clients’ and businesses’ needs in the United States and abroad. This blog highlights some important recent events in our U.S.-based advocacy.
The AICPA has guided Congress, the Department of the Treasury, the IRS, regulatory agencies, business trade groups and other stakeholders. We offered sound advice, developed practical tools and spearheaded programs related to COVID-19 and small business recovery efforts. The AICPA offered dozens of ideas, feedback and proposals for federal relief bills for small businesses and their employees. We continued to meet with members of Congress and their staffs, as well as officials from the IRS and Treasury, to advocate for commonsense practices that would help the country manage through the pandemic and regain economic stability.
2020 U.S. advocacy highlights
- Accounting as an essential service — As state and local governments were requiring businesses to close because of the coronavirus, the AICPA strongly encouraged Treasury to include public accounting as an essential service. CPAs and tax professionals were already in the middle of a busy season and needed access to their offices to complete returns. As an essential service, they could continue to serve clients as local government mandates required businesses to shut down. Following our outreach, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency included public accounting as an essential service. State and local officials used this guidance to determine which businesses and services were essential.
- PPP Coalition facilitates information sharing — The AICPA created a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Coalition to support and amplify the AICPA’s advocacy efforts on behalf of small businesses. The coalition communicates information about small business relief programs, assists with gathering required documentation and application processes necessary for PPP relief funds, and is a general resource for overall economic recovery initiatives. For example, in coordination with state CPA societies and over 170 small business payroll providers, the AICPA urged Congress to include a technical correction to address the tax treatment of loan forgiveness under the PPP.
- E-signatures adopted on 18 forms — The AICPA Tax Executive Committee (TEC) requested that the IRS update and modernize its e-filing signature requirements in four areas because of COVID-19. The aim was for the IRS to at least temporarily, and then permanently, adopt the changes to make using electronic signatures easier for taxpayers and tax practitioners. The IRS initially identified a dozen forms for which it would accept e-signatures for the rest of the year. At the AICPA’s request, it then added six more forms. We are still advocating for permanent e-signature acceptance.
- Guidance about the e-filing outage — The AICPA informed the IRS about the impact, implications and need for relief from the 15 e-filing outage and provided immediate guidance to practitioners. The AICPA successfully encouraged the IRS to issue a clarifying statement explaining the relief. In a Sept. 24 statement, the IRS acknowledged the e-filing software outage. It announced that a return and any elections filed with that return that were affected by the Sept. 15, 2020, external tax software outage would be timely if e-filed by Sept. 17, 2020.
- Mobile workforce initiatives — The AICPA coordinated with key Senate staffs and supported new proposed legislation ( 3995) that refocuses the need for relief from having to file non-resident state income tax returns during the pandemic. It included a key provision in the final coronavirus relief package (AICPA Recommendations Phase Four letter). Additionally, the AICPA coordinated an effort with state CPA societies and other stakeholders that called for passage and inclusion in a larger deal. The joint letter with the Council on State Taxation garnered over 120 signatories, including 45 state CPA societies.
The AICPA is committed to advancing the best interests of the accounting profession. Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to fight for the needs of taxpayers, tax professionals, firms of all sizes and many other stakeholders. After the pandemic is over, we will still advocate for the best interests of our members and the public.
Auditing health-care entities affected by COVID-19
It’s difficult to overstate COVID-19’s impact on the health-care industry. These changes vary dramatically among individual entities, meaning that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to auditing them. The audit risks vary widely.
Any health-care entity audit should start with a client meeting that covers several COVID-19 variables. They should include whether the client received federal funding, related financial statement implications, remote work arrangements and any furloughs or layoffs.
Here are major considerations to keep in mind during your audits.
- Impact of federal relief funds
Most health-care entities received federal funding under the CARES Act, such as funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Provider Relief Fund (PRF) program. It is important to understand and stay up to date on the audit requirements associated with new federal funding, as well as any potential accounting and compliance-related implications. This will involve reviewing the terms and conditions of awards and guidance documents posted on federal agency websites, which are regularly updated and revised. A document on the AICPA Governmental Audit Quality Center (GAQC) website identifies new CARES Act federal programs and details whether they are subject to single audits. The document also provides links to relevant agency guidance postings.
- Internal control
At many organizations, accounting employees are working remotely, while others have been laid off or furloughed. Health-care entities are no exception. As a result, longstanding internal control policies may look significantly different than they did a year ago. For example, you may see segregation-of-duties issues for the first time. Auditors must understand the system of controls in place for the entire period, including any changes, and identify areas of heightened risk.
- Accounting challenges
Certain nuances of relief funding — such as lost revenue, a new concept under the PRF program — have created accounting challenges in the health-care industry. Updates and revisions of relevant federal guidance that clients have relied upon to make accounting decisions exacerbate the challenges.
The AICPA’s Health Care Expert Panel developed a series of Technical Questions and Answers, CARES Act Provisions Specific to Health Care Entities, that discuss accounting matters for nongovernmental health-care entities. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board issued Technical Bulletin 2020-1, Accounting and Financial Reporting Issues Related to the CARES Act and Coronavirus Diseases, to provide accounting guidance for governmental entities. As things evolve, you should also keep an eye out for any new accounting releases.
- Uncertainty and new audit requirements
Many health-care clients receiving HHS funding of $750,000 or more will be subject to single audit requirements, perhaps for the first time. This will also trigger a requirement for the financial statements to be performed under Government Auditing Standards. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is expected to issue an addendum to the 2020 Compliance Supplement by late November, which will include federal expectations for single audits of new CARES programs, including the PRF program. This delay in audit guidance has kept many single audits on hold because of the uncertainty of what the guidance will include.
For auditors with limited or no experience performing single audits, consider referring a portion of the audit to another firm that has the requisite competencies. The AICPA Peer Review Program has a searchable database of subject-matter experts who can help. Otherwise, auditors must gain the needed competencies quickly. The GAQC has posted a no-CPE archive of a single audit fundamentals series of webcasts, and the AICPA periodically offers this series for CPE. The AICPA has many other single audit training programs that can assist.
As the pandemic’s economic impact evolves, the available information and policies may shift. As it relates to the PRF program, refer to this HHS guidance and periodically check the broader HHS PRF webpage.
There are also helpful resources from the AICPA:
Be sure to monitor these resources regularly, as they may be updated.
Importantly, from Nov. 30 through Dec. 4, the AICPA will offer a week of webcasts focused on the effects of COVID-19 on the health-care industry. If you practice in this area, you should consider participating to learn the latest.
These are unprecedented times, and there will be many audit challenges. We owe it to our health-care clients to help them navigate this landscape by staying as informed and up to date as possible.
Norman Mosrie, CPA, CHFP, FHFMA; Partner-in-Charge, DHG Healthcare Assurance Services. Norman Mosrie is the partner-in-charge of assurance for DHG Healthcare. He also is chair of the AICPA Health Care Expert Panel and the Healthcare Financial Management Association Principles and Practices Board. Norman has over 30 years of experience serving a variety of health-care clients across the continuum of care.
Your top 6 automation questions answered
What’s RPA? Will bots take my job? How can my firm get started with automation?
To answer these questions and more, we spoke with two automation experts – Jotham Ty, the founder and CEO of Gappify, a provider of automation software for corporate accounting teams and Lesley Mast, CPA, who is leading the adoption of robotic process automation (RPA) for her firm at Rea & Associates in Wooster, Ohio.
Participants were enthusiastic and inquisitive during our 20-minute LinkedIn Live event, How CPA firms can get started with automation. After the event, Ty and Mast provided additional answers to questions.
What’s the difference between RPA and automation?
Ty: People use the terms automation and RPA (robotic process automation) interchangeably, but that isn’t always correct. Lots of automation types – like RPA – fall under automation. Some RPA software vendors are expanding into intelligent bots, and those bots fall under Artificial Intelligence (AI), a more complex form of automation. RPA is considered a stepping-stone toward AI. There are many types of automation, but RPA is the most popular today.
What processes can be automated? Do you have specific examples you can share?
Mast: CPAs can delegate many mundane, time-consuming tasks to a bot, such as data entry, invoicing, or even starting a tax return. Our firm uses a bot to pull clients’ monthly bank statements, which then saves them to a drive on a server for us to use. We’re saving 10 to 15 minutes for each statement we previously pulled manually, saving us several hours per month.
Ty: You can use automation in AP and AR vouchering. One of our clients uses their bots for cash collections. The company’s CEO said implementing RPA has increased collections by 60%. Addressing this sort of operational task with automation is a common first step.
What are bots? And one participant asked, “Are bots going to take my job?”
Ty: A bot is a type of software that can automate repetitive, low-value tasks that humans do. Bots are not about taking humans’ jobs. They perform the boring tasks so that people can focus on work that requires strategic thinking.
Mast: Think of bots as an assistant who handles those mundane tasks for you.
What are the benefits of using automation?
Mast: RPA takes away the time wasters and makes you available for more valuable projects. Our staff has more time to spend on clients’ reports and other deep-thinking work that we enjoy. Firms that implement RPA can focus on things only humans can do, like developing strategy, solving problems and building client relationships.
Bots reduce human error in audits by accurately copying data across different files. They can also run calculations to determine financial statement accuracy, internal consistency and tie-outs of prior-year amounts.
What kind of investment is needed? Is RPA just for large firms?
Mast: Automation is a hot topic in our field, so CPAs need to first invest in themselves. I know the AICPA is offering the Digital Mindset Pack (free to members until the end of the year) and there’s an automation module in the pack. That’s a great place to start.
The costs vary, depending on what your firm wants. It’s like deciding what type of car you’ll buy: There are many options. We interviewed vendors who offered our firm two options. One would train our staff in programming. The second option proposed that our vendor handle the bot programming for us. We chose the long-term, costlier investment and trained our people to do the programming. Honestly, programming has been challenging and exciting, but I’m adding skills to my toolbox.
Ty: There’s this misconception that RPA is only for large firms or organizations. Low-cost, low-code solutions exist for a sole proprietor or small business. Don’t let the cost of RPA prohibit you from exploring the possibility.
How do you measure the success of an RPA project? What criteria do you evaluate?
Ty: The primary measure for quantifying success is ROI or cost savings, but many organizations are excited about improvements in key business metrics. For example, autonomous bots and workflow solutions can accelerate cash collections. The benefit of cash flexibility from improved customer collections is harder to quantify, but just as critical to business success.
More info on automation
If you want to learn more about RPA, watch our 20-minute LinkedIn Live event. To read more about automation, check out this experiential brochure with sections tailored to public accountants and management accountants.