Archive for outsource accounting

The problem is the solution

The problem is the solution

The four-step process for better problem solving

If you strip any project down to its essence, you’ll find there are two fundamental tasks. The first is defining the problem that you’re trying to solve, and the second is actually setting out to solve it.

It sounds pretty intuitive, but I think that first step usually receives short shrift. In my experience, people are so geared up to get in there, roll up their sleeves, and come up with ideas, that they forget to really set the stage and understand why a client even needs their help in the first place. What is their marketplace situation like? How is their business performing? What are they setting out to achieve, and what’s getting in their way?

Asking yourself “What solution should I recommend?” is the worst first step. Before you can answer that question, you need to do four things.

1. DEFINING THE PROBLEM

All effective problem solving starts with effective problem defining. Too often, people jump right to solving without knowing exactly what they are solving. The big challenge here is figuring out how to separate the symptom from the disease. Many of us address the symptom only to find the solution to be a temporary fix.

A great way to uncover the root cause of any problem is to go through the “Five Whys” exercise. “Five Whys” is a technique that was developed by Toyota to identify manufacturing issues and solve them in the most effective and efficient way possible. The way you start is to articulate the problem you’re facing. In terms of corporate strategy, that’s typically a surface level issue like losing market share or declining sales. With the “Five Whys” technique, the goal is to ask “why” five times to help you dig deeper and deeper to uncover the root cause of the problem.

For instance, say you’re working with a local, downtown restaurant that has seen revenue decline. Ask yourself, “Why is revenue declining?” The answer might be that the average ticket is lower than it used to be. Why is that? Maybe because fewer tickets include an alcoholic beverage? Ask yourself why that is. Maybe it’s because traffic on Friday and Saturday nights is down, which is bringing overall alcohol sales down. Why is traffic down on Fridays and Saturdays? Perhaps it’s because the performing arts center around the corner recently closed down.

By going through the “Five Whys” exercise, you’re able to better define the problem. Rather than a food problem or a bar problem, what you might really need to fix is the entertainment problem.

2. REFRAMING THE PROBLEM

The next step is to create a few different reframes of the problem. Each reframe of the problem statement could lead to a number of potential solutions. The way we do this is by creating “How might we…” statements.

Going back to the restaurant example, a few reframes of the problem statement might be:

How might we get more people to add alcohol to weekday tickets (to counterbalance the dip in weekend sales)?

How might we get more people to spend a Saturday night downtown?

How might we get more happy hour visits from downtown professionals before they leave downtown for the weekend?

Sharp and varied reframe statements can help unlock some new, surprising solutions.

3. COMING UP WITH SOLUTIONS

These reframed problem statements are great fodder for a brainstorming process. Actually, in many situations we prefer brainwriting as opposed to brainstorming. Brainwriting is where a group of individuals is tasked with a problem to solve and each individual is required to think and ideate on their own.

You can do these brainwriting sessions in person with a group of people, or do them remotely and over the course of a few days. Simply asking team members to come up with three ideas for each “How might we…” statement can give you dozens of potential solutions to consider.

Remember, when it comes to new ideas, quantity is quality. The more ideas you generate, the more likely you are to have a few gems in the bunch.

4. EVALUATING OPTIONS

You can’t solve every problem or implement every solution. Resources and time are limited. To narrow in on the best opportunities, evaluate and score each potential solution for 1.) ease of implementation and 2.) its potential size of impact if implemented. This scoring can be done as a group or be the responsibility of a few key decision makers.

Sometimes it’s helpful to even map these out on a two-by-two matrix, with the ideas that are easiest and most impactful populating the top right quadrant.

Getting Bruno Mars to play a few sets at our restaurant every other Saturday might be impactful, but not all that easy to pull off. And a standing karaoke night might be easy to implement but perhaps not all that impactful. The goal is to identify the ideas that check both boxes, and then assign the appropriate resources to them.

Keep in mind, there isn’t a framework or methodology in the world that will get you the results you’re looking for if you’re solving for the wrong problem. Spend as much time (if not more) diagnosing the problem as solving it, and you’re well on your way to generating truly valuable solutions for your clients.

Source : GCMA

How visionary CFOs approach tech investment

How visionary CFOs approach tech investment

Customer experience

Digital transformation is on the minds of CFOs, who expect to invest more in advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) that can transform their businesses by improving customer experience.

That’s according to a recent Grant Thornton report, which shows that 69% of CFOs and senior finance executives plan to increase investment in technologies that quicken business change. CFOs themselves will need to have more technical skills, and they are divided in how to improve their overall workforce’s financial and technical expertise.

“It’s really a question of who’s more visionary as a CFO in moving forward with their products and services and reaching their customers,” said Srikant Sastry, Grant Thornton’s national managing principal for advisory services.

IMPROVEMENT TIED TO DIGITAL INITIATIVES

Companies that have figured out a way to reach customers more effectively through digital advances are reaping benefits. In one notable increase, Costco saw its second-quarter 2018 e-commerce sales grow about 29% year-over-year, to $1.5 billion, CFO Richard Galanti told analysts and reporters on a recent earnings call.

Additionally, firms that embraced digital transformation averaged a 55% increase in gross margins over a three-year period, according to a 2016 Harvard Business School study. Companies that were slow to adapt generated lower margin growth on average (37%) during the same period.

Meanwhile, International Data Corporation estimates that, by 2019, enterprises will spend $1.7 trillion on digital transformation — a 42% increase compared with 2017.

A year ago, Sastry said CFOs likened strategising on digital transformation to gazing into a crystal ball. Now, he says they are trying to gain a clearer picture of what is inside the sphere.

Accordingly, CFOs are not necessarily seeking digital transformation to improve efficiencies in their IT systems. The goals now are to enhance the customer experience, grow the business, and outperform the competition, according to the Grant Thornton report.

CHANGING THE VIEW OF ANALYTICS

CFOs have recognised that they were not thinking enough about analytics. Consequently, 24% of respondents said their finance team is currently adopting advanced analytics, another 24% will do likewise over the next year, and an additional 25% plan to adopt advanced analytics within two years. But CFOs will have to adapt, too.

CFOs have traditionally been focused on operational performance, cost reduction, and business management, but now they want to drive strategy and clear a path to digital transformation by leveraging information and technology, Sastry said.

“They have to make sure that they have the right skillset and innovation to leverage advanced analytics,” he said. “So the crystal ball is still there, but I think they’re trying to clarify the fog in the ball.”

Forty-one per cent of respondents do not believe they have good financial metrics that show the return on IT investments. And only 12% strongly agree that they possess an effective system to measure financial performance tied to newly implemented technology.

The report points out tension between companies’ current need to invest in maintenance and system updates and their desire to allocate funds to new automation technologies, such as AI. Investment in AI is projected to increase significantly: Beyond the 7% who say they have already adopted AI, an additional 47% expect to adopt it over the course of five years. A similar number of CFO respondents expect implementation of innovations such as distributed-ledger technology (also known as blockchain), machine learning, robotic-process automation, and optical-character recognition within five years.

“Ostensibly, AI will help improve quality, improve accuracy, and streamline the number of people required to perform tasks,” Sastry said. “It’ll change the face of business, including financial management.”

The top IT challenges in the survey are:

  • Systems complexity, including enterprise-wide systems integration;
  • Upkeep of legacy systems; and
  • IT talent.

Regarding the talent challenge, most executives — 52% — would prefer to retrain existing staff. Twenty per cent want to recruit new, technically skilled employees, and 17% aim to outsource tech hiring.

In addition to being aware of AI concepts, Sastry said, CFOs will need to know how AI systems work and how they can improve the business through a better customer experience.

“Those skillsets have, historically, resided in the technology space,” he said. “They’ve resided in the IT shop and the CIO [chief information officer] function. So CFOs need to really embrace the technology portions of their business, or the CIOs.”

Source : FM

How To Predict Which Of Your Employees Are About To Quit

How To Predict Which Of Your Employees Are About To Quit

You’ve got more data on how your team members are behaving, thinking, and feeling than you probably realize. Here’s how (and why) to tap into it.

How To Predict Which Of Your Employees Are About To Quit

“People analytics” may sound daunting, expensive, and difficult—something the ordinary manager can’t possibly concern herself with even if she’d like to. But the field isn’t necessarily as high-tech as you might imagine.

There’s more untapped data, of some kind or another, floating around your workplace than you probably think. With a little extra effort to spot behavioral patterns, you may be able to get ahead of some of the more common issues, like employee attrition, that can hurt your workplace and your organization’s bottom line. Here’s how.

PHONING IT IN

Turnover tends to be high at call centers, where many people take jobs temporarily, then quit when once they’ve earned enough to return to school or cover a big expense. Lower attrition means higher performance, so managers are interested in predicting and reducing attrition.

My company helped one call center analyze some basic data that it was already collecting: the length and number of calls operators were taking, and how often those calls got escalated or resolved. At the end of each shift, employees received a “report card” reflecting those data points. Since the call center employees’ compensation was linked directly to that performance data, they were highly incentivized to earn good marks.

But a low overall score wasn’t necessarily a sign that an employee was performing poorly, getting paid less, and therefore planning to bounce. Analysts found two specific factors were much more predictive: increased time spent on calls, and fewer calls ending in resolutions. Those operators were just going through the motions.

So the call center’s managers sent supervisors to meet with each operator within a day of those two indicators popping up. Most, however, hadn’t yet reached a point where they were considering quitting. But they often didreveal job frustrations that were usually easy to address, a like a faulty headset or having to work an undesirable shift. Supervisors were empowered to fix most of these problems, and over the next few months, the call center’s attrition rate fell by half.

FEELINGS AND ACTIONS YOU’RE NOT PICKING UP ON

“Sounds great,” you might be thinking, “but I don’t run a call center.” Even so, you can probably start looking for small, early signs of dissatisfaction that are relatively easy to remedy once you spot them. Here are two:

1. Ask employees how they’re feeling–continuously. Measuring “perceptions” might seem impossible, but it’s not. To collect data on something like this, you can use pulse surveys, run focus groups, or take snap polls using common Slack integrations like Polly.

Some large, physical office spaces even go analog and install those sentiment buttons you might have seen in airports or hotels. They’re simple, inexpensive devices that ask a question like, “How was your day?” and provide red (bad), yellow (okay), and green (good) buttons for people to press quickly as they go about their day. Whatever method you use to gather sentiment data, aim for something easy and anonymous, and watch for trends, not absolute values.

2. Look for dips in hours worked or effort spent. A basic place to start is total login time, but unless your office requires workers to “punch in” or “out,” introducing software to monitor exactly who’s sitting in front of their computers when can feel like surveillance. So start with the data you’ve already got on hand but may not be analyzing fully: How much sick leave is being taken this quarter, compared with last quarter or with the same quarter the prior year? How much annual leave is being requested (regardless of what’s actually granted)?

These are usually good indicators of who may be on their way out. Sick days can be requested to attend interviews or to burn up unused leave balances—or maybe that person is just feeling burned out and needs to take some mental heath days to deal with on-the-job stress.

THE LINKEDIN TRICK

There’s a third method, too, that I’ve seen work wonders. A well-known tech firm that recently worked with my company was losing its precious engineers. Recruiters who spent a lot of time looking for coders on LinkedIn were already in the habit of noticing recently updated “Skills” sections, interpreting that as a sign an engineer might be interested in hearing about new opportunities. So it occurred to the tech company to apply this principle in reverse.

The managers realized that their own coders were probably doing the same thing–updating their LinkedIn profiles whenever they were ready to hear from other firms. So the company wrote a simple script to capture the LinkedIn update feed for the profiles of around 2,000 of its top-performing coders. That let managers to react quickly whenever one of those employees added new info. Similar to the call managers, supervisors then swooped in to discuss the career goals and professional-development opportunities with the coders who might be wavering.

As a result, turnover fell, and many of those engineers were moved to assignments or projects that suited their talents and interests much better.

USE YOUR DATA WISELY–AND FAST

Whatever patterns you decide to watch, make sure you’re gathering data for two weeks to two months, so you’ll have enough information to perform a reasonable analysis.

But once you do spot a certain trend, don’t wait to act. Start looking for the source of the dissatisfaction in the corner of the company where you’re picking up on it. Maybe a certain team just really needs flex schedules or better recognition, or they feel starved for information. Often the most effective remedies aren’t even monetary. Once you’ve determined a solution, measure its effectiveness to make sure it continues to produce the outcome you’re hoping for.

At the end of the day, most employees all want the same basic things. Done right, people analytics starts from that humane premise and doesn’t reduce people to numbers–it just helps companies understand why certain situations cause people to keep behaving in certain ways. Ideally, it’s good for everyone when there are fewer surprises, and there’s more happiness to go around.

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Using algorithms to fight supply-chain fraud

Using algorithms to fight supply-chain fraud

More companies are turning to data analytics to detect supply chain fraud.Supply chain fraud is hard to avoid, with the contents of a missing cargo container ending up on the black market or an overseas worker skimming off the top being the inevitable reality of global supply chains.

Companies are increasingly turning to data analytics to detect and stop fraudulent schemes, a recent Deloitte poll found.

Nearly 35% of companies are using some type of data analytics to keep eyes on their supply chains, according to the poll of more than 3,200 professionals from a variety of industries.

That’s an increase of nearly 10 percentage points from 2014, and a sign that more companies, large and small, are adopting complex technologies to closely examine their supply chains.

Companies need to constantly look for fraudulent practices in the manufacturing and shipping of goods, with those looking to steal often as crafty and innovative as the technologies that stop them, said Guido van Drunen, a principal in KPMG’s forensic advisory group in Silicon Valley.

“Fraud goes where there is the least resistance,” he said, comparing fraud detection to a game of Whac-A-Mole. Nip one scheme in the bud and another one pops up elsewhere.

A major advantage of using data analytics to examine supply chain transactions is that detection can happen much faster, said Larry Kivett, CPA, a Houston-based Deloitte Advisory partner in the firm’s forensics and investigations division.

Schemes that might have gone on for years, such as a factory operator setting aside a pallet of electronics for black market sales, can now be found out shortly after the theft begins.

Now, complex algorithms can sift through thousands of incoming invoices and work orders from third-party suppliers to find instances of double-billing, overcharging, and theft.

That saves companies money, especially those with complex, global supply chains with hundreds of vendors and suppliers to keep track of, Kivett said. In many cases, the fraud can be detected before an invoice is paid, instead of having audits years down the road reveal the problem.

Advanced algorithms can also match bills of lading, forms filled out at ports that reflect cargo shipments and times, to ensure that goods are leaving when and where suppliers say they are with the correct number of manufactured products, Kivett said.

“If you can leverage data analysis to help out, you’re getting much earlier visibility” on fraud, he said.

Even DNA has a role. Instead of taking a swipe of a criminal suspect’s cheek, DNA swabs from a crate of clothing can tell a company where a product was produced, and ensure a contractor isn’t surreptitiously having goods made in another factory by underage workers, van Drunen said.

Here are tips from Kivett and van Drunen on how to shore up supply chains to detect and prevent fraud:

Consider the risk. Ignoring problems of graft and theft at factories and subsidiaries isn’t an option, van Drunen said, calling the supply chain the “lifeblood of the company”.

Violations of child labour and corruption statutes could have major implications for a company, with exposure opening up the chance of a public relations disaster and other fines and sanctions. The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act could also shut down a production line, for example, if a company’s representatives are linked to bribery or other corrupt practices.

That’s why companies, especially those that produce and manufacture goods in areas of the world with looser regulations, need to be diligent in looking for problems.

Go in-house or contract? It all depends on your company’s strengths and weaknesses. Companies with robust technology departments and data scientists may do well to develop their own data analytics and internal controls.

But companies that don’t have a team of analytic experts may want to bring in outside help to examine their processes and make recommendations of how to best monitor their supply chain, Kivett said. “You really don’t understand where your susceptibilities are,” he said.

Experts in fraud can help point out weaknesses and conduct an audit of current controls by using experience of dealing with widespread cases of fraud.

Realise that no one is immune from fraud. Supply chain fraud risk is fairly consistent, regardless of industry and size of the global operation, Kivett said, citing Deloitte research. It’s an indication that companies need strong internal controls and need to periodically examine the controls and see if additional measures are need.

“For organisations, there’s the tendency to say that wouldn’t happen here; we’ve got good people,” Kivett said.

That’s a foolhardy stance to take in today’s environment, especially in a business that depends on cross-border trade and can be infiltrated through cyberattacks or by other means.

WHERE TO LOOK

There’s not a single technology or area to look for fraud, Kivett said. Instead, companies should examine all their processes and try to move as much information to electronic sources as possible.

With data such as timekeeping systems, financial reports, and other information available in a searchable way, companies can periodically examine operations to look for suspect patterns.

“You can see what the baseline patterns are like and identify any anomalies,” he said.

Similarly, companies should make sure new acquisitions and new vendors are using the same internal control and data analysis procedures.

Source : FM

How to develop a global mindset

How to develop a global mindset

Today’s business world is a far cry from yesteryear. An increasing number of organizations operate worldwide, and they are more diverse internally. And that means professionals — including CPAs — must be adept at dealing not only with employees from various backgrounds, but with workers and clients in different countries as well.

But how do leaders ensure that they and their organizations are culturally savvy and prepared to deal with diversity? This was the subject of “Developing Your Global Mindset,” a one-hour talk given by Kim Drumgo, director of Diversity & Inclusion at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Drumgo’s talk was the second in a series of CPA Diversity & Inclusion webcasts aired by the Association.

“In this digital age, geographical borders are no longer clearly defined, so having a global mindset while working globally has become critically important for the success of business leaders, especially in the accounting profession,” Drumgo said following her talk.

Drumgo defines “global mindset” as the “ability to adapt to a culture and influence individuals or groups whose ways of doing business are different than your own.” By having this mindset, by asking questions and engaging in dialogue with others, leaders can improve employee morale, generate greater insight into untapped markets, and gain more credibility with clients. Those who do not develop a global mindset could miss out on client and talent potential, she noted.

She outlined three work environments:

  • Multicultural environments contain several cultures or ethnic groups alongside one another, but who operate independently.
  • Cross-cultural environments include people from different cultures and some acknowledgement of the differences, though one culture remains dominant.
  • Intercultural environments are the “gold” standard for organizations to achieve, as they encompass a deep understanding and respect for different cultures and ideas.

Drumgo also described the “global mindset inventory,” a concept created by the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. Individuals with global intellectual capital or global business savvy have strong analytical and problem-solving skills and an ability to understand international business. Next is global psychological capital, which is an individual’s innate passion for diversity. Then, global social capital is described as a more enthusiastic and outgoing quest to “collaborate with people from different perspectives,” she noted. Those who possess each type of capital are often more effective leaders since they engage and learn across cultures. Psychological capital is the most difficult to grasp as you are “changing your thought process, breaking down biases, and beginning to challenge your old way of thinking,” Drumgo said.

Drumgo offered the following five tips for changing your global mindset:

Forget the golden rule and use the platinum rule. “Treat people the way they want to be treated. Find the positive in other approaches,” she said.

Don’t underestimate the challenge. Dealing with cultural and individual differences can be difficult, and you cannot assume that you know how to handle every situation that can arise. “Having many stamps in your passport doesn’t mean you have a global mindset,” Drumgo said. So don’t underestimate the challenge of leading and working with others across the globe.

Apply multiple strategies. “There isn’t one silver bullet as to how you can interact with everyone. There is not one proven strategy that will help you relate to your entire team better,” Drumgo said. “Applying multiple strategies is really important.”

Be sensitive to differences in language. Communicating isn’t always easy for those who use English as a second language. Be empathetic, kindhearted, and understanding.

Be patient and ask for feedback. “You can’t flip a switch and know how to interact with everyone around the globe,” Drumgo said. “You can’t be everything to everyone all of the time,” she said. “But be the best you can to somebody when it’s time.” Then, she added, you will make a huge difference in developing your global mindset.

Take a hike: Ending client relationships

Take a hike: Ending client relationships

Consider this scenario: A key deadline is nearing, and the client is just now returning your calls and emails. But instead of responding to the open issues, the client indicates there is no real problem and irately demands that services be completed immediately. It is clearly time to end this client relationship.

Many accountants confess to daydreams of uttering “Take a hike!” to a less-than-ideal client. While it may seem like a good idea in the moment, such phrasing is not the most desirable way to terminate a client relationship. However, the process of telling a client to take a hike provides a useful analogy to guide a more professional, less risky end to contentious and cooperative client relationships alike. Treat a client termination as if it were a hike through uncharted lands.

STEP 1: PREPARE FOR THE JOURNEY

Most journeys take expert planning and attention to detail. A client termination requires similar efforts. It is important to remember that both good and bad client relationships may need to end unexpectedly. No signpost indicates when a client relationship takes a wrong turn. The following are tools that may be useful in preparing for an unforeseen client termination:

  • Termination provisions: Including a clear termination provision in an engagement letter, indicating an engagement can be terminated without completion for any reason, can provide significant latitude, if termination becomes necessary. By including such a provision, the CPA firm may reduce the likelihood of a client asserting that the firm cannot withdraw from the engagement.
  • Deadline communication: Clients that are chronically noncompliant with terms of the engagement may need a gentle reminder of their responsibilities in the form of a written communication. Deadlines should be communicated in an engagement letter. A separate stand-alone letter or email may be appropriate if there are concerns about a client’s ability to meet the identified timing. A properly timed communication could even prevent the need for a client termination.
  • Ideal client profile: CPA firms should establish an ideal client profile and regularly evaluate the existing client base against the profile to identify clients that are no longer a fit for the firm. This protocol helps identify potential problem clients before the relationship becomes tenuous.

STEP 2: BE AWARE OF THE DANGERS

Any journey will have its own set of pitfalls and obstacles. The same can be said of client relationships. Though no maps, GPS, or satellite imagery guide a termination, awareness can help CPAs through the dangers of a contentious client relationship. It can be easy to overlook negative indicators, especially if the fees are substantial, the relationship is long-standing, or new clients are hard to find. Even more difficult to overcome are strong interpersonal connections between the engagement team and the client. Recognizing a bias toward retaining a client and being mindful of already serious or mounting issues can be the difference between exiting a client relationship unharmed or falling into a conflict. Common indictors may include:

  • Concerns regarding client integrity.
  • Fee or service complaints.
  • Disputes within the client organization.
  • Untimely or incomplete responses to requests.
  • Negative responses to constructive suggestions.
  • Poor attitude toward internal controls.
  • High accounting or management turnover.
  • Dismissive treatment of engagement team members.
  • Disrespectful treatment of client employees.

While counterintuitive, a client’s rapid success or expansion also could be an indicator that the relationship may need to be reevaluated. The client’s successes may require services and expertise that are beyond the CPA firm’s capabilities. However a proactive plan may prevent the CPA from making unintended errors that could result in professional liability claims, if services were to continue.

STEP 3: MAP OUT YOUR PATH

Whether the end of a client relationship is ambiguous or obvious, a client termination is not complete until it is formalized in a written communication to the client. Guidance on drafting the letter is as follows:

  • Omit the reason for the termination: A termination letter is not the time to win an argument with a client. The letter simply represents a method to inform the client that you are no longer providing services and identify the client’s responsibilities going forward. Explaining why the firm is ending services may only upset the client further or create a problem that previously did not exist.
  • Items for client followupAfter parting ways, your client will need to be pointed in the right direction to complete its journey. The letter should clearly map out the client’s responsibilities going forward and issues that should be raised with a successor CPA. Matters of particular importance to include are deadlines (statutory, regulatory, or operational), internal control weaknesses or breakdowns, and indicators of potential fraud or violations of laws and regulations. If deadlines are missed or a theft occurs and the CPA had not informed the client of those in writing, the client may blame the CPA firm.
  • Fees: At times, clients assert that CPAs knew they did not provide proper services because they do not request outstanding fees. As a result, whether or not you expect to collect unpaid fees, a termination letter should state the outstanding balance of fees due. A final billing statement may resolve any confusion and could be included as an enclosure with the termination letter.
  • Send a hard copy: Advances in technology have made most interpersonal communications nearly instantaneous. Yet, the professionalism and permanence of an actual mailed letter cannot be ignored. Unless there is a looming deadline or other rare situation, a hard copy of the termination letter should always be sent by a method that will confirm receipt by the client. Further, the letter should be sent via a traceable method to demonstrate delivery andreceipt.

STEP 4: FINISH THE JOURNEY

The client termination process is no walk in the park. It involves a commitment of will, time, and professionalism. It is not an easy choice or one that should be made on a whim. Once started, the process should be seen through to completion. The following tips will assist in managing this process:

  • Evaluate your mindset: While it is important to assess the client’s actions in making a termination decision, it is equally important to assess your own mentality once the decision to terminate has been made. The goal of a termination is to lessen or avoid a conflict with a client. Failing to maintain a professional attitude throughout the termination could elicit a client response that results in unnecessary stress, reputational damage, or even a professional liability claim.
  • Stick to the path: Once your services have been officially terminated, do not continue to provide services or reengage with the client for additional services. Allowing a client to talk you into providing services is akin to traversing a bridge that you already know to be perilous. It may seem as though you are performing just one more task before concluding the engagement, but continuing to provide services lessens the likelihood that the client will ever accept that the relationship has ended. Just remember, when the relationship terminates, it is a final decision.

 

9 tips for being more responsive to clients

“One of the top reasons accountants lose clients is because they are not responsive enough,” said Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, partner at WithumSmith+Brown in New Brunswick, N.J.

But being responsive isn’t always easy. CPAs and their firms face daily pressures and have hectic schedules. Clients contact them via phone, email, and text. Multiple clients may want attention simultaneously. And clients may expect their CPAs to be on call day and night.

If communication is light or lacking, sometimes CPAs do not realize that clients are dissatisfied with their level of responsiveness.

How can CPAs and their firms ensure they are being sufficiently responsive to their clients? Leaders in the profession offer the following advice:

  • Return calls, emails, and texts in a timely manner to establish trust. It’s all too easy to push things off until the next day. Many firms have a 24-hour rule, stressing the importance of callbacks or returned emails or texts within that time frame. “I try to return every client phone call by the end of that day,” Mendlowitz said. “Returning phone calls is an indication of availability. Clients want to know that you are there if they have a real serious problem. If a client calls you at an inconvenient time, ask them when you can call them back.”
  • Establish a response policy. Firm leaders should create a policy that explains how quickly clients must receive a response, and then communicate that policy to employees, said Hank Levy, CPA, founder of The Henry Levy Group in Oakland, Calif., and a partner at ELLO, an MGO member firm. Joseph Tarasco, CPA, founder and CEO of consulting firm Accountants Advisory Group in Cold Spring, N.Y., advises firms to drop everything if a client has a crisis. “With competition you have to respond,” he said. “That’s today’s world—everyone is walking around with cellphones, and clients know this.”
  • Choose to communicate in a way that suits your client. Some clients prefer emails; others prefer texts or phone calls. Some want to meet in person. So know how your clients want to communicate. “Respond back in a fashion that will retain that client and keep that client happy,” Tarasco said. Also, reach out to clients occasionally just to say hello, as that can help build relationships as well.
  • Prioritize. Make lists of clients you need to contact and/or respond to. Take advantage of different productivity tools, such as spreadsheets and apps, and keep revisiting and updating your lists, Levy said. Also, if at all possible, don’t delegate client-related tasks that are priorities and time-sensitive. “If you do delegate, make sure you follow up. Do not assume that it will always get done,” Tarasco said.
  • Use language your client will understand. Your clients “are not tax accountants with advanced tax degrees,” Tarasco noted. So avoid sending them jargon-filled emails and instead explain things to them in layman’s terms.
  • If a client wants to meet, do it. If a client requests a meeting, “do not make an appointment for two weeks out,” Mendlowitz said. Instead, try to meet as soon as possible, even the next day if you have time. Doing so highlights your availability and responsiveness. Similarly, don’t write a 10-page email if there is a lot to discuss. In addition to the necessary written documentation, you also should meet face-to-face for something that is important or complicated, Tarasco advised.
  • Be compassionate. Clients should view you as a trusted adviser, and that means being a good listener. “If a client has pain, try to find out the pain and meet with the client to help them through it,” Mendlowitz said. “Empathize with the client and feel what they are going through.” Also, be sensitive to clients’ changing needs.
  • Follow up. Even if a client seems satisfied with your response to issues that arise, contact them again within a few days. Ask, “How are things going? Did it work out as planned? Did my advice help? Did anything else get uncovered?” Tarasco said. “Follow-up is key.”
  • Keep your client roster manageable. While it’s great to add more clients to your roster, having too many can make it difficult to serve all of them in a timely manner and keep them happy, so don’t take on too much. “If you are not responsive to clients, you give them a reason to leave you, look outside, and complain,” said Richard Lash, CPA, managing partner at Walthall CPAs in Cleveland.

Most partners in public accounting firms achieved their success because they were responsive to their clients. “That’s the No. 1 commandment,” Tarasco said. “So if you are breaking that No. 1 commandment, you can’t stay in business.”

The CFO as chief risk manager

The CFO as chief risk manager

The CFO as chief risk manager

Disruption is driving risks for every organisation. CFOs can play a critical role in helping organisations proactively manage them and create value.

The role of the CFO in managing enterprise risk and creating future value continues to evolve in this dynamic and rapidly changing environment of disruption. Our research, which we released in a report by the Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), The Strategic Financial Executive: Managing Enterprise Risk in a Disruptive World, describes strategies CFOs can use to manage risk and create value in today’s dynamic landscape and discusses how CFOs can incorporate strategic risk themes emphasised in the new enterprise risk management (ERM) framework by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO).

The research is based on extensive interviews with financial executives and other corporate stakeholders from leading companies. The takeaways in the report encompass four strategic themes: recognising disruption, developing risk management maturity, communication, and strategic thinking.

THEME 1: RECOGNISING DISRUPTION, THE SPEED OF CHANGE, AND UNDERLYING SOURCES OF DISRUPTION

The roles and skillsets of the financial executive must swiftly adapt. CFOs bring value to the table by, among other things, informing the board and CEO regarding matters they may not be familiar with and providing insight to nuances they may not have seen.

Fifty years ago, people managed physical assets to deliver cash flows, explained Corey West, CPA (inactive), chief accounting officer and corporate controller for Oracle. “Today, you manage intangible assets to deliver cash flow. Those intangible assets can be valuable one day, and it can go “˜bye-bye’ the next, depending on who enters a marketplace where you’re competing. … The importance about understanding the business you’re in, the competitive landscape, and where your competition might be coming from, [from] a strategic standpoint, is a lot more important now. I think CFOs need to be part of that thought process.” (See the sidebar “Dealing With Disruption” for actions to take to recognise and cope with change.)

THEME 2: INCREASING THE ENTERPRISE’S RISK IQ AND CAPABILITIES

ERM is evolving and becoming more strategic in its efforts and results. Given the efforts of COSO to highlight strategic risk dimensions, executives should expect board members to ask more strategic risk questions and be prepared to address them when asked. The ERM framework developed by COSO points out that strategic risks can be sourced as follows:

  • Strategy and business objectives not aligning with mission, vision, and values.
  • The implications from the strategy chosen.
  • The risk involved with executing the strategy.

Executives and board members should seek or reconfirm their knowledge related to those strategic risk dimensions. To get this right, financial executives should look to leverage their current ERM processes to determine what strategic risk help and analysis is being developed. Some advanced companies already use strategic risk analysis tools, such as workshops on strategic disruption, black swan events, and emerging trends practices. (See the sidebar “Boosting Risk IQ.”)

THEME 3: THINKING AND COMMUNICATING STRATEGICALLY

With the proper strategic thinking, noise and signals can help your organisation to know where the market is heading and where to compete. Consider all the factors, such as customers, the global economy, foreign currency hedging, and contracts with escalations. (See the sidebar “Thinking Strategically.”)

Financial executives are in a unique position to take advantage of an integrated approach that sees changes, identifies the risks, and links them to the business model.

THEME 4: DEVELOPING SKILLS TO ENABLE A FORWARD-THINKING FINANCE ORGANISATION

Successful financial executives look toward future value creation. Decisions made with this risk information are aimed toward better business models and future strategy. “Enterprise risk management consists of a set of forward-looking tools for senior management,” said Jeff Pratt, general manager of enterprise risk management at Microsoft.

Knowledge of accounting, finance, reporting requirements, and related skills may have helped financial executives move to the top. But that knowledge is not enough to keep them successful and able to add the most value to their organisations. We recommend based on work with CFOs that they develop a professional development plan for their CFO team that incorporates strategy, strategic risk management, and business model skills. Consider the profile of skills needed, and access the current skillset as a starting point.

“The more senior role that you play in the organisation, the more time you should spend looking forward versus looking in the rear-view mirror,” said Bob Verbeck, senior vice president of finance and corporate controller at Boeing. “… It’s really about proactively determining where you are going with your responsibility [and] your business.”


Dealing with disruption

Financial executives can take the following steps to help recognise disruption, grapple with the speed of change, and understand the underlying sources of change:

1. Periodically rethink and redefine your real competitors. Look outside of the normal channels.

2. Get involved in the identification of signals of change facing your organisation.

3. Ensure that you are looking at the right sources of change and disruption.

4. Build a sophisticated process to identify noise and potential changes.

5. Consider your company’s customers as a key source of information, not just about current sales but about future change and potential disruption.

6. Have contingency and resiliency plans based on the size of a disruption.

7. Factor in reaction time. It is more important for some areas than others. Identify when it is critical for your organisation.

8. Survey the landscape. Look for disruptors in technologies. Look for disruptors in other industries that might indicate changes in your sector.

9. Build a method to link change and disruption to the business model and to your enterprise’s current strategy.

Source: Financial Executives Research Foundation.


Boosting risk IQ

Financial executives can take the following steps to help their organisations boost their risk IQ and capabilities:

1. Check with your board to determine what information they need about each of the three strategic risk dimensions.

2. Develop a plan to address those needs.

3. Compare your current risks with the three dimensions. Do they all fall into one of the dimensions (perhaps strategic execution risk)? Adjust for any areas that have no associated plans or tools.

4. Review how strategic risk is addressed in your ERM process.

5. Know the answers to the following questions: What tools have we applied to know that our strategy is the right one? What tools have we applied to determine if we are aligned? What tools have we applied to strategic execution risk?

6. Work with the ERM team to improve the risk IQ and broader risk thinking in the organisation.

7. Ensure that risk thinking is seen as part of business thinking.

8. Review the smaller recurring risks for potential surprises. Look for a larger pattern or theme that could signal additional risks.

9. Develop tactical strategies for known risks. Take the risk beyond a map and consider the longer-term budgeting and financial implications.

10. Identify the assumptions in the risk-profile rankings.

Source: Financial Executives Research Foundation.


Thinking strategically

Financial executives can take the following steps to think and communicate more strategically:

1. Ensure that identified risks are incorporated into the business units.

2. Have regular sessions to rethink derailment, opportunities, new business models, and the related risks.

3. Understand the business’s view of the risk. Engage business units. Listen to their points of view.

4. Bring in subject-matter experts, futurists, and others to validate the potential business model and strategic risks.

5. Review trends in cross-functional business teams to determine their impact and opportunities.

6. Measure each dimension of strategic risk.

7. Test new strategic risks.

8. Flesh out the financial implications of major risk assumptions.

9. Track identified risks to the strategic plan.

10. Have regular sessions to focus on leveraging the risks into new business models. Do this also with your key customers.

Source: Financial Executives Research Foundation.

Workplace Health and Safety a Vital Component of Mature Risk Management

Businesses of all types are being transformed by technology, and so are the many kinds of workplaces that support their operations. Changing business strategies and increased productivity lead to rapid changes in process, which often means that executives lack a full understanding of the impact on the health and safety of employees and third parties. Workplace health and safety risks are among the most critical to address, as they can result directly in loss of life and limb—not to mention chronic injury and illness, work stoppage, lawsuits, and damage to brand reputation.

Traditionally, workplace health and safety matters have been addressed by dedicated safety teams working apart from the business, and risk management teams relying on spreadsheets, checklists, and incident reports as tools of the trade. As the number and interdependence of risk factors increases, this is no longer a sustainable approach—the cost of managing each regulation, requirement, change, or incident out of siloed programs will continue to rise, while effectiveness erodes.

The growing influence of international standards for risk management (e.g., ISO 31000, ISO 9001 and ISO 45001), and emphasis on integrated risk management as a key factor in cultivating business resiliency have created prime opportunities for workplace safety professionals to raise awareness of their role in risk management and of the impacts of accidents. With the right processes and technology, safety professionals can help protect their organizations from a range of negative outcomes from employee absences to insurance premium increases to fines and lawsuits.

With this in mind, health and safety leaders, C-level executives, and boards should be incorporating workforce well-being into strategic planning, corporate responsibility programs, and risk maturity initiatives across the enterprise. Governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC) efforts are not abstract—they are interrelated, and each function can be made stronger when addressed holistically. Carrying out integrated GRC initiatives (including health and safety programs) involves orchestrating and centralizing numerous interdependent policies, processes, and reports.

Integrated risk management should raise continuous, data-driven improvement of health and safety measures to the same level as other operational risk measures (e.g., cyber security, outsourcing, fraud prevention). Supporting these efforts with a systematic and streamlined process and toolset for documentation, tracking, training, reporting, and analysis is fundamental to incorporating them throughout the enterprise.

Integrated risk management processes help organizations foster accountability and collaboration, form a clear and complete picture of risk, cover compliance obligations more efficiently, reduce safety and health incidents, and improve incident response. The longer problems remain unaddressed, the greater the liability and risk exposure. Ineffective responses to workplace health and safety issues can lead to repeat accidents, illnesses, absences, loss of productivity, higher fines, higher insurance premiums and increased scrutiny from regulators and business partners. The GRC processes that need to be optimized include: performing risk analysis and business impact analysis; maintaining and reviewing process and safety documentation; investigating and reporting on accidents, injuries, illnesses and near misses; analyzing injuries and issues by site to pinpoint and measure risk; automating generation of incident forms for outside agencies (e.g., OSHA and HSE); executing job hazard analyses; managing site inspections and remediation actions; and ensuring employees are aware of safety processes.

There are few excuses for the blind spots that lead to major workplace health and safety issues. If we integrate policies and controls with processes and systems across the enterprise, we can gather and analyze metrics on just about every aspect of operations, as well as incorporating employee input and best practice guidelines. GRC technology solutions that include a health and safety component can help automate and bring a new level of intelligence to the associated risk analysis.

Enterprise-wide data integration enables predictive analytics capabilities, making it possible to identify health and safety issues and communicate them to executive decision-makers before they turn into incidents and losses for the company. Data captured during risk or safety assessments, and investigations into near misses and incidents generates insights to be incorporated into safety protocols and job training. The same types of analyses can be applied to vendor and supply chain management to improve health and safety outcomes throughout the value chain.

Data-driven safety programs should also include mechanisms for gathering input and feedback from the workforce. Whistleblower capabilities, responsive communications, and reliable procedures for following up after an incident or near-miss cultivate a safety-first environment. The ability to reassure workers that their wellbeing is a management priority positively impacts everything from recruitment and retention to incident rates, productivity, and corporate reputation.

Organizations cannot reach a mature, effective level of risk management without incorporating health and safety into their operational risk programs. An informed and comprehensive view of risk leaves enterprises better prepared for planned growth as well as unexpected opportunities and challenges. To strengthen business resiliency and sustain competitive advantage, executives must prioritize the continuous monitoring of health and safety risk and compliance across all business units, partners, and vendors. Mature risk management not only saves lives, but also lowers insurance costs, increases productivity and protects the sizable investments companies make in acquiring, training, and retaining their workforce.

Keys to Embracing Disruptive Technology

Keys to Embracing Disruptive Technology

In taking stock of potentially disruptive technologies, CEOs should be ready—really ready. Reinhard Fischer, chief of strategy for Audi of America, urges CEOs to “stop denying reality, which is what taxi operators did with Uber. Now Uber has taken about one-third of the taxi traffic in big cities.” Disruption is happening faster than ever. “Before when you talked about technologies coming, you’d name one or two,” says EY global chief innovation officer Jeff Wong. “Now there are 10, and they’re all relevant and important. That’s what’s really changing for the CEO.”

Here are some key pointers for CEOs looking to embrace disruptive tech solutions:
Don’t panic. The world is rife with examples of businesses where technological revolution fell short of its warnings. Early participants in e-learning, for example, still haven’t made money, says Julian Birkinshaw, a professor at London Business School. “Sometimes we forget about industries that haven’t been turned completely, immediately upside down. You have to make an ultimate commitment to new technology, but it’s not like you necessarily have to do that immediately.”

 

1. Take a long and broad view. Wall Street may demand rapid returns but woe be unto the CEO who concedes wholesale. “You’ve got to try to optimize for 10 years from now, not even just one to two years ahead,” warns Guo Xiao, CEO of the consulting firm ThoughtWorks. CEOs must also broaden their transformation push to encompass relationships with suppliers, customers and other external constituencies. “The greatest success comes through building an ecosystem of alliances and not thinking that the impact of technology is all within the four walls of your company,” says Nichole Jordan, national managing partner of markets, clients and industry for Grant Thornton.

2. Disrupt yourself. Critically evaluate your existing business model much as a hacker would try to take down a cybersecurity network. “Find out what the weak points are that you don’t see so that a disruptor can’t take advantage of them—and so you can disrupt yourself,” says Fischer.

“YOU’VE GOT TO TRY TO OPTIMIZE FOR 10 YEARS FROM NOW, NOT EVEN JUST ONE TO TWO YEARS AHEAD.”

3. Seed early successes. Enable a “culture of testing and learning new technologies, not necessarily passing and failing them,” advises Roger Park of EY. Former Humana innovation chief Paul Kusserow, now CEO of Amedisys, recommends testing technologies with “people in the company who have a very specific problem that a technology could solve—more acute than anywhere else in the company—or who believe that a process needs to be changed and this could help it. Then you need to make sure these people get not only the benefit of the innovation but credit for taking the risk.”

4. Create emerging-tech scrums. EY’s Jeff Wong suggests charging a team with “actually getting dirty with tech and playing with it, trying to address and answer problems.” Audi of America created a “digital team where we pull all the bright young minds that are working on digital topics and merge them with people who do strategy for the long term,” Fischer says. “It’s a little lab where we play around with all kinds of ideas and ask ‘what if?’ questions.”

5. Expect resistance. “There are incredible forces working against innovation” in any organization, Kusserow says. “Technology has to be so good that someone has to be willing to take the risk of restructuring or disassembling an existing process to which their success or maybe their careers may be tied.”

6. Don’t get hung up on a specific technology. Resist the urge to make a big bet on the latest buzzword technology, says John Mullen of CapGemini. “Don’t prepare yourself to chase certain technologies, but [rather] to get better decision making in your organization, because the technologies that pass through your ecosystem are going to be different tomorrow than today.”

7. Focus on building capabilities. CEOs need to see their roles as “building an organizational culture that can rapidly figure out which technologies are advancing, what the paybacks are and what the future leverages of those technologies are in order to determine whether they’re part of the business strategy going forward,” Mullen says. Consider putting tech people on the board and add the CIO to the company’s core management team. “You need to infuse specific technology skill sets in management—people who understand digital as well as your industry,” says Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, VP and general manager of Cisco Systems. “They need to be embedded in each business unit.”

8. Reckon with legacy IT. A company’s IT base typically must provide the computing horsepower and platforms for embracing machine learning and other data-intensive disruptors. Many CEOs get excited about a shiny new app, “but they shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that existing IT can be an enabler or an inhibitor of new digital services,” advises Paul Appleby, EVP of transformation for BMC Software. “They have to work on how to turn their existing infrastructure into a competitive differentiator. It may not be the exciting piece, but it’s what will allow you to be agile and scale and do so in a trusted environment.”