Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Are the 'Defining Dozen' the Right Metrics for Your Firm?

The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) posted a list last year of the 12 metrics CPA firms should track in order to better define how well a firm is capitalizing on existing relationships and setting the stage to expand into new ones. The aim of these metrics is to provide qualitative feedback and help firms manage their reach with clients.

The AICPA identified the following key metrics:
  • Lifetime value of a client (sum of all revenues generated from the firm's service offerings over the lifetime of the client)
  • Cost of client acquisition
  • Client retention rate
  • Average number of services per client
  • Average number of top-client "touches" per month
  • Average client response time
  • Number of cross-selling opportunities versus such opportunities won
  • Request for proposal (RFP) win percentage, other proposal win percentage and pipeline win percentage/conversion
  • Average number of professional development hours per firm member (monthly and annually)
  • Utilization rate and realization rate (by service offering)
  • Staff-to-partner ratio
  • Revenue growth per year (actual vs. expected)
Does your firm track these metrics or similar ones? Are some of these more useful for firms of specific sizes or practice areas?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Exact Amount of Time You Should Spend Working Every Day

According to Fast Company, the Draugiem Group says they've hit upon the exact number.

Draugiem, a social networking company, used the time-tracking productivity app DeskTime to see how the most productive employees spent their time. The results were surprising — the 10 percent of employees with the highest productivity spent LESS time working than the average employee, taking a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes they spent working.

Fast Company wrote: "Employees with the highest levels of productivity worked for 52 minutes with intense purpose, then rested up, allowing their brains time to rejuvenate and prepare for the next work period."

When Julia Gifford of The Muse posted the study's results, she said those 17 minutes were generally spent completely away from the computer, whether the employees were taking a walk, chatting with coworkers or reading a book. She said the study shows the importance of reassuring employees that it's okay to step away from the desk without worrying about appearing lazy or unproductive.

Fast Company offered the following tips to ensure you're getting the breaks you need:
  • Schedule breaks into your daily calendar
  • Set a timer to remind you when to take your break and when to return to work
  • Make realistic to-do lists
  • Prioritize tasks, setting three major tasks to focus on for the day and adding others as they pop up
What do your most productive employees do during the work day?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Young Professionals Corner: Tips for Staying Positive at Work

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of guest posts from young VSCPA members dealing with topics of interest to young professionals. If you'd like to write or have a topic you'd like a future blogger to cover, please email VSCPA Academic & Career Development Coordinator Tracey Zink.
By Shelly Verougstraete, CPA
Team Accountant, Joyner, Kirkham, Keel & Robertson, Richmond
It is easy to stay positive at work when things are going well but we have all had those days where nothing seems to go right. Even with long days (and sometime nights!) at the office, it can be hard to stay positive. With deadlines, endless phone calls, and emails, happiness can disappear. However, there are some ways to stay positive in the most difficult situations.
  1. Treat yourself – Go for the Venti latte. Grab a square of chocolate for an afternoon treat.
  2. Stay away from the Debbie Downers.  Stay away from the actively disengaged people at work. These are people that are negative about everything. They will bring you down and drain any enthusiasm you have left after a long day.
  3. Talk to your colleagues – Letting your struggles build up inside is a recipe for trouble. Sharing your issues with a co-worker can help ease your mind and who will receive beneficial encouragement from others.  You  might also find that a co-worker can help you out too!
  4. Challenge negative thoughts with positive ones - Negative thoughts can seem hard to avoid or erase.  Negativity is all about your mindset. Try to find the bright side of the situation.
  5. Smile! – Simply smiling, even when you are in a bad mood, can boost your happiness. Smile at a passing co-worker. Smile as you answer a client’s question. Smile even while you are by yourself. Check out this blog post on the science of smiling. (
Smiling cannot only improve you attitude, but help you become more successful and possibly live longer. If that is not a reason to smile, I do not know what is!

Shelly Verougstraete, CPA, is a team accountant at Joyner, Kirkham, Keel & Robertson in Richmond. She is a graduate of Longwood University.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Arthur Andersen Is Back

Back when the Big Four was the Big Five (which was after it was the Big Eight, of course), Arthur Andersen was the fifth of the biggest of the major players in the accounting industry. Andersen would not survive the Enron and WorldCom scandals that were revealed at the turn of the century. But now it's back, at least in name.

A group of former Andersen partners have changed the name of their current firm from WTAS to Andersen Tax. The new Andersen, founded in 2002, decided to return to the name because it best reflected the firm's culture.

The firm will remain an independent global tax firm with no audit practice and will be completely owned by its partners.

Arthur Andersen and its affiliated firms peaked at more than 85,000 employees worldwide, but shuttered its U.S. accounting operations in 2002 because of problems with its audits of Enron and WorldCom. The firm never declared bankruptcy or dissolved and has focused on resolving various lawsuits since then.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mixed Results in Small Business Jobs Index

The newest iteration of the Paychex | IHS Small Business Jobs Index showed a slight decrease in the national index, with small business employment growth slowing slightly in August, the third decline for the index in the past four months.
The Mountain region (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico) moved into the lead among regions, with a 1.66 percent index, and Wisconsin took over as the top performing state. Dallas held steady as the top metro area, topping the rankings for the third consecutive month.
The South Atlantic region, consisting of Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, had a 12-month percentage change of 0.37 percent.
Nationally, the index fell 0.11 percent from July.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge Raises the Bar for Charitable Donations

The incredible success of the ALS Association’s (ALSA) viral “ice bucket challenge” provides a new goal for charities everywhere and provides a reminder of the tax benefits of such donations.

The ALSA raises money to combat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The charity raised $94.3 million in donations between July 29 and Aug. 27, up from $2.7 million during the same time period in 2013. Much of the increase has been attributed to the ice bucket challenge, where people use social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to challenge others to donate to the ALSA or dump a bucket of ice water over their heads, although many people do both.

In addition to the good feeling (and social acceptance) that comes from accepting the challenge, charitable donations offer tax benefits for taxpayers. Donations are deductible in the year they’re given (not pledged), and last-minute donations are deductible as long as they’re made before midnight Dec. 31.

Taxpayers can also consider donating stocks, real estate or other investments they’ve held for at least 12 months, but the tax strategy depends on whether the investments have gained value. If they have, you can deduct their full market value and escape the long-term capital gains tax that would have been due when you sold the shares. If the investment has depreciated in value, it’s best to sell them, donate the proceeds to the charity and claim the donation deduction and the capital loss.

So charitable donations benefit both the charity and the donor. Think about that the next time you see someone reach for a bucket of ice water.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Young Professionals Corner: A More Efficient Outlook

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of guest posts from young VSCPA members dealing with topics of interest to young professionals. If you'd like to write or have a topic you'd like a future blogger to cover, please email VSCPA Academic & Career Development Coordinator Tracey Zink.
By Steven Valdez
Corporate Audit Analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
Every business professional uses email in the course of their day to day activities and can take up proportional amounts of time organizing and searching them. Today I would like to challenge how we look at and organize this major part of our professional lives.

A way to ensure that troves of new file directories aren’t being created haphazardly costing time and energy is to break it down into the six overarching broad categories. Most thought goes towards the expansion planning of email folders, but little thought is given to the contraction of those sub-folders when they can be deleted. Just like adding files to make something more effective, sometimes it is important to circle back and consolidate those sub-folders into the top-level ones. To aid in this, I use a 6-tier categorical approach that makes expanding and contracting folders easy and logical.
  • Top-Level Categories:
  • Education
  • Notifications
  • Opportunities
  • Social and Family
  • Training and HR
  • Work
Within the overarching folders the suggestion is to create hierarchies that make sense for the use of the sub-level. For categories like Training and HR it is easier to assume that subfolders won’t be necessary, but in the case of the Work folder it is different. As projects come into and out of scope over time it is important to create a flexible and easily navigable structure. As you work on one project you can create sub-folder for organizing info when in the weeds so to speak, but once the project is over it is easy to delete the subfolder and move the emails to the main project folder to be archived for future reference. The goal is to allow expansion and contractions as different priorities shift. Later on the entire Proj. Assignment I folder can be dragged anywhere without searching multiple folders.

Some of you may be familiar with the system generated emails that come in day in and day out for various things that may not always be relevant immediately. Similarly, but different to the Projects folder is the Notifications Folder helpful for automatically handling messages by using inbox rules. Inbox rules your key to having a computer secretary to handle your email or calendar requests. The advanced settings allow hundreds if not thousands of variations to prompt the exact actions you are looking for.

Steven Valdez is interning as a corporate accounting analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. He will join KPMG as an associate in October.